No phones, no electricity, no time, no modern technology. It’s a lot to give up, and a year is a long time. Was it tough? Yes. Was it worth it? Unbelievably.
Mittagundi is a not-for-profit outdoor education centre set up like a pioneer-style farm in a remote Victorian valley. Think log cabins in the bush, wood-fired stoves, a big veggie garden and cows that are milked by hand each morning.
I was lucky enough to call it my home for a year, running programs for young people (aged 14-17) who spend ten days with us, beginning with an overnight hike through the stunning Victorian High Country, followed by white-water rafting on the Mitta Mitta River, cross-country skiing, abseiling, and of course, helping out on the farm before hiking back out and returning home.
So what did I actually learn from it all?
1. It’s a Big Adjustment
When I first moved to Mittagundi I had just graduated high school. I had no idea what it was like to move out of home and live with seven strangers I’d never met, especially as they were all older than me. Also, it’s pretty tough to stay in touch with friends and family when the only access to the outside world is via a corded landline shared between everyone.
Let’s just say I got pretty good at writing letters. Which is to say, my next point…
2. Letters Are the Probably the Most Underrated Form of Communication
I wrote a ridiculous number of letters during my time at Mittagundi. It almost became a routine. Rather than checking my phone before bed, I’d write a letter.
At first, it was just to my nearest and dearest, but I gradually expanded, writing to people I cared for a lot but didn’t speak to as often in the ‘real world’.
There’s something so wholesome about letters, and it feels unbelievably warm and fuzzy to receive one. I still write them now and cannot recommend it enough. They can also be a really great way of debriefing your day if you have someone you trust to send them to (or you can just keep them for yourself!).
3. Living in the Present Is the Best Kind of Living
It’s extremely difficult to distract yourself from the present when there’s nothing to distract yourself with. It’s so easy in everyday life to get caught up in the buzz of technology, everything is so busy, and we’re constantly swarmed with notifications.
But something I learned at Mittagundi is the importance of slowing things down. Enjoy that moment in the sunshine, spend time in comfortable silence with people, look up at the stars.
I remember once reading a quote from a person walking the Appalachian Trail, who said they were ‘learning to move at the speed of a human’. I don’t know who said it, but it’s stuck with me. We always move so quickly, yet it’s so important to take our time with life, to enjoy being human.
4. There Is Nothing More Satisfying Than Going to Bed Tired
Living without technology means everything has to be done by hand. In the morning someone would wake in the semi-darkness to light the stove so there was porridge on the table for breakfast. Another person would milk the cow so that we had fresh, creamy milk to drink and cook with, and the pigs and chooks had to be fed too.
(I went through a stage when I’d read Animal Farm to the pigs while they were eating their breakfast, but they started oinking a bit too excitedly as I was reading, so I had to pull the plug on that one.)
Days would be spent chopping wood, working in the veggie patch or orchard, making preserves on the wood-fired stove, building fences, or whatever odd jobs needed doing.
There was no shortage of work to be done, but no matter what it was, whether it be cleaning out the chimneys or mucking the dairy, it was filled with laughter.
After dinner, when everyone was feeling full and content, we’d hang out by the fire before heading to bed. Believe me, despite my bed being on a bit of an angle (its builder probably wasn’t what you’d call a qualified professional), I’ve never slept better.
5. Real Connections Are Formed Face-to-Face
At 18, I was the baby of the group. However, I’ve never before found myself forming such strong connections with people in such a short amount of time. Direct quote: ‘I didn’t realise 27-year olds could actually be fun!’
When there’s no technology to break up the initial awkwardness, you’re forced to push through it, as uncomfortable as that might be. Yet it works wonders, and after a month I couldn’t imagine my life without these people, who were right there with me through all of the tears and frustrations, ready with a big hug, a cuppa, and an uncanny ability to make me laugh uncontrollably.
6. Taking Yourself Seriously Gets Boring
If I had a dollar for every time I did a shocking sing-a-long performance at dinner, had a cow pat frisbee thrown at my face, or ate a ridiculous amount of cake, maybe I could actually successfully fund my adventures. Life is fun, people are funny, and everything is just so great when you stop caring about what you look like and what people think of you.
7. Showers Are Overrated
When having a shower requires chopping wood, lighting a fire and then stoking it until it’s hot, you can get pretty grubby. Honestly? There were definitely times when I went weeks between showers. I know it’s gross. But if everyone’s a bit smelly, you don’t really notice it. And boy, showering becomes an almost holy experience when you allow a few days for the anticipation to build.
So, while I wouldn’t recommend this so much for everyday life (for the sake of your family and friends), it’s still something I’ll never forget.
That’s All Folks…
No! It’s really not. My year without technology was by far the most challenging, thought-provoking and character-building one of my entire (albeit relatively short) life. It taught me to appreciate so many things about life, such as the wonders of electrical lights, and the incredible ability of electric kettles to boil water almost instantaneously.
Yet the most important things it taught me by far, is the importance of open communication, being present in everyday life, and friendship (clichéd I know, but I wouldn’t say it if it wasn’t true).
If you want to experience what Mittagundi has to offer, they’re always looking for passionate individuals to volunteer on programs. Or, if you know a young person who would benefit from one of the ten-day programs, give them a push in the direction of Mittagundi’s website. Trust me, you won’t regret it.