What led to the idea for the school? For getting children ‘green’ early?
Shopping for schools.
For your own children?
Yeah. I have four kids and the first two went to boarding schools. The second two are still nine and 13. We would go to schools and ask them, “What do you stand for?” and they’d reply, “Oh, we don’t stand for anything. We’re going to give your kid an education so they can get the biggest bungalow possible.” I felt like saying, “Don’t you understand that the bungalow mania that we’re in, and the consumer mania that we’re in, is going to ruin, if not in their lifetime, then in their children’s lifetime, the world.” It seems to be such complacency on the level of, “We’re going to have our bungalow and that’s tough.” If you’ve got kids … I mean, Al Gore ruined my bloody life. I’d done well in the jewellery business and was going to retire and have a happy time chasing white balls around the place. I hadn’t done that since I was young, but I thought maybe I’d try that, not to mention that those white ball-chasing places are some of the most disgusting, environmental disasters known to mankind. I mean, golf is practised by the right wing and is absolutely a poison heap. Anyway, Al Gore said, “This is what’s coming,” and I thought, if there is anything, any small thing, I can do to mitigate this for my kids, my grandkids and my great grandkids, it’s my job to do it before I go. I’m not going to be here forever. I’m turning 60 this year, so it’s time to go for it. Bamboo is the perfect thing for a man who is 60 because if I live to 67 I’ll see bamboo forests that I’ve helped to plant.
Not only that but you’ll see a generation of kids go through your school, which will be amazing.
Well, we’re looking to create a green vortex.
Talk me through that.
We’re not incrementally increasing the literacy of 125,000 children over 12 countries, which is kind of what people do. Instead we’re very small; we’ve only got 125 kids and some day we’ll have 450. Twenty per cent of them are Balinese on scholarship. If we can take these kids, who come from 27 countries, into a relatively conventional education in a very green context … We’re giving them their ABCs because the mums and dads demand that, and that’s fine, I don’t want to turn out people that are crossways to the world, but we’re giving them that education in a very green place. After a few years, especially if they are young, formative years, of being in that green place, when their mummies and daddies take them back to a square box some place in the world that’s been built by the same contractor who built the jail, they are going to go, “Just a minute. This is not where I want to learn.” We hope to get the Balinese kids too and get them to the best environmental and green institutions on the planet. It’s a long, five, six, seven, fifteen-year deal. It takes longer than growing bamboo.
How long have you been going so far? When did you take your first students?
One year and four months. It’s growing. We have people from all over the world coming to live in Bali and put their kids in the school.
People are moving to Bali so their kids can go to the school?
Absolutely, from all over the world. Mind boggling. They just go, “Let’s try it. Let’s try it for a year.”
At the moment is there more demand than you have places at the school?
No. We’re looking for more kids. Green School is not for everyone. We haven’t had a terrific amount of success with the people here in Bali who send their kids off to Australian schools in grade six. There’s thousands of Balinese that send their kids to Australian schools and they have been a tough group to influence, but we’re getting people coming from all over the world: Japanese, Russian, Scandinavian, German and French people, it goes on and on. They just see the school and go, “That’s where I wanted to go to school, but I never got to.” It’s great.
Does it still require a lot of input from you or have you managed to step away a bit more?
The school is in the hands of some very good educators like a guy named Ronald Stones (known as Pak Ron) who ran the British International School in Jakarta and the Tanglin Trust School in Singapore. He runs the academic part of it and I have quite a bit to do with the green part of it … and I created the physicality of it.
Which, by all accounts, is quite something.
I’m so happy. It’s beautiful. I mean, think about it. Where did your ancestors come from, England?
England, Scotland, France.
Well, think of English people counting beans and making gruel in the 13th Century. Getting them into the idea that there was something bigger than beans and gruel in the world was difficult when all they could smell was the gruel, but when they built those 13th Century cathedrals and they got the people into those cathedrals, then the people knew there was some higher power. They were in awe. Same with the Buddhists and the Muslims and the Hindus … They all built these places that demonstrated there was something bigger than beans and gruel. Our school doesn’t have a religion – it has many, many, many religions in it – but it does put people into the world of awe. I remember visiting Princeton University, which is in New Jersey, and I just wanted to stay there; I wanted to enrol and learn something. It was so beautiful, I just wanted to be there. That’s the idea of the Green School: from the classrooms, to the washrooms, to the change rooms, all the rooms, we made them beautiful.