City life makes battery hens out of people. To be happy, you’ll need to stop and take note of nature

By Emma Kjær Lauridsen

Kent Stannard lives near the coast of Melbourne, works with great white sharks and has chosen not to live on survival mode like most city people do. He believes it fuels unhappiness among city people to be disconnected to the natural world.

Kent doesn’t like the word ‘cool.’ He doesn’t like big companies moving into his city, and he doesn’t like the tourists that follow.

What he does likes involves his work, his small community, his friends and family – the kids however, they are allowed to move out.

- You can have them, he offers.

Kent is tanned. His hair looks like white waves as they hit the shore and fade away. His face is unimpressed. But he’s kind. He chuckles and asks about your hometown, makes jokes about his kids.

He lives down the coast in a small city called Blairgowrie an hour and a half by car from Melbourne, which is just on the other side of the port from his birth city.

His house is only a short trip from the rough and unspoiled coast of Australia, where Kent has been surfing for the past 51 years. He practically grew up on a surfboard and has had a love affair with the ocean since he was born.

That is why it was a natural thing for him to become involved with the ocean and the great white sharks instead of ending up behind a desk.

"It fuels unhappiness for city people to be disconnected to the natural world."

Catching sharks on open water

Kent works as a shark researcher. Although he doesn’t think it’s necessary to be labelled as anything, that’s probably what would describe what he does the best.

The work he’s doing involves tagging and tracking great white sharks to find out whether their population is increasing or decreasing. To find out whether climate change is having an impact on them and to identify critical habitats for them.

- With one tag, we study their moving patterns, which involves to physically catch them and fasten a tag to their dorsal fin.

- The tag has got a little aerial on it, so each time the shark surfaces, the aerial sends off signals to a satellite, so that we can identify the highway that it uses, he explains.

- We’ve also got another tag we use on sharks in the 5 to 6-meter range. Rather than try to catch them, which is a bit like trying to catch a moving bus, we just let them swim past the boat and put a tag into their back with a spear.

If they can identify critical habitats such as nursery areas they can be protected, Kent explains.

Their work has already helped identify two separate populations of the shark. One population is the one misbehaving and biting everyone in New South Wales.

- We helped find that, so, that’s good science.

Did not want to end up behind a desk

When he left school after 12 years, he had the option of going into architecture or marine biology.

- But I didn’t want to go to the university, and I didn’t want to end up at an office behind a desk. So, I didn’t do it. I became a builder instead, Kent says.

After school he worked in the surfing industry for a couple of years while building, then later gave it up for the shark research.

Kent set up a trust to help raise funds for the science because there is no money for research in Australia, he tells.

He also started his clothing brand for ocean users.

The brand serves the purpose of giving some percentage to the shark research but also making good, old-fashioned clothes without all the big companies’ brands on them.

Kent would’ve never envisioned that this was going to be his lot. He knew he wouldn’t become an accountant, but not that he got to be so lucky.

- I’m happy where it has ended up. I was privileged having parents who told me to follow my heart.

- And not too many people get the opportunity to pursue their interest and passion and turn that into something beneficial to the broader community, so I have been lucky in that respect, he says.

"I’m happy where it has ended up. I was privileged having parents who told me to follow my heart."

City people’s lives are consumed by work

So, yea, life’s pretty good, Kent emphasizes a couple of times while we speak.

His clothes make a living for him, he gets to spend days and weeks on the ocean doing what he loves, and he’s surrounded by good people.

- We’re all still healthy - touch wood - and I can go down to the beach and see no one and yet only be an hour and a half away from one of the busiest cities in Australia.

Kent has lived in the city centre of Melbourne for a short period. But he doesn’t particularly want to do that again.

- It’s different. City people are different. Kent says and tries to explain:

- I think they’re on survival mode. They’ve got a 5.000 dollar mortgage, they’ve got to commute for an hour and a half to get to their workplace. So they’re feeding the machine to pay that off.

Their lives are consumed by getting from home to work and back. They’re not exposed to the natural world, and even if they are, they’re too busy to stop and take note of it, he points out.

Nature is essential for your mental health

It’s not because Kent doesn’t like the city. He just doesn’t want to live there. Or commute there, as his kids do to school. They can live there, if they want, by the way, he says.

But, as he says:

- City people are disconnected to the natural world, and I think that has fueled a lot of unhappiness certainly in those environments.

- If you’re not exposed to the natural world, I believe you’ll eventually get stressed. Nature is essential for your mental health.

You can still find that rare little piece of paradise away from people down in Blairgowrie, but in the last couple of years the cities in Australia have become different. Melbourne and Sydney are just “ppffhhhff”, he explains and throws his arms in the air.

- City people live like battery hens.

They live in small apartments in the city centre or in crowded suburbs where there’s no room to swing a cat.

- People voluntarily trap themselves in the city. They can’t go breathe in their backyard, because they don’t have any. They can’t go to a natural environment, because there aren’t any.

Kent then interrupts himself in the middle of a sentence and tries to explain the importance of nature in another way.

- I’ve sometimes said to friends of mine that if you were to stop and tell yourself when would be the happiest moments of your life. It wouldn’t be you sitting in your lounge room staring at your TV screen or the new dishwasher.

- Invariably it would’ve been a holiday you’ve had somewhere in the natural world. Not in front of the TV screen, but in the environment.

- And there is a reason for that, Kent ends by saying.

Kent is wearing