Matt Wicking Is a Future Maker
Words by Samantha Allemann
Photos by Ben Clement
This article was originally published in Issue 2. Subscribe today or order back issues - HERE.
Some musicians would leg it off stage if their co-workers turned up to one of their shows. Or be horrified if their fans learned they worked at the ATO. Yet Matt Wicking has brought his day jobs and night gig seamlessly together.
Matt Wicking works as both a freelance facilitator and the lead facilitator for the Centre of Sustainability Leadership, where he runs the Future Makers Fellowship, and is also the singer/songwriter behind local band The General Assembly.
“It’s a really good mix and balance,” says Wicking. “It’s taken me quite a while to get to this place, but one of the things I do with the Future Makers Fellowship participants is help them connect with their purpose and find the right work to match their values and skills. It’s a reminder to bring my work more closely in-line with my own values, passions and strengths.”
Part of this involved bringing music into the workplace, a David Brent-approved move, but Matt’s performance was fortunately better received. He had hesitations about it at first though. “I went to a conference a couple years ago called Purpose in Sydney,” he says. “The organisers said to me, ‘Matt, we like your music and would like it if you sing a song.’ I really wrestled with it, because of the possibility of it being a bit uncool or something, but then I realised what I was avoiding was bringing my whole self to my work. That’s something that in the Future Makers Fellowship is the key idea, to not just bring the small, narrow self the world wants you to bring, but to bring the whole fucking thing.”
In the Future Makers Fellowship, participants are taken through a series of workshops and retreats for six months in order to figure out what it is they want to do. Each person’s purpose differs, but what they all have in common is a desire to effect positive change.
For Matt, his passion stems from concerns about the environment. Although he had a typical suburban upbringing, camping and playing outdoors, he says this interest came from curiosity rather than a poignant memory of sleeping under the stars.
“It comes from privilege as well,” he says. “The reality that growing up white, male, Australian with a middle-class background means I haven’t had to worry about what other people have to. That gives you some space and time to look outward. It’s essential that we look at these issues, but it’s also not possible for people when they’re trying to work out how to feed their family, which is how environmental and social issues are so connected. If we don’t fix inequality, then we can’t get to the critical environmental stuff.”
Matt studied psychology and commerce at uni before realising he didn’t want either to be a career. “It had started to become very clear through my studies that we’re running this economy as if the environment doesn’t exist, as if ethics don’t matter, and that’s clearly bullshit,” he says. So, he did a Masters of Environment instead. “It was definitely a massive deepening of my awareness of what’s going on,” he says. “When you hear about peak oil, biodiversity loss and climate change, and how all those issues are connected and how they also connect with civilisation’s stability, it’s quite a wakeup call.”
“It’s impossible to not be horrified and feel your guts dropping, like you’re in an airplane that’s just hit turbulence. In my lifetime, we’ve lost half of all wild animal species on the planet, life is disappearing from around us and conditions are getting dramatically more difficult for people.”
Whether or not it’s too late to turn things around, Matt’s way forward is to engage with what’s going on and help others do the same. “If that means we can reduce our emissions, stop chopping down old growth forests and move away from consumer culture to something more communal, than that’s wonderful,” he says. “But if we can’t, through the difficult decline, I think creative engagement and community openness are the best way to face it.”
This is at the core of Matt’s work, both professionally and musically. “Increasingly I’m finding that the way for me to best sit with and process this really complex stuff is through the arts,” he says. “Our music is not too literal – I don’t use the words ‘climate change’ in any of my songs, for example,” he says about his band The General Assembly. “There’s a darkness in there, but at the same time there’s a hopefulness, or an openness. I think it’s only through something like music that you can bring those things together at the same time; it’s really hard to have both of those things in a graph.”
Matt’s bandmates are also involved with the sustainability scene. Keyboardist Berish Bilander is employed by Green Music Australia, an organisation helping musicians reduce their environmental impact, while bass player Bruce Shepherdley works in the solar panel industry. “I don’t know that I would tell someone they couldn’t be in the band if they weren’t politically engaged,” says Wicking. “I probably would enjoy hanging around them less though.”
When he’s not expressing himself through music, Matt’s trying to avoid becoming the guy that comes into every room and says, ‘Hey, by the way, the planet’s burning, let’s do our workshop.’
“However, if these issues come up, then I’m willing to sit with them,” he says. “When I’m in a space with someone who says, ‘I’ve just started thinking about this thing’, I can say, ‘I know, I’ve been going in there too and we can go together’. That feels like a nice role to play. My mum was a palliative care nurse, so that darkness that’s part of my work feels similar to be honest. Well, I don’t think it’s dark, it’s beautiful… but it’s difficult.”