“I spent many years nurtured in a little green nook with the rainforest on one side and the sea on the other,” says Pacha Light. “Its name is Mori No Koe, which means ‘Voices of the Forest’ in Japanese.”
Light is referring to her Happy Place; a standard factory shed that her mum, Anje, converted into a one-planet house and home in the small town of Iluka, on the North Coast of NSW. Light moved here in 2008, aged six, with her younger brother Yani.
Their mother had purchased a five-acre plot, with an 18 x 9 metre standard factory shed, and set about turning it into an ecologically sustainable home. 80 percent of the renovation was done with recycled materials, and it has solar-powered electricity and hot water, a grey water system for the permaculture garden, and compost toilets. Even the garden pavers are made from recycled Firewire surfboards.
“It’s a simple building next to a marshland and is full of mosques and leeches, so we also call it Shrek’s Swamp or simply The Shed,” laughs the 21-year-old. “But it is on the border of a national park and is a short walk to the most amazing waves.”
The house is nestled next to the Bundjalung National Park, named after the traditional owners of this area, which includes one of the last remaining littoral rainforests in the Southern Hemisphere. Light would wake to the crack of eastern whip-birds and the melody of bower birds or the rare barred cuckoo-shrike. At dawn and dusk, eastern grey kangaroos and swamp wallabies would congregate around the shed to say G’day.
Light had arrived at Iluka having spent her early childhood in South America. Her Swedish-born mother and Ecuadorian father were, and remain, environmental activists. Her early years were spent in Ecuador, where her parents were campaigning to protect the communities and cloud forests in the tropical Andes from the effects of mining.
The protection of this patch was crucial. The cloud forests are considered the richest biodiversity hotspot on the planet; home to 20 percent of Earth’s bird species and more than 15 percent of all plant life.
The first six years of Pacha’s life were spent with no running water or electricity and the nearest town was an hour’s walk down a single-track mountain ridge. Their food was hauled by horse through the humid, high-altitude slopes. When Pacha arrived in Australia, The Shed’s running water and compost toilets seemed like pure luxury.
“Mum would take us on her campaigns, so we are on the road a fair bit, sometimes in harsh conditions so we had to adapt quickly for months and years at a time,” admits Light. “We were often out of our comfort zones, so when we did get back and have some comforts, my brother and I didn’t take them for granted. But we are always surrounded by nature. That was a constant and a source of comfort and nourishment. I feel The Shed supplied both, in abundance.”
Aged 10 Light started surfing. Needing a surfboard, she hit on the idea of busking with a ukulele at the Roxy Pro on the Gold Coast to raise money for one. Pro surfer Laura Enever caught the act and gifted her one of her boards. The pair have remained friends ever since.
While Pacha’s mum and dad had instilled her love for nature, it was living in The Shed that was crucial in helped her discover her passion for surfing.
However, Iluka, located just over the Clarence River from the better-known surf hub of Yamba, was a small town with around 1000 residents. Light was the only girl surfer at her local school, all be it a particularly gifted one. With incredible waves on her doorstep, including the iconic Iluka breakwall wedge, her talent was soon recognised. Through her teens, she travelled the world competing and chasing a professional surf career, whilst also maintaining her parent’s passion for environmental activism.
Pacha has partnered with environmental organisations like The Surfrider Foundation, SeaTrees, SurfAid, and campaigned to protect her local surf breaks from the impacts of development. Her goal is to advocate for the planet and the incredibly intricate communities it supports all around the world.
In her early teens, she moved back to Ecuador to spend time with her family, and Mori No Koe was rented out by her mum. She returned to live there full-time in 2018 and was once again surrounded by the lush Australian bush when the pandemic hit.
“We were so lucky to be able to be in such a special place during that lockdown period,” she said. “I fell back in love with The Shed during the Covid lockdown. It was partly reliving my childhood memories, but also about making new ones. I gained a new perspective on what was important to me, and where my life might lead. So far I'm pretty happy where it's headed."