Monthly Archives: October 2013

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Earth Rites

I knew it felt odd to be celebrating Hallowe’en and now I realise why…

This spooky festival is an interpretation of the Celtic festival of Samhain, a time when we mark the end of summer and celebrate the gathering of the harvest. It’s a time to recognise the eternal relationship between life and death – the endless cycle of renewal and decay. At this time, the veil between the worlds is understood to be thin and it’s an appropriate time to remember our departed loved ones and our ancestors. My Mum died at this time of year and it’s always felt right to be thinking of her at this time.

But in the pagan ways, for people in the South this is Beltaine, the fullness of Spring; not Samhain, the end of Summer, beginning of Winter. Instead of turning inward for the long, dark days, we are turning outward for the warm, light evenings!

People in Australia are caught not only in the ways of the “old country”, but in a Christian calendar which has usurped traditional land-based rites and the shenanigans of the media, who promote anything and everything that sells. And Hallowe’en sells, as does Christmas, Easter, Mothers’ Day, Fathers’ Day and Valentine’s Day.

At Djanbung Gardens, a permaculture training centre in Nimbin, New South Wales, facilitator Robyn Francis has created a new version of the pagan calendar, accounting for the differences in time zone. Thus, Samhain becomes Beltaine and Lammas, which in the North is a celebration of harvest in August, becomes Imbolc, announcing the imminent arrival of Spring. For those of us Northerners living in the South, it can really help us connect to the land if we tune in to these ancient festival times.

Making rituals to mark these occasions can be a simple thing, practised with a group of friends or alone. At Samhain, light a candle and remember your ancestors. Tell a story about your loved ones and prepare warm food to comfort and sustain you and your friends.
Or if your time is Beltaine, take some soil in a container and plant some seeds. Be thankful for the long days returning after the dark Winter nights and rejoice in the light which helps our food grow and all living beings survive. Prepare a simple meal of fresh vegetables and salad and make a wish that all beings need never be hungry.

This mindfulness can help us remember our place in the order of things, as well as develop a compassion to reach out to others. And this is useful because we need to do both in order to live in a healthy, sane and balanced world. Don’t you think?

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Eltham Mudbrick House Tour

Mudbrick Houses of Eltham

Last weekend we had a surprise insight into the mud brick world of Melbourne. The district of Eltham (that’s El- tham, not Elt-ham) was hosting a “Practically Green” environmental festival, but we got much more than we bargained for when we ended up on an organised tour of local mudbrick houses.

Now I know nothing about mudbrick, as it’s a technique not really used in the UK, or in Europe for that matter. I’ve come across lots of cob and rammed earth, of course, but this is a bit different, since the mud/straw mixture is actually shaped into bricks before its used. Maybe it needs a warmer climate to dry the bricks?

The Tour started at Montsalvat, an artist community founded by Justus Jorgenson,  who designed and built the Great Hall using pis-de-terre (rammed earth) and mudbrick techniques.  Montsalvat was also home to Alistair Knox , who inspired several of the houses on the tour. In fact, one of the houses was his own which was built in the early 1960’s and continued to be his home until his death in 1986.

Even though the technique itself was unfamiliar to me, what did seem to resonate was the the beautiful gardens and the way the outside was invited in by way of large window openings. I also the appreciated the way the houses sit snugly in the landscape – often dug into the side of a hill. Huge round timbers held up decorated gables and coloured glass in the roof let in sunlight to warm and brighten the rooms. Knox was obviously pioneering an environmental design which we can see in many natural homes today, like those built by Tony Wrench or Simon Dale in Wales.

A Veteran of over 1000 house builds, Knox was not an architect by trade, in fact, his first job was in a bank. On his release from the navy in 1945, he began a course in building construction and at the same time, started work on two houses. At that time, materials were in short supply, but Knox was interested in trying out new techniques and had a particular theory about “bringing the building and the natural environment together into one indivisible whole”. Ah yes, that makes sense now. Knox even got the banks to finance one of his builds, by quoting an academic study submitted to the Commonwealth Experimental Building Station which vouched for the safety of mudbrick walls.

At Alistair’s house, we bumped into a student of Knox, Bohdan Kuzyk, who designed another of the houses, home of artist Jenni Mitchell. Jenni’s home sits in a mature orchard garden. The scent of citrus blossom alone makes it feel tropical. The house is home not only her and her partner, but also her luminous paintings. These homes definitely invite one to live with soul inside them.

The Eltham Mudbrick Tour has been going since 1964 and so far, it has only been cancelled once, following the fatal Black Saturday bush fires of 2009 in Kinglake, Victoria. At present, it is organised by the Nillumbick Music Support group, and promoted by the Nullumbick Mudbrick Association, who promote mudbrick building, particularly in the Eltham area.

Because we got caught up in the Tour, we missed the demonstration of mudbrick making which was happening at the “Practically Green” environmental festival. I’ll try to find someone to show me and make a little film about it soon for the Living in the Future series.

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thanks

A Little Lift

Today is a difficult day. When I wake, a heaviness sits in my belly. I take my heaviness up onto the roof, where the sun waits. My morning yoga is helped by the warmth and I mean it when I make the salute. Still, the heaviness persists.

I have got to a point in the new Living in the Future film where I know where I’m going. This is great and it took some time, some drama, some hair-tearing to get to this place. But still we have no funding.

In Wales, I have a good idea what funding is out there. I have connections. My work is known. In Australia, I have had to start again. It is hard.

Then, as I sip my morning tea and ponder over emails, my inbox tells me that I have a new message. Ping! A donation of £100 has arrived from Germany. From Annette and Sebastian.

How can I describe how this feels?

Like someone just drew me a hot bath with bubbles…like the scent of jasmine after a long winter…like a travel pillow on a long flight…I could go on. Basically, I feel supported.

It is not a wish for an easy life which makes a person choose an art form as a way to make a living, and most of us supplement with something else. Only last night, someone told me that his wife, a novelist, is a copywriter for Woolworths by day…

Each comment on the blog or website; each DVD or download purchased; each screening licence; each time someone puts a coin in a hat, hits the donation button or sponsors an episode – it gives me a lift.

So thank you. And keep it coming. I promise you that I’m working hard to bring you the stories about people building sustainable lives – for us all. They, too appreciate your contributions. And thank-you to Annette and Sebastian, for your generous gift.

 

 

 

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Moora Moora Intentional Community

I’ve just come back from a weekend at Moora Moora, an intentional community about an hour and a half out of Melbourne. It takes about an hour to even get out of Melbourne, since the suburbs spread for miles and miles. The train passes out through Camberwell, Chatham, Canterbury and Croyden – all brought from the old country to help the settlers feel at home. They look nothing like the originals.

Eventually, sprawling suburbs turn into sprawling homesteads, with large farmhouses stuck in vast pastures. And trees appear.

My train connects with a bus and after the bus, someone waits to take me the last 20 minutes to the mountain. We wind up Mount Toolebewong through tall gums and emerge at the top into an open green.

The Lodge is a communal building, converted into lounge, kitchen and visitor dorms. This building was used by Melburnians who came to holiday here in the early part of the century, but the rest – about 30 hand built,  have appeared since. The community is about 40 people, plus children, living in small clusters of homes created mostly from mud brick, poured earth or straw. They are off the grid, and fought to stay so when the power company threw lines over the mountain in the 1970’s and insisted that they connect. They refused, making their point by standing in front of the bulldozers. “It was a defining moment in terms of our commitment not to use the grid and to make sure we got as much of our own power using the sun and wind as we could”, says Sandra Cock.

Peter Cock is one of the founders and somewhat of an expert in intentional communities. He wrote a book in the 1970’s as part of his PhD studies which analysed community in Australia and used his experience to establish Moora Moora. He explains that the cluster design protects the community against breakdown, since in theory, if one cluster has a conflict, the whole community does not need to “deal with it”. It’s a bit like saying that if you break a leg, the body won’t die, but I do get the feeling that Moora Moora, nearly 40 years old, is limping just a little. It may be that some of the newcomers crave the laid back lifestyle without wanting to put in the hard work which maintains a community.

This weekend, there is a course here on how to develop a fledgling ecovillage. The facilitator, Shane Schmidt, learned at Findhorn in Scotland and the group of 20-odd participants are all at some stage of setting up a community. They are here to learn about the “four core pillars” of sustainable design: social, worldview, ecological and economic. I am here, in particular, to research aspects of conflict resolution for my new documentary. I take part in a profound process called Forum, which was developed in Zegg community in Germany and facilitated here by Gero Van Aderkas. I hope to show you how it works in the film!

On Saturday, the weather is warm and sunny and supports a fun evening of wood fire pizza, dance and a screening of Ecovillage Pioneers. On Sunday, the mist and rain roll in and blanket the mountaintop in a damp chill which makes me glad to head back down the mountain to the city. I had enough of that in Wales 🙂

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Sea Shepherd

While I was in Bellingen recently, I was visiting some friends of mine who, when they relocated from the UK to Australia, decided to travel by bicycle. Yes, that’s right, by bicycle. Their  12,000 km journey was immortalised in the online video series “Bike to Oz“, as both of them are film makers who wanted to highlight the issue of climate change and the damage done by aeroplanes. However, when they settled in Bellingen, what was needed was not films, but food, so they started a wholefood store, (now online) known as Kombu.

Kombu recently packed up a box of dried wholefood to donate to the crew of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Organisation, which I realised I knew very little about. Then, last Sunday, on an outing to Williamstown, we came across a pirate ship…

We arrived in time for a tour of the SSS Steve Irwin (sorry, but we had to be educated as to the significance of the choice of name). This is one of the ships used on Sea Shepherd campaigns to save whales in the Antarctic from Japanese “poachers”. The Japanese say they need the whales for scientific experiments, but the evidence suggests that they are actually breaking the international ban on harvesting whales for food.  Most moving was a film shown to us in the mess room, which showed the Sea Shepherd ship rammed from both sides by Japanese whaling vessels. Scary stuff.

Our guide showed us the helicopter hangar donated by The Red Hot Chili Peppers; the ship donated by Sam Simon (Simpsons co-creator); the gift sent by the Dalai Lama. It’s clear these guys have some pretty high profile support!

We were lucky enough to sight some whales while in Byron Bay on our Big Trip and it’s clear that it’s these very whales, journeying to and from Antarctica, which are at risk. In 2010, Australia instigated proceedings against Japan for “alleged breach of international regulations against whaling”. The case was heard in the International Court of Justice in the Hague in June/July 2013. We await the court’s decision with keen interest.

UPDATE! The International Court of Justice has UPHELD Australia’s bid to ban whaling in the Southern Ocean. Japan was found to be operating whaling for “logistical and political purposes”, rather than scientific and their special licence was ordered to be revoked and not re-issued. Japan have agreed to abide by the ruling and Sea Shepherd Australia Managing Director Jeff Hanson said the court decision vindicated Sea Shepherd for not only upholding Australian federal laws but also international laws in defending the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary ”for the whales and for future generations”.

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Ecovillage Pioneers Screening at Abbotsford Convent

Abbotsford Convent

For a few months now, I’ve been trying to set up some screenings in Melbourne of the Living in the Future films. Being new here, I didn’t know the right people, the right venues or have the right equipment, but now, it all seems to be coming together.

Abbotsford Convent must be one of the coolest venues in the city and it’s here that Ecovillage Pioneers was introduced. The screening was hosted by Urban Coup – a group of people who are setting up a co-housing project in the inner city. Apart from Sanford Housing Co-operative in London, none of our episodes are about cohousing, so I thought it about time we talked about it. Cohousing projects seek to establish an intentional community in an urban area. The concept has been very well thought out by the Danes and the Americans, who have discovered the optimum number of people, houses and the most successful designs. The Urban Coup are working through their planning process at the moment and looking for a suitable piece of land on which to build.

Before the screening, we met at Lentil as Anything – an innovative ‘pay what you think it’s worth’ vegetarian eatery run by goodwill and volunteers. It’s been a feature of Melbourne life since 2000, with a restaurant in St Kilda by the beach and more recently one at Abbotsford Convent. The food is plentiful and delicious. Founder Shanaka Fernando speaks about his journey growing up in Sri Lanka is this TED talk.

There are about 50 people at the screening, which is really encouraging. They laughed in all the right places. I showed them a Trailer for the new project, which i’ve been working on all week. It was exciting to see it on the big screen – as if it were a real possibility! Making a Trailer is an act of faith, at this stage 🙂

The new film has no funding at present, but we sold some DVDs and guests were generous with their donations, so I feel it has finally got off the ground.

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Morning in Dharmananda

A Big Trip

I’ve been on a trip. A big trip. Two big trips, actually. The first one took me away from my lovely home at Holtsfield in Wales and right over to the other side of the world, to Melbourne, Australia. I’ve been living here for seven months now and taken many little trips to explore the area – up to the Grampian mountains in the north, down to the Great Ocean Road in the South and over to Tasmania, too. And then came another big trip.

When I came to Australia, I knew I wanted to make some films about intentional communities here. I have been making films on this subject for almost 15 years – the website tells the story of that. I had made contact with some people even before I landed, but it took six months of living here to gather what the story would be.

During those six months, I have been doing my research. I’ve been sitting in the beautiful domes of the State Library of Victoria and reading about land rights in Australia (shocking), about alternative lives here, about planning laws. I’ve made friends at two of the communities nearest to me. One is Commonground, a co-operative about an hour from the city, where their intention is to hold a space not only for individuals to live and work together, but also to host other groups who are working for social change. The other is Moora Moora, about an hour in a different direction. Their community is bigger, with around 100 people living in small clusters of the top of a mountain.

Visiting and staying at these communities gave me insight into the themes which are particular to Australia and I started to feel ready.

Then came the big trip. While talking to a journalist friend who also writes about living the simple life, it seemed to shout that I should be telling a history – a history of intentional community in Australia. So that is what I have set out to do. The big trip took me north of Brisbane, to Crystal Waters, a permaculture village near the funky little town of Maleny. From there I travelled to Nimbin, where I met, amongst others, a man associated with the Aquarius Festival in 1973, which brought not only a huge number of hippies to the broken-down town, but also the first multiple occupancy planning laws. Some of the communities established then still remain and have loads to teach us about how to live with each other and how to maintain such a project over time.

In Bellingen, further south, there are over 25 intentional communities a hotbed of activity which has spilled out into the surrounding area, including the local council, who have established radical waste collection initiatives.

Narara Ecovillage, an hour north of Sydney, is on the site of a horticultural research facility. This land will now be turned into one of Australia’s newest intentional communities.

I have some great stories to tell you and this is only the beginning. This blog will help me make sense of the film I am making and also of life in Australia, 18,000 km from the place I call home. Will you join me?

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