Monthly Archives: May 2015

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A Jungle Commune in Darwin

“Welcome to the Jungle!”
That’s the refrain when a new person arrives at the Buddha’s Hideaway in Coconut Grove, Darwin. I found the place on Airbnb, but from the description I knew it was no ordinary hostel. “We are a commune”, says Suzy, the owner, in the advert. “Nudity is accepted, even encouraged”.
Intrigued, I book. I’m always keen to check out a new version of community.

I arrive on a humid, airless evening, just as the ochre sky has given up its colour. This is the tropics, and daylight does not linger. It is pitch dark as I make my way down the long, winding driveway by the light of my phone.

A tall Queenslander-style house stands on stilts, but in the space underneath, people mingle in an open kitchen area and beyond. Around us, tall palm trees rustle, enclosing the exotic scene. Two long tables are pushed together and laid with knives and forks. If that’s for dinner, I’m in.

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As bowls of pasta, garlic bread and stuffed capsicum are laid out, people gather and sit, passing the plates of food around and sharing news from their day. It’s relaxed and convivial and I feel an immediate welcome. After, we sit up late, talking about life. Suzy, who serves as “Mother” of the household, is full of stories, which she loves to share…

My bed is on the balcony. Above me, a woven matted ceiling hides the sky, but the walls are open to the sounds of the night. I hear a possum growl, closer than I’d like and in a shiver of fear, I wonder if he’ll jump right in beside me! He doesn’t, and I drift into an easy sleep, lulled by the distant muted conversation from below and the chirrup of rainforest insects.

“I think basically it really hooks into people’s need to be part of a tribe. To have a sense of belonging, to have a sense that somebody cares”, says Suzy the next morning over a cup of tea. She’s sitting on the sofa, dressed only in a t-shirt and knickers, a sarong thrown around her shoulders. It’s nine in the morning and already it’s hot, my hair sticking in damp clumps around my neck.

Suzy continues. “I think it’s very alienating to live in a nuclear family or to live in a flat somewhere. Where you’re anonymous, where you come home to an empty house. You’ve got no-one to interact with, no-one to cook with, no-one to share your day with. And now with tv, people are interacting even less than they did, and with social media even more so….. Nobody here is into watching tv. They spend the whole evening interacting with one another.”

One of the residents, Tiff, agrees.
“I’d been a bit depressed and was all the way up here (in Darwin) on my own. I’m a really social person and this (the commune) just suited me. They’ve become my new family. We’re all here for each other. We all support each other. We socialise together. We all look after each other. We have our little space to go off to if we want to be on our own, but mostly when you’re tired and you go and lie down, then you hear someone laugh and you think ‘Am i missing out on too much fun?’. Then you’ve got to get up and join in! We cook together, we eat together, it’s the most functional family I’ve ever lived in.”

I ask Suzy about how the commune started. “This particular commune has been running since 1992, and its gone through a lot of phases. Times when people don’t even speak to each other; times when they’re very cliquey; times when they all cook together and times when nobody cooks. Sometimes I got into despair that nobody “got it” and then one person would rock up and change all the dynamics.”

It’s not the first commune Suzy has created. With a PhD in anthropology and a colourful past, including early abandonment by her parents, care of eight younger siblings and a career as a call girl, she was drawn to communes from the age of seventeen. After a brief flirtation with the idea in Canada, she returned to Australia determined to escape the nuclear family, which she did by borrowing money from the bank and extending a three-bedroom home to accommodate more people. She eventually gave that commune up in order to concentrate on her PhD, but soon found herself doing the same thing again – extending the property and inviting others to join her.

“In the interim I started up various other communes around Darwin. One of them is for older people, which is very challenging to manage, because they don’t co-habit easily because they’re not used to it… and they can be very selfish.”

When she details some of the problems she encounters dealing with people, I wonder aloud why she bothers.

“I think it’s a social experiment, really. And I’ve already committed myself to it. I owe four million dollars to the bank. It’s an obsession. I started doing it because I like renovating. I like the creative act of renovating. And setting up a community. That’s what I love doing. Twice I’ve tried to escape and set up a flat somewhere else but then I come back. It’s too boring and it’s too lonely.”

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We sit around the fire, a circle of faces lit by the gentle flames. Estelle, a beautiful young French woman who was introduced to the ‘Jungle” by a friend, speaks with emotion.
“The first time we came, we didn’t want to leave. It’s like paradise. It’s the best house I ever had in my whole life. It’s so peaceful. You have a lot of people so you can learn a lot of things from everyone. Now we can’t leave because it’s our new family.”

Listening to her speak. Suzy is teary-eyed.
“It’s beyond my expectations. I’m so glad you get it. I hope you guys go and set up communes wherever you are….and you can do it!”

If you want to stay at Buddha’s Hideaway, lookup Airbnb in Darwin on +61(0)409483129 or contact suzyindarwin@hotmail.com

A book on Suzy’s life called Edge of Dreaming is available on Amazon.

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Deep Listening: Dadirri – Film Review by Melissa Coffey

How do we listen more deeply to one another? How do we do this in community even when our opinions conflict, in order to agree on a path of action that moves a community forward?
In this powerfully reflective documentary film, director Helen Iles visits with seven “intentional communities” across Australia. Through a series of interviews and other footage, the film gently draws out common themes between diverse approaches to create a more authentic sense of community than what our contemporary, increasingly urban consumerist-driven society often offers.
Despite differences, what underpins all seven of these communities, in their individual visions, is a connection to and concern for the natural environment they have built their communities within. Iles draws this theme out through capturing evocative glimpses of surrounding nature, their permaculture sites, and documenting some of the history of environmental activism, initiated by of some of these intentional communities in their formative years. The film’s attention to history makes it clear – intentional communities are not merely some ephemeral eco-trend – some of the featured communities have been going for 40 years.
The film’s name, dadirri is an indigenous word from the area of the Daly River, Northern Territory. Meaning “deep listening”, it entails a way of respectful listening, not just with our ears, but with our eyes and our heart. Developing dadirri, like the Buddhist practice of mindfulness, allows one to tune into oneself, to other people and to environment. Although these communities are not necessarily adopting dadirri with deliberate awareness of it as an indigenous practice, what the film highlights is that any community that desires to care for the surrounding natural environment, and to develop more inclusive decision-making for its members, inevitably embodies this principle.
As one of the interviewees reminds us, the indigenous people of Australia did not consider this land a “wilderness” – it was their home. Like any home, it required care and management. To do this, as indigenous elder Aunty Doris Paton says, the concept of dadirri was essential. In knowing “when the birds come, the flowers blossom, the rivers flow”, tribes could not only serve the land, but also let the land serve them, making better decisions for their communities about when to hunt, where to set up camp, when to move on.
These intentional communities all shared this similar commitment to the environment and to each other which I found extremely moving – often with humility and humour. They do not say it is easy. They do, unfailingly, say it is worthwhile.
Dadirri presents many ideas and insights that are pertinent to any community-building initiative – be that in schools, neighbourhoods, or organizations, as well as showing a way of living that is an antidote to many of the ills of contemporary life.  Managing to avoid the obviously didactic, Dadirri is instead thoughtful, gently provocative and insightful.
As the viewer journeys with this film, stepping into a number of homes and communal spaces, the theme of listening gradually emerges as a compelling motif. The more the viewer listens, the more one hears about the importance of active and authentic listening. Deep listening: to each other and to the land.

This article first appeared in Eigana, The Magazine of the Victorian Association of Environmental Education. April 2015

~ Melissa Coffey
A freelance writer and published author, Melissa writes across several genres around themes of feminism, sexuality, wellbeing and spirituality. She writes online for Stress Panda. Her work has featured in literary journal Etchings (“Visual Eyes” #12), and her short story Motherlines was published in Australian anthology Stew and Sinkers (2013).
Find her on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/MelissaCoffey.CuriousSeeds.Comms

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The Impermanence of Film making

It’s Saturday morning and the rain is coming down through the gray of Melbourne’s wintery sky. I’m hazy, having been awake in the early hours, wired after our latest booked-out screening event for our new film Deep Listening: Dadirri. After the buzz of last night, I feel deflated, coming down from the energy solidly. I wonder how performers manage with the highs and lows of their workaday lives. Thankfully, screenings are only a small part of a film maker’s world.

I’ve spent two years making this film and for most of the production time, I’ve been alone. Whether researching the histories of Australia in the majestic domed room of the State Library; sending and responding to emails from contributors; copying files; editing trailers; uploading films or updating the website. Mostly, I’m alone. And then there’s editing the film itself. Days, nights, weeks and months in front of my faithful computer. Yep, most of the time, I’m alone.

Of course, when I’m filming I’m not alone. I’m travelling; wandering; meeting; mingling; interviewing. I’m visiting amazing places and even more amazing people. I’m staying up late and drinking wine and eating hearty communal meals. I’m sitting around fires with dark skies and brilliant stars. I’m partaking in community.

Which of these states do I prefer? I really can’t say. What I love is the melange of it. I like the fact that no two days are the same. Whilst I sometimes, on the dark days, long for a job where I get paid “just to hang my coat on the back of the chair”, I know that in fact, I would get bored quickly.

One of the audience last night asked the panel what was great about being in community. Amongst the usual answers of “it’s an amazing place to bring up children” and “I love the contact with nature/other people”, our guest Carl Freeman said that he loved the sense of freedom. Since moving to Commonground, he has only had to work three days a week and the rest of the time he gets to grow veggies and organise his own time. I had to agree. The ability to live in rhythm with myself, with nature, the seasons and vicissitudes of weather and energy, determines a lifestyle choice for me.

At a recent event as part of Transitions Film Festival, a film maker friend of mine, Heidi Douglas, came to show her latest film – Defendant 5 – at the Nova cinema in Carlton. I knew Heidi from Wales, where I used to co-host an activist film festival. called BeyondTV. You can still see clips from it online. Heidi had come all the way to Wales to show her brilliant film about the logging of Tasmanian forests. Now, she has travelled from Sydney. Gathered with other film makers and producers in the bar after her screening, Heidi confides that she never feels more at home then when she is with film makers. Not so for me. I feel most at home amongst the alternative life-stylers who populate my films. The folk living in intentional communities or ecovillages. The yogis, meditators and gardeners who practise ways to stay connected with themselves, with nature and with each other. Perhaps I’m not a proper film maker after all.

I’m in the midst of re-designing the Living in the Future website. Amongst the difficulties of selecting images and writing copy, what I find most challenging is to re-visit questions such as “What do you do? “Why do you do it?”. Often, I just have to confess that I don’t know, or that what I thought I knew yesterday no longer holds true. Art, like life, is an ever-changing dance between energies of people and place. Between this moment and what appears in the next. What propels me through the story of a film is what propels me through life and often, as in life, I don’t really know what or why until years later.

In an amusing article about his latest novel, The Last Pulse, Anson Cameron wrote recently that he hated it when people asked him what his book is about. They were asking him to condense what he had said in the “symphony” of his novel to a “fart-long synopsis”. It was impossible.

As I labour over the latest draft of the latest synopsis of the latest film, I turn his comments over in my mind. Maybe sometime in the future, I’ll have some idea what this film is about. Until then, like any performer, I’ll have to rely on the reviews.

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