Category Archives: Documentary

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Glen Ochre

I’ve been to a funeral. Not unusual, you say, but this one was. This one was for one of the founders of Commonground, an intentional community outside of Melbourne established in 1984. So as they celebrate their thirtieth anniversary, they lose one of their “dinosaurs”, as they call them. Their pillars.

Glen Ochre was a remarkable woman. She spent most of her adult life challenging the status quo in one way or another. She left home under violent circumstances, faking her birth certificate to become a nurse at age 15. She married young, and nursed a dying child at home, long before it was popular to do so. She was a feminist, and during the seventies, before there was such a thing as a refuge, hid women from their violent partners in her own home.

Glen had faith in the power of collaboration and qualified as a social worker, training especially in group work. This came to define her later life.

Over the last few months, I’ve been working with Glen to tell her life story. It has been such a privilege. Our work together has been interrupted. By hospital visits to try to get the pain under control. By last-time trips to the wilds of Australia to see her beloved red earth.

Some of that which we intended to do is left unfinished. But perhaps that was inevitable. With Glen, the work never stopped.

Together with her four co-founders – Phil Bourne, Kate Lewer, Ed McKinley and Terry Melvin, Glen set up Commonground Co-operative as both an intentional community and a space where groups could come and do their own work together. The house was build by hand and is a maze of mud brick corridors, with huge rooms as communal spaces; big, well-equipped kitchen and dining areas and lots of toilets fed with water from their own dam. They seem to have thought of everything. An outside area to play and let off steam. A garden packed with fresh home grown veggies. Big fireplaces inside and out, to keep you warm on those chilly winter nights.

The space is well-designed for parties and they hold a festival here most years. Some people remarked how Glen’s funeral was a lot like a festival. The bathtubs held ice for beer and soft drinks. The bar was set up by the pizza oven with rows and rows of glasses. Lines of chairs encircled a stage area, where tall speakers and tv screens prepared to broadcast the proceedings.

But one thing was different. Glen lay in an open coffin in the Great Room and people wandered up to say their tearful goodbyes. To the last, Glen challenged the “normal” way of doing things, as we were all invited to speak at the microphone and all invited to place a leaf in her coffin as a final ritual.

As well as the amazing space which is Commonground, Glen set up and ran the Groupwork Institute. Together with her partner Ed, she wrote the world’s first nationally accredited course for facilitation training, teaching a skillset for working with groups of all kinds for improved communication, better teamwork, efficient decision-making and happier individuals.

The skills which Glen taught are key to the success of communities. The book she wrote called “Getting Our Act Together” encompasses the range of tools Glen developed over years of working with groups. Her wisdom and clarity has helped to guide the story in the latest Living in the Future documentary, which is all about how communities in Australia have survived over time. In fact, Glen’s life has embodied so many of the ways in which we can all take back some of the power we have given away and live from a place of connection and harmony – both with ourselves, with each other and with Nature.

Go well, Glen.

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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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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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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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