Category Archives: Events

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Cultural Connections in the Northern Territory

A group of people – adults and children – gather around elder Miriam Ungunmerr-Baumann as she sits by the side of the mighty Daly River in the Northern Territory community of Nauiyu. She is explaining to them about the Aboriginal way of being she calls dadirri, which can be translated as a deep, respectful listening to self, other and to land. “The way that we talk about nature, the universe, it’s kind of poetic and creative way of describing something, because it sustains us as well. When you read a book, you don’t just read the words, you read the meaning of it. What the story’s about. And that gets you really worked up and excited about it. And that’s what the bush is like for us. We read it in detail.”

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The group has gathered as part of the first ever Cultural Connections Tour to the Nauiyu community, initiated by the Miriam-Rose Foundation, an organisation established to further the well-being of the community and especially their young people. Tour organisers Pip Gordon and Nicole Kinnaird were asked to invite people to come and get to know Aboriginal people, to sit with them and learn their ways. Twelve people responded and brought themselves and their families to take part in a week-long experience which included traditional welcome and cleansing ceremonies, dance performances, art-making and weaving. Participant Alyson Goff says has found it life-changing. “I decided to come on the Cultural Connection Tour mainly to immerse our family in the culture of the traditional owners because I think it’s important for every Australian – or anyone – to understand where they come from and to experience the world before us. What I actually ended up getting out of this was more than that. To me, what I take away is that it’s really about your ancestry. Where you come from forms the essence of who you are.”

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“Knowing who you are” is one of the main themes of the week. As Miriam and the other elders initiate the group into some traditional Aboriginal culture, they emphasise how important it is that their young people grow up with a firm grasp of their place in the order of things. One of the highlights is a demonstration of traditional dancing. Children from the local school gather excitedly, dressed in red loincloths and with faces, body and legs smeared with white ochre. They perform dance they only recently learned, faces wide with grins and clearly enjoying themselves. A group of men, also painted, provide music and rhythm on clapsticks and didge and members of the community gather to watch, whooping and clapping their appreciation.

“There hadn’t been any dancing for the last 15 years and I’m starting to do this for the young ones”, says Miriam. The Tour group also takes part in a welcome ceremony, something the Aboriginal people have done for centuries to alert the ancestors to the presence of strangers. “We let them know we have visitors, “ explains Miriam, “And ask they might have safe passage through our country.” Despite the stories people love to tell about crocodiles who live in the river, two community members wade into the shallows and one by one, we line up to receive a sprinkle river water onto our heads. This, it is said, carries the scent of each person to mingle with the water, so that part of us is now immersed in the nature of the place.

Participant Andrew Lindsay feels that the trip has begun to answer life-long questions about the country in which he has always lived. “Growing up in this country and identifying as an Australian. Knowing that we’ve only been here a couple of hundred years…and always wondering what was the Aboriginal relationship to the land. To be beginning a personal relationship with someone who embodies that is a really special thing.” This kind of tour is a way for communities like this to earn an income. Miriam feels it’s important to recognise that knowledge exchange is now a currency and that elders should be recompensed for their wisdom. “Our elders are like our consultants. They’re like our encyclopaedias and anything we want to know we ask them. But we’re in the era now of keeping things going, and to keep (our elders) interested in giving that information we have to pay them.”

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Art, too, is a commodity understood by the community. The Merrepen Arts Centre, established on the community over 25 years ago and now a thriving social enterprise, is known all over Australia for its quality art work. This career path is being opened to the young people and an art sale set up by the school, children exhibit paintings accompanied by a professional-looking certificate of authenticity with an artist bio for each of them. The paintings, of turtles, lizards, waterlilies and butterflies, reflect the local landscape and and are well worth the $10-20 dollar price tags. Between the art and the tours, Aboriginal communities like this are striving to overcome the difficulties associated not only with their remote location, but with poor health and high rates of suicide, particularly amongst the young.

Elder Agnes Page, a trained tour operator, has been working with Miriam to educate young people coming up from the South in the ways of traditional bush craft and medicine that has so often been lost in from tribes in Australia’s south. She tells me that for her, hosting these groups has been an effort to establish something for the next generation. “I want to do it for my children”, she says. “To leave them something they can continue.”

Kristy Pursch, a Tour participant and descendent of the Butchulla trible of Fraser Island, grew up estranged from her culture and although she now works on health projects in Aboriginal communities, saw the Cultural Connections Tour as a way to deepen her understanding of and connection to,  Aboriginal people. Kristy has heard the call of the elders for support for their young people and has arranged to take a young student from the community on a Homestay with her own family back in Coff’s Harbour. On her return from the trip, Kristy wrote down some of her impressions, which I quote here without editing. It seems to me to be a fitting tribute to the elders who so kindly welcomed the Cultural Connections Tour group into their lives.

“A quietness and completeness. Born of love and acceptance.  To sit in the inner stillness of my being. And trust all as it should be. My old ones guide and love me.  And will support me to mother my babies as they… Create their own identity.” Kristy Pursch. 2015.

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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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Dandelionweb

Let Go

Twice on the long weekend that is known both as Australia Day and Invasion Day, I was urged to “let go”. Once was on Saturday, at a yoga class with my friend Mary, and again on the holiday Monday, in meditation. The teachers could not have been aware how appropriate the lesson is for me, but then, they would not be surprised, either. It is often the way. The yoga teacher put her finger on a query that has been wandering through my head. “Why am I doing this?”

If we ask this, she said, we limit our ability to BE in the moment and thereby limit our ability to seize every opportunity, to be alive to every nuance, to fully be present in the unfolding of our lives. “Let go” she said. “And trust that what you are doing is for a purpose. In time, that purpose will be revealed.”

I walk out of the class smiling. I am in the midst of completing, and launching, a new film. Knee deep in publicity, press releases, flyers, posters and web banners, I am beginning a mission which seemingly has no end. In the first instance, I must sell 120 tickets to the premiere. I feel anxious. When I turn up to the meditation sit, I am carrying my shoulders hooked up to the sky and my stomach is a dense knot of how-will-I-get-through-this. Outwardly, I might look calm, but inwardly, my mind jumps around between designs for flyers, still editing the movie in my head and finding places where it just isn’t good enough. As I take my seat on the cushion, I am making mental lists about what I have to do tomorrow. I am so distracted, I can barely hear the teacher’s instructions.

Gradually, I find my breath and manage to hold my attention there for a short while. I feel my back soften. The teacher’s words float in above the melodic birdsong I have only just noticed. “We want to control everything, but life will have it’s own way and therein lies magic”.  I like magic. I like the feeling that something bigger than me is in charge. Last week, at the same meditation sit, I arrive early and start taking to a woman who is also there early. She Is saying she came straight from work and I ask her what she does. “I’m a film editor” she replies. “Oh! ” I say, surprised. “I’m a film maker too!. “What do you make films about?” She asks. “Communities and sustainability” I say. “Oh, that’s strange.” she says, “I grew up in a community”.

We are both very present now. What began as idle conversation has meaning and significance for us both and we lean in, feasting on the moment. “Bodhi Farm”. She says and I feel my giggle rising. “Then you must know Mitra” I say, astonishment growing by the moment. “She’s my sister!!” shouts Mirabai. Her hands in the air now, her eyes shining. We are both grinning. “Mitra is my next door neighbour!” I yell. “And your Dad’s in my film!”

I am remembering this chance encounter as Jess, the meditation teacher, urges us once again to loosen the grip, so that life might have its way with us. “Of course” she says, “We do need to orchestrate our lives. We need to make plans, organise events. Otherwise none of us would even be here. But we also need to make room for the small things. For the unexpected. And we need to let go of any expectations. It is those that will cause us disappointment.”

The next morning,  when I wake, my hands are folded gently over my heart, in a gesture which happens only when I have slept really soundly and peacefully. I lie comfortably in the cool morning, cosy in my nest and remember a dream I had. It had been snowing, and in the streets, ice and snow had made the pavements slippery. Instead of taking my usual tentative steps, I was hurling myself forward, sliding joyfully along, giving myself up to the ride.

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Shearwater Festival

As we make our way across the empty beach, the sun is giving last light to the bubbling clouds. We climb, a group of twenty or so excited nature-lovers, onto the cliff top. Around us, a babbling is beginning in the grasslands. The birds are coming in to nest.
“Sit down”, says Graeme Burgen, the ranger. He is a tall man. Somewhat imposing in the half-light, he towers above us. “You’ll see why in a minute.”
And we crouch on the sandy path as the shearwater birds flap and flutter and dive overhead, shooting in from their long day at sea to their cosy burrows. The whole show lasts about fifteen minutes. Showering the darkening sky with their busy wings.

The Shearwater Festival is bringing attention to these fascinating seabirds. Now in its third year, it garners the community on tiny Philip Island, near Melbourne, to a show of love and care towards their returning travellers. In winter, the shearwater leave their Island nests and fly North to Alaska, where they find the food they need to survive another year. Now, in mid-November, almost to a predictable day, the shearwater return.

For the Aboriginal locals, this was a feeding season for them, too. Aunty Doris Paton tells me that her people would camp here for months, feasting on “mutton birds”, as they are known and then, like the birds, moving to another landscape when the season demanded it.
Scratching our heads with wonder, we watch as Graeme shows us the flight path of the birds. He tracks them using modern computer technology and we see the cycles of a single male bird. Arriving back on Australian shores in November, the bird finds a mate and they lay a single egg. The parents then take it in turns to fly South, to Antarctica, to fill their bird bellies with protein-rich krill. After she has laid, the male takes first turn in the nest, allowing Mum to re-fuel after her delivery. Then they swap, each spending days in the krill fields, putting on weight and bringing home food for their chick.
When March comes around, the parents take a last visit to Antarctica, before embarking on a 12,000km trip north. We can see their route. Up to Japan, then all the way to the Bering Strait, where they make their second home.

The Shearwater Festival is organised by the Deep Listening Project. Championing a way of being which is rich in Aboriginal tradition, Deep Listening is the underlying concept of the art, song, dance and music in which we are all invited to participate.
Known in some Aboriginal languages as “Dadirri”, this way of knowing relies on listening not only with our ears, but with our eyes; with our hearts; and most importantly, with respect. Aunty Doris tells me that in contrast to our Western needs to “fill the gaps”, Aboriginal people are content to sit in silence. “In our way… we’re very comfortable with silence”, she says. “We can sit, and listen, and not talk”.

One of the highlights for me, alongside music from Kutcha Edwards; Yirrmal and the Yolngu Boys and Archie Roach, we have music from the Deep Listening Band. Ron Murray, a Wamba Wamba man, plays didge with the band. He tells me how he uses Deep Listening to “tune in” to his fellow musicians Michael Jordan and Steve Sedergreen. Each performance is improvised, each different, as the piano and the drums dance around the resonances of the didge, around the stories told by Ron. “It’s meditative”, he says.

Back up on the cliff, it’s 5am in the morning and the shearwater birds line up on the path, using it like a runway to get up speed for a take-off. Their bodies, so graceful in the air, so efficient in the water, waddle awkwardly like slender ducks, until their narrow wings catch the breeze and lift them up to the pre-dawn sky. The bobbling from the surrounding tussocks is frenzied now. The “whoop, whoop, whoop” of their wings as they approach airborne brings to mind the first aeroplanes. Surely we must have watched these birds for inspiration?

As the morning breaks overhead, the last shearwaters lift into the pale blue sky, leaving only a few nesting females behind. The landscape quietens, a swamp wallaby raises his gentle face in the distance and the small group of awestruck humans head off for a hearty breakfast.

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Commonground_festival

A Change is Gonna Come

“I’ve never been to a festival like this before”, says Sarah-Jane, her blue eyes twinkling. “Where you start from an assumption that everyone is your friend”.
And it’s true. What is extraordinary about the Commonground Festival in Seymour, near Melbourne, is not the beautiful red gum landscape; not the soul-scoring music; not the delicious home-grown, home-cooked food; not the inevitable problems with blocked toilets… All these are already festival favourites. What is extraordinary here is the intense feeling of connection; the strong sense of purpose; the deep, meaningful conversation; the sparkly, convivial atmosphere. It’s like a huge family party, without the starched formalities which often accompany such events.

The festival is opened by indigenous elder Uncle Larry Walsh, who welcomes us to country in the lyrical language of the Taungurung people. “Wominjeka. Pallian beek.” He explains that the words are a welcome from his tribe, which stretches from East to West across this part of the Kulin nation. In my volunteer role documenting the weekend, I film him, my camera on a borrowed tripod, since I managed, somehow, to leave my tripod on the tram on the way here.

Uncle Larry, his grey hair flowing free like the  many rivers in his part of the world, congratulates Commonground on their thirtieth birthday. Thirty years since a small group of radical, like-minded health professionals pooled their resources to buy this block of land. Thirty years since they camped out, small children and all, and began to cook up a dream. They wanted to both create an intentional community and to support social change makers in their work for a more just and sustainable world. They hand built a rambling rabbit-warren of a building to house not only themselves, but groups who wanted a space to come together in. Fashioned from mud brick and recycled materials, it sits comfortably in the hillside overlooking hills and bushland. A tour takes us around the property, taking in the abundant veggie gardens, the apple orchard and the quirky octagonal structure which was their first attempt at construction.

It’s ironic that this Festival takes place the same weekend as our appointed world leaders take the stage for the G20 summit in Brisbane. Despite Tony Abbott’s encouragement for them all to be in first name terms, there are few genuine friendships there. How different might the world look if power was in the hands of those who really cared? If all our governments were working for a more just and sustainable world? Instead, Abbott is calling for focus to be kept on economic growth – a concept which has long since proved itself to be out of step with the needs of both people and planet.

Uncle Larry shares the stage with Kate Lewer, one of that small group of founders. Kate glows as he reminisces with her about the collaborations between Commonground and the Aboriginal community to decide how they could best work together to manage the land. It’s clear that he holds a fondness for these people and he stays around all night and all the next day – enjoying a yarn around the smoky fire as the music from the bands sings out across the tall gums. Whilst it’s true that this is a mostly white-face festival, there’s a general feeling that we are all on the same page when it comes to how to get along. And if we want some help with that, the workshops run by Commonground’s sister organisation, the Groupwork Institute on “Emotional Resilience” and “Working Collaboratively”, give us ideas and skills to take away.

Part of my job here is to talk to a few of the musicians about the role they feel music has in social change. I take them up onto the stony hill overlooking the festival site and frame them with the stage in the background. Mandy Connell is a singer-songwriter from Melbourne. She sits on a log and plays me a plaintive folk song which questions the suspension of human rights for the Northern Territory Intervention and asks who might be next under “Abbott’s Inquisition.” Her voice is clear and strong and those nearby lean in to listen. “Last time I read about the NT Intervention, I figured when they finished, they’d be comin’ for the nation…”

Robbie Bundle is an indigenous musician from West Footscray. He strums a song called “My Sacred Place” and it’s clear that for him, land rights and sense of belonging is one of the important social issues that music can help to articulate. “Take me back to my sacred place, take me home…”

Lying in my tent and listening to the rain on Sunday morning, I switch on my phone and pick up some news about how the G20 is going. Tony Abbott has embarrassed himself once more by boasting about his regressive policies on carbon emissions, on asylum seekers and on health care. Vladimir Putin, although not shirt fronted, leaves the gathering early. Here at Commonground, though, we are reluctant to leave. We want to live always in this warm bubble of possibility. Weekends like this show us a way to be which is inclusive, considerate and conscious.

As if to prove the theory, when I call Yarra trams to see if my tripod has been handed in, the man in the phone is delighted to tell me that they have it there waiting for me. Perhaps the bubble of possibility is, after all, for more than just a weekend.

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David Bridie & Frank Yamma

Sometimes, knowledge of an artist or musician sidles slowly into your peripheral vision. A friend mentions him or her; a gig or an exhibition shows up; you buy a CD, take it home. It grows on you. And sometimes, the artist arrives with a bang. You see or hear something and you are instantly intrigued. Beguiled, even. It was this way with David Bridie and Frank Yamma, two Australian musicians who have worked together on a series of projects. The one which caught my eye first was the film Satellite Boy.

Satellite Boy is a charming, yet haunting parable about a young Aboriginal growing up in remote Western Australia. The film paints a bleak picture of his life and community, scrabbling in the red dirt for a living, for a hope and a dream.  The Satellite Boy himself has a special relationship with his grandfather, who tries, but does not quite take the place of his absent mother. The story takes us deep into dreamtime, where the boy learns to understand, appreciate and to practice the ways of Country.

David Bridie created the score and performed the soundtrack with several other artists, including Frank Yamma. It moves between nursery jingle and folk lore to emotional yearning and spiritual calling. All together, it’s a dark and light package of Australian-ness. Straight from the kangaroo’s tail.

I watched the film in Melbourne, all the way down South, but with its own form of native resonances. I was new to Australia, eager to learn about its First Peoples and finding it difficult to access authentic expressions of Aboriginal culture. I probably just didn’t know where to look, which is why it was so nice to find this in my local cinema. An accessible format and an accessible tale, but still rich with the colour and sound of Australia. The movie has been followed recently with a beautiful story also starring veteran indigenous actor David Gulpilil. Charlie’s Country follows the fortunes of an aging blackfella who is still struggling to find his place in a world which romanticises ‘the old ways’ of his ancestors, but in which the ‘new ways’ of the whitefellas are equally alien to him. Both these projects are a collaboration between Aboriginal and white artists and to me, are all the more compelling for it, as it seems to shine a message of hope that co-habitation and mutual understanding are possible in this vast, magical land.

The soundtrack to Satellite Boy was a favourite in our house after that visit to the cinema, and we started to explore other music by the artists involved. We also stumbled across The Circuit, a TV series directed by the the same woman who wrote and directed Satellite Boy – Catriona Mackenzie. This series is set in the same part of Australia, Broome and The Kimberley and benefits from a great soundtrack of Aboriginal anthems. We took the soundtracks with us on our own adventures to that region and they seemed to help us connect with the red highways, the flat grassy plains and the strange boab trees.

After months of listening to the soundtracks, we were pleased to see that David Bridie and Frank Yamma were playing a set of gigs in Melbourne area. The first two, Husband had to attend alone, as I was out of town. I had to endure his excited texts and experience the gigs vicariously, but for the third gig, we went together to see them – all the way down to the ocean at Torquay. It was a lovely warm spring afternoon and the colourful market on the sea front made us both feel very welcome. The sea was doing a deep blue blush and it felt like people were out to relax and enjoy a great Sunday on the coast. The mood at the Bowls Club was buoyant and David, Frank and guitarist Phil Wales received a warm seaside welcome. They joked that the Bowls Club followed gigs at Trades Hall and a Working Men’s club in Elsternwick, but their wry self-depreciation only made us appreciate our luck. What a treat, to be with such distinguished musicians in an intimate venue on a fine Sunday afternoon!

David is a tall, fine boned man who looks a little uncomfortable as he folds himself behind his keyboard. I’ve recently been reading a book called Quiet: The Power of Introverts, by Susan Cain. The book analyses the modern Western trend for extroverts and asks why we no longer value the introverted natures which often produce artists, musicians and poets? David, both poet and musician, appears altogether the introvert, singing plaintive, thoughtful lyrics to swooping melodies. He is clearly thinks about things deeply. Frank, too, looks like he’d rather be anywhere but on stage. He mumbles a few lines to the crowd, who lap up every word, revelling in the sound of his crystallised honey, care worn voice. When he opens his mouth to sing the weight of his race tumbles forth. He sings in tongue, in Pitjantjatjara. It’s one of around 60 Aboriginal languages still in use today and we can’t understand, but in a sense, we don’t need to. The way he sings tells us all we need to know.
These three, David, Frank and Phil, are old buddies. For one track, Phil brings out a squarish mandolin-type instrument and plucks its three strings meaningfully. “Old, ancient instruments for old, ancient musicians”, he jests.
And in some ways, it’s true, these guys are not the young crowd. And yet their music speaks of life and experience and there’s no way the young folk can argue with that.

At the end of the gig, when the Quiet book says that introvert performers would rather be hiding in the toilets, David is kind enough to give us a few minute of his time. He tells me he went to Wales years ago. He wrote a song about Aberystwyth, which turns out to be a homesick lament with a political twist. What strikes him about my home are the big winds, pale blue skies, and the English holiday homes being burned by Welsh nationalists. Land and Freedom. Maybe you can’t separate them.

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Kate Bush

I was twelve when Kate Bush released Wuthering Heights. Such a precious age for a girl child. On the brink of womanhood, I watched the young singer-songwriter on Top of the Pops and knew that women could do stuff. I was forty eight when, learning that Kate was to perform a series of concerts after a thirty five year absence from the stage, I sat at a computer in Melbourne, Australia and resolved to get a ticket. In the time in between these events, Kate has produced 10 albums, each of which I have hungrily devoured. The covers of these albums, first in vinyl and then, re-purchased as CDs, are as familiar to me as my own family.

It was an entirely engrossing experience to finally see her on stage in London. I went on my own, like so many others who had lucked their way to a ticket within the fifteen minutes that they sold out. But you know what? That was fine. For me, Kate was always a solitary activity. As a teenager, my Mum bought me a t-shirt which declared “I want to be alone!”. She was mocking my tendency to lock myself in my room and play records over and over. A lot of the time, I was playing Kate Bush LPs. Kate’s early work carried me through my teenage years but it is not these songs she plays in stage in 2014. I don’t mind at all. Outside the venue, TV camera crews ask fans which tracks they want to hear, but no-one cares. Really. Whatever she does is fine by us.

As is often the way among fans, Kate’s most famous hits are not my favourites. Babooshka and Running up that Hill are amazing, of course, but give me Army Dreamers or Breathing from her second album, Never For Ever, any day. These songs mark the beginning of my political thinking. Ask me about my opinions on war and you will hear these lyrics in the background. It’s a feminine, pragmatic approach. People die in wars. Every soldier is someone’s son. Oh yes, and we need to take care of our environment, or we’ll have no clean air to breathe.

Kate took control of her musical career early on and I have always admired that strong independence. It seemed that, more than any other female artist, she was in control of her own image, her own story. In a world where women are fiercely exploited, Kate engineered her own destiny. And that, to me, is a political statement too. Not only can women do stuff, but they can do it on their own terms.

As the press review that first concert as a “comeback”, I think, “But she never went away!”. The mystery and enigma of the artist that is Kate Bush is a result of the intrusive and sensationalist nature of our media. In order to keep her integrity, she needed to keep to herself. But she never stopped producing. Never stopped working. Never even took a parenting break. The release of her music has been consistent. Life has been her muse.

I like to think of Kate as a companion. Her music has accompanied me on my own rich journey and her consistency has been inspirational. The morals and values which she holds dear are integral to her art and she has never disappointed me. She has never sold out, never sold us short. This concert is simply the next step in her impeccable track record. And yes, it was worth the wait.

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NAIDOC

NAIDOC

I’m sitting waiting from a call from Auntie Carolyn Briggs. That’s not MY Auntie Carolyn, but the Boonwurrung elder whom I met last night in Footscray. I am cwtched on the sofa, succumbed at last to the niggly sore throat and runny nose which has been hovering around all week. I feel somewhat gratified. It is, after all, winter and this cold only adds to the authentic experience of it.

It’s the first week in July and that means that NAIDOC* week events are happening all over the country. I knew nothing of NAIDOC until last year, when, sitting peacefully in my apartment much as I am today, I heard a racket in the street outside. I am used to hearing traffic, and trams, because Nicholson is a busy street, but today I hear people. Lots of them. And they are shouting. My interest piqued, I grab my camera and rush outside. Past my front gate, the traffic has ceased and a river of faces passes. “Always was, always will be, Aboriginal land!“. They shout in that sing song way of protest marches.

I follow the throng of people all the way to the end of the street, where I realise I have not picked up enough batteries or data cards to go very far. “Where is the march headed?” I ask. “Federation Square” is the reply. I rush back home, collect enough camera gear for a long day, and dash out again.

I find them at the top of Bourke street. Another, different protest is staged on the steps to Parliament House. We march straight past and head down into the city. At the junction of Bourke and Swanston, the crowd pauses and forms a large circle. A man stands up and addresses the crowd.

“Our people have been walking this land for thousands of years”. Cheering erupts.

“This place used to be a waterhole, before they came from England, before the concrete.”

I imagine the land without the tall buildings, without the garish shop fronts, without the trams, the pedestrians, the buskers, the quirky sculpture of the three thin city men stopping to cross the road. It looks good.

That was last year, when I followed the march all the way to the edge of the Yarra River, or the Birrarung in the Boonwurrung language. I watched – and filmed – the ‘Welcome to Country‘ traditional dancing and tried to interview some people to find out what it was all about. I felt terribly white and terribly British. The very image of my invading ancestors. It was an uncomfortable feeling.

But I seem to enjoy uncomfortable, because this year, I’m back at a NAIDOC week event, this time in the western suburbs of Footscray. I’ve arranged to meet my friend Pippa at the Arts Centre to listen to some songs and see exhibitions by Aboriginal artists. Now Pippa has bailed on me and I’m left, too early and too white, sitting in the gallery with my camera kit feeling very bulky at my side. Rob Bundle, one of the musicians, greets me warmly. “Hello stranger!”.

I met with him months ago and we talked about him maybe taking part in my film, but to be honest, I’ve never followed up the interviews I was planning. It never felt quite right, or else I’m not sure what I want to ask them. Aboriginal culture is so fraught with opportunities to offend, it seems. I realise again, sitting here, how guilty I feel on behalf of my people. How incredibly sad and hand-wringingly humble I feel before the havoc we have wreaked here. I hate the concrete as much as they must do.

The exhibitions are thought-provoking. In the downstairs gallery, a large possum-skin cloak lies spread-eagled on a central plinth. The furry tails hang cutely over the sides and the markings on the inner smooth hide look familiar. In the traditional way, this cloak bears the markings of a family. Here a wavy river-line, here a spiral water-hole symbol. It strikes me that the practice of making a cloak from possum skins and branding it with family memorabilia is remarkably like making a patchwork quilt, although usually, no beings have to die for one of those. The possum-skin cloak has become one of those things which Aboriginal people regard part of their culture – like spirit dancing and didge -playing. In Australia, possums are now protected, so for pieces like this, they must get their skins from New Zealand, where it is still legal to hunt and kill possums. They are truly works of art and seen as such. Only the other day I saw one on display in a gallery in Echuca, which Sissy, a traditional dancer herself, said her aunts had worked on. Whereas didge-playing is something for men, it seems that creating a possum skin cloak is woman’s work. This one even has digital images of the family, giving it a thoroughly modern aspect.

On the wall in the gallery are a series of photographs of members of that same family wearing the cloak. The background is all white and the people look out from within the cloak. It curls around their heads like a hood, like a shelter, a cave. This part of living culture, this part of a once-living creature. The family wraps itself inside the cloak as if for protection and the culture of the cloak itself offers back something timeless.

It’s always good to read the notes accompanying artefacts in a gallery and in this way, this show is no different. One of the family members, whose face now adorns the inside of the super-soft possum skin, is known as Uncle Roy. He is, to all appearances, a portly, older man, with white hair and a loping gait. He wears shorts and socks and strangely, a possum tail wrapped around his head like a bandana. He looks like a typical Australian red-neck and I can imagine him out on his bush-block sluggin’ back a beer at the end of the day with his cronies. But the story tells me that he is an Aboriginal man. A black fella stolen from his mother during the 1950’s and brought up on a mission. He didn’t know he was Aboriginal until he was 62. A film showing as part of the exhibition re-creates his scattered memories of his mother, whom he only dimly remembers.

In the black and white film, we follow a faceless woman through trees and grassland toward a river. From time to time, she beckons with one expressive brown hand and we almost catch a glimpse of who she is before she turns away again. For Uncle Roy, this is how it must have been. The one thing which seems to stand to alleviate what must be immense pain is that Uncle Roy is clearly now a family man and has embraced his heritage wholeheartedly. In welcome speeches, he is named as a pillar of his community and throughout the evening, he wanders confidently through the crowd in a way I can only envy from my hiding place in the corner.

If you’ve never watched the starkly beautiful film “Rabbit Proof Fence“, you should. Apart from being a testament to the stupidity of the British guy who, it is said, introduced twenty-four rabbits to Australia for sport and caused an epidemic -sized rabbit population, it is the story of the British attempt at genocide. A carefully thought out and followed through plan to exterminate what was left of the Aboriginal race by physically removing children from their families and eradicating all language and culture. These are the actions of a country at war and yet it is never, even today acknowledged that the conflict between the First People of Australia and the invaders was (is?) actually a war. In a country littered with monuments – to war dead, to explorers (however unsuccessful), to politicians and generally dodgy land-grabber types, there remains to monument to a single one of the Aboriginal people who died trying the save their land, their people and their culture.

Always was, always will be, Aboriginal land.

* National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee

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Solstice

It’s 21st June. That’s mid-summer, right? Well, not here in Australia.  After a long, warm Autumn, the trees are finally starting to look a bit bare and the days have started to begin and end with a chill. Sure, we still get hours of sunshine, but there’s a blanket in the bed and from time to time, I even put the heater on.

Last Sunday, I spent some time at Murundaka housing co-op.  We shared a meal and sat around a fire in the garden. When I came home, my clothes smelt of wood smoke and I knew that for me, this is what winter solstice conjures up. Fire and friendship. A paradigm-shift away from the commercialism of christmas, solstice is a pagan festival which links us firmly to the land, to the seasons and to each other.

At home in Wales, we needed a fire in winter to keep warm. To be honest, we often needed it in summer, too! My little forest hut in HoltsField relies on a wood burning stove for both radiators and hot water and it slaves away for more than six months a year. When my husband recently noticed chestnuts here in the shops, I hesitated to buy them. “We don’t have an open fire to cook them on!” “We could barbecue them?” he suggested.

Winter is short in Melbourne, but they like to “rug up” in scarves and woollens. They like to serve mulled wine in the bars and to complain about the cold. There are even ski resorts in the mountains and although it’s been slow coming this year, there are reports that the snow has finally arrived. In the weekend “Age” newspaper, there is an article on people who pack up their Melbourne homes and spend the season in the snow, where the local school opens just for the winter term to accommodate city children.

While we get ready for winter, my friends in the UK are basking in an early summer heat wave. “Scorchio!” says Jane at Lammas ecovillage in West Wales. When I Skype with the people who are living in my house, I see that the doors are flung wide open and, what’s that? Yes, the sky appears to be a beautiful shade of blue. I’m heading home for a holiday in a few weeks and I’ve asked them to save some Welsh sunshine for me. I’ll be swimming at beautiful Caswell Bay and I’m hoping to go and see my friend Xenia play fiddle in her band at the Green Man Festival in Glanusk. When I get back to Australia, Spring will already be starting to bloom and the scent of jasmine will waft through the streets as the sun creeps higher in the sky.

So I’m making the most of winter. I’m celebrating the solstice Melbourne-style. At Collingwood children’s farm, 4,000 people turn up to enjoy a lantern parade, hot chips and a huge bonfire. I sit happily in a muddy field and listen to the sound of drummers, a crackling fire and a thousand young children kept up past their bedtime. As the first stars appear in the darkened night sky,  I find a moment to marvel at the balance of life, the wisdom of nature and the miracle of the returning seasons. Happy Solstice everyone.

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CERES Community Environment Park

I was aware of CERES before I even moved to Melbourne. Not because it is an amazing environmental oasis of calm in a huge, sprawling city, but because it is home to the Melbourne Insight Meditation Group. I’ve been sitting with Insight meditation teachers for about 10 years now and was pleased to find that I could continue my practice when I moved to Australia. Uprooting your life is unsettling and I found my way to CERES even before my jet lag had subsided. I loved it. Somehow, it immediately felt like home.

As a country girl, it has been a shock to find myself amongst skyscrapers, traffic and so many people, so I need a place I can get away from it all. Melbourne has such a huge suburbia, it takes about 40 minutes to get completely out of the city, but along the river, you can find pockets of tranquility and CERES is one of them.

From my home in Fitzroy, I cycle through Edinburgh Gardens and take the Merri Creek Trail to Brunswick, where this parkland has been sculpted from a old quarry site. David Holmgren told me that it was modelled on CAT, in Wales, which, coincidentally, was also an old quarry. Just one more reason to love it there.

As well as the Learning Centre where we meet for meditation and yoga, CERES has many other meeting rooms, where workshops are taught on tai-chi, organic gardening, group facilitation, Deep Ecology, massage and all sorts of learning for sustainability. They also teach a Permaculture Design Course, which are so popular here in Australia at the moment.

In March, they host their annual Harvest Festival. Last year, we went along and enjoyed the bands, workshops and a talk on Earthships with Rachel Goldlust. I thought it would be a great opportunity to film the place humming with life, so this year, I’ve done it. It was fun, but I was a bit distracted, because this year, I bumped into so many people I know!

I chatted with Greg, whose book, Changing Gears, I talk about in the blog post on Sustainable Living; I met my neighbour Karen, who collates the Yarra Transition website; I saw Anna Crowley, my wonderful yoga teacher and several of my own yoga students, too. It really is a place for like-minded folk to gather.

Watch Episode 53 of the Living in the Future online film series to enjoy the CERES Harvest Festival and find out why this place is such a great model for community sustainable education the world over!

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