Tag Archives: intentional community

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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MooraMoora_HillHouse1

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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