Tag Archives: Melbourne

CERES-screening-web

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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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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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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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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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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Murundaka Co-housing

The morning feels Autumnal and it is spitting rain when we arrive at number 42 Bamfield Road in the Melbourne suburb of Heidelberg. We are here for an open day at Murundaka co-housing, where 40 people live together in individual units surrounding a central common area. The whole building covers 3 standard blocks, so it makes quite an imposing sight on the corner of the street, but as we wander in past the bursting bike racks, a colourful welcome sign and a table heaving with food present an inviting picture.

Murundaka is opening its doors to visitors as part of the final weekend of the Sustainable Living Festival and as an example of sustainable living, this project seems to tick a lot of boxes. Giselle Wilkinson, one of the founder residents, tells how her home of twenty years was bulldozed to make way for the development.

“It was an opportunity too good to miss.” she says. “With the challenges facing us, not least climate change, we need to find a way to live more responsibly on the planet – sharing resources, growing our food, using less energy. This was a chance to show how it can be done.”

Giselle is part of Earth housing co-op, who have owned and let property in this area since the 1970’s. With the co-op as an investment landlord, tenants have security of tenure without having to take out a crushing mortgage and this same ethos has been adopted at Murundaka.

“It’s a rental model” explains Iain Walker, who has been with Earth co-op since its inception. “In the co-housing world, the units are often owned by the occupiers, but at Murundaka, we’ve made it possible for people on a low income to have security for life.”

That means a lot for single parent Beth, whose teenage daughter Bel speaks eloquently about her “massive family”. “Because of short rental agreements, we were constantly having to move” says Beth. “At Murandaka, Bel gets all the stimulation and care of a big family and I get the security of knowing that we won’t get chucked out.”

On a guided tour, I notice that the apartments are roomy, with an open plan kitchen-living space and a generous balcony. Outside each cluster of units, another balcony space allows for a table in the sun or a collection of pot herbs. Murandaka also has a communal garden, with composting, chickens and a large covered area for outside living.

Greg and Sophie are the newest residents. They deliberated for some time about whether this was the right choice for them but now, they have no regrets. Greg is a writer and has become one of the community’s most public advocators.  With a writer’s insight, he comments, “When I imagined setting up my dream home, I imagined myself working with physical materials – hardwood beams, mudbricks, garden beds and solar panels. Instead, I find myself working with emotions. The stuff of the heart. Words, hugs, smiles…”

His remarks are particularly interesting for me, since the subject of my latest documentary is just that – how we build community between people.

The residents give a predominantly warm and fuzzy picture of life in community. Most of the visitors have come because they would like to do something similar and the residents are happy to share the details of the joys, but also the difficulties of their lives together.
“There are a lot of meetings” says Giselle.

The household operates on a consensus model and has recently incorporated a technique for collaborative decision-making into their process. This is demonstrated beautifully with a question about whether visitors would like their emails to be shared to everyone present. We used coloured cards to indicate our agreement, dissent or a need for further information and within 3 rounds, a consensus has been reached. We are so impressed, we burst into a spontaneous round of applause!

Watch our short film on Murandaka Co-housing.

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Sustainable Living

In February each year, Melbourne hosts its Sustainable Living Festival. It’s a celebration, an education and an invitation. We celebrate innovative ideas which bring the possibility of a sustainable future into focus. Films, speakers, presentations, exhibitions, installations, gatherings, debates and demonstrations educate on the theme of living with a more aware, conscious and environmentally friendly approach. We are invited to be inspired.

Last year, I was very new to the city. We arrived only 2 weeks before the Festival began and although I went to several events, I felt very much like a tourist. I wandered the Green Market, popped my head into a few tents and watched a film or two in Fed Square. As a newcomer to Australia, what impressed me most was that it was baking hot, but that wasn’t really the point!

This year was different. For one thing, I’ve managed to arrange a screening of one of my own films as part of the Festival, so I’m not just a spectator. When I arrive on Friday to drop off some flyers, I am struck by how different this feels. On the stalls are people I know. On the Simplicity Institute stall sits Sophie, who rode across Australia with her partner, Greg, who wrote a book about “Changing Gears” and how to downsize our carbon footprint. On the Co-Housing stall sit Urban Coup members Janice and Yesvira and I bump into Iain from Murandaka. They are here to promote shared living in the suburbs – a great way to reduce our use of energy and resources whilst gaining all the benefits of community life.

A little further on I find Karen, from Tasman Ecovillage, which I visited last Easter. The ecovillage is a new venture down on the beautiful Tasman Peninsular. In a perfect example of re-purposing, this project has taken an existing motel site, sold the chalets to members and have created a community. They grow their own veggies and are planning a range of natural homes on the site, which nestles cosily between the hills and the sea.

In a talk on permaculture economics at Under the Gum I find that I know the person sitting next to me – something which never happened last year – and I realise that after a year of homesickness, disconnection and struggle with city life, I live here now. Before I came, people told me it would take a year to “find my feet” and they were right. When it comes to making friends and feeling like you have a place somewhere, it takes time.
The comfort I feel in my home town of Swansea is because I have lived there so long. I can’t walk down the street without meeting people I know and if I need something, I know exactly where to go.

At the Sustainable Living Festival, I started to feel like I have a place here in Melbourne. Although it is a huge, sprawling city, there are pockets of people who are working towards a more connected and caring lifestyle and I’m pleased to count myself amongst them.

Later that night, we are able to take part in the projector bike ride, which we missed last year because we didn’t yet have bikes. A huge swarm of people on bicycles rode en masse through the heart of Melbourne. It was the biggest Critical Mass I’ve ever taken part in and it was great to know that it was in the name of art, not politics! Imagine if the morning rush hour looked like this, not a crush of cars bumper to bumper.

We landed at Argyle Square off Lygon street, where the Italians of the area were taking an evening stroll and enjoying some of the amazing ice cream sold in this part of town. The films were projected from a converted bicycle and we sat and ate our picnic supper in the warm evening air. Is this how life could be all the time?

 

 

 

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Renewable Festivals

By European standards, the Rainbow Serpent Festival is small. By Australian standards, it’s huge – 18,000 people. 3 main music stages, and a central stalls area filled with the usual cheap cotton, studded leather and this year’s essential for the laydees – twerking pants.

Happy Rainbow! is the refrain and it is, in spite of 36 degree sunshine and dust which makes it difficult to breathe and dyes the inside of your nose black.

I’ve spent the morning at the solar cinema, run by Pippa and Rich from Future Art Research who have the shadiest spot on site. They showed my Lammas documentary on Friday and have entertained me since with Indigenous stories from Uncle Larry, sourdough breadmaking workshops using their solar oven and now, an interesting history of the activist scene in Australia.

In the early noughties, Undercurrents Beyond Tv Festival was showing films from Jabiluka uranium mine protests and Woomera detention centre. That footage of the fence coming down and refugees spilling out into the desert is unforgettable. Now, the scene has shifted to the brilliant Lock the Gate campaign against coal seam gas and instead of just the usual suspects, farmers have united with locals to create a united resistence.

We’re led into the discussion by a query about the lack of environmental awareness at this festival. My friend Cara has been flown in from the UK to do a talk on Free Economy and to show a film called Connected. She estimates her audience at 0.025 of the people here. She is camped in the artists quarter and is amazed by the DJs detailing their litany of flights to travel around the world for gigs.

“What’s it all for” she laments. “Just to have a good time?”.

David Holmgren‘s talk, however, is well attended, but then he’s a local. Known as the father of permaculture, he has established a self-sufficient homestead down the road in Hepburn Springs. He and his colleagues set up festivals in Tasmania, back in the day, which they wanted to be living examples of sustainability. They would plant veggies on site 6 months beforehand, so that festival-goers could harvest free food during their stay.

Here at Rainbow, they could take a few lessons from the Green Gathering, who run all of their site on renewable energy. If it’s possible in the UK, with all its rain and mud, it must be possible here, with its 36 degrees of sunshine.

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