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.