We have just arrived at Whale Song, a small campground on Cape Leveque, after spending 5 days at Kooljaman – an eco-resort proudly owned by the aboriginal communities of Djarindjin and One Arm Point. More on Whale Song later as I want to share what I learned from Brian Lee. Brian is an aboriginal leader and traditional owner of the land in the area. His Tagalong tour took us into the pristine aboriginal native title land around Hunter’s Creek.
Kooljaman is the Bardi aboriginal name for Cape Leveque, 220km north of Broome at the tip of the Dampier Peninsular.
I was privileged to have a conversation with Brian and listen to a small part of the history of Kooljaman. Hearing his perspective on why the resort and surrounding communities have been such a success was like a teaching about 2 local communities taking the lead and standing on their own 2 feet. Brian was clearly proud of the leadership role that he and others have played over the past 15 years to ensure that all decisions about the running of Kooljaman are owned by the aboriginal communities. He pointed out that Kooljaman has not been reliant on handouts to survive and thrive as a business. Some years ago the decision was made by the Kooljaman board to recruit outside assistance to manage and run the business side of things. When talking about the future of Kooljaman, it sounded like the aim is for the local aboriginal communities to take on the management and running of the whole facility. Sadly, stories like Kooljaman are rarely told in mainstream Australia. I don’t want to dwell on politics and mindset that breeds policies of intervention, simply because there are stories within Australia and all over the world that show we are making progress. Last year I was honored to be part of the 2012 World Indigenous Housing Conference in Vancouver and immerse myself in many of these stories. Each story was like a unique teaching and I remember feeling inspired and hopeful when reading through them. I worked alongside Chris Corrigan and Steven Wright and, as facilitators, our task was to draw out success stories from the 700+ delegates – a mix of indigenous and non-indigenous leaders from community, government and the private sector from the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. These success stories were about indigenous communities pursuing and realising their own economic development. The stories showed that full participation in decision making promotes ownership and a sense of belonging to community and culture. Many stories pointed to successful models of governance, education and training programs that build capacity. Examples of partnerships between indigenous communities, government and the private sector were in many of the stories. Listening to Brian talk about Kooljaman reminded me of many of the stories shared in Vancouver.
An information/knowledge repository – The Indigenous Housing Gateway – was set up to store and share the stories and lessons learned from the 2012 World Indigenous Housing Conference. It’s full of the stories I have referred to.
In 2007 the United Nations Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peopleswas adopted. This declaration sets a standard for the treatment of indigenous peoples. And it is a standard, that sadly, many member countries like Australia have failed to translate into policies that support more aborginal communities to thrive. As I listened to Brian talking about Kooljaman, and the story of ownership by the Djarindjin and One Arm Point communities, I was heartened to hear a success story coming from within my own country. I didn’t get a chance to discover all the success factors and why it’s worked, but clearly something has and we all need to learn from it. As we travel across the top end of Australia, I will be looking for more opportunities to learn from people like Brian and witness communities like Djarindjin and One Arm Point. Like most Australians, I know little about aboriginal history and the complexity of issues that they face in community life. This trip is my chance to continue my education. Geoff
I recently heard the term “Urban Acupuncture” as it relates to the Better Block movement and their efforts to bring-to-life precincts and neighbourhoods in cities all over the US. The acupuncture metaphor go me thinking about my own work and the work that my art-form supports.
I have just enjoyed 3 days of working and playing with diverse groups of people, mainly leaders beavering away at the grassroots to make their community (and the world) a better place. Listening to their wisdom and their stories has been inspiring. Witnessing their vulnerabilities and supporting them at their learning edge is a privilege.
Each of these community leaders are like healers … each performing their own version of social acupuncture. Directly and indirectly their little actions heal the fabric of community. We see symptoms like community fragmentation and signs like reduced community participation in decision making. Their purpose driven projects stimulate the acupuncture points of community by bringing people into conversation, to break bread together, play music, create art and build stronger relationships across the community.
My work supports community leaders to experiment, take risks, notice more and fail informatively. This week I went to edge of my own practice and pushed out a bit further. I was supported in this by my friend and colleague Russell Fisher. Together with Suzie Brown, Russell and I are embarking on a new journey that will support an ever growing network of community leaders to DO – both big a small.
I am sitting in the after-glow of another (the 6th) memorable Aireys Inlet Open Mic Music Festival. Like in previous years, my role was to organise logistics and an army of local volunteers to drive buses, set-up, pack-down and co-host an event that our whole town is now proud of. It’s a privilege to be involved. This year, acclaimed band Mark Seymour and the Undertow closed the 2013 festival. And as our town’s musical matriarch said in closing, “Aireys Inlet’s biggest day” provided a stunning conclusion to our weekend of music.”
What we’ve learned in 6 years of hosting this music festival
1. “Purpose is the invisible leader” - This quote by Toke Moller has been at the centre of our festival’s strategy.
7 years ago Marty came to me with an idea to start a music festival in Aireys Inlet and he had 2 things to say. First, the festival model had to put the music at the centre of everything. Our core purpose statement became, “It’s all about the music”. This simple little statement has guided our decisions and direction ever since and we have not lost sight of this core.
Second, the idea of an ‘Open Mic’ (whilst not new) is an invitation. It invites musicians from all walks of life and all ages to sign up, show up and perform ion front of a festive audience. And because we design the event to be “All About The Music”, every performer is treated with a great sound system, a sound-tech, a beautiful stage and a listening crowd. In 6 years, our little festival has achieved BIG things by providing a springboard for scores of young singer songwriters and bands. They all come back to Aireys again and again.
Even Mark Seymour recognised this and said during his act:
“Local communities need to develop and grow our young people. Aireys Inlet gives them wonderful opportunities to gain confidence and expression through Music.” Mark Seymour
2. Ownership and a Sense of Belonging is Everything!
Aireys Inlet resembles village life. People look out for each other and many live here for this very reason. With this in mind, Marty has always invited contributions and has gone out of his way to thank people publicly. I am one of many who have been swept up by Marty’s vision and together, we have fostered a sense of ownership across the community in the festival. Initially, I used to hear people saying “it’s Marty’s festival”. But now I hear the same people saying “this is our festival”.
This sense of belonging and ownership makes volunteer recruitment easy. Our job is ensure that people don’t over commit and have fun doing it. Our operating principle is “many hands make light work”.
Today, Marty and I had lunch to capture what we learned about the weekend events. This year we experimented with some new stages and new configurations. These changes (together with a dose of cold weather) conspired to create more intimacy and a closer connection between performer and audience. Next year, we have decided to use the “intimacy” principle and redesign some other spaces. We were joined at lunch by one Aireys’ favourite performers Sarah Carnegie, who regularly travels down from Melbourne to perform here. She agreed that Intimacy is a crucial ingredient.
Each year we stub our toe a few times and get some things right. Each learn we learn something new by watching and listening to the feedback from others. Each year the festival gets better and our job get easier.
A final thank you Marty Maher
I am not sure who wrote these words of thanks on the festival home page … but they nailed it:
“A final thank to Marty Maher, who kindly thanks everyone a the festival close, without noting his own efforts. Seven years ago the festival was Marty’s vision to postively influence our young people and community. Singled-handedly he has grown the festival beyond our wildest expectations. Marty organises and schedules the entire event, and gives all 168 acts his close personal attention. His dedication, drive and enthusiasm sweeps the whole community along for the ride and gives artists and young people significant opportunity. We are proud and truly fortunate to have Marty Maher as a guiding patriarch of our community. Ask Marty what you can do to help next year, and critically with costs going up, donate or become a sponsor to secure the festival’s future.”
Being an active contributor in a small community is a fascinating subject! You could write a book about it!!
Over the past 12 months I’ve dived into the Parent Committee at our local primary school (aka Parent Club) and taken a co-lead role with 3 mums. As with much of my working life, I find myself the only man actively involved in the community building space.
Last year our new committee found our feet, tightened up some policies and, like in previous years, took the lead on some important initiatives and fund raising activities. The co-leadership idea that I pushed hard for worked really well. There was always 1 person to step and lead when others became too busy with life. We did good … without being great. We changed some stuff, and as you’d expect, copped some flack from others in the community. As Seth Godin says in one of my favorite posts … “If you are not being criticized, then you are not leading!” Criticism and leadership are intertwined like innovation and failure.
One area of intense criticism and community ‘rumor-milling’ that I did not expect was our effort to set up an After School Care (ASC) Profram. Identified as the #1 need by large parts of the school community, a small group within Parent Club (and others) worked tirelessly to broker a deal with Camp Australia, the Surf Coast Shire and the Aireys Community Hall. After more than 1/3 of families at the school ‘showed up’ late year to a registration session, it starts next Monday!
So why is school care needed in Aireys Inlet – a small, coastal village nearly an hour from the nearest big town (Geelong)? And why has ASC created rumor, innuendo and dissent in our community? I don’t have answers, but I have a few opinions.
So why is ASC needed down here? Ok, imagine you are a young mum with 2 children in prep and grade 2. You are desperate to gain a university qualification so that you can have a career in your 30′s and beyond. Your husband works and school pickup (at 3pm) 2 days a week is not possible with your study timetable. Or imagine you are a single mum struggling to make ends meet. You’ve got one child and have an opportunity to work 3 days a week in Geelong to help make ends meet. But your job finishes at 5pm. Without a reliable and accountable ASC Program, neither woman can pursue their goals.
The examples above are fiction, but very close to some local truths. The fact is, very few families down here have family support for the 1 or 2 days they need their kids picked up from school – those that have family support are blessed. And this is a community that, more than most, sees friends step up and look after each other’s kids when needed. I love that local support about this community and I’ve written plenty about it in the past. However (and this is my opinion), you simply can’t rely on friends 2 days a week, 40 weeks of a year so that you can work or study.
As for the rumor mill and criticism … it comes with the territory and I’m not going to even share my opinions because they are probably wrong and based on false assumptions! In Parent Club last year, it is clear that we did not communicate clearly enough or often enough. The program funding model evolved and underwent many iterations … and met its share of roadblocks going through school council. It’s re-taught me how tough communicating something new like this is. On the surface it seems simple, but it is complex and felt like a journey of 3 steps forward and then 3 steps back. Little by little, with perseverance and commitment from a select few, ASC is now a reality for this little community.
So, as the Parent Club AGM approaches and I put my hand up to co-lead once again, my 2012 experience of success and failure makes me a little wiser. One thing is for sure, I’ll be sticking to my main principle for working in committees – learned by working alongside the wonderful Viv Mcwaters – “By working together and supporting each other in this committee, we will have fun, make each other look good and we all end up closer friends at end than when we started.” Now that a principle to live into!!
Last week, a small event was staged. About 60 or 70 folks from around the World gathered in Melbourne for the Thriving in Uncertainty Conference. This was a true collaboration between Melbourne Playback Theatre & Viv McWaters. I was a witness to the co-creation of this event and was largely on the sidelines … watching others do all the hard work … contributing where I could … taking it all in and learning. And here’s a photo of me watching Viv and Sherridan (Melb Playback) do the work at the HUB Melbourne …
Viv’s co-conspirator and explorer at the Edges of Work, Johnnie Moore, came out to support Viv in ‘holding the space’ we called Thriving in Uncertainty. Johnnie also dabbled in an Art of Hosting event recently with Chris Corrigan – both are also active in AIN. Together, me, Viv, Johnnie, Chris and Anne Patillo call ourselves The Slips and have worked together on conferences in Australia, Canada and Asia.
I could go on and on and on … list the names of many more people and networks that connect together with weak or strong ties. When you are part of a network like this, doing stuff is like dancing in the corner of a vast spider’s web … the energy flows across the entire system. Unexpected and serendipidous occasions follow – like this gathering in Vancouver recently …
The pattern I am sensing in all of this are the connections between and across different communities of practice. Applied Improv is mixing with Art of Hosting and OpenSpace which is riffing with Thrivability and playing with the Gathering 11 & 12 movement here in Melbourne. Consultants are sharing work and wisdom with theatre directors, musicians, university professors, researchers, PhD students, business leaders and practitioners drawn from other sectors. When the work and worldviews of so many diverse players come together CHANGE starts to happen quickly. Innovation is everywhere and look out everybody … “This is gonna be a train wreck and I can’t wait!” (HT to Andrew McMasters for these words in his session at Thriving in Uncertainty last week!)
For me and my family, home is our sanctuary. It’s a place of safety and a retreat from the world around us. It’s a place of rest and recharge. A space where we can craft and express our own culture and passions. At home, we host others and share food, tell stories and dream about the future.
Our home is connected in community. Our relationships with other families allow us to thrive and respond to unexpected events. When individual families are in need of support, the community network activates. A simple example of this in our small, coastal village is the Baby Meal Roster. Whenever a family arrives home with a newborn baby, hot meals are delivered daily for 2 weeks. It’s a beautiful thing.
Home has a place in our heart. When away working, or even on holiday, I long to be back in my own bed, sit in our garden and bump into friends at the Food Store. I often hear this from our boys when away … “I just want to go home daddy, I miss my friends.”
In our context, our physical house is a place “we own”. Many choose and some are forced to rent a house where ownership resides elsewhere. But, I don’t believe that a sense of being home is dependent on ownership of bricks and mortar. Being home in community is a powerful and nurturing force. We all need to belong and feel a part of something bigger than ourselves. A community of people that belongs also owns. Even though no single person or group of people own Aireys Inlet – like a person owns a house – we invest energy and commitment in shaping a collective future where our community thrives. We co-create a place where we belong, where we are happy, secure and resilient. This investment in shaping the future makes all of us owners.
The World Cafe on Indigenous Housing
I am excited to be part of the design and facilitation team responsible for hosting dialogue between delegates. I will be working with friends and colleagues, Chris Corrigan (Bowen Island, Canada) and Steven Wright (Seattle, US). Here is a description of our sessions:
At this year’s World Indigenous Housing Forum, we will be hosting three sessions of dialogue aimed at looking at the role that housing plays in the promotion of healthy and prosperous indigenous communities. We will be using a process called “The World Cafe” in which small group conversations produce diverse ideas, and in which we can put our collective intelligence to work.
“Years ago a well known islander gave me the advice about living here that, if I’m in it for the long haul, I would need to develop a practice of witnessing. In the ten+ years I have lived here a lot has changed and I’m finally beginning to realize what that role of witness means.” Chris Corrigan
This is my home. I’m inspired every day by the estuary, by the beach and the cliffs … surrounded by the Southern Ocean and, to the north and west, by the Otway National Park. Our community is a series of villages stretching along this unique coastline – Aireys Inlet, Fairhaven, Moggs Creek and Eastern View.
I was inspired to write something here by Chris Corrigan’s post, Witnessing. Since my dad passed last December, I’ve become somewhat of a hermit to this place I call home. I’ve lived here for 12 years and I’m noticing things I’ve never seen before.
My focus on home (family and local community) has grown from a deepening sense that I belong here … that I contribute and co-own this place. I run a music festival here, steward the Parent Group at the local school and show-up to support the great work that others do. Like Chris’ home of Bowen Island, a lot has changed here in the past 10 years. In these past few months, with all my time at home, I’m getting a deeper sense of this place and the people who belong.
After a very slow start to 2012, next month my work starts in earnest. I’ll be busy and will have many days away from home. A much anticipated fortnight away in Canada follows in June, I’ll be working alongside Chris and living on Bowen Island … who better than to show me around!
Please watch the full 3 minute video below … you will be moved, as we’re the 1000 people watching! Once Sam get’s singing it really takes off!
But first, let me set the scene with a story about Community …
It’s the Monday morning after the 5th annual Aireys Open Mic Music Festival and our community has celebrated another magical festival – with the tag line “It’s All About The Music”.
This festival attracts thousands of music lovers, but it’s not the numbers that’s important … the vibe and sense of community it supports is amazing. This time last year, the Aireys Inlet Pub closed it’s doors. Our festival was on shaky ground – with it’s infrastructure and facilities we couldn’t host this many people. Everyone wondered what Marty Maher (the idea man who dreamt up this event and runs 90% of it) would do in response. As it turned out, Marty let others respond and save the festival.
Then one day, a local consortium banded together, pooled their resources and skills and bought the pub. For most in our community, it felt like the whole town had taken ownership of it’s iconic hotel. Our festival, our main meeting place, part of our history and soul was reclaimed.
Then in October last year co-publican, Tim Wood (who features in the video below) orchestrated one of the most remarkable building projects I have witnessed. Over a frantic 10 week period, he brought together scores of local tradies to completely rebuild the inside of the pub and give the shell a transformational facelift. Our community was excited, but skeptical that they could even get close to a pre Christmas opening!
We were wrong, the pub had it’s local opening night in mid December. Not everything was done, but they had rebuilt and staffed a large kitchen, rebuilt 70% of the inside, transformed the exterior and jumped countless of licensing and red tape hurdles imaginable. Opening night was abuzz with excitement and pride. This was ‘our place’.
Since Christmas, Tim and co. have continued the rebuild. The back-room is now a full band room with a capacity to seat over 250 for dinner and many more without tables and chairs. Their is a vision to make this room an iconic live music venue on the coast … I have no doubt it will be realized.
This year’s Open Mic Music Festival was (again) a huge success and staged 180 acts on 9 stages across our town – with 20 separate acts in the back room on Friday and Saturday nights. To get a feel for what it looked like you can see pics at our Facebook page and our Twitter stream
In past year’s, our mystery guest acts have been the big highlight. They have included Colin Hay and band, Dan Sultan and this year’s mystery was none other than Tim Rogers. All were generous and performed brilliantly. This year Tim managed to captivate everyone with his whimsical charm, lyrics and unique voice.
BUT THIS YEAR … THIS ACT CAME ALONG!!
Inspired by the Gotye cover featured here on You Tube (by band Walk off the Earth), Tim Wood’s youngest son (Sam), inspired dad and older brother (Luke) to work out their own version … then perform it at our festival.
All 3 boys are humble, gracious, superbly talented and are motivated by 1 thing … an absolute love of music, family and community. The feeling in the Main Stage Marquee was joyous. Everyone was smiling (some moved to tears), beaming, shining and uplifted by a performance that drew everyone together in a single breath.
There is lot’s happening in my local community and that’s where my energy has been directed lately. It feels like there has been an explosion of local, community issues. Wonderful ideas have also emerged and I have noticed a great deal of leadership from within our community – I have been working at the edges in whatever way I can.
Tomorrow night it’s my turn to play a lead role. I am co-hosting a conversation that is centred on a question of Need – “What does our school community need from the Parent Club in 2012?” The other question I like is this one – “What is the need that Parent Club can uniquely meet?”. Beyond the questions, we have invited this conversation to take place at the newly opened local pub. There will be no butchers paper or post it notes or marker pens. I am hoping it will feel like a conversation amoung friends. Whoever come are the right people and whatever happens …
Hosting these conversations whilst inside the content, with my own points of view, will be challenging. I am sure to learn a lot … Just like I did a couple of months ago when I was a participant at a government lead workshop. That experience lead to this post called ‘When facilitation is insulting‘.
I am on the road for a few days and my journey brings me back to the Latrobe Valley in Victoria. I rode my bike from Traralgon up to Tyers this afternoon and I was struggling to remember the events and people from this chapter of my life. But then I smelled that smell … the unmistakable odour of the local Maryvale Australian Paper Mill (APM). Once I smelled this, the memories came flooding back and I tweeted this …
Serendipity strikes again … I realized it was 20 years to the day that Kirsten and I moved everything we owned to a house in the hills of Tyers. We lived together as friends and house-buddies for 2 years. We were both finding our feet as Occupational Therapists in our first jobs. Me working at the hospital and Kirsten in a vocational rehabilitation setting. For some of the time, we lived quite separate lives. During some periods we hung out together a lot, riding our bikes and exploring the mountains to our north. Like good friends do, we supported each other through the hard times. Occasionally, we would lie on the road out front at night and watch the stars … and just talk. Our house was on Fitzgibbons Road …
Next door to us lived a great couple and their tribe of kids. He was (and still is) a tall, gently spoken, bearded Canadian. He looked every bit a logger, and he still is. His wife, had the sharpest wit of anyone we had ever met. She called a spade-a-spade and her brutally honest observations were famous. She was also my wise counsel at times and would point out things in life that I couldn’t see through the lens of youth.
Kirsten and I became very close to our neighbors and were stoked when we were invited to their wedding. We would often drink beer with them and play with their kids. At the time their 2 youngest children (both girls) were only 6 and 8 years of age. Kirsten was extremely fond of the girls, particularly the eldest of the 2. I remember Kirsten saying how maternal she felt around them and I had a running joke of calling her Mother Hen. It’s 20 years on and I have my own family. When riding through Tyers, it felt like yesterday. Time moves on in strange ways doesn’t it!?
The tradgety of this story is that Kirsten passed away 12 years ago. The mental illness that suddenly struck shocked everyone who knew her. The news of her death brought together people from every chapter of her life, including our neighbours from Tyers, all holding questions. Kirsten touched many people in her short life
So today, as I rode with the wind in my hair down Fitzgibbons Road, my mind was swirling with memories and all of them happy ones. I noticed lights were next door and I had a strong feeling that they still lived there. I decided to knock on their door and say hi.
At the door was a young woman talking on the phone and she instantly recognized me, as I did her. It was the eldest of their 2 girls … and on the phone was her mum. We swapped stories from 20 years before, shared email addresses and showed photos of our life as it is now. It’s a cliche, but it was a real trip down memory lane.
Today made me realize the importance of a sense-of-place and connection. Relationships are everything and the experiences we share with others last forever and they shape who we are. Stories from our past can feel like yesterday and, at the same time, feel like a distant memory. Kirsten … today’s visit down memory lane is for you.