This week I went to part of the Community Centres SA Conference which was held at Morphettville Racecourse. I was invited by Fiona Verity, intrepid CHO committee member, excellent community development worker and uni person extraordinaire to speak with her and Peter Willis, another fine community development person and the Acting Director of the gloriously named Australian Centre for Convivial Backyard Civilisation (here is a really interesting radio interview with Peter speaking about the ACCBC, for those interested in finding out more). Fiona and Peter are terrific story tellers and lovely people, and we had a great time preparing our session. Fiona took the theme of the conference, which was “Shaking the Tree”, and arrived at our theme (Tide Turning) via the Peter Gabriel song of the same name, which has a line “Turning the tide, you are on the incoming wave”.
We talked about how the actual turning of the tide is hard to pin down. It is subtle and quite gentle – you don’t really notice that it’s happened till after it’s over. And on the other hand, tides come about due to these big gigantic forces – the moon, the rotation of the earth and all that. It is quite hard to understand; we don’t feel the earth spinning, and gravity, and the tides coming and going, though it is happening all the time. This seemed to us to have a lot of relevance to community development. Connecting with people is a small thing, and the changes that come from it are mostly pretty small too – we feel better, we feel seen, we find a place for ourselves, we make friends or whatever it might be. But somehow these really tiny changes link up with the big world and how we live, how we create our world and are created by it. So, we talked about all this at the conference, and it was fun!
Our key themes were:
- the importance of ‘we’ rather than ‘us and them’. Doing things with people rather than to them or for them. Not setting ourselves apart from others. This links in with Peter’s ideas about civilisation and conviviality. Doing what we can to create a good life together.
- Beauty and the aesthetic. Fiona’s 13 year old niece Alice made a small video about the themes of our presentation, which we showed. We sang a song during our presentation. Peter played the guitar. Fiona has a great voice also, and I like singing too. I read a poem (which was written by Nola, reader of the blog and fab community person. I had asked her if she could find a poem about tides or the sea – she knows heaps of great poetry – and when she couldn’t find one she wrote us one instead. It is lovely. I will post a copy next week. I don’t have it with me here now – in fact Simone from Strathalbyn came up to me after the session and asked me for a copy of it, so I gave her the one I had). We talked about how uplifting a bit of beauty can be, and what a gift it is to give each other small gestures towards what is lovely. Fiona talked about William Morris and his commitment to beauty and usefulness. Peter talked about a harmonica player he once knew. I talked about another Turner, the artist, and his beautiful paintings (though on some days we are more like tired Turners than tide turners!).
- Recognition and redistribution. The importance of seeing people, really seeing them and recognising their worth in all sorts of big and small ways and at the same time the importance of working for a redistribution of power and resources, so that we can have a fairer world. We talked about how we can do a bit of both of these things on a small scale at community centres and similar places, and that this adds up to creating change and moving towards a better world.
Afterwards we had lunch, and met up with folk and talked some more. I took some photos, and went away feeling inspired and thrilled to have had the chance to be there.