Peter Willis has appeared in these pages before, and is back again, this time for being instrumental in bringing together a gathering of the Social Developers’ Network (SDN) here in Adelaide. This is an organisation that has been supporting people doing social development work (including community work, social change, social activism, community building and many other iterations) since the 1970’s. Peter and Ian went to a gathering in Uralla in January and they have been working to have one here since then. I went along over the weekend, and it was a terrific event.
It is structured in a great way, with each of the participants getting an equal amount of time to present to everyone else, and to have a chance to explore with the group in whatever way seems helpful to them. We had a wonderfully dynamic group of participants, many from Peter’s circle (hence us calling the gathering, at one point, Peter’s Party), some of whom attend his monthly Sunday morning meetings of the Australian Centre for Convivial Backyard Civilisation (ACCBC) – a terrific group that explores conviviality in neighbourhood contexts: ways to befriend, support, assist, reach out and connect with those around us in welcoming and openhearted ways.
The weekend was based at CWA headquarters in the city – a grand old house with lots of accommodation and good rooms to use for meetings. It was lovely to be in such a beautiful space, and to have the spirit of all those solid, committed country women around us. We had four people from interstate – all of whom are central to the SDN: Kath and John are on the board, Harry was ‘the man from head office’ who helped with the organisational side of things with SDN, and Jacques from Melbourne is involved with Borderlands Cooperative which publishes New Community magazine among other things (and has a strong connection with SDN). From SA we had Peter, Ian (who is temporarily based in NT), Susan H, Susan B, Susan M, Ivo, David, Richard (from CHO) and me (also CHO).
It was a fantastic, restoring time, with people talking about a wide variety of different projects and ideas, and lots of fun, talk, exploration and hopefulness. One especially fine aspect of the weekend was the sense of being with elders – people who have thought and worked and lived long, committed and creative lives, and who think well about what might be possible. Peter’s long experience of bringing people into the fold of community life (and his warmth, wisdom and humour), Susan B’s work with people who are dying (22 years in Mary Potter Hospice, 55 as a nurse) (not to mention her 24 marathons and many ultra-marathons, her early experiences in a refugee camp, her recent PhD and her current contributions to her local Rotary op shop and the Women’s Community Centre at Stepney), John’s diverse experience as a social worker and social policy maker from the late 1960’s onwards (including all through the Whitlam years), and Jacques’ incredible commitment to rigorous thinking and living according to strong social justice values. He is a social worker too, and it was terrific to be surrounded by such great examples of what social workers can do – living and working to make the world a better place over the long haul.
Susan H is a dynamo and spoke with humour and such passion about her life and issues related to disability (I especially loved her story of going to stay at a nudist colony when she was homeless one time). Sue M is an artist who thinks and paints with great tenderness about familiar places in the mid-north of South Australia, and the beauty of ordinary life.
Ivo opened himself up to reflection about his group work with people, and ways to reach out from loneliness and be socially brave. Kath asked us “who are you” and introduced us to her daughter Ella who has died. There was a lovely thread of tears and talk of dear ones who have gone throughout the weekend. John talked about his work changing the way religion and ethics are taught in schools. This led to lots of talk about how to allow people to come to their own conclusions about right behaviour. Jacques spoke about the centrality of relationships and the importance of of challenging individualism in all areas of life. He also gave us lots of language lessons about the derivations of words: always good to have a multilingual person in attendance! Peter talked about the ACCBC and ways to come at understandings of life by ‘telling the truth but telling it slant’ (to paraphrase Emily Dickinson). Ian talked about some of his projects – the work on mediation with the Yolgnu people of Arnhem Land and NT University, and film related projects in Italy and the UK, and how he works through his thinking. Like Ian, David also has a strong connection with Aboriginal people, and spoke about some of his work in the APY lands. He had us listen to language, showed clips from one of his films and talked about ideas for a permaculture desert garden that are emerging slowly. Harry led a series of exercises to connect us to compassion and a feeling for the earth, nature and the environment. Richard spoke about moving to Hackham West 10 years ago and the work and life he and his family have made there (we were all very moved by his stories of connection), including a bit about CHO, and I spoke about work and life in the south too (and CHO). Ivo sang us a song. David had us reflect on the weekend…
we had a very creative soup (see the board above)…
and we danced and sang to Hava Na Gila. It was all just terrific and an honour to be with such a fab group of people.
What fantastic things are happening in quiet ways all over the place – things that challenge the meanness of neo-liberal policies and the isolation and despair that comes from it. Let’s all have some parties like Peter’s I say – many thanks to him and Ian (who did most of the planning for the event), to all the SDN mob for their fantastic support, and to all the other party goers who made it such an amazing event (click on the pictures below to enlarge the pics and read the captions).