My Reflections and Learnings

Karyn Bradford
EO Milang & District Community Association Inc.

Karyn BradfordI have had a wonderful month of learning, attending two forums and a conference. What was especially interesting to me were the recurrent themes of ‘Resilient Communities,’ Environmental Sustainability’ and ‘Models for the Future’. Even more exciting was meeting up with local people from the Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth (CLLMM) region who were attending and presenting at the events.

The International Rural Network Forum was held in Whyalla from 24 – 26th September. Over 22 countries were represented and I was delighted to meet up with Clyde Rigney from Raukkan and Syd Sparrow from the David Unaipon College of Indigenous Education and Research, University of South Australia who were presenting a paper on the Yuntuwarrun Learning Centre: Raukkan Community.

An outline of the presentation from the Forum Proceedings is below;

“Situated on the shores of Lake Alexandrina, Raukkan means ‘meeting place’. The Raukkan community has developed from a mission under the auspices of the ‘Friends of the Aborigines’ in 1859 to a strongly coherent community with effective governance structures and a shared vision (‘Imaginings’) for a self-sustaining future. The Raukkan community has an approximate population of about 160 people including about 70 young people between the ages of 12 and 20. The governance of the community has been administered by the Raukkan Community Council since 1982.

With the acquisition of the old Primary School and an adjoining house in Narrung in 2011, a five year business plan for a diverse facility to enhance the learning needs of the community has been established to include media and hospitality training centres, on-site accommodation, research facilities and a number of developmental projects in collaboration with the University of South Australia.

Central to the realization of the project are Ngarrindjeri perspectives of interconnectedness and relationships to land and waters (Ruwe) and the core principles that underpin the vision of the learning centre are predicated on the premise of health and wellbeing, holistic and integrated systems approaches and sustainable resource use.

The implementation of the Learning Centre presents a range of risks and challenges for partnerships of this nature. However, in today’s era of reduced government support and the desire for communities to create their own futures, organisations such as communities, university programs and NGOs need to develop long-term relationships based on shared “imaginings” which lead to co-created outcomes, and in so doing, move away from paternalistic notions of helping or ‘doing good’.”

Another contact I made at this Forum was with Andre and Lucy from Ecocentro Brazil who provided a workshop series on “Social Technologies” such as renewable energy, biological water treatments, natural building, organic food gardens, composting toilets, water harvesting and sustainable community design. Andre and Lucy are inspirational and have offered to run a hands on weekend workshop for the community at MOSHCC from 7th – 9th Dec. Advertising for the workshops is on Lakes Hub and MOSHCC websites. In the meantime have a look at the photos on their website for inspiration

Amenities Block, Save water please

Over the course of the week I attended sessions including food security, building resilience through community ownership, climate change and sustainability, IT, social media and social networking in rural and remote locations, volunteering, civic engagement and resilience. I also met some wonderful people from other parts of the world and I learnt that water issues and care for the Murray is high on the agenda of the Whyalla regional communities. The Murray was mentioned in the Mayors welcome and also in a paper on sustainability. I also discovered this sign on the wall of the Port Lowly amenities block. Port Lowly is a small settlement in the Western upper Spencer Gulf and the community has been campaigning to protect the breeding grounds of the Giant Cuttlefish.

A book launch was also part of the Forum. “Theorising Survival, Indigenous Women and Social and Emotional Wellbeing” by Jennifer Baker a Mirning woman and a copy has been purchased for the Lakes Hub which can be borrowed.

On 11 and 12th Oct I attended the 2012 International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) Leadership Forum entitled ‘Inspire and Energise’. You may wonder why I would be at this Forum but IAP2 has developed some Core Values which we have incorporated into the engagement strategies and policies of the Lakes Hub;

  1. The public should have a say in decisions about actions that could affect their lives.
  2. Public participation includes the promise that the public’s contribution will influence the decision.
  3. Public participation promotes sustainable decisions by recognizing and communicating the needs and interests of all participants, including decision makers.
  4. Public participation seeks out and facilitates the involvement of those potentially affected by or interested in a decision.
  5. Public participation seeks input from participants in designing how they participate.
  6. Public participation provides participants with the information they need to participate in a meaningful way.
  7. Public participation communicates to participants how their input affected the decision.

To find out more about IAP2 watch this video:

I attended a workshop ‘Using online tools to engage the public’, with Matt Leighninger, Executive Director of the Washington based Deliberative Democracy Consortium (DDC). You can access his paper here, and the workshop presentation here

Last weekend I attended the Regional Arts Australia Conference which was hosted by Goolwa and over 600 delegates were treated to the best that the region has to offer. It was very interesting to hear first time visitors impressions of the region and the community and a very successful and wide reaching conference was delivered.

The Activists, the Environment, the Artists session saw the airing of local issues.

Jane Hylton from Clayton Bay chaired this panel of inspiring speakers which included local artist Liz Yelland, Jo Kaspari from Stradbroke Island Qld and Lynne Price from Burnie Tas. This panel reflected on three recent projects and areas, all very different from each other, all addressing unique contemporary economic issues and all with distinctive tactics and results.

Does it pay to be clever, subtle and non-threatening with your creative message or do you still stick it to the man and take it to the streets?

Liz and Jane did a great job of explaining the water situation at our end of the Murray and Liz was able to reflect on how helpful and empowering arts practice was in building resilience and moving towards a healthy recovery for local people and the environment.

John and I were invited to present a 20/360 presentation at the Wharf Brewery on the Friday evening of the Conference. What is that you may ask? Well it was 20 slides of the Waterstick project and 18 seconds of talking per slide resulting in a very slick 6 minute presentation. We really enjoyed the opportunity to provide a snapshot of the labyrinth activity on our exposed beaches in 2009 and share once again the implications of poor water management and drought on our end of the Murray. You can find the photos from the presentation on the MOSHCC website and we will input the words shortly.

The highlight of the whole conference for me was the opportunity for conference delegates and the wider community to be immersed in Ngarrindjeri Culture. One of the key themes of the Conference was Cultural Leadership and members of the Ngarrindjeri Nation wore that mantle with great pride and distinction. Jekejere Park hosted a sharing circle, Ngarrindjeri makers market, storytelling in Kondoli the whale, dancing and so much more. Ellen Trevorrow was busy at Create and Connect sharing traditional weaving techniqes and stories. Other young Ngarrindjeri people were Surfing on Country which saluted the Kumuwuki / Big Wave theme by combining appropriate digital media practices with an inquisitive exploration into what happens after the Welcome to Country acknowledgments: What aspects of Indigenous culture do people take home, what can we all share, and what experiences of reconciliation can regional artists and arts workers bring back into their daily practice?

Elders from the Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority have identified digital media as a key ingredient to documenting their experiences and to communicate what their culture is about. Surfing on Country was a fantastic opportunity for conference participants from across Australia to engage with the Change Media – Ngarrindjeri collaboration. Each morning of the conference the Surfing on Country team presented filming from the previous day to the delegates and much reflection was made on how to reframe the “Colonial Picture Frame”. This video is now available on line from Change Media and there is also a fantastic toolkit to help communities produce great digital media.

Ngarrindjeri Elder Tom Trevorrow provided the Plenary Session on Saturday morning speaking about The Ngarrindjeri Sea Country Plan that was prepared in 2006 by Ngarrindjeri people to help government agencies, natural resource managers, researchers, industry and the wider Australian community to better understand and recognise rights and responsibilities to their Yarluwar-Ruwe (Sea Country), including the lower Murray River, Lakes, Coorong and adjacent marine and land areas.

The Ngarrindjeri vision for Sea Country is based on the relationship between the people and our Sea Country which goes back to Creation.

The river, lakes, wetlands/nurseries, Coorong estuary and sea have sustained them (and us) culturally and economically for tens of thousands of years, they now find that, as the Traditional Owners of our lands and waters and all living things, they must stand up and speak out to save their Ruwe (Country) before we reach the point of no return.

In an ever increasing globalised world where “everything is connected” Tom focused on the very local and drew our attention to the links between the environment, culture and the arts with stories of resilience, that include tales of the beautiful Coorong environment, where the Murray Darling Basin empties into the sea.

If you have not yet read the Ngarrindjeri Sea Country plan then a copy is available to download here.

Another highlight for me was meeting Glenn Albrecht who was a presenter on the final day of the Conference. Glenn Albrecht is professor of sustainability at Murdoch University in Perth, Western Australia. He is an environmental philosopher with both theoretical and applied interests in the relationship between ecosystem and human health. He has pioneered the research domain of ‘psychoterratic’ or earth related mental health conditions with the concept of ‘solastalgia’ or the lived experience of negative environmental change.

I became aware of Glenn’s work during the low water conditions and was relieved that he had named the sense of despair that I was feeling when I looked out upon the vastly changed lakes environment. We shared an email correspondence and I referred to solastalgia in a number of the talks that I gave at that time.

Glenn has also supported the Life in your hands: Art from Solastalgia exhibition which was on at Signal Point Gallery until 28th Oct. The Exhibition champions visual art, craft and design as an enabling force to combat solastalgia, ‘the homesickness you have when you haven’t left home’. For Life in your hands, nine artists from across Australia including Milang born Jeff Mincham, Living Treasure and Master of Australian Craft, worked directly with communities identified as suffering solastalgia including Alexandrina, where the connection between the community and the environment that historically sustained had once been lost.

Through their work, artists provided communities with a voice and an avenue of personal action, commenting on, re-creating and forging new links where communication has been lost. The resultant artworks comprise jewellery, ceramics, textiles, photography, video and installation and are at once optimistic of the future while providing a cautionary note of the consequences if action is not taken.

A wonderful exhibition and particularly relevant to those of us that have had the lived experience of solastalgia.

As you can imagine I have a head full of information and inspiration which I am now sifting through. Stay tuned for more down the track.


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One Response to My Reflections and Learnings

  1. Gerry Thompson says:

    Karen, I think you have unearthed a source of inspiration that we can use in our efforts.
    Often, artists have the ability to use scientific observation to interpret changes in the landscape and transfer that to a canvas. It would be good to encourage Ngarrindjeri artists to exploit this ability and use art to depict the changes that have occurred in the Coorong and Lower Lakes. We could all benefit from this knowledge.

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