THE JOURNAL OF THEFULCRUM.AGENCY
Commune ISSUE 03
Middle English: from Old French comuner ‘to share’, from comun: noun a group of people living together and sharing possessions and responsibilities. verb share one’s intimate thoughts or feelings with (someone), especially on a spiritual level.
TO COMMUNE Originally, we had thought about calling this issue Community, but Mark (Braddock) had the genius idea of reframing this to Commune — he thought it was a little less ‘Freo’. His suggestion certainly blew things open and gave us a chance to think of commune, community and the connection between the two in a whole new way.
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Curiously in the time since committing to Commune, Kieran and I made the somewhat impulsive decision to buy a campground and farm with friends in beautiful Denmark on the Southern Coast of WA. This piece of paradise felt rich with opportunities to explore our shared interest in regenerative agriculture and revegetation. In the 12 months since we started this adventure, we have felt a new community forming as we opened via word-of-mouth and share the space with new friends. Coming from Fremantle, the word ‘commune’ has strong connotations and connections to the colourful recent history of the Rajneesh taking residence in our port city in the eighties. This movement and philosophy pulled many middle-aged and middle-class men and women into its orbit, out of the Western Suburbs and into Fremantle in their orange clothing. At its best, a commune is a place and form of deep connection amongst people. At its worst it can be seen as a cult with power imbalances, manipulation, corruption and intrigue. In this issue, we (sometimes inadvertently) explore both side of the coin. And there is also the consideration of ‘commune’ as a verb — to commune with nature — to listen closely and intently to the world around. I think of commune as an intentional community and an intentional activity. How lucky we are if we have the
TheFulcrum.Agency PO Box 671 Fremantle 6959 Western Australia ISBN 978-0-6485481-3-3 Printed in Australia by Discus on Demand TheFulcrum.Agency Team Emma Williamson Co-Founder / Partner Kieran Wong Co-Founder / Partner Nick Juniper Principal Andrew Broffman Principal Emma Brain Head of Communications Heather MacRae Associate Akira Monaghan Brad Wetherall William Ek-Uvelius Betty Richards Creative Direction & Design Mark Braddock Project Manager Jessica Richings
Photo by Lewis Catalano
capacity to author this type of intention! This is something we have worked hard to do at TheFulcrum.Agency. Gifted with the rare opportunity to start afresh, we thought hard about the communities we wanted to be part of and the communities we want to serve. We continue to learn so much from Indigenous communities about this Country and the importance of reciprocal relationships between land and people. This has opened our eyes to the cultural customs and practices that are sadly missing from our own communities, where the balance between individualism and community is too often tested. Oh — and did I mention — we bought a campground?! A place where we can commune with nature, practice a bit of commune living and build a community. Follow us @newfarmdenmark. Maybe you will come and visit some time!
Kieran Wong and Emma Williamson Co-Founders, TheFulcrum.Agency
CONTENTS On ‘COMMUNE’ 01 of 09
02 of 09
03 of 09
04 of 09
05 of 09
06 of 09
07 of 09
08 of 09
09 of 09
Building Bond$ In reaction to an increasing housing crisis, Kieran Wong discusses the nature of financial systems and how they could be rethought to provide better housing (and financial) outcomes for all. Is it time we redesigned the housing market?
Aggregated Culture Fremantle, like port cities the world over, has always been a cultural melting pot. Terrazzo, which arrived in port with the wave of Italian immigrants, is the perfect material metaphor for this rich communal mix. Artists, craftspeople and Freo locals Gabby Howlett, Jesse Lee and Margaret Dillon present their contemporary take on traditional terrazzo.
Under Destruction What is lost when virtual communities are ‘switched off’? What are corporations’ responsibility to the communities they have created when those communities are no longer financially viable? And to whom does it fall to preserve the community’s heritage?
Home Grounding Journal regular Meri Fatin, talks to Gerard Matera about growing up Aboriginal, Italian and gay in a small, sports-obsessed Wheatbelt town, and how it inspired him to make real change through the power of commerce.
Many a True Word Campbell Walker — AKA ‘Struthless’ – has grown a devoted Instagram following for his hilariously-biting illustrated take on Australia. On the eve of the publication of his first book, he talks about what it is about us, as a nation, makes him laugh.
No Dope. No Dole. No Dogs. Architectural Historian Lee Stickells, travels back in time to an experiment in communal living that grew from the bush in south-western Australia in the seventies. From the bush, Belvidere came, and unto the bush it returned.
Easy as 'Pies Amelia Borg takes us on a tour of Kalora Park Sports Pavilion, home of the mighty Narre Warren Magpies, by WOWOWA Architecture & Interiors. She shows us that modest suburban architecture need not be beige and uninspiring.
Building Bond$ (p08)
Many a True Word (p50)
Aggregated Culture (p20)
Aggregated Culture (p20)
Commune is the more sophisticated cousin of our favourite noun — community. This journal gave us the opportunity to tap into our rich community of writers, artists, filmmakers, illustrators, academics, policy makers and more. We connected and we communed, and in doing so pulled together Issue 03. Enjoy! Illustrations by Nathanael Whale.
Comms Director Emma would like to think she’s the steady hand behind this operation. True, except for the last two weeks, where she struggles to conceal her panic as the printing deadline looms near.
Architect As our Editor-inChief, Emma is across all aspects of this journal — from determining the theme through to the minutiae of detail. We couldn’t do it without her.
Artist Gabby is the founder of How Productive, an ethical business assisting artists and creatives to monetise their work — the perfect outcome of her combined love for objects and people.
Architect Kieran’s ponderings on aspects of Australian society seem to miraculously align with the theme for each edition of our journal.
Artist Jesse is one of Fremantle’s true creative characters. She turns her hand to everything from roving public baths to the creation of bespoke terrazzo floors and objects.
Illustrator Cam is an illustrator and the mind behind Struthless, one of our top ten Instagram accounts. Put this down and look him up now!
Academic When he’s not teaching at the University of Sydney, Lee is exploring the hidden world of Australian communes, with a particular focus on their built environment. No Dope. No Dole. No Dogs. (p60)
Architect Amelia is a Director at Melbourne-based studio, Sibling Architecture. She’s a great designer, advocate for the profession and a most-excellent writer. siblingarchitecture.com
Project Manager Jess is the conduit between TheFulcrum.Agency and Block and the main reason this journal makes it to the printers on time. blockbranding.com
Easy as ‘Pies (p68)
Artist Marg is one-half of Concreto, a business creating beautiful terrazzo floors and objects. Recently, she has shifted towards teaching others about the potential of the material. concreto.com.au Aggregated Culture (p20)
Illustrator Jasmine is a descendant of Maria Lock, the daughter of Yarramundi, the Boorooberongal elder who met Governor Phillip on the banks of the Hawkesbury River in 1791. Home Grounding (p34)
Creative Director Mark is our Creative Director, content sounding board and the one who first suggested that joining the world of print publishing was a good idea …
Journalist Meri conducts the main interview in each edition, and always astounds us with her thoughtful, intelligent and kind approach to these conversations. Home Grounding (p34)
Building Bond$ Words by Kieran Wong
Current fiscal policies have lead to a chronic, and worsening, housing crisis. Here, TheFulcrum. Agency’s Kieran Wong argues it’s time for radical new ideas that could allow ‘the market’ to heal itself.
01 of 09 Bo Wong Photographer bowong.com.au
For me, a commune is an intentional community with shared values, resources, knowledge and responsibilities.
t’s been over a decade since the release of the book The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. In that time, the gap between the rich and poor in the developed world has grown wider. Despite the rhetoric of post-ThirdWave social democrats , the grotesque disparities of the top one percent and everyone else seem to continue unabated. COVID has only made it worse. Why does inequality matter? The language of inequality has started to change, with leaders like Boris Johnson now talking about ‘levelling up’ rather than ‘trickling down’ — but the underlying premises, systems and biases of neo-liberal economic management persist. The stellar trajectory of billionaires such as Bezos and Branson into space serve as direct metaphors for the rocketing differences between the rich and poor. And being poor is more common than you think. In 2020,
a study determined that one in eight people (or 13.6%) in Australia were living below the poverty line — that’s over three-million Australians (including 774,000 children under 15) below the median cost of living. ‘The rich may fear the type of violence that characterises highly unequal societies, but they are more likely to build bigger walls around their gated communities than raise the red flag of egalitarianism in response. It is the hard work of everyday politics — from community organising to political education — that will bring about more equal societies.,’ wrote Simon Black in the Canadian Dimension. I am doubtful that we can wait in Australia for ‘everyday politics’ to make the changes necessary to really address the issues of inequality and disadvantage. Both major parties have walked off-hand in-hand from the battlefield for progressive tax policy. Disinformation and distrust characterise the relationships we now have with media, authority, and the rules of law. Meanwhile, governments
are doing all they can to silence charitable organisations and welfare advocacy groups through legal and contractual means. We know that access to safe, affordable, and permanent housing is a key determinant in social mobility. It drives economic productivity, improves health and education outcomes, and can break the cycle of disadvantage. Yet in Australia, the cost of housing is the biggest burden faced by the lowest quintile of income earners, whilst the highest have had their relative costs of housing reduced, thanks to record low-interest rates, ever increasing house prices and a regressive taxation system. _____ The Housing Challenge Last year I accepted the role of Chair of Shelter WA, the peak body for an effective housing system and ending homelessness in WA. I started on the Board with what I thought was an understanding of both the drivers of, and some solutions to, housing inequities. The truth is I didn’t have much of either. It is not until you combine a working understanding of the cold, hard statistics with the lived experience of individuals, that you can start to grasp the effects that housing precariousness is having on our society, not just on those who cannot find shelter. COMMUNE 13
When I was 16, I left Fremantle to live on a commune near Walpole. I ate a lot of lentils and magic mushrooms, so despite being an idealist with the values of self-sufficiency, I couldn’t offer the other elements that a successful commune needs — the resources, knowledge or responsibility. My husband grew up on a commune in NSW and we met on a forest blockade in Tasmania in 2001. Blockades are essentially travelling communes that sprouted up all over Australia in the late nineties and early two-thousands. Living together without electricity or sanitation in every state of Australia, I got to know myself and others, really well. We navigated de-escalation strategies, rope tying, children, painting, politics and poo together. In hindsight, it set me up pretty darn well for my current commune: family life.
Successive governments have failed to match supply with the demand for social and affordable housing
Over the past year, I have heard powerful testimony from our most vulnerable citizens and many facing housing stress for the first time in their lives. Working families who cannot find a rental home, people left behind in the COVID pandemic — an ever-widening gulf between those with and those without in our society. This gulf is seen in many comparative statistics — mortgage stress, housing arrears, rental demand and demand for frontline services. Across Australia, we have seen waves of housing booms making housing tenure precarious for many in the rental and private housing markets. The net effects of our taxation system, land delivery models, erosions of tenancy rights and the casualisation of labour is driving the gap between those who owned property before 2004 (when housing prices exploded in Australia) and those who came too late to the party. Applications to public housing waitlists are increasing month by month. At the time of writing, around 30,000 Western Australians are on it. Rental vacancies are at a historic low, with areas such as the regions at levels below
one percent. The drivers are complex and intertwined but what is clear is that successive governments have failed to match supply with the demand for social and affordable housing. Despite a massive increase in demand and an ever-growing inequality gap in Western Australia, we have less public housing stock today than we did in 2016. Of course, there is a simple political equation underpinning this. There are more people (voters) who own homes than those in the rental market or in public housing. As the often-primary mode of wealth creation, housing asset prices are fiercely protected by homeowners, and any move to make the housing system fairer, or more balanced, to open up affordable options, or change models of delivery is met by instant and vehement opposition. Governments do not have the political capital (or appetite) to consider a future without inequality. And there is a philosophical belief underpinning this too — a belief in ‘the market’ as a system that is efficient, objective and can create greater outcomes through innovation. The market is often used a shield to describe
why (or why not) certain opportunities may be possible. We are starting to see the pushing back of neo-liberalism ignited by Thatcher and Reagan and adopted here in Australia, but the power of its grasp means our institutions are still beholden to the notion of Government’s role being one to reduce red tape and let ‘the market’ get on with it. In the language of the market then, I wonder if it is possible to financialise and incentivise investment in affordable and social housing. Can we look to other invented markets that have done the same with other wicked problems? _____ What even is a market? Markets are dynamic and challenging to pin down. Markets are not necessarily efficient or productive; they can be opaque, and often as a result of their complexity, can elude regulators from scrutiny. They can be seen as games played by people with a penchant for bending rules and betting on futures. From the entrepreneurial mind of Greek philosopher Thales betting on the future olive crop, to the Dutch futures market designed to hedge against losses from global shipping during the sixteen-hundreds,
trading against a future event that is linked to a tangible asset, underpinned the logic of futures trading until the eighties. After the floodgates of financialisation were opened in the mid eighties, some markets, such as futures trading, have become spectacularly decoupled from the tangible commodities that they were devised to hedge against. Like the wild daydreams of a ten-year-old boy, markets have emerged limited only by the imagination of the inventors, and at a speed that often eludes oversight. Futures markets trade (or bet) on changes to the weather, or the cost of shipping or other more bizarre possibilities. The Policy Analysis Market was originally proposed by the US Department of Defense to trade futures contracts based on political events or changes in the Middle East: The theory was that the investment value of a futures contract on a particular political event reflected the probability that the event would actually occur — for example, the outcome of polls or elections. Some US officials claimed, however, that such offerings would
We must investigate models that can deliver responses at scale, that are market-led
and that are lightly regulated
02 of 09 Joseph London Filmmaker — The Beloved thebelovedfilm.com
The concept of measuring social impact is rapidly becoming better understood
encourage speculation on events such as coups d’état and terrorist events.
and a market was invented in response — carbon trading. _____ Hot Air? Established as a result of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, carbon emissions trading has had its successes and failures. Designed to limit carbon emissions (agreed to be driving global warming) market systems sought to offset high carbon emitters with innovative forms of emission reduction or carbon sequestration. Despite their rhetoric of ‘open markets’, governments have applied a political lens to regulations around emission trading, including the US withdrawal from Kyoto in 2001, and the changing nature of target settings for emissions to reach ‘net zero’. But for around fifteen years since 2000, the financialisation of the carbon market created opportunities, leveraged funds for investment projects and delivered a mixed bag of results across the world. Importantly it imagined a financial market to address a human challenge and drive investment in assets and processes aligned to that goal. What can we take from this as an idea to address inequality, or perhaps an element of its underpinning —
Although the market never made it to fruition, similar forms of political futures markets were proposed. After the Global Financial Crisis, US President Obama introduced a ‘sweeping overhaul of the United States financial regulatory system, a transformation on a scale not seen since the reforms that followed the Great Depression’. The resultant legislation (the Dodd-Frank Bill) sought to stabilise markets, protect consumers, and ban all futures trading based on events such as assassinations and terrorism. So, could this wildly inventive market mechanism be used to address inequality? Perhaps our other shared societal challenge — the climate crisis — could provide a clue. For many decades the extent of the climate crisis failed to gain traction with politicians and policymakers using communication based on environmental science, economic logic, and social impact. Governments have sought to address the issue through ‘market mechanisms’ COMMUNE 18
housing? To develop a tradeable market, you need a system of measurement (ideally with a compelling counterfactual — that is, if we don’t do something, this is what will happen) and you need agreements on targets to drive trading value. _____ Market inequality? There are standardised measures, such as the Gini Coefficient, that track income distribution as a measure of inequality in society. More granular measures are taking form in the emerging system of Social Impact Measurement that seek to make a case for the long-term impacts of projects beyond their start-up and operational costs. In the UK, measuring and reporting on social impact is now an essential component of taxpayer-funded projects, with business cases required to evaluate the long-term impacts of government’s capital expenditure. In Australia, this idea is gaining traction amongst funders who are now able to evaluate their investment in social services programs. The notions of a Social Return on Investment (SROI) require funders and developers to consider broader attributions of societal change through their projects. The concept of measuring social impact is rapidly becoming better understood, more organised and more widely accepted as a method for determining project success. Accounting practices and consulting COMMUNE 19
I remember as a kid visiting a friend on a commune and being fascinated by what they had built themselves, the healthy living and access to nature. But staying overnight, with the sound of dingoes in the evening and roosters at dawn, the silent stoicism of the family at first light, I felt the cold dread of homesickness in the pit of my stomach. To me, the commune represents the promise of being relieved of the grinding effort to get big things up on your own, of joining forces and to be ambitious. It’s an exciting and nourishing experience to share a vision and a passion, to collaborate and to find consensus. But it is also quietly exhilarating to finally fall back on your own resources and return to yourself. To not be constantly thinking of or encountering others or to be seeking opinions or permission. To feel independent again.
03 of 09 Matt Stack Architect & Urban Designer METRONET
The response to the housing crisis must be able to deliver faster outcomes and be less prone to government policy mood-swings
forms are expanding to meet the demand for such measures Social Impact Bonds are another example of investment vehicle that can provide private financing into the social services sector. Investment is rewarded through evaluation of particular social metrics (such as lowering rates of imprisonments, or restoration of children to families) with the reduction in government costs in justice health education, etc used to provide financial returns to investors. Examples such as this have existed in Australia for almost a decade now. But Social Impact Bonds are long-term investment vehicles, reliant on stable government policy to ensure programs can be evaluated accurately. The response to the housing crisis must be able to deliver faster outcomes and be less prone to government policy mood-swings. _____ Credit where credit’s due With secure housing becoming increasingly perilous and the challenge of affordable housing now impacting the working poor, there has never been a more urgent time to address the crisis (sound familiar?). Delivering a mechanism that seeks to re-balance social inequality over the longer term through immediate investments in the drivers of disadvantage is critical. We must investigate models that can deliver responses at scale, that are market-led and that are lightly regulated by government to allow for agility, delivery, and value for money. It could be possible to develop a Social Inequality (SI) Credit system — applied to a range of projects from infrastructure to financial products, to ‘offset’ outcomes that are currently driving the foundations of inequality. An example might be an infrastructure development project
that includes residential accommodation, with developers required to provide through inclusionary zoning targets, a minimum number of these social and affordable housing projects. If not fully incorporated into the development, a SI credit system could be utilised to offset this and aggregate housing funds to deliver projects at scale through other community
wealthy (or political elite) through obligation or community spirit. A market that seeks to reduce inequality into the future should be part of the conversation. To recycle (pardon the pun) a line from the climate crisis — ‘if not for us, for our children and their children to follow’. A market designed and scaled to reduce inequality and deliver a more just world — imagine that future.
As a Gen-X son of Boomers I have met actual hippies. My uncle and aunt lived in remote locations with alternative lifestyles, and sent postcards when their boat got stuck in Samoa. As a Bunbury teenager I explored the abandoned hippie commune of Belvidere on the Leschenault Peninsula. Shelter, Lloyd Kahn’s illustrated guide to alt-traditional building, was my gateway to architecture. For me, Commune resonates with cutting-off from the mainstream to pursue other ideals, and I’m a bit susceptible to that.
housing providers. Independent investment funds, such as a Social Housing Subsidy Fund, that seek to address the yield gap in rental costs and development costs for social housing could be the receivers of such offset credits, creating value for community housing providers to invest in the delivery of housing. Government-funded infrastructure would need to be evaluated for its social impact (using SROI) and could provide another form of offset funding, or seek credits, depending on its social impact and effectiveness in addressing inequality. Governments have typically struggled to make the link between the burgeoning health costs of its citizens, and the supply of healthy, safe, and affordable housing. Despite decades of evidence that housing can reduce the costs on the health system, increase productivity and reduce inequality, governments seem caught in a market failure of their own making. Using SI Credits in the private market could correct this self-inflicted failure of bureaucracy by achieving societal impact through a range of market mechanisms, driven by ambitious targets to a net-zero inequality future. An unequal Australia is to the detriment of us all, but as Simon Black noted, it will not be upturned by the
My closest-to commune encounter was in a collective of fine art and architecture students who formed the Jacksue Gallery in Murray Street from 1995-1998. We would have scorned the term Commune, but nonetheless we formed our own alternative world behind an opaque shopfront. I now work in the relentlessly mainstream world of state government planning, but there remains a commune-dweller part of me who can never fully believe that the way things are, is the way things have to be.
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Words by Gabrielle Howlett, Margaret Dillon + Jesse Lee Images by Jesse Lee
ence on The Italian influ chitecture of the colonial ar dened the Fremantle broa houses from palette of our limestone red brick and rete and to include conc zzo floors. decorative terra e built Our houses ar grouping from a unique aterials of common m made and that are locally inspired. internationally m a time of Many come fro innovating making-do — what was and exploring the local possible with nd. materials at ha
Aggregated Culture 24
Story Title 25
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Story Title 26
Aggregated Culture 27
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Aggregated Culture 28
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Aggregated Culture 31
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Story Title COMMUNE Aggregated Culture COMMUNE
GeoCities Online Community Year 1994-2009
UNDER DESTRUCTION FROM: MARK BRADDOCK DATE: MONDAY, 23 AUGUST 2021 AT 9:29 PM
… I have also been giving a lot of thought to the ‘Woodstock spread’ and I just don’t think it is a good idea. But I have a (good) idea. I want to do a spread about GeoCities — one of the first ‘social networks’ that started in 1994 and shutdown in 2009. What happens when a virtual society collapses? Should there be an equivalent of UNESCO World Heritage listing for online sites of global cultural significance?
FROM: EMMA BRAIN DATE: TUESDAY, 24 AUGUST 2021 AT 9:29 AM
There are programs to archive significant web content, but it’s patchy and tends to be about preserving isolated pages or sites, not so much about preserving the ecosystem intact. Imagine if rather than being buried under Vesuvius’ ash, Pompeii’s citizens just left and the city was preserved not in part, but in its entirety in that moment
and leaving future generations the opportunity to visit whenever they wanted. We have the opportunity to do this with primitive online communities. How cool would it be if our great grandkids in 2099 could wander the neighbourhoods of GeoCities, looking in on the pages just as they were in 1999?
www.oocities.org is one of the last remaining attempts to archive GeoCities pages. It seems that it’s already too late for GeoCities — it is rapidly disintegrating. All that’ll be left soon will be the digital equivalent of pottery fragments, from which future digital archaeologists will have to surmise the nature of communities such as GeoCities. The headline could be ‘Site Under Destruction’. And there are plenty old skool graphics I could use.
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I love the sound of it, Mark! Will you do the writing and images for the article? FROM: EMMA WILLIAMSON DATE: TUESDAY, 24 AUGUST 2021 AT 10:45 AM
I’m intrigued by the idea. I also like the aging process so the idea of a ruin is more interesting to me than a fully preserved city — maybe the city becomes more interesting when bits stop working?
FROM: MARK BRADDOCK DATE: TUESDAY, 24 AUGUST 2021 AT 11:25 AM
On second thought, I think preserving a community like GeoCities in its entirety would be impossible — external links will become outdated, technologies such as Flash become obsolete, etc — so any preserved site would be a ruin to some degree and continuing degradation over time would be inevitable.
This raises another and (maybe) more interesting take on this … It isn’t just about preservation for future generations, it’s, also about what, if any, responsibility the corporations that own these platforms (in GeoCities’ case, Yahoo) have to the communities that have been built on them when the platform itself is no longer financially viable.
Destruction in the digital realm can happen so quickly and completely. Switching off a server can mean a community can cease to exist in an instant.
These are real communities and the corporations have encouraged their ‘citizens’ to spend time and, often, money building a presence on
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these platforms. These places house digital assets and memories. Audiences have been encouraged to build connections and social networks on these, well, social networks — only to then have the plug pulled on them. All this without regard to the social cost of this destruction. Maybe that’s a more interesting take on it for Commune?
THE FATIN TAPES
Words by Meri Fatin Illustration by Jasmine Seymour
Grounding As a gay Aboriginal-Italian kid growing up in a small Western Australian Wheatbelt town, it’s not easy to find your community. Entrepreneur Gerard Matera chats to Meri Fatin about how selfacceptance was the spark he needed to create businesses with social good at their heart.
_____ Meri Fatin [00:00:27] How do you introduce yourself when you meet someone for the first time? _____ Gerard Matera [00:00:48] I tell them that I’m very proud to be Noongar and then I tell them a little bit about my journey. More recently, I let them know that I’m part of the LGBTQI community too. _____ Meri Fatin [00:01:28] Why does it matter for you that they know? _____ Gerard Matera [00:01:33] I think it has to do with my age to be honest. What I’ve found is the more open and transparent I am with myself — for many, many years, I didn’t know who I was — the more success I have, the deeper friendships I get, and
the more my business succeeds. _____ Meri Fatin [00:02:10] You’re the youngest of eight children. How has being in that position in the family impacted you? _____ Gerard Matera [00:02:30] I’m one of seven boys and one sister. As the youngest, I became very close to my mum because my dad had to work seven days a week, in two jobs, to put food on the table. I was in the kitchen a lot. I had this passion to be a chef from a very young age. I always enjoyed bringing people together with a full table. I grew up in a really small country town called Wagin, about three hours southeast of Perth, with an Italian father and an Aboriginal mother. As I was growing
Home Grounding 38
up, I didn’t really understand why these two people came together, particularly with what was playing out. Wagin was built in an era where Aboriginals lived on one side of town and white people lived on the other. Mum and dad didn’t have a lot of money and we were raised in state housing. When you come from a place of not having a lot, then it’s really about the love, the relationships. I think I was 10-years-old when my mum took me to the doctors because I wasn’t playing football or any sports. I had quite a close relationship with the doctor back in Wagin and he said, ‘Just take him and force him to play.’ And she did — I started playing basketball and football and I actually enjoyed it. But I didn’t really see myself … being gay and also Aboriginal — it was very difficult for me
to see myself anywhere. Yeah. So that’s kind of, you know, the reason why I was quite isolated in the beginning. _____ Meri Fatin [00:06:15] It’s amazing when you think about how for the Matera family, not wanting to play footy was almost a pathology. What was the broader social picture that you grew up in? _____ Gerard Matera [00:06:58] Wagin was a very dysfunctional town. We lived with a reserve at the back of our house and most weekends a lot of Aboriginal families would be fighting, fuelled by alcohol and drugs, and there was lots of unemployment. As I got a little bit older, I definitely saw the divide. I don’t know if someone in the planning department thought, oh,
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Centre: Dad and Mum (Michele and Jane) Back right: Michael Front left: Frank Left on Dad’s knee: Phillip Middle Front: Carmel (the only girl)
There’s a backstory to this photo. A photographer would travel through country towns each year to take family photos, a bit like the Avon Lady. Mum and Dad said yes to the picture but could not really afford it. Somehow, they made it work and this is the only formal photo that we have of the young years.
04 of 09 Michelle Blakeley Architect & Founder My Home Social Housing Solution
Right bottom: Gino Right on mum’s knee: Me (baby) Back middle: Wally Back left of middle: Peter
let’s put all the blackies over here and then put all the white fellas over here. Funnily enough, you know, 50-plus years later, Mum and Dad are still in that house. _____ Meri Fatin [00:08:45] When we started you said that you introduce yourself as a Noongar man. Where is the bit of you that identifies with your Italian heritage? _____ Gerard Matera [00:08:58] Yeah, I think through food. When we were growing up Mum would cook a lot. But Dad would make pizzas and pasta and all that sort of stuff and a lot of bread. And still today, you know, if you’re heading to Wagin on the weekend, he’ll make sure there’s pizza and some bread that he’s made to give you. I think the Italian heritage has always been about the vino, the fruit and veg, living off the garden. COMMUNE
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We came from a place of not having a lot of money and so Dad was very vocal about eating from the garden, you know, making sure there were chooks that gave us eggs. He tried to be quite self-sufficient in that sense. We always had rows and rows and rows of fruit and veggies in the backyard. And Mum would probably get yelled at if she went to the shops and bought apples. When I went to Italy for the very first time in my late twenties, it was very similar. I actually thought that I was going to see a wealthy side of the family. I pictured Italy being this the most amazing country and my family to be living in these estates with vineyards and all that sort of stuff. It just wasn’t the case. My Italian family weren’t wealthy either. So, when I saw the Italian part, I realised that the Aboriginal part is actually very similar when you’re talking about culture, food and bringing people together. _____ Meri Fatin [00:10:28] Before we move away from your earliest years, I want to ask you, when were you first able to articulate to yourself that you were gay? Tell me a bit about that side of what was going on for you. _____ Gerard Matera [00:10:45] Yeah, I think early teens to my early twenties. I definitely knew that I was gay, but obviously with the laws and restrictions and also growing up in a family environment that was very footy-focussed and very masculine, I didn’t ever feel comfortable. _____ Meri Fatin [00:11:10] So, what did you know about what it was to be gay, that stopped you from telling anybody at that time? What was your sense? _____ Gerard Matera [00:11:18] Yeah, I was seeking love and affection but being in Wagin, I didn’t find that in anyone. I didn’t see the LGBTQI community anywhere in Wagin. That’s why I think it took me a very long time to realise that I was gay, because I didn’t really feel comfortable and didn’t see other people that were similar until I was probably late teens, early twenties. _____ Meri Fatin [00:11:54] So, does that mean that you knew that there was something not quite right but you couldn’t tell what it was? COMMUNE
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Commune. I immediately think of groups of people creating communities in Nimbin, Margaret River and other idylls. A sharing of beliefs, values and desires underpinning a physical sharing of property, childcare, cooking, planting vegetables and whatever else is required for the commune to function. Rarely have they been sustainable which I’ve always found to be an insightful example of the human condition. Fundamental to commune is sharing freely without competitiveness, ego, judgement, greed, selfishness or possessiveness (I could go on). How do we embrace our positive offerings and eliminate the negatives, leaving them at the door with all the other uncomfortable baggage we want to discard? I want to believe in a commune of sharing between kindred spirits who collaborate openly and with trust. But commune is fragile and so easily destroyed by those in commune.
I wanted a life that was an abundance
05 of 09 Mike Dyson Founder Good Blokes Co.
I think if you subtracted the whole AFL thing, I don’t think Mum ever would have been celebrated _____ Gerard Matera [00:11:59] Yeah, most definitely. I knew that there was something going on and I knew quite clearly that I couldn’t talk about it and I had to hide it from everybody. _____ Meri Fatin [00:12:14] So, before we leave Wagin, I’m interested in the impact on you of being part of a footy family and the expectation placed on you. The impact that football had on the Matera family. _____ Gerard Matera [00:12:28] Yeah. Look, don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy that my brothers found success through football. But for me, what played out was finding myself getting more and more depressed and struggling with anxiety because I just couldn’t be myself. I couldn’t talk about myself. I couldn’t, you know, say to my mum or my family, ‘Hey, I’ve fallen in love’, or, ‘This is who I am’. It was never that environment. And even going to a football game whilst my brothers were playing AFL, even being invited down to the bar that the players’ families go to after a game; everyone’s got a girlfriend, everyone’s got a partner. I didn’t see an LGBTQI person anywhere. While my brother was playing, particularly in 1992, the memory is quite prominent because I was in my late teens and I was kind of just realising … I lived a lie for so long, telling my brothers that I had girlfriends, dating girls for years just to fit in and, you know, lying to everybody about that. It did not make me feel very good. _____ Meri Fatin [00:14:16] Was it about protecting the public reputation of the family? _____ Gerard Matera [00:14:24] Yeah, yeah. Most certainly. I think 20-plus years ago when my brothers were playing footy I don’t think they
would have been comfortable with me rocking up with a boyfriend to the Members’ Bar at the AFL. Certainly not. _____ Meri Fatin [00:14:58] It’s important to remember how recently that that was the case. _____ Gerard Matera [00:15:04] Yes, but I want to make this point. My mother also was treated in a very similar way. For many, many years, my mum was never properly accepted in Wagin. I feel that no one really embraced her up until my brother won the Norm Smith Medal in 1992, when they changed the street name to Matera Street and they changed the football oval to Matera Oval. They had a banner that stretched across the main street welcoming my brother as the Norm Smith Medallist of Wagin and then gave mum and dad the key to the town ... so when you’re successful, football rallies behind people with differences. I think if you subtracted the whole AFL thing, I don’t think Mum ever would have been celebrated in such a way. When Peter won that Norm Smith medal in 1992, Channels Seven and Ten rocked up at my mum and dad’s house wanting to interview them, but before that, you know; no way. So, the point I want to make is that it’s hard to see your mother vilified for her race and her not feeling very comfortable with who she is. You know, my mum never went to an AFL game. She went to South Fremantle in the early days when Phil and Pete and Wally were playing because I think a lot of Noongars were hanging out back then and my aunties and extended family were there. But I don’t think Mum was ever really comfortable going to an AFL game. And so in the early days, I was very reluctant to tell anyone that I was Aboriginal, particularly after moving to Perth and being a young Aboriginal boy looking for
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employment. I was always involved in conversations that were very, very negative about Aboriginal people. And then when you let them know that you’re Aboriginal, the conversation kind of changes. So, I had two fronts. I was reluctant about telling people that I was Aboriginal but I wasn’t telling people that I was part of the LGBTQI community either. _____ Meri Fatin [00:18:04] I want to get onto the racism directly. But first I want to ask you about leaving Wagin. Where did you go and what did you do next? _____ Gerard Matera [00:18:21] When I was about 16, I said to my mum that I want to become a chef. I came to Perth hunting for an apprenticeship and I ended up getting one at Radisson Observation City, which was then a five-star hotel. I worked there for all of my apprenticeship and I did some really cool things, like you know, hosted an array of different people, cooked for Elle Macpherson. I still have that passion today, I’m still in the food industry, but not cooking commercially anymore. I worked in hospitality for a very long time and then I moved into the government space and worked for the Apprenticeship Board for many years, overseeing apprenticeships and the traineeship sector. And again, I didn’t see a lot of Aboriginal people working there and LGBTQI people just didn’t really exist. _____ Meri Fatin [00:22:35] So how did you end up having multiple businesses all creating opportunity and overcoming obstacles for Aboriginal people? _____ Gerard Matera [00:22:46] It’s funny. Working for government, I realised that the energy level is quite vanilla, and no one is out there campaigning unless you’re a politician. So for most of Government it’s about what you can and can’t do. I was always striving to do something bigger. When you grow up in a family that has nothing except love and food in the backyard, and sometimes going without lunch because there’s no food in the cupboard … I knew that I didn’t want to struggle like that. COMMUNE
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Once a year, some friends of mine carve out time from busy schedules for ‘commune vibes’. A jangly mob of families gathering around a campfire to cook, eat, sing and yarn. It feels like the extended family I never had growing up, a home I never knew could exist. Throughout our evolutionary history as humans, separation from the tribe has been dangerous. Our nervous systems have therefore developed emotional pain as a warning signal to remind us that to commune with others is an essential part of our survival. I feel this need for belonging in my bones In a modern world that prioritises a multiplicity of short and sharp connections over deep, sustained human togetherness, it takes work to carve out time to commune. And while it may be a radical act to leave the phone at home and be totally present with the tangled mess of those we love ... if we want to feel a deep sense of belonging, we have to do something about it. For that reason, I’m much more excited by the verb, to commune, than I am with the noun.
There were 40,000 apprentices and trainees in the state of WA and less than 100 of them were Aboriginal I wanted a life that was an abundance of experiences and drive and I wanted to be self-sufficient and I wanted to have enough money to do the things that I want to do. I’m not interested in having billions of dollars just sitting in the bank, I’d rather just have a life full of experiences and things. So many years ago, pre-2010, I started to strategise. I wanted to start a business that was based around giving back. My first business was a company called EON, which stands for Empowering Our Nation. I designed a business that was really about social change — from the name, the purpose, the vision, the values. It was built around giving back to people that might not see opportunity for themselves. EON was founded to try to lower incarceration rates. I was quite big on understanding the landscape in all these different business sectors, particularly for Aboriginal people. Security is an industry where government and the private sector spend billions of dollars per year but when you go to a shopping centre or a bank and there’s a security guard standing at the front, it’s not an Aboriginal person. That needed to change. So today we’ve got some huge contracts. BP Kwinana, we’re looking at KATAGIRI out in Kalgoorlie. We’ve done some work with Woodside, with Wilson, an array of government contracts and our employment of Aboriginal people in that business is about 40 percent. I’m trying to make it the norm that when there’s a building being secured the person standing at the front is Aboriginal. And it’s not like, ‘Oh, my God, there’s an Aboriginal security guard!’ It is the same for all the businesses. Now I’ve got a security business, I’ve got a construction business, I have a food business and an energy business. They’re all built around looking at where Aboriginal people aren’t succeeding. So, education, housing, providing energy for
themselves out in communities, incarceration rates — all those things. When I launched Marawar (Building and Civil Services), there were 40,000 apprentices and trainees in the state of WA and less than 100 of them were Aboriginal. You look at the billions of dollars that is spent by government and also by the private sector and that’s the bang for buck we get? Less than 100 Aboriginal apprentices in the whole state. So I wanted to address this and start a building business that looked at employing Aboriginal people. I want it to be the biggest Aboriginal building company in WA. Even in the food business you don’t see an Aboriginal person serving you when you’re in a café. There’s not an Aboriginal barista. It’s just not commonplace. As I found out when I was young, you’ve really got to see yourself in normal places, in normal positions. It shouldn’t be, ‘Oh, my God, will I be accepted?’ Because that’s the landscape we’re dealing with. So, all the businesses are driven with the same purpose, same values — how do we get more Aboriginal people in these jobs so that it becomes the norm? _____ Meri Fatin [00:27:38] That classic saying, ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’. What interests me about you in this enormous landscape that you’re creating is that you’re the interface in a lot of racist conversations, fronting up to blunt prejudice. You’re that person. You are that guy every single time. So how do you brace yourself and deal with that stuff so that you stay safe? _____ Gerard Matera [00:28:12] Yeah, if I was to go back 10 years, I don’t think I would have been ready to be the face of a business and
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be openly out and also be telling people that I’m Aboriginal just because of the backlash. I don’t want to give the illusion that it is easy being an Aboriginal business because it isn’t, and it isn’t easy being part of the LGBTQI community and Aboriginal. I’ve had some shocking conversations with corporates about them wanting to have diversity and inclusion in their business, but they really go about it in a clumsy and inauthentic way. It just becomes so much easier when you are authentic, and you don’t hide. Hiding yourself from the world is a horrible thing to do. And when I look at my family, my brothers and colleagues, no one’s hiding themselves — no one. They’re able to hold hands in public, get married and do all those things. So I think that I’ve got this resilience now but it’s taken time. I don’t think 15 years ago I could have stood up and said who I am. But now I realise that corporates and government need to do better in a sense that if you want to have an honest conversation about diversity COMMUNE
Left to right: Wally (holding me), Peter, Gino, Michael and Carmel
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06 of 09 Scott Patterson Director Ochre Project Services
and inclusion, we need to have a different dialog. Because rainbow ticks and black cladding and all those things where Aboriginal people and LGBTQI people are being used to paint a certain facade, that definitely needs to change. _____ Meri Fatin [00:30:35] Yeah, it sounds when you talk about it now, like you are squarely standing on two feet full-frontally facing this thing and ready to challenge that topic. _____ Gerard Matera [00:30:49] I think when you become successful in business, people do want to have a different conversation with you. But when you’re an employee or someone at a different level, no one wants to sit down and find out who you are and how you are doing what you’re doing. And many, many people now say to me, how the hell do you do all the stuff that you do? COMMUNE
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Sit on all these Boards and run all these businesses. It hasn’t been easy. I’m out in public doing all the things that I’m quite passionate about, so that people understand what we’re doing so I can potentially get more opportunities to employ more people. That’s the ultimate game. _____ Meri Fatin [00:32:23] Yes. So, you’re establishing yourself on behalf of all the people that you’re creating opportunity for and overcoming obstacles for ... _____ Gerard Matera [00:32:30] Yeah. I mean, I’ve got a trans woman at the moment working for me as a painter. And, you know, I’ve had conversations with her about being so happy and excited and thankful that she’s in an organisation that embraces her for who she is. And we’re here for her journey. When that kind of stuff plays out and we become an organisation where people are seeking me out for employment because they can see what we’re doing, that makes you feel good, that really cements that we are doing the right thing. The businesses are doing what they’re supposed to be doing. When I set the businesses up and I had that whole thing about empowering our nation, you know, it wasn’t just a silly dream. It really has come to fruition. And, unless you’ve got a business, no one will really understand what it takes. The hours and the commitment and the sleepless nights and the stress and all those things. But it does get easier. It’s all about critical mass. As the businesses grow, it does get a little bit easier. _____ Meri Fatin [00:39:56] You’ve expanded your LGBTQI advocacy by joining the Board of Pride WA — recently you became Senior Vice President — what impact do you want to have there? _____ Gerard Matera [00:40:09] One of the things that I came into Pride WA saying was that we need to make organisations more accountable for using Pride in a way that ticks a box or makes them look good. An example is a corporate would get in contact with Pride to say, ‘Hey, can we be a part of your parade?” And, you know, they donate some money and they run their staff through the parade. And then after the parade is finished, we get crickets. We don’t hear from them again until COMMUNE
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At first the word commune conjured up thoughts of hippie camps or religious cults and I knew I had to dive deeper in my thoughts and history. The simple view is that communes are a place of shared beliefs, where each person contributes to a functioning collective. But I guess for the individual, it is a place of acceptance, respect and love from others. A place you feel welcomed and nurtured. Thousands of years ago, my great grannies would have cared for each other, sharing life through art, song, dance and stories. Not only were they connected to each other but they were connected to the lands they walked — a perfect commune of people and place. A commune is more than a shared belief, it is harmony and balance between the people, and the place they live. My family is my perfect little commune.
It’s hard to explain when people really don’t understand what it feels like not to see yourself anywhere _____ Meri Fatin [00:46:29] Over the last year or two especially, you’re in a space with Pride WA where your sexuality is completely the norm, and broadly in your work, your Aboriginality is fundamental to the success of your work. A lot more comfortable to be what you are, and who you are. How has that impacted your health? _____ Gerard Matera [00:47:18] Look, I think being the first Aboriginal person to be elected to Pride WA says a lot about that organisation and about being accepted. But I have to say, I was in a really dark place for a very long time — probably a decade. I was depressed, I had anxiety, all those things set in. It’s hard to explain when people really don’t understand what it feels like not to see yourself anywhere. My immediate family haven’t always embraced it without difficult conversations. I got out of that dark place through a conversation with my brother about, you know, no one’s coming to save me. No one’s coming to help you. You need to get off your ass and do it yourself. The Aboriginal landscape and the LGBTQI landscape are very, very similar. The biggest eye-opener for me joining Pride is nothing has really changed. Yes sure, we’ve got an organisation. Yes, we’ve got a Pride flag and we’ve got a group that campaigns. But when you really go out into the community, it’s still dysfunctional, it’s still segregated. There are still young kids that need help, that need workplaces and government to make sure that they’re safe. _____ Meri Fatin [00:51:20] Have you thought about what would satisfy you in terms of what you achieve through your work? _____ Gerard Matera [00:51:37] If we’re talking about the LGBTQI-rights space, what I would love to do is leave a legacy of a hub in Perth that doesn’t exist right now. A place where kids could
next year when they might want to participate, or we don’t see them again at all. We couldn’t run the parade in 2020, so we used that time to work out how we could pivot Pride WA to be the organisation it should be. Moving forward, we are going to be having a conversation with corporates and government about how they can participate and partner with Pride more meaningfully, more inclusively, all year round, and not just for one day of the calendar year. _____ Meri Fatin [00:44:27] Yeah, yeah. It’s obvious you’ve got a really strong hypocrisy-radar, right back from your parents being given the keys to Wagin in the footy years. _____ Gerard Matera [00:44:38] Yeah. This story was the nail in the coffin. I went to speak to someone at a national organisation many years ago about a catering opportunity for my business. And the organisation said to me, ‘No, no, we can’t be using an Aboriginal business because we have in the past and it didn’t work.’ Apparently, they were holding an executive lunch and the Aboriginal business rocked up and provided sausage rolls and Twisties. All of a sudden, I’m sitting there and I’m like, ‘Oh, my God, here’s a guy who thinks that all Aboriginal people are the same, that we’re all useless’, and now we’re not going to be given the opportunity. I basically begged him, I talked about my cheffing background, having a food business and our clients. We got the opportunity and this organisation now uses us for all their events year round. I think that’s what it’s about — having uncomfortable conversations with people about making a bit of a change and being authentic, you know. COMMUNE
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feel safe and where young LGBTQI entrepreneurs could come and get business coaching and just really get that sector flourishing and get more corporates involved and not the rainbow ticking that’s going on. In the last couple of years, I’ve been approached by corporates that are seeing some of the cool stuff we’re doing and reaching out about their diversity and inclusion strategy. That says to me that I’m on the right path. _____ Meri Fatin [00:52:20] It’s going to be very interesting to see how Perth is increasingly impacted by your leadership and your steadying hand around this. Thank you so much for talking with me. _____ Gerard Matera [00:53:43] OK, thank you so much.
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Many a True Word Words+Images by Campbell Walker
Campbell Walker has been drawing comics since he was a kid, and now uses his homegrown skills to deliver hilarious insights into Australian subcultures through his label Struthless. Together with his partner, Felicity, Cam turns his acerbic illustrations into everything from bumbags and clothing, stickers, movies and books. We found him through Instagram and have spent countless hours trawling his feed, laughing and cringing in equal amounts. Here, he gives us a little insight into the thinking behind the doodles.
I love that with social media, we’ve all become our own brand managers My favourite thing to draw is a comic that connects to someone, and my favourite way to connect to someone is to give them insight into their life.
world exactly who we want to be, which makes for a tangible representation of the age-old gap: who you are vs how you’d like to be perceived. I like drawing this gap. Ultimately, I love the people around me. I love my community and I also love the communities that I’m not a part of. I try to reflect on the things I see and make people feel good. Hopefully, I do it in a way that pokes harmless fun and not in a way that causes insecurities (but I know I miss this mark regularly). My aim is that people have a laugh, see themselves, and appreciate the absurd context that is our culture.
I usually get my insights from things that my friends and family are saying and doing. This sample size has fortunately been representative of a wider audience. For example, if I see that my mum is constantly talking to me about how much she wants to be a grandma, I assume that this must be happening to other people. Then I draw a comic about it, and people feel like they’re not alone.
I’ve since added a new focus to my work: trying to articulate what’s going on in our heads. Obviously, this goal is pretty audacious, but my theory is that our heads and thought processes can’t be that different. If something passes my focus group of one, it’ll translate to a wider audience. From this lens, I’ve recently written and illustrated my first book Your Head is a Houseboat. The book is a journey into your brain, told through the metaphor of a ridiculously jam-packed houseboat, with a nice forward by psychologist Cass Dunn. The book is a guide to mental clarity, with illustrated explanations of brain functions, and journaling exercises. It has been called, ‘The most important and accessible mental health book in a generation’ by Osher Gunsberg … no pressure!
This approach becomes especially handy when the subject matter is quite dark. For example, I’ve made work about PTSD, depression, abuse, trauma, and suicide, and when people see themselves in those pieces, I hope that the resonance comes with relief: it’s not just me. Even if it’s just for a split second while someone is scrolling on their phone ... I like at least thinking that I might be able to give someone a nicer feeling of connection. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I’m out here changing the world — but for a small group of people, maybe I can make the world not feel as cooked. A lot of the comics chosen here are about community. A lot of the Venn diagrams are about cross-sections of our world coming together, with the bizarre overlaps they share. I like the idea that motorbike midlife crisis guys, toddlers, and drama kids would all be related because they’re all so different. And I like that they might have the same flaw (which is my biggest flaw): they really want attention. Subjects I like are families, trends, and the internet. Specifically, I love that with social media, we’ve all become our own brand managers. We were to an extent before (through fashion, vocabulary, where we lived, what we did, and who we hung out with), but this has been turbo-charged through social media. Now we can tell the
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07 of 09 William Ek-Uvelius Digital & Engagement Strategist TheFulcrum.Agency
‘Struthless … Taking on lads, sharehouse culture, Internet bros, hipsters, bogans, and Australian nationalism.’
Commune is one of those words that are multifaceted and complex, on one hand my heritage invites me to think of commune as a very rigid infrastructure of political spaces since kommun in Swedish literally means municipality. However, on the other hand I consider it a chosen structure that reflects my own values and positioning. I think of it as being close to the idea of ‘chosen family’, a concept that challenges stereotypes driven by hegemonic notions of ‘nuclear family’. It accepts new constellations of family and what it means, something more inclusive and open to others. Constellations that I imagine correspond to that of a commune, where to share is the key word. Commune could be even more about the people I choose to see as my own and share my life with on a non-material level, rather than that of materialistic possessions and resources.
_____ Wifred Bandt on AcclaimMag.com
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Words by Lee Stickells Images by Alison Batten + Carolyn Thornber Lee Stickells is a lecturer in architecture and urban design at the University of Sydney. In this article, he applies an enquiring lens to Belvidere, an experiment in communal living that grew from the bush south of Perth in the seventies.
No Dope No Dole No Dogs
08 of 09 Tanya Sim Director, Block BlockBranding.com
One of the blessings of ageing, and with it, life experience, is that I have a much more intentional, sometimes belligerent approach to what I do with my time and who I choose to share it with. With this intentionality, I feel deeply caring and often fiercely protective of the community of people around me. I love this.
n the early seventies, perhaps 1972 he tells me, Devissaro (then David Mott) rode his childhood horse 150 kilometres south from Perth to Leschenault. There, he struck out onto the thin peninsula, bounded on one side by the Indian Ocean and by the Leschenault Estuary on the other. He found peppermint and tuart woodland behind the foreshore dunes, and within this, Brushtail possums, kangaroos, and two fibreglass radar domes. He also found a new home and a form of escape. Dev’s arrival signalled the beginning of a shared living experiment that lasted over a decade. It emerged on the former site of a short-lived colonial estate — Belvidere — established to raise horses for the British Army in India. The seventies Belvidere commune was home only to one horse. But it did involve many dozens of people during its lifespan: some for weeks, some for years, all searching for COMMUNE
an exit from mainstream Australia. That search perhaps has consequence when considered alongside the intense unsettlement of our present moment. Sea, tree and lifestyle changes are prominent in questioning the way we currently live together. Does Belvidere have lessons for us? Belvidere operated through a period in which the personal became political. Historian Michelle Arrow has described how seventies Australia saw a new politics of personal intimacy, where public claims to rights and protections were made in the language of personal experience. In various social movements — feminist, gay, environmental and others — personal transformation and change was connected to new modes of solidarity and larger political ambitions. Belvidere’s communards hardly saw themselves as remaking Australian society so overtly. Still, it’s possible to understand their placemaking venture as more than just a dropout hippie commune. Living offgrid and trying to be self-sufficient, the Belvidere experiment produced intimate counter-forms to the dominant
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patterns and accepted wisdoms of Australian life. Hand-built homes, collective organic gardens, kilns, and other structures became tools for creating a space within which to work, teach, share, and play in a way that was not commodified, based on private property, or hierarchically organised. Along the way, participants’ ideas of domesticity, ownership, productivity, and spirituality were transformed. Devissaro made the move to Belvidere with a small group of friends who’d shared a communal house on the outskirts of Perth. University dropouts, Vietnam draft-evaders, devout readers of the counterculture bible the Whole Earth Catalog; they were escaping expectations and figured themselves as part of a global back-to-the-land movement. Dev remembers the optimism: So there’s a romance about creating something, building our own places, creating a new community. And I guess we really had the feeling that we could create an alternative lifestyle. And I think the fact that we as a movement, the anti-war movement, had actually managed to change a government and get Australians out of the war, we felt empowered. We felt that, you know, this was our time, and that we were going to make a difference. COMMUNE
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Those that I ‘commune with’ aren’t centred in a physical space, but we each choose to show up and share. It may be an exchange of thoughts or feelings but equally it may be a business transaction or an idea for a project. This communal pot of sharing is beneficial in so many scenarios — growing a business, raising children, emotional support, finding great information. Fundamentally, my close posse/s have shared values and will speak up with their opinions, thoughts and ideas. For me though, perhaps a difference between those that I commune with and ‘anyone’ — is my ability to be completely authentic, vulnerable and honest.
New members would arrive and might reside for a week or for years. Homes were shared, extended, or passed on to others.
There was nothing that could be described as a plan amongst the group. There was, though, ‘a sense of oneness’ and 500 acres of land they had been given. The Belvidere property at Leschenault was owned by the architect Wallace ‘Wally’ Greenham (who they had encountered at a ‘hippie’ gathering in the Darling Scarp, east of Perth). Greenham was busy conducting his own unconventional life, which included forays into communal living and the development of a ‘nuts and berries’ architectural modernism ahead of the Sydney School. He offered the land to the young people at no charge, provided there was ‘no dope, no dole, and no dogs.’ The group settled into life on the property, along with an American couple discovered living in the modified radar domes. The newcomers initially camped together in an open-ended Nissen hut, another of Wally’s gifts. After the chilly 1972 winter, though, there was a strong desire to spread out and build individual shelters. The results ranged from a simple tent to more elaborate hand-built homes, even a treehouse. There was no collective planCOMMUNE
ning, just an intuitive siting of dwellings — not too close to each other, but not too far; private but connected. Any collectivism was more organic than structured — former residents remember regular evening gatherings hosted by Franco, Carol and their young daughter Gita. Homemade wine would be shared by the open fire of the couple’s A-frame house (one of the few Belvidere dwellings that may have passed a building inspection). Discussion might turn to chores needed to maintain the collective gardens or a shared shopping list for the next trip to town. Devissaro remembers no individual money in the earliest days, ‘One person would pay and the other would pocket the change.’ A shared bathing facility was eventually constructed in a clearing by the water’s edge and a wooden shed became a food cooperative. However, Belvidere never really became a commune, in the typical sense of a group sharing living spaces, income and tightly held values. It’s perhaps better to view Belvidere as a venture in commoning: the piecing together of collective forms of creativity and exchange to meet concrete needs and build
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lives outside the enclosure of the city. The community expanded and transformed in waves. New members would arrive and might reside for a week or for years. Homes were shared, extended, or passed on to others. They continued to be unauthorised, off-grid, hand-built affairs, using salvaged and recycled materials, even flotsam, driftwood and zinc alloy printing plates, along with shared and bartered labour. An environmental care ethic precluded felling trees for building stock. There is almost no evidence on-site now, but memories of the buildings are strong amongst former residents. Sue’s tiny cottage (also known as ‘little house on the prairie’) was built just south of the shared windmill. The nearby Glass House was so named because it’s estuary-facing façade was built entirely from salvaged timber windows. Steve, a potter, built his own kiln. Morris, described as ‘mad about music’, installed a solar photovoltaic panel in a tree to power his cassette deck. An Iranian refugee carefully constructed his octagonal shelter under a tree Belvidere folk called The Matriarch. COMMUNE
Devissaro’s own building activities emphasise how critical material practices were to shaping Belvidere. In 1973 he sheltered himself in a rudimentary wooden hut built in a Peppermint tree grove. By the time he left Belvidere in 1977 (bound for a Buddhist monastery in Thailand) he was running an Ashram that included a sunken hexagon-shaped retreat, sauna and three cabins (kutirs). It was far from planned. As he sees it, he responded to the opportunities presented by material conditions: … you just see what’s available … and then the creative exercise is simply how best to use that … in a way, it’s an extension of play. The only material he paid for was nails and he sometimes gathered items for years before finding a use for them. One element he remains most proud of is a set of windows, built from panes of glass taken from car doors found at the Bunbury Tip: Oh, the windows, I love my windows … it turns out it [the car glass] fits perfectly into the groove
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09 of 09 Ian Michael Actor/Writer Artistic Associate Black Swan State Theatre Company
in tongue-and-groove flooring. So, you simply put one at the bottom and you have another one with a groove at the top and you can slide [the glass]. If you put them side by side, you can have sliding windows … It was lovely. While Devissaro was hosting Buddhist monks, Belvidere grew to selling fruit, vegetables and sandwiches at a shop in nearby Bunbury, producing pottery and staging a music festival. A school was built for resident children, who had great freedom — building cubby houses, go-karts, roaming the inlet and crabbing. Together, the community collectively found ways to open up space in order to do what it wanted. Building provided a vital sense of ownership and agency, whether it was as simple as making somewhere to sleep, work, to produce food or art. However, the surrounding community’s tacit acceptance of Belvidere waned. By the late-seventies, Wally Greenham’s ‘no dope, no dole, no dogs’ rules were being circumvented. Meanwhile, the local government found COMMUNE
it could no longer ignore the settlement in the face of a public health complaint. All the buildings were bulldozed in 1985. Greenham reluctantly undertook the demolition himself and sold the land to the state government, to be incorporated into an industrial effluent disposal system. What to make of the Belvidere experiment? An obscure, colourful historical episode, it offers easy romantic images of countercultural free spirits exploring the estuary waters. These images also have a darker resonance, though, recalling the nineteenth-century colonisers who pushed the Elaap — a Wardandi Noongar people — from the country that nourished and sustained them, or uncomfortably mirroring the Indian ‘Coolies’ who had to row supplies from Bunbury to the first Belvidere farm. The communards gave little thought to this history. Devissaro concedes: … one of the things we did not really consider was that this land, we actually had no right on, no one had any right on it.
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Refracted in this way, the Belvidere commune connects waves of settler colonial dispossession and transformation of the land. These waves stretch back to 1836, when the keen eye of Lieutenant Henry William Bunbury was attuned to the extractive possibilities of the metallic sands he saw along nearby beaches. They flow through the initial 1838 Belvidere estate and its failed ventures in raising horse and water-buffalo, as well as its subsequent use by nearby farmers for grazing stock. They keep flowing through the sixties into the nineties as the peninsula was used as a disposal site for acid affluent — a result of the mineral sands that caught Bunbury’s attention coming to underpin Western Australia’s role as a key global supplier of titanium minerals for paints and colouring agents. And in the late two-thousands, even as the state sought to rehabilitate the peninsula environment, its reconfiguration as a recreational site for camping and boating keyed it into post-industrial tourism and experience economies. In terms of a useable history, then, we might feel we’re faced with a meagre harvest. However, the value of revisiting the Belvidere commune in our present moment is the window it opens onto a different way of imagining everyday life. As one resident put it, ‘It wasn’t all rosy but it broadened my awareness of what is possible.’ To be interested in the seventies, to be interested in experiments such as Belvidere, is to be interested in alternatives to our neoliberal, consumerist present. Belvidere’s short history points to the way social relations of trust, care and mutuality can emerge when people collectively build forms of life outside commercial prerogatives, domestic norms, and conventional institutions. The potential of this commoning arises not as a form of protest but as a way of materialising an alternative — producing an actually existing crack in reality.
I think of theatre. The gathering of people from places all over, people who press ‘pause’ on their differences and sit in the dark and share that collective breath, their hearts beating in synchronisation, the moment of stillness before the applause erupts and the responsibility of artists who hold an audience and reflect the world, our histories and stories back to us. As a Noongar man, I think deeply on the accountability to Elders, Community and family. From them I’ve learned and continue to learn about the values I carry with me, the role I play in the present and future and what it means to be a storyteller. And it would be impossible to not reflect on this moment in history we find ourselves in. We owe it to each other and the generations after to strive for a world that is equitable, safer and healthier.
Acknowledgements Research for this essay drew on various published histories of the site and surrounding region as well as social media material, interviews, and personal archives. I’d like to particularly thank contributors to the Lost Belvidere Facebook Group for all the posted memories, Wally Greenham’s family for access to his papers (and their own stories), the Harvey Historical Society, and those former Belvidere residents who answered my questions and supplied images, especially Devissaro, Alison Batten and Valli Waugh.
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Words by Amelia Borg Images by John Gollings
The refurbishment and extension to Kalora Park Sports Pavilion in the perri-urban Melbourne suburb of Narre Warren is a joyful celebration of active participation and the important role that sport’s clubs play in our community. It is the work of one of our favourite Australian studios, WOWOWA Architecture & Interiors. COMMUNE
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mall community buildings are notoriously hard to build, many complicated and opposing forces need to align perfectly and all at the right time. To get anywhere near breaking ground these projects require budgets to be allocated, strong political will, overcoming countless regulatory requirements and unwavering community support. If there was ever a project to demonstrate how determined local spirit and unstoppable architects came together against these odds to deliver a new sporting and event hub for a community — it is the Kolora Park Sports Pavilion by WOWOWA Architects. Located in Narre Warren, an outer suburb of Melbourne 38 kilometres southeast of the central business district, this growth corridor stretches out and borders the Dandenong Ranges National Park. Over the last twenty years this area has remarkably transformed from a semi-rural residential town to a suburb laden with
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row upon row of almost identical houses on winding suburban streets. Through all this change, one place for the community stood still, the home of both the Narre Warren football and netball clubs. This project delivers a large new club and event space through an extensive addition to the existing facilities. The project came about through WOWOWA director Monique Woodward’s father, who had been member at the club for years and played for the club as a teenager. There was no budget to begin with, but after convincing the club to abandon the original plans they had drawn up by a draughtsperson, the architects got to work and hatched a plan to get the project moving. The clients originally wanted to demolish the entire building and start from scratch, but WOWOWA cleverly decided that re-using elements of the existing slab and infrastructure could be a way get more value out of the limited funds. The 770 square-metre addition provides a new flexible club and event room, anchored by a new bar and amenities which wrap around the existing facilities-in what Monique describes as a ‘big warm hug’. Central to the design is a roof plane which appears to sharply fold into the facade, creating a generous undercroft which allows for spectators to gather and cheer as they look onto the oval. This element, which appears as a heavy hovering mass, works hard to provide adequate shading to windows as well as cover over COMMUNE
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entries and a place to gather around the kiosk. Humble and pragmatic in its material palette, a masonry and timber base give the building a warm and durable grounding. Translucent polycarbonate ends give off a warm glow at night, and the building acts as a beacon in the suburban context. Drawing from the teams’ magpie mascot colours, and as a nod to the streamers which adorned the original clubrooms, a strong black and white graphic wraps up the façade of the building and continues within the wavy cranked internal ceiling. The bathrooms are a colourful and exuberant surprise against the monochromatic pallet of the clubroom. Explosive tones of reds, pinks and blues charge across the ceiling — colours which were chosen in consultation with the netball team. Beyond just updating tired facilities, this modest project has an important ambition in making a new and inclusive community space. The historical 60-year-old clubroom held within its walls the culture that existed at sports clubs at the time, a private and secluded space for men to gather, clash and drink. The original dusty clubrooms excluded families, children and importantly the netballers who also shared the facilities. In line with many projects of this nature occurring across the country, a key objective of the project was to update this historical legacy and reimagine the facility as a community hub that is accessible and welcoming to everyone. In addition to creating a place COMMUNE
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for the sports teams to feel at home, the architects also thought about how the facility could give back to the club and help raise funds to contribute to the cost of build. Central to the proposition was the inclusion of a large event space which could be rented to the public and additionally help generate funds for the club. Monique explains that all design decisions had to pass through the metric of being ‘cheap, fun and classy’; ‘cheap’ to meet the budget constraints, ‘fun’ to appeal to a wide-ranging demographic of community and ‘classy’ to be attractive for events and venue hire. The dedication and perseverance of the architects is remarkable — their initial scheme was done with no fees to get the community on-side and excited. They spent some long nights and weekends painting the columns and bathrooms themselves to ensure all aspects of the design got across the line. The architects lobbied government and were able to secure bipartisan support for the project, who contributed more than half of the total funds towards the build. The local Casey Council contributed additional funding, and the remainder was made up with hours of community pro-bono support. The help of many associated with the club was enlisted and material donations came from a wide range of sources, including fridges for the bar and granite for the bar top. Players, many of whom are tradesmen and specialists contributed to the project and Monique COMMUNE
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says the thoughtful details and references to the club’s history and culture helped in creating an emotional investment for them in the project. The expertise of Monique’s father, who is a truss manufacturer, was also brought in. A simple and cost-effective truss roof system was employed to ensure that the large event space could be column free internally. Whilst COVID has been a slight deterrent in bringing people together, after the completion of the new facilities the club has seen a big increase in patronage. Modest in budget, this project is big in heart and ambition. Small moments of detail and delight tell a story about the community and enshrine the shared memories that extend beyond the football pitch. The project celebrates the history of the club, whilst creating a shared space for the future of a community that includes all.
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Next, Issue 04 Equity Due September 2022
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TheFulcrum.Agency is an architectural consultancy that leverages community and social outcomes through evidencebased design thinking. TheFulcrum.Agency works across Australia and is born from decades in practice. thefulcrum.agency