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Talking Circle: Graeme Dunstan

18 May 2003

Graeme organised the first Aquarius Festival in 1973. Three decades later he shares reflections on a lifetime of service and leadership in the community.

Graeme in joyous, tireless activity: setting up main stage at Channon Markets
Graeme in joyous, tireless activity: setting up main stage at Channon Markets
Graeme in joyous, tireless activity: setting up main stage at Channon Markets
In conversation with a table full of seasoned Aquarians at Rainbox Cafe
Graeme in joyous, tireless activity: setting up main stage at Channon Markets
At his happiest around the talking circle

Notes By Graham Bird

Graeme Dunstan reflected on experiences of becoming and being a creator of festivals including the 1973 Aquarius Festival when he was 30 and "in full flight".

For that first Aquarius he had a period of intense activity in organizing, bringing it together, a great feeling of burnout during the Festival - needing to retreat, rest, recovering partially - in time to pick up agreements to "return farms/spaces to pre-festival status", and finding many participants not responding/still tripping, and then getting to desperation and torching some of the structures, more burnout, anger.
Rewards today "field of smiles and rainbows" that connect back to that moment. The town recycled from dairying depression. Still connected to student friend Harry Freeman, now a psychiatrist, who re-opened the Nimbin hospital for the Festival with Med students. It has remained open ever since. Harry was to become Director of the Richmond Clinic, from anti-psychiatry to honored Director.

But tracking this radiance of innovation was not the purpose of the session. Graeme focused on the strategy for fostering cultural movements and on reflecting bits of his personal journey into this.

In his family the table rules included "no politics, no religion...". His mother encouraged him to join the army, go to Duntroon for Staff Officer Training. There he felt he was always challenging the thought pattern, felt unvalued. Then to UNSW, new University where he was funded to become a weapon designer and was recruited as an ASIO agent, but became radicalized and a convert to Marxist viewpoints so stepped out of these ways of relating to life into even fuller student activism - by then President of the Student Union, Editor of the student paper and President of the Labor Club.

This was the time the Vietnam protests started. Graeme participated, saw the city protests as involving two major elements, the group movement/street performance and the speeches by the "old commies" and judged that only the first element was effective in expanding the committed group. Similarly, back on the campus, the information focused 'teach-ins' seemed to foster argument among the committed. Using the student paper and his other roles and encouraging group actions, connections, touch, the campus anti-war movement grew rapidly from its small beginnings.
From these experiences he understood the performative/celebratory approach as the fundamental social change generator. Art, poetry, dance, music...another world is possible.

Spoke of wonderful workshops to strengthen all these elements, performance with John Fox & Sue Gill dance, including the development of the visual elements, his lantern making, Benny Zable's flags, banners.
In response to a question about gender from Catherine, Graeme spoke of the difficult times, an early eighties dark age for men when no matter what they did it seemed to be always wrong, a feminist assault on male leadership... of the defeat of a counter-cultural Festival proposal for at Bangalow in 1990 by Christian fundamentalists who labeled him ANTI-CHRIST.

Sitting in the Circle with Catherine Hassall, Cally Parkinson, John Brisbin, Vera, Len (83 and continuing as an Editor of Nimbin News) Vivian, Stuart Vaskess, Yvonne, Willem Brugman, Graeme Dunstan, Graham Bird, Pierre.


Notes by Willem Brugman

Let's talk.
Have dialogues amongst us
About the meanings between things

30 years on
the festival in full flight
30 years old
burn out
result of singular

  • at the exclusion of all else-
focus on making the festival happen

a time and place of magic
its labours brought fields of fruits
colours friendships and smiles

Nimbin depopulating
Hospital from 1926/28 origin closed
Demoralisation of community
Hospital reopened and saved

Sitting down
Remembering old friends
Talkin 'bout cultural movement strategies

I was curious about social action
No religion no politics 'round the dinner table
Had too many questions
Too many people too disaffected
A place of ideas
Organise meetings
Vietnam '65
We needed more information
More teachings, contention and arguing

I was feeling disturbed

Walking in Cirkels
50 people chanting

a cultural phenomenon
to be seen on the streets
meeting friends
celebration in public spaces

who controls access to resources
the student union
always music

the growth of the movement quickly spread
heart, eye, standing together
in spirit
regular protests accumulated in/to Aquarius

you feed each other
the testosteron of companionship

to report on meetings
became radicalised
labour club
study sociology to understand humanity
ideology and economics
How to change it ?

Create new ideas
A dialectic with the existing ideology
Create the opposite and synthesize
A new set of ideas
Test in public place
Live it! Sense of Movement!

Dropping (out) of materialism
God out of the equasion
Other Worlds
Art and Poetry

Temporary sense of community gathering

Get on the earth
Inventing Ceremony
Looking Inward
Into Fire
Around the Circle
And Go Out Changed
To Contribute to Change

Wonder and Amazement
All Happening around Cooking Fires

When the Aquarian energy left
The tide left flotsam and jetsam in town

The Dance Workshop
Alternative Living
Intentional Communities
Pioneers Circles
Barn Dances
Being Touched and Held By Community

Sufism, Buddhism
The Folkclub
The Healing Center
Nimbin News
Rainbow Café
(Hemp Embassy
Peace Bus)

Active strategy
Organisers of events
Birthday parties, music festivals, country singers
Music from the east
Healers Circles
The Folkclub Honeypot for muso's

Nurturing birth
Beyond home birthing
Sex and copulation
Becoming fathers and mothers
The women together
The Meditation Center
Like building a place
A church
The core essence - Sacred
Bury our dead
The grieving and
The funeral an art form
Community Building
An Artful Celebration
Lighting and Flags
Defines and claims public place/space
Masters of Ceremonies
Forms and Archetypes
Elders and Honour
Make Ritual
Ordinary, Inclusive and Accessible
Seeds in the Garden

Mardi Grass
Events always ha(ve)d enemies
Waiting to discharge, to dump, to exorcise
Maybe small but always productive
Culture Moved
Shared Joy and Power and Joy

What's next?

More Joy, more basics (in place) ?
10 Years from now ?
More Colourful ?
Always attracts the dysfunctional (too) !
More Homes ?
More Festivals because they are transformative for community !

For our mammal feeling and belonging brains
For our cerebral/rational brains
Our reptilian brains
All laden with reflections on gender
Men and Women Working Together On/In (A) Cultural Movement for Change
... ... Peace ... ...

Reclaim the streets nights and days
Against sex abuse, domestic violence and rape of any kind!

The Mytho-Poetic Mens'Movement Always dependent on Women!

Revival of the Green Man
Man and their male role models

Men and women seem to be travelling different banks along the same river
Now and then, here and there, river crossings and camp sharings
Parties and shoutings and men and women
Shattered by rejections
Men - woman - men - women
Children - houses - shelter - children
Women move in Men out
Wise Men keep going building new shelter
Both Gender To Find Their Roles

Counter Culture meets objections and fear
And no public defence
There is no cultural confidence!

But the above leads to another process of reflection
Economy on Fire
Regime(s) and Balance

Help Stir Up !
Re-Organise In A (more!!) Positive Sense !

Contact Details
Graeme Dunstan

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