Elizabeth Becker (Parrot Feather):
I’ve just got back from the second Social Developers Network gathering here in Adelaide, following on from the memorable weekend just two years ago that I wrote about here. I could almost repeat what I wrote at that time, for it was again an uplifting, creative and powerful event, with a bunch of lovely people, but this time was its own , and I will write a little about it in honour of its own special qualities.
We met again at the CWA headquarters, a lovely old building and pretty comfortable quarters for a weekend away (though harder for those with physical difficulties). Peter Willis was again instrumental in planning and running the weekend, and brought together many of those who attended. It was in some ways a reunion, as there were many of the same faces here this time as last. Peter’s commitment to social connection and working with others to make a good life and a better world is really marvellous. He, Ivo (who attended the first workshop a couple of years ago, and who is excellent value too), and I were the ‘planning group’ but I must say, I really feel that Peter and Ivo get most of the credit, as my illness meant that I was absent from much of the work at crucial times.
As previously, it was a meeting of elders for the most part, people who have contributed to community life and activism over many years. This in itself is amazing to be part of – that long history of commitment and action, and the wisdom and knowledge, understanding and perspective that come with time, were much in evidence. The format of the sessions was the same as last time – each person presenting on their own topic for a 90 minute slot – the topics were very varied and the sense of support and attention fantastic to experience.
We had a few people from interstate – John and Mary are on the board of SDN and have done amazing work in a broad range of areas over many years, Jacques came again from Melbourne – he is part of Borderlands Cooperative which publishes New Community, the community development journal, among other things. Bernie came from Melbourne too – a dynamo and friend of Peter, and Judi (who also has a long connection with SDN, and is a lovely woman) came down from Queensland, which was fantastic. The Adelaide folk included David, Peter, Susan B, Susan H, Richard, Ivo and me from last time, and Stephen, Noel and Helen who came for the first time. We had a few folk who have an education background – Bernie spoke passionately about teachers as advocates for students and his hope that this can become a recognised part of school life, Noel spoke about the powerful role of principals in schools and explored ideas around the concept of ‘need’. Peter has a long history in education too, but he spoke really movingly about living joyously and in connection with others as his physical health deteriorates somewhat. We all had a few laughs about mythopoeic ideation (not quite sure if I have that right even now!). Susan H and Helen also spoke about health and disability issues – they are both strong and powerful women, humourous and feisty and this is an area where their own experience will count for a lot. Stephen also spoke with great commitment about working with older people and his reflections on the importance of relationship, agency, meaning and purpose for people who live in nursing homes (where depression is currently far too prevalent) – it was amazing to hear about his work, which will hopefully have a big impact over time. John and Mary spoke about restorative practice as an alternative to more punitive approaches in the justice area but in other arenas also – again, themes of relationship, honesty and connection came through this presentation. John also spoke about secular volunteers in hospital taking on roles that religious chaplains might do, but for people who are not religious. Judi spoke about a terrific program in primary schools in Queensland that she has been part of to make life easier for people of different cultures, called “Getting to know one another – it’s a two way street” – again, relationship building and connection to build peace and reduce fear. Richard also spoke about fear and the ways it can limit us individually and as societies. He also made space for us to connect to the environment around us, and to reflect and ground ourselves, which was fantastic for us all. David gave us an update on his work with Aboriginal communities in the APY lands, and the film he has made with Carol his wife about her creative work with women who have been in domestic violence or who have experienced other traumas. Jacques has a very deep and broad perspective on things and such a principled way of living. He spoke about the importance of relating and connecting, not just with each other, but with the non-human world also. Ivo spoke about communication and the work he does with people from the perspective that ‘everything is communication’ (more relating and connecting). He also contributed a lot to the smooth running of the weekend and was a fantastic asset to the whole event. Susan B spoke about her experiences after WW2 as a refugee and then coming to Australia. She is a dynamo! I did a presentation about creativity and beauty in ordinary life.
We had fantastic food and enjoyable times over meals together too, and great contact with the CWA staff too.
It was a wonderful experience to be part of and I am grateful to have the opportunity to be there. I will continue to reflect on all that took place, and the connections that I made with amazing people.