Days four to nine
I know, I’ve been a bit slack with the blogging. But for good reason! I’ve now roughly worked out an outline for my exegesis (draft submitted) and I have been interviewing quite a few residents of the Bend. I’m feeling it is starting to come together but it is also incredibly overwhelming the amount of work left to do!
I’ll quickly run through my days activities:
4 – Finished reading Mick’s book Once Around the Sugarloaf II. He has done really fantastic work for the Nilumbik Region. The book gives a sweeping overview of the history of the Christmas Hills: The geological formation of the land; How the Wurendjeri lived through the region; The first squatters to farm the land; The subsequent pastorialists who bought and run the land predominantly with cattle and dairy production; The family who used it as a recreational hobby place, and escape from the hustle and bustle of the city of Melbourne; The entrepreneurial estate agent who subdivided the BOI and donned it with it’s name; and finally the conservationists who were attracted to the land for its potential to be a pre-Captain Cook piece of Australia.
He also generously gave me a database that he compiled about the Wurrendjeri people.
I had made arrangements to catch up with family friend Tserin Wright in the afternoon, who is one of the newest additions to the Bend. He and partner Jess had been renting a small cottage at the end of Gongflers Drive when they saw a property go up for sale on upper Catani Boulevard. They jumped at the opportunity and are now renovating the new house into a liveable condition.
I didn’t know about the recent move so I turned up at their old place to see it deserted. Confused, I wandered next door to have a chat with Tarq and Dan who informed me about their recent move. I then made a B-line to Tserin’s new house to find him sipping away on some knock-off beers with old school friend Matt. I peeled off my drenched rain jacket and joined them (side note: I am finding it difficult to record the Bend whilst it is raining. I cannot get the shotgun mic waterlogged so have been recording from under my rain jacket. Unfortunately the mic, despite being a directional apparatus, keeps picking up the patter of rain drops on my rain jacket. A predicament I am yet to find a solution to. Maybe a soft waterproof material would do the trick – Those fruit/vegie plastic bags from the supermarket maybe?).
I had a good chat with Tserin, mainly focusing upon the Yarra as he is a keen kayaker and swimmer, having grown up on the Berringer River up North. His integration into the BOI community has been a swift one due to two complimentary facts: 1) being an arborist, and 2) turning up just after the Black Saturday bush fires when people became concerned with overhanging branches, etc.
5/6 – Decided to knuckle down on these two days, placing myself under house arrest in order to polish off the first draft of my exegesis for Adrian to have a look. It is still very sketchy – acts more as an outline than anything else – but has given me something to work with. The components of it go a little something like this (text in brackets a brief description of intended contents):
1. The Theory
⁃ Phenomenology (my chosen research methodology)
⁃ Space (in contrast to place (Tuan, Cresswell), and time (Massey))
⁃ Hybridity (Massey and Lippard’s belief that place exists as multiplicities can be applied to understanding the BOI)
⁃ Becoming (Place is not fixed, it is in a constant state of flux dependent on it’s multiplicities and our assemblage of it)
⁃ Assemblage (a humanist geographical take on Deleuze and Guattari’s assemblage theory, whereby place can be seen as the ordering and compiling of various attributes that comprise our impression of a place)
2. The Methodology
⁃ Paradigm & Syntagm (Manovich’s take on Saussure’s semiotical systems relates to the spatial push in k-films)
⁃ Korsakow (methodology of research)
⁃ Ontography (list making approach to research and poetic doco-making)
⁃ Actor Network Theory (discussion about multifaceted nature of things)
⁃ Connections (are what count)
⁃ Musicality (of k-films)
⁃ Place-Ballet (another methodology I have somewhat employed, involving a routine (somewhat procedural) documentation of the BOI as I investigate it daily)
3. The Project
⁃ Test Runs (my first k-films)
⁃ Version One (first place k-film)
⁃ Version Two (second place k-film)
⁃ Version Three (third place k-film)
7 – Interviewed Liz and Pete Mildenhall who live down on lower Catani. They only had a small window of opportunity (an hour) before they had to drive off to the Flinders Ranges to commence an over 100k walk South. What an incredible adventure they will have! Heard great things about that part of South Australia.
They are one of the households in the Bend that have involved themselves in community initiatives with added gusto in their later years, once their kids had moved out of home. They spoke of their early years in the Bend when they moved in about 20 years ago. They bought a block of land that used to have the Scouts on it. A beautiful block that has the easiest access to the river I have seen in the Bend – you simply stroll down a gentle descent in the land and the Yarra is at your feet.
Pete spoke about his time in the CFA, and how the Christmas Hills brigade is broken into two divisions (North and South). The South end (the Bend end), has a strong Conservation focus (their motto being “Red Truck, Green Heart”) that differs from the more traditional CFA outfit of farmers and salt of the earth country folk. Similarly, the co-op and the South end of the Bend are bound together with the help of BICA (Bend of Islands Conservation Association), which ensures every resident in the ELZ (Environmental Living Zone) are on the same page in relation to weeding out the introduced species of plants and introducing new indigenous types.
After the interview Pete showed me their swimming hole and the local Wombat hang-out which is a stones throw away from their backyard. I took some video portraits of both Pete and Liz (who were a little disconcerted about the keeping still for a video portrait and the macro shots beings up close and personal) before pinching a lift to the Benders Cafe meet at the fire shed (BOI CFA shed on the corner of Henley and Upper Catani).
Cafe Benders is a monthly event that involves some of the “Benders” (the residents of BOI) baking some cakes and providing cups of coffee and tea to raise funds for the CFA. I knew Mick would be turning up there and I was also keen to meet some other community members. I bumped into Hannah, my Steiner kindergarten teacher, who I didn’t realise lived on the Co-op. And I also chatted with some of the landcare volunteers before meeting avid bird watcher and long-time resident Frank Pierce and Norm (not sure what his last name is). I organised to catch up with Frank through the week for an interview before I headed back to my brothers place with my sister and her family, who were out visiting me for a spot of lunch.
8 – Decided to keep working on my exegesis draft in the morning and skip Landcare. I dropped into the McCallums to interview them about the past 30-odd years they have lived out here. John used to be the secretary of BICA back in the formative years, and Meg started up the Benders reading group. Neil Douglas first made them aware of the Bend, and they were quick to move out here alongside two other families when it was just a half dozen households dotted around the place.
It was a little difficult extracting information out of the McCallums for they are currently experiencing a range of emotions due to having sold their property. They have decided to move on considering their age and the many responsibilities that comes with being a Bender (i.e. ensuring the property is “fire ready”, weeding, planting, community gatherings, etc.). I already knew that they had sold the property from other members of the community, and thought it would be an appropriate time to interview them as they are no doubt processing the many memories that are embedded in their place. Unfortunately, this did not seem to be the case.
It was interesting to hear about how John used case studies from around the Bend in his VCE lesson plans for his classes (i.e. Rosella’s need hollowed out trees to nest, so with the introduction of other nesting birds such as minors, they are unable to compete and therefore clear out) and Meg explained how their imaginations were captured by the conservationist ideal of Neil Douglas and the other BICA members. There was “a cause” that attracted each household to the Bend and banded them together into a community of like-minded individuals.
Making my way back from the McCallums I stopped in at Luke and Mia’s for a chat. I could see Mia burning off weeds from the roadside and had let Luke know that I would call in on the way back. Luke was happy to take part in the documentary so we sat down for an interview. He spoke of their first night out at the Bend, in their newly purchased house, overlooking Mount Lofty as the sun set to their backs. The estate agent had left them some vouchers for a free pizza so they sat back and enjoyed their view of this new environment. There is a large dead Manna Gum opposite their place on the ridge of Mount Lofty which is illuminated by the afternoon sun. On this particular night a full moon rose behind this tree, which Luke can remember vividly as a significant moment in their lives.
9 – Having submitted my exegesis draft and feeling like I had overdosed on my computer screen the past few days, I enjoyed the opportunity to head further afield to capture some more footage of the landscape. I could remember Mick telling me about Brushy Creek being a significant spot in the Bend as it marked the birth place of Wurundjeri clan leader Barak and also the Yarra fault line that is responsible for the rising terrain. As Brushy Creek is located on the other side of the river, in Warrandyte State Park, I jumped in the car in order to cross at Warrandyte bridge and thread through Jumping Creek Road to access Wittons Reserve.
Unfortunately the Creek is not signposted, so I’m not entirely sure whether it is in fact Brushy Creek. My hunch is that it must be, having spoken with some of the locals about it’s location. I had a stroll up to the summit of Mount Lofty, discovering a Manna Gum grove along the way (which seems to be quite a rare occurrence due to the bergan and changing climate). It was surreal viewing the Bend from a different vantage point, trying to guess who owns which house.
When I reached the summit I was amazed at the considerable contrast of landscapes on either side of the mountain. Chirnside village is a black and grey Pleasantville’esque blotch on the landscape, surrounded by fenced in green pastures, next door to the Heritage Golf Course (more green paddocks). The Bend of Islands, on the other side of the mountain and river, is densely vegetated where each establishment merely peaks through the canopy of eucalypts and tea-trees at the rest of the world. Unfortunately my iphone battery was dying which limited my opportunities to capture more footage. I must look into purchasing a mobile recharger which Steve was telling me about the other day. Would be handy on extended field trips.
The river is currently quite swollen from the recent rain we have been having. Small groups of Kayaks were navigating the swift currents and obstacle course of rock bars and islands that are at times difficult to see due to the rise in water.
After circling Mount Lofty I drove back to the Bend to interview Rodrigo. One of the latest arrivals to the Bend (even more so than Tserin and Jess), Rodrigo and his young family have bought a property on Ironbark Road roughly a year ago. Mexican in origin, Rodrigo and his partner have had a bit of exposure to eco-communities in the past and were initially attracted to the Bend by the community appeal.
He briefly showed me around the property, which they share with two other households, before we settled down for the interview. I was blown away by how articulate he was about the concept of placemaking and his experience of the Bend. We chatted about the social aspects of living in the ELZ (the community strengthening due to the reciprocal behaviour of each member) before addressing the environmental aspects of the Bend. He hit the nail upon the head in regards to my research focusing upon place being socialised space when he explained how when you pay attention to the space you are in it starts to become a special place. When we focus upon the details of an environment, or are taught about it with the help of positive community members, our understanding and sense of place strengthens. I find this more relates to Tuan’s points on qualitative experience rather than Seamon’s place-ballets. Perhaps I have been barking up the wrong tree in regards to Seamon’s schema. The notion of establishing habits or routines that prompt a type of dance between you and the space you are in to produce an impression of place seems to rely upon a subconscious behaviour. When we establish a routine sequence of actions (i.e. doing the dishes, cleaning the car, mowing the lawn) we initiate an automated type of behaviour where we switch off our active thought processes and let our motor-skills and reflexes complete the job at hand.
I feel I am coming across a different type of placemaking with the BOI community, as each resident tells me about their learning experience as they are continuously exposed to the ecological aspects of the place. Rudi told me about the birds and orchids he learns about when engaging with the community and walking through the landscape; Mick elaborated on the Indigenous people’s history of the BOI, which he no doubt learned from conversing with many of the local Wurendjeri; Tserin told me about how his arborist interests have adjusted after delicate flora in the BOI understorey had been pointed out to hiim; etc.
Placemaking is more about learning than anything else. The more we learn about a place (either biographically or socially), the deeper and more rich our sense of place becomes.