OF A COMMUNIVERSITY
by Eshana (Elizabeth Bragg, PhD) - 19th December 1997 from Selected writings by Eshana
PO Box 368, Rainforest Information Centre, Lismore NSW 2480, Australia. email@example.com
For the last eighteen months or so, some friends and I have been holding a vision of an on-going land-based community which is actively engaged in education for the Earth - what we are calling 'The Communiversity'.
Recent history of the idea
Whilst in retreat in Chile in 1996, the idea sprung into my heart and soul. Travelling that year through the Americas facilitating workshops with John Seed affirmed the importance of creating a centre 'back home' - a living breathing eco-community where people can continue to live what we experience in the shorter deep ecology workshops (e.g., the Council of All Beings). This centre would be an on-going venue for these workshops and other alternative/holistic/experiential environmental and social education (University- A source of wisdom?).
On our return to Australia, John and I teamed up with Holly Shiach and Stewart Edmondson (inspiring environmental educators and visionary permaculturalists). We began the search for land and met with others interested in developing a community, and quickly realised the enormity of our task!
In December 1996, we helped found 'Earth Philosophies Australia', a group of radical environmental philosophers dedicated to promoting ecological consciousness through an alternative education network (Earth Philosophies Australia; other founding members include Patsy Hallen, Freya Mathews and Val Plumwood). This group has held two 'bush schools', established a web-site, and is supportive of the communiversity idea. After the first bush school, where the communiversity was discussed, I wrote some initial visioning notes which are outlined below.
There are already projects and institutes around the world which share many of our visions. A part of the communiversity project is to establish links with these groups and to develop mutually supportive relationships so that a strong network of alternative education for the Earth can grow. We hope to provide courses and experiences of such quality that we become an internationally recognised institute.
Visions and goals
* A place where we can live ecology. 'Home'. A nurturing base for activism, where there is an equal valuing of 'inner' and 'outer' social change work. Living as an integrated part of the natural ecosystem, actively promoting ecological protection, healing and restoration.
* Materially self-supporting. Growing much of our own food, with organic vegetable gardens and fruit orchards using a permaculture design. Developing ecological industries (e.g., native tree nursery, sustainable timber and crafts, retreat / education centre, social and environmental research consultancy).
* Good communication processes. Effective group process which values individuality (our special needs, skills and attributes) and joining together to make decisions. Cooperation which allows the emergent properties of the whole group to arise.
* Valuing spiritual practice, emotional and psychological exploration. These need to be integrated within, and form the basis for, the community.
* Open to all ages. Create as 'natural' a village situation as possible with all generations involved in the living and learning community. It would be great to offer courses for all age-groups, but youth leaving school - keen to learn but until now not offered the type of Earth-based education they long for - must be a priority
* Offering a series of short courses in the wide variety of things we need to know, practice and become in order to live harmoniously with each other and the planet (e.g., permaculture, alternative building techniques, ecoforestry, natural healing, music, ecophilosophy, ecology and nature interpretation, ecopsychology, conflict resolution, community development and human settlement design). Courses might be weekend or week-long, and, eventually, these short courses could be brought together to form an on-going course to provide something like a 'Diploma in Earth Skills'.
* Participation in the daily operation of the community could be included in each course.
* Bringing together people who want to teach something with people who want to learn it. Breaking down the traditional student-teacher relationships by encouraging students to teach and teachers to learn. Establishing a learning community.
* Connection with the mainstream university system, without being controlled or limited by it. For example, university students could receive credit points for attending communiversity courses. The communiversity, however, should not be restricted by being dependent on funding from the mainstream academic system, or by the need for formal accreditation as a 'university'. It is vital that the communiversity retain its independence in its teaching and research capacities.
The communiversity would also function to support Earth-focused students and educators in the mainstream system, by providing both social and academic support. Social support would be provided by access to a non-academic community of people working, living, feeling and understanding the world in similar ways; and by providing a venue for joining together with other like-minded academics. Academic support would be provided by the access to trained academics - e.g., environmental philosophers, scientists and psychologists.
* Self-reflexive, action-research approach. Social and environmental inquiry - research, monitoring and evaluation - of all communiversity projects are essential.
* Alternative, creative economics. We need to explore a diversity of means to materially support this venture, including seeking loans, grants and donations from institutions and individuals in the wider community (local, national and international). To be accessible, whilst remaining financially viable, we can charge for courses but offer scholarships and work-exchange opportunities. Teachers (especially those travelling from overseas) might be offered their travel expenses plus a week-long experience of a life-time on the communiversity, plus a week's 'eco-tour' of the surrounding rainforests and beaches of Northern NSW!
So, this is just where the visioning begins, and new details and ideas are continually emerging.
The word 'communiversity'
has been used before (I first heard it used by Daniel Greenberg
to describe the Gaia Education Outreach Institute in New
Hampshire). There was, in fact, a 'communiversity' which started
right here in Northern NSW twenty years ago, but failed for a
number of reasons including isolation, lack of experience and
models of functioning communities, and difficulty of integration
with the larger community. (Maybe it was twenty years before its
time!). I, personally, like the word 'communiversity' because it
is reminiscent of the idealistic 'hippy commune' of the 1970's,
but suggests less 'dropping out' or rejection of mainstream
society. In a communiversity, the creation of an alternative
lifestyle is intimately linked with the sharing of this living
environmental philosophy. The lines of communication and access
between the 'mainstream' and 'alternative' communities must be
open so that these boundaries can be broken down.
So, where are we up to with all of this? John Seed has returned his focus to travelling workshops and roadshows, and while he is still fully supportive of the communiversity project, is less directly involved than a year ago.
Recently, however, we have made some big leaps and bounds - or I could say, the Universe has picked us up in her wings and flown onwards with us quite a way. Stewart, Holly and I have linked up with the 'Sustainability Research Institute' (SRI), a non-profit organisation whose current directors include Dudley Leggett (personal / community development, whole systems and resource management, co-founder of Dharmananda intentional community), Lydia Jaquiss (media communications, permaculture, bushfoods) and Ron 'Arjuna' Brown (ecotourism, permaculture, bushland and coastal management). Upon meeting, it was clear that we shared the same vision (email address for SRI is firstname.lastname@example.org).
With the assistance of Lenn Webb (Professor Emeritus of Australian Environmental Studies at Griffith University), SRI is currently forming a Research Committee of which I will be a member. This committee will include experts in rainforest ecology, coastal ecology, social science and financial management. It will ensure that funds coming into the organisation will be spent appropriately, and is necessary for SRI to be registered with the CSIRO as a research institute. This means SRI will have tax-deductible status.
We have found a very suitable piece of land, close to Byron Bay in Northern NSW (otherwise known as 'the rainbow region'), for which we are gathering the deposit at this very moment. It is 86 acres of fertile volcanic soil - green rolling hills with huge fig trees, spring-fed dams and exquisite views of Byron Bay and Mt Warning (a sacred mountain and the place light first touches Australia). It has a house already on the land, where the community could begin and we could hold the first workshops. Three hours drive from Brisbane international airport, and central to the area which tourists visit because of its ecology and alternative culture, it is ideally located to attract international and national visitors, and to draw upon local expertise in sustainable lifestyles. To my knowledge, this will be the first such institute in Australia.
The current owner is supportive of our project and has agreed to give us six months to find the Aus$750,000 to buy the land.
What you can do
I am hoping that you will be interested in helping our process along. At the present time, I can think of three ways which you might be able to assist us, but please be creative!
1. Letters of support. In order to raise funds, get planning permission, and generally enthuse the local community, it would be great if you could write a letter to us expressing your support for the project. If you are interested in teaching and learning with us, please let us know in your letter. (Please send it to me at Rainforest Information Centre, PO Box 368, Lismore NSW 2480, Australia or email me on email@example.com).
2. Financial support. We need loans and donations to finance the purchase of the land and development of the site. Donations to the SRI will shortly be tax-deductible. If you are interested in financially supporting the project in some way, please let us know and we will send you the business plan we are preparing for early 1998. Maybe you know of a funding body whose mission aligns with our project?
3. Publicity and networking. Please let people know about what we are doing, and copy this material for people who might be interested. If you have been involved with the development of a similar institute, please write to me with any lessons learned along the way, or simply send any information you have about your centre.
So, I hope I have enthused you about our project.
Loving the Earth and all her creatures, Eshana (Elizabeth Bragg, PhD)
writings by Eshana
Rainforest Information Centre's Deep Ecology Index