Chapter Two - Neville’s Model for a 250-Year Transition to a Humane Caring Epoch






During the years 1993 through to 1998 (when I started this thesis), my understanding was that the main reason Neville was evolving networks from the early 1970’s in Far North Queensland and the Darwin Top End in Australia was to keep these networks away from dominant interests who may seek to undermine and subvert the social action he and others were engaged in.


In October 1998 I found Neville’s paper, ‘Mental Health and Social Change’ (Yeomans, N. 1971a; Yeomans, N. 1971c) in his Mitchell Library archives. It is a scribbled half page note and a hand sketched diagram written back in 1971. It discusses the nature of transitions to a new epoch. It revealed that Neville had specifically chosen Far North Queensland because of his analysis of its strategic locality on the globe as a place to start towards a global transition. Still, I did not take this seriously and immediately turned the page to the next item. I sensed that it was more to do with being ‘away from mainstream’. I did not realize at the time that this was a crucial document briefly specifying Neville’s core epochal framework. In this ‘Mental Health and Social Change’ file-note Neville clearly specifies epochal transitions. (I even missed the significance and evocativeness of the title ‘Mental Health and Social Change’. What for Neville was the link between ‘mental health’ and ‘social change’?) This is an example of how my pre-judging mind limited my sensing.


Neville wrote (Yeomans, N. 1971a; Yeomans, N. 1971c) the following on epochal change in that file note:


The take off point for the next cultural synthesis, (ed. point D in Diagram 1 below) typically occurs in a marginal culture. Such a culture suffers dedifferentiation of its loyalty and value system to the previous civilization. It develops a relatively anarchical value orientation system. Its social institutions dedifferentiate and power slips away from them. This power moves into lower level, newer, smaller and more radical systems within the society. Uncertainty increases and with it rumour. Also an epidemic of experimental organizations develop. Many die away but those most functionally attuned to future trends survive and grow.



Diagram 1. Neville’s Diagram of the Growth Curve of any System


In saying, ‘Its social institutions dedifferentiate…’ Neville is talking about a shift away from dynamic differentiated adaptive far-from-equilibrium states to non-adaptive sameness. With the words, ‘those most functionally attuned to future trends survive and grow’, Neville was hinting at his own aspirations.


In the same document (1971a, 1971c) Neville went on to talk about the strategic significance firstly, of Australia’s psychosocial and geopolitical locality, and secondly, of Far North Queensland as a place on the margin to explore global transitions:


Australia exemplifies many of these widespread change phenomena. It is in a geographically and historically unique marginal position. Geographically Asian, it is historically Western. Its history is also of a peripheral lesser status. Initially a convict settlement, it still remains at a great distance from the core of Western Civilization. Culturally it is often considered equivalent to being the peasants of the West. It is considered to have no real culture, a marked inferiority complex, and little clear identity. It can thus be considered equally unimportant to both East and West and having little to contribute.


BUT - it is also the only continent not at war with itself. It is one of the most affluent nations on earth. Situated at the junction of the great civilizations of East and West it can borrow the best of both. Of all nations it has the least to lose and most to gain by creating a new synthesis.

Given all of the aspects outlined above, for Neville, the Australia top-end was the most strategically significant place in the whole world to locate his epochal action research. Neville saw the best place to start was amongst the most oppressed and marginalized Indigenous people. The East Asia Australasia Pacific region contains around 75% of the global 'Indigenous' population (approx. 180 of 250 million).  In the same vein, it contains 75% of the world's 'Indigenous' peoples (Widders 1993). Neville wanted the Australia Far North as an informal linking place for evolving Indigenous networks throughout the East Asia Oceania Australasia Region.

In December 1993, Neville told me to remind him to get me a paper that he had written back in 1974 called, ‘On Global Reform – International Normative Model Areas’. Neville later told me he could not locate the document. It was not until July 2000 (two months after Neville’s death) that I found this ‘On Global Reform’ paper (Yeomans 1974). This is one of, if not the most significant of the papers Neville wrote. Once I read it I suddenly knew of the strategic significance (way beyond just minimizing interference from mainstream) of the, ‘Mental Health and Social Change’ paper mentioned above (the one that I had spotted in the archives in October 1998). On Global Reform is discussed in Chapter Thirteen.


The thesis will detail how the essence of INMA (International Normative Model Area) specified in Neville’s poem[1] of the same name(Yeomans 2000a) was woven into Fraser House and into the many Fraser House outreaches leading up to the evolving of the Laceweb social movement. Chapter Twelve and Thirteen describe how Neville’s creation of an INMA in the Atherton Tablelands and another in the Darwin Top End were fundamental in evolving the Laceweb.




Neville’s view (Dec, 1993; July, 1998, Oct, 1998) was that culture was ‘how we live together’. Science, technology, economics and politics all take place in the context of how we live together in our places. Neville set out to action research fostering new local, regional and global ways of living, playing and sharing our artistry together (cultures and inter-cultures) towards new cultures, new cultural syntheses and a new global intercultural synthesis. The processes he explored were guided by humane caring respecting values, and his action research involving dysfunctional people on the margins embodied these values. Neville’s view (Dec, 1993; July, 1998, Oct, 1998) was that new directions and uses of science, technology, economics and politics would evolve, guided by these values enacted in everyday life together. This is explored further in Chapters Twelve and Thirteen. The next segment introduces the Laceweb.




One summer morning in December 1993 in Yungaburra in Far North Queensland, Neville and I were discussing the networking he was linked into, and it seemed that the movement had, as far as Neville knew, no name. Neville knew the potency of symbols, icons and logos and said these were not used in the movement, and he did not think them in any way appropriate at the present. Neville talked about naming the movement. Within seconds he came up with ‘Laceweb’. This name was, in Neville’s terms, ‘an isomorphic metaphor’ – something of similar form and resonance to the social movement that was evolving.


The name was from a natural outback Australian phenomenon that Neville had personally experienced. Some years previously Neville had been travelling alone in outback Queensland. When he awoke in the morning and looked out of his tent, the low gorse bush (about fifty centimetres high) appeared to be covered in snow as far as the eye could see. What had happened was that during the night, millions of tiny spiders had floated in on thin webs, drifting in the slightly moving air. The continuous, immense web the spiders had spun overnight stretched to the horizon in all directions. For Neville it had a very Yin – very feminine energy reminiscent of lace, and hence ‘Laceweb’.

Neville’s dreaming was of an entirely new form of social movement - an informal Laceweb of healers from among the most downtrodden and most disadvantaged marginal people of the world. What follows is from my file note about how Neville described the desert web and the Laceweb as being of similar form (December, 1993):

‘The Laceweb is the manifestation of a massive local co-operative endeavour. Not carved in stone, rather – it is soft, light, and pliably fitting the locale and made by locals to suit their needs. Like the spider web, the Laceweb would appear out of nowhere. When you discover it, it would already have surrounded you. It is exquisitely beautiful and lovely. When you have eyes that see it, the play of reflectant light upon it in the morning sunlight is extra-ordinary. It attracts and stores the dew in little beads. Like the desert web, the Laceweb extends way beyond the horizon. It is suspended in space with links to shifting things - no solid foundations here. It has no centre and no part is ‘in charge’, and in that sense, no aspect is higher or lower than any other. It is not what it first seems. It is at the same time riddled with holes, whole and holy. It is merged within the surrounding ecosystem and lays low. In one sense it is delicate - in another it is resilient. Bits may be easily damaged. However, to remove it all would be well nigh impossible. It is formed through covalent bonding between its formers and within its form. It is an attractant. Local action may repair local damage. It is very functional. It is what the locals need. And it does help sustain them.’

Neville and I explored the derivation of ‘vale’, ‘valence’, and ‘valency’ - from the Latin imperative – to be well, to be strong. ‘Co-valence’ is to be bonded together in mutual attraction. After the foregoing spontaneously poetic expression, Neville told me (December, 1993) that the desert web was the perfect metaphor for his movement.


This Chapter has introduced the topic and the history, theory and practice leading to the evolving of a social movement known as the Laceweb. The next chapter reviews the literature on therapeutic communities.


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[1] This peom is included at the commencement of this research.