Evolving a Dispersed Urban Wellbeing Community
Posted June 1992. Updated April 2014.
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The following is a script for Radio Program Twelve in a series about the lifework of Dr Neville Yeomans, the founder of Therapeutic Community in Australia.
The program is about psychiatrist Dr Neville Yeomans extending the therapeutic community model in civil society. This model is discussed in some detail so that resonant people may desire to replicate or adapt this model in their own areas.
Dr Neville Yeomans pioneered Therapeutic Community in Australia as the founding director of Fraser House a unit he opened in September 1959 on the grounds of North Ryde Psychiatric Hospital in Sydney, Australia.
Upon leaving Fraser House in 1968 Neville wrote the job description for a new role and section in the New South Wales state health department namely, Director of Community Mental Health. Neville then applied for and became the first Director of Community Mental Health in Australia - within the New South Wales Health Department. How Neville began applying Fraser House processes within that job role will be the subject of a later program.
After three years in the Community Mental Health role Neville went to live in the tropical North East Coast of Queensland to explore the application of his ideas in civil society away from centres of power.
Neville Yeomans used the evolving of functional social networking in Fraser House as a primary process for moving dysfunctional people towards functional living. Neville began replicating this process in linking with Aboriginal and Islander women in Northern Australia and evolving among them what Neville called ‘networks of natural nurturers’.
Neville had been engaged in this networking between 1972 and 1984 while living along the North East Coast of Queensland. These networks were evolving in Mackay, Townsville, Cairns, and on the Atherton Tablelands above Cairns.
Neville had bought houses in North Queensland coastal areas - Mackay, Townville, and Cairns, and also one in the Atherton Tablelands at Yungaburra. He progressively set up the coastal houses as therapeutic communities. These houses typically had eight people in residence. The majority of the residents were Aboriginal women. Outsiders would attend regular groups led by Neville at these houses. After a time, Neville would move on and leave these houses as self-organising entities. Neville had his Yungaburra house as a base for networking through the Atherton Tablelands.
Dr Paul Wilson, one of Australia’s best known criminologists and acting head of the Australian Institute of Criminology in Canberra between 1986 and 1991 devotes Chapter Six of his book, ‘A life of Crime’ to his personal healing experiences living within Neville’s small Therapeutic Community house in Mackay.
In 1988, Neville Yeomans moved strategically back to Sydney living in his house at Bondi Junction and sustaining himself as a psychiatrist in private practice. He was also extremely active in voluntary work, continuing to extend Fraser House outreach in civil society.
Neville was at the time in regular contact with an informal group of 20 local people living around Sydney who were interested in personal and community wellbeing.
Neville had been instrumental in linking many of these people together. This group would meet each other at workshops on varying healing modalities led by group members. He would also meet them informally at social gatherings.
Members of this group were generally aware that Neville had done seminal pioneering work in the 1960s in evolving therapeutic community practice in Fraser House. However members of this group typically knew little about the specifics of how Fraser House worked. Neville was not one to talk at length about Fraser House. He may give some information to someone, if in his opinion that person usefully needed to know. Neville would occasionally mention micro-bits of his way during workshops.
Little was known at the time by this group of 20 about how Neville Yeomans used social networking at Fraser House as a primary process for transition towards functional living, and how Neville had been replicating this process in Northern Australia.
Neville had just returned from a workshop on using sensory submodalities in psychotherapy ran by Steve and Connirae Andreas in the United States. Neville Yeomans led the Balmain workshop assisted by two associates.
After Balmain, a number of other psychotherapy workshops were held above a shop at 240 Broadway in Sydney Central. These workshops were on a range of healing modalities as well as human relations.
For some of the experiential work, the group would move across the road to parklands opposite the Broadway shop. Passers-bye might see for example, a person on a raised platform about to do a trust fall backwards into the arms of a waiting group, with a safety person holding the person till all involved were mentally present, alert and ready. The group engaged ecologically in all manner of human relations and wellbeing experiences.
Now to the next part of this historical journey into Neville’s life work – it is early in 1988 and Neville says words to the effect:
I don’t need to do this!
Done it all before.
I already know how to do it.
It’s a lot of work; however you Sydney people are ready to experience this.
Word is sent out to the core group of 20 people using tentative language – the language of possibilities - using lots of tentative words like ‘perhaps’ and ‘‘maybe’ and may’, as well as using passive sentences and generalisations:
Ideas are evolving for a gathering at Neville’s place. Perhaps it may be called ‘Healing Sunday.’
If there is energy for it, we may together start a dispersed wellbeing community in Sydney.
The Keypoint for this community may be what Neville has termed ‘Healing Sunday’.
Healing Sunday may have four experiential sessions lasting one hour during the day - where attendees may experience a range of healing ways from members of the core group and possible others.
This gathering may be held on the first Sunday of each month at Neville’s place in Bondi Junction on the South side of Sydney Harbour.
If it happens, then this Healing Sunday may be free of charge.
People may bring food to share and perhaps leave a small donation for basics like herbal teas, milk and the like.
They may arrive between 8:00 and 8:15 AM for a start at Nine AM sharp.
If Healing Sunday does happen, Neville envisages adherence to the following timetable:
8:00 – 8:15 In the morning – to arrive with food and prepared platters of food for a midday feast
8:15 – 9:00 Would be for networking, drinks and snacks
9:00 – 10:00 The first session
10:00 – 10:10 For a toilet and stretch break
10:10 – 11:10 The second session
11:10 – 11:30 Drinks and snack break and networking
11:30 – 12:30 The third session
12:30 – 2:00 The Midday Feast and networking
2:00 – 3:00 The fourth session
All of this was consistent with Neville’s way. Neville was always setting up contexts he described as, ‘filled with possibilities’. If one in a hundred of these ‘possibilities’ generated one or two things of substance, it was for Neville, ‘a miracle’.
Neville talked up possibilities in vague terms. ‘Healing Sundays may happen. For a time Healing Sunday was a potently articulated virtual reality.
This tentative language was consistent with Neville’s slogans:
Firstly, nothing happens unless the locals want it to happen
And secondly, if it happens it is because the locals do it.
Healing Sundays did start. The locals wanted it and did make it happen and that timetable was always adhered to. An aspect of Neville’s particular kind of leadership was to accurately sense what the locals would want to do.
When the day for the first Healing Sunday was approaching, such was Neville’s rapport and respect within this core group, all of the members of the core group said they were coming and would make it happen.
The first Healing Sunday was a great success and Healing Sunday ended up being held for eighteen consecutive months.
Generally the core group members were present. Other attendees came regularly. Some came every two or three months. Over the 18 months around 220 people attended a few or more times.
Of these, around 180 people evolved into a social networking group that regularly met each other in pairs and in small and large groups outside of Healing Sundays. The 180 people became a dispersed wellbeing community.
At the first few Healing Sundays Neville would select three of the core group to act as session coordinators. The names of the three coordinators were put on a whiteboard in one of the meeting rooms. As people arrived they were told to see one of these three if they wanted to run a healing segment during any of the four sessions. After a number of Healing Sundays the core group decided who the three coordinators would be.
The roles of these three people were to schedule who ran segments, to ensure variety, and ensure that the segment generally matched the mood of the group.
The coordinators would also schedule things so that the last segment in a session would end at the end of the session and not carry over to the next session.
At Neville’s suggestion there was a tentative open agenda based on a theme of wellbeing. What came next during a session was a function of the unfolding context. The entry process into the first session contributed to attunement within the group. There was a superb friendly vibe. What tended to quickly emerge was a shared resonance among the attendees.
The coordinators were encouraged by Neville to sense this emerging resonance and notice what contributed to it emerging. They were also encouraged to notice any changes in resonance once group resonance emerged – was the group as ‘group’ looking for continuing their present energy, or shifting to higher or lower energy. Were they ready for hands-on work, or verbal work, or energy work?
Neville termed this ‘an unfolding context-based open agenda’. The theme of each successive segment emerged from the coordinators reading of the group energy and was chosen on the spot by the three. The group was not asked what they wanted next. That would have been getting the group to ‘go cortical’ and begin talking about experience, rather than experiencing experience. At the end of each segment there was no discussion or feedback. This was to keep things experiential. There was scope to give feedback during breaks if people wanted to.
Anyone could put his or her name down to be a leader of a segment of a session when they arrived on Healing Sunday. Sometimes segments were led by Neville’s invitees who were not part of the core group.
The coordinators would have a pool of people at each Healing Sunday open to and able to lead a segment. These people were told to be ready to run a segment at anytime during any session and that they would not necessarily be called upon.
During breaks Neville may briefly engage the coordinators in a review away from other attendees relating to their matching of segments to group resonance, their choice of segment themes, their sensing of the changing mood and values being expressed in group interaction, and their coordinating role.
These were the same aspects reviewed by Fraser House staff after every big group therapy session at Fraser House. Also, these were the aspects that Neville was constantly monitoring during his coordinating of Fraser House Big Group. Reviewing these aspects in Fraser House was a way of inducting Fraser House staff into Neville’s way of coordinating Big Groups. Similarly, Neville was mentoring Healing Sunday coordinators in his way.
It was not known by those connected with Healing Sunday that this use of ‘themes that emerged from the group’ and ‘context resonant theme change’ was a fundamental aspect at Big Groups in Fraser House. In Fraser House, themes emerged from the group context and were selected as Keypoints for group engagement. Themes emerging from the Fraser House groups would typically be used if they had the property of being conducive to coherence in the group.
At Healing Sunday, one of the coordinators would take less than 30 seconds to introduce a segment leader or leaders.
Neville himself was never one of the three coordinators and he never led a segment. His way was to let others learn to do things by experiencing a task.
However, Neville was constantly scanning process and metaprocess (the process of the processes) within the group.
Segments could be up to 20 minutes in length. Some segments would be completed in less than 5 minutes. The segments were on anything to do with wellbeing – personal, inter-personal, group, family and communal wellbeing.
However, at Neville’s insistence, one aspect was non-negotiable; everyone leading a segment had to have people experiencing something within 90 seconds. There was to be no long speeches, no spiels about theory, and no talking about experience. The aim was to have attendees experience experiencing things. If this 90-second limit on getting attendees experiencing something was not adhered to, the coordinator who had introduced the segment would stop that person and say words to the effect:
Stop and watch how other people do this and have another go on a later Healing Sunday.
Some found this 90-second limit a challenge. If after 60 seconds a segment leader had not started introducing the experience they would be given warning by the coordinator that they had 30 seconds remaining to do so. Some people were stopped and told to have another attempt at a later Healing Sunday and were successful on later occasions.
We learned how to introduce what Neville called ‘micro-experiences’. The common experience was that when a segment leader briefly introduced a micro-experience, other attendees would use and link these micro-experiences in what could be called ‘generative patterns’ so that often the person who was leading a segment would learn new ways from attendees and would end up doing the most learning. Neville used the term ‘co-learning’ and ‘co-enrichment’ to encapsulate the repeated experience that segment leaders learned things from other attendees.
Many Healing Sundays had attendees who had never been before. Neville set up the coordinators to introduce one of a few opening rituals. A ritual would be chosen that fitted the context on the day. As an example, one of the opening rituals was a mirroring and mime experience that was firstly conducive to everyone learning and remembering everyone’s name, secondly, having their awareness and attending capacities focused, and thirdly, knowing a lot about each person present.
In this particular opening, a coordinator would welcome everyone, identify the other coordinators and identify Neville as the host.
The opening ritual would be then outlined. A person at random would stand and say
‘May name is (mentioning their name) and I like to’
Then the person would mime some simple action without speaking. It may be relating to say, swimming, or reading, or dancing, or snoozing, or the like – some pastime or interest.
Then the person to their left would stand and repeat what the first person said and did. That is, they would endeavour to ‘become’ the first person – and to the extent they were able, they were to mirror what the other person did – match voice, tone, inflection, pace, volume, and match the non verbal part as well.
Then they would introduce themselves:
‘May name is (mentioning their name) and I like to’
Then that second person would mime their own action without speaking.
Then the next person to the left would mirror the first person, then the second, and then introduce himself or herself.
This pattern would be repeated around the whole group. As people mirrored each of the previous people they had more and more to remember. This was balanced by having heard and seen the sequence more and more times as we proceeded around the circle.
There were varying degrees of ‘performance pressure’ experienced by people as well as a build up of anticipation. People became very involved in attending to processes within the group. This served to introduce people to the experience of staying present and involved in group process for the rest of the sessions during the day.
When all had participated, the first person to introduce themselves was to become each person in sequence all round the group. Typically people did very well. If people struggled they were assisted. Invariably people bring a lot of themselves to this task and astute observers were able to have a massive amount of information about those present.
The final part of this ritual was for everyone to randomly shift seats so that the sequence was very different to the original. Then people would randomly have a go at becoming each person in going around the new sequence quickly, which added to the humour.
Then everyone would be invited by a coordinator to mingle and meet and say the person’s name that they were meeting and obtain confirmation that they had the name correct. Typically everyone knew everyone’s name at the end of this sequence. The coordinators kept the ritual moving and it was completed within 30 to 40 minutes. This left time for one or more segments for the first session.
There were some Healing Sundays with contexts that did not lend themselves to using this opening ritual and another context-appropriate welcome process was used.
As an example, a couple of times Neville or others had invited people with particular dysfunctionality such that the above opening ritual would have overwhelmed them.
Neville was very actively involved in Healing Sunday. However someone outside of the core group would generally have little idea of this. As well, many of the core group not engaged in the coordinator role would have little idea of the seminal role Neville was playing behind the scenes.
Neville started Healing Sunday by engaging others in contacting of the core group to get Healing Sundays started. Neville’s experience from his Fraser House days was that groups work best if they have less than 20, or more than 50 members.
Groups of fewer than 20 can have intimacy. With over fifty members, crowd and audience effects tend to emerge and can be used by an experienced enabler. In groups of between twenty to fifty members, sub-groups and individuals tend to vie for attention.
With this experience in mind, Neville networked by phone with people he knew to ensure that extra people attended so that at least 50 and up to 60 people were present.
The number of people attending was crucial for using audience and crowd effects and Neville did not leave teeing up extra attendees to others. Some of the core group of 20 would invite people, though most were Neville’s invitees. Neville had a large number of addresses and phone numbers in three books that he always had nearby.
In 1999 when Neville was told that he had a very short time to live he passed these three address books to a female nurturer who he knew would make strategic use of them.
Sixty was the largest number that could squeeze into Neville’s Bondi Junction house comfortably, and that number meant we would be shoulder-to-shoulder with each other. This mirrored the way people were crowded into Big Group therapy in Fraser House.
Neville had found in Fraser House that keeping to a strict time length for sessions prevented what he called ‘session creep’ - that is, sessions getting longer and longer.
At Fraser House important work tended to be left by attendees to late in a session, and if the session was extended to work with this ‘important work’, then intensive work would tend to get later in starting during each subsequent session. Sessions would have kept getting longer and longer. When everyone knows that the session will end in one hour no matter what is happening, people tended to get started immediately. This was a reason why Neville had the strict time schedule.
The gathering space in Neville’s house was two adjoining rooms with folding doors between them that were pushed open. The front room was around 4 metres square and the adjacent room was around 5.5 metres square with a staircase running up the side of it. People would sit on chairs, couches and cushions in an elongated circle. Often people would be sitting on the stairs looking down on the others. Once we went into experiential mode people would spread out through the entrance hallway and into a third room behind the first two rooms. Sometimes we would experience something alone, e.g. shifting awareness around our body guided by the facilitator. Sometimes we would experience things in pairs, in 3s, 4s or small groups. Some things, for example, chanting would involve everyone.
The sessions were wonderfully rich and varied. During the 18 months we experienced a wide range of healing modalities; all aspects of Neuro-linguistic Programming or NLP, as well as Milton Erickson’s therapeutic processes.
There were lots on segments on listening, attending and awareness, many movement related processes including Feldenkrais and somatic therapies, voice work, breathing processes, singing and chanting, as well as energy and subtle energy work.
An Aboriginal person with a Balinese friend facilitated an intriguing session on sensing, experiencing and mirroring the non-verbal communication and movement used by people from other cultures. The Aboriginal person had immersed himself in the cultural nuances of Chinese and Japanese minorities living with them in their homelands in gaining his Masters Degree. As an example, the Balinese person combined pelvic fluidity and smiling when he asked for the time in Balinese. The swaying moving and broad relaxed smile was a fundamental aspect of the way the Balinese person expressed himself. Some people with Anglo backgrounds found incorporating smiling and pelvic sway into their communicating was extremely difficult – all of the muscles connected to their pelvis and around their face were rigid.
Sometimes spontaneous things would happen. On one occasion a lunchtime discussion theme for some had been gender relations and stereotypes. A deliveryman brought a small, though still very heavy upright piano in the middle of a session. All of the women decided that they would immediately hold an impromptu segment on working together in getting the piano upstairs. With the males as silent process observers, the women quickly tapped into their combined creative talent and worked out a strategy to very safely get the piano up the stairs, around the landing, and up a second flight to a room upstairs. They did this with consummate ease in no time at all and were very proud of themselves - and received a standing ovation from very impressed menfolk.
During Healing Sunday there was always an abundance of food. For the midday feast a large sheet of plastic was put down on the floor in the two front rooms to protect the carpet. Brightly colour tablecloths were spread on top. Many of the beautifully arranged platters of food were spread out along the full length of the rooms upon the tablecloths. Colour, taste and presentation in the food were a feature. It was truly a Feast. More food was on platters placed on a breakfast bench in the kitchen. People sat on the floor in the two front rooms and chatted as they ate. Some would eat on an outdoor table setting under a suspended grape vine in a small backyard.
60 visitors can create a lot of housework. People had tea and coffee and often breakfast upon arrival and had drinks and food at the morning snack-break and the midday feast.
At the same time Neville set a standard that everyone was to be seated at the commencement time of each and every session, and that the house would be spotless with no work to be done at the end of the last session.
Neville spoke to the attendees at the start of the second gathering with the theme of community self care and what kinds of things we as a community of carers could do to nurturer our place and likened it to a bird’s nest. He then went on to talk about birds preening themselves and arranging their feathers.
From the subsequent group discussion there was an agreement by consensus that we as a group would preen both ourselves and environment while at Neville’s house. Any emerging ‘mess’ would be removed.
Three minutes before each session was to start the call would go out, ‘Preening time!’ ‘Preening time!’
During this time everyone was to engage in three minutes of preening of the house. Three minutes work from 60 people is 3 hours of work completed in three minutes! With four sessions, 12 hours of work would get done.
As many as could fit around the kitchen sink would choreograph their movements in a dance as all dishes, cups and utensils were washed and dried in 3 minutes. A vacuum cleaner was available and used. Other cleaning equipment was available. Windows were washed. The little back yard was swept. Magazines were rearranged. Bookshelves were placed in alphabetical order. Typically, everyone was seated at the start of every session. And the house was spotless when everyone left.
Many said that they had established preening time in their own households and housework had ceased to be a chore.
With an upstairs and a downstairs toilet available, these were in constant use during the breaks so everyone had finished prior to preening time.
No one left a session to use the toilet. No work was required at the end of the last session and people would typically leave shortly after it finished.
In knowing Healing Sunday finished sharp at 3PM people typically scheduled other things to do afterwards. They had experienced excellent networking before the first session and during the breaks and typically they did not linger at the end.
While Healing Sundays were free to attend, Neville made use of these days to invite one or two of his psychiatric clients to experience being in a group context within a wellbeing community. Neville would have these clients sign the Federal Government Health-Care slip for an extended therapy session for the day.
During the first five minutes of the third session, administrative matters were covered and anyone could make brief announcements relating to upcoming events. Attendees running up-coming workshops would take this opportunity to let people know. Others may be holding a dinner party or meeting at a restaurant.
Others may let attendees know of a workshop or event that they knew was about to happening. This admin session was an integral aspect of evolving networking networks.
After eighteen months there was a navel gazing session about Healing Sunday. The core group had seen its birth and growth to maturity. There had been a shared understanding about the aims of the Healing Sunday – ‘evolving a dispersed urban wellbeing community’. That aim had been well achieved - a dispersed wellbeing group had been formed and was alive and well. People were linking with each other. No one had to be alone for Christmas dinner.
The members had acquired a wide range of wellbeing skills and had many people they could call on for support. We elected to stop having Healing Sundays and the last day was as good as the first.
Healing Sunday was never reconvened and many of the 180 network to this day. In ceasing when it was a sustained success it lives in peoples memories as just that – a magnificent success.
Neville played a very potent, though subtle behind-the-scene role in every aspect of the Healing Sunday experience. He was the enabler par excellence. He supported people to be able. He was continually energising contexts rich with possibilities. Many of these were embraced by others for functional change. In this he was a model for other people interested in being catalysts for social wellbeing. Resonant people may consider replicating Healing Sunday in their local area
We have been discussing how Dr Neville Yeomans extended Therapeutic Community within civil society. The next segment discusses the links between Healing Sunday and action occurring throughout the Australia Top End and extending through the East Asia Oceania Region.
From 1985 through to 1999 Neville was linking with and working on all manner of activities and projects with other people both inside and outside Australia.
Neville liked to have his home and brain uncluttered. Regularly Neville would donate his library of books, academic journals and magazines that he had acquired to the nearest library. Neville travelled light. When he moved to a new house he wanted to take himself, his three address books and a couple of changes of clothing, and that was all.
None of the people involved in forming and evolving Healing Sunday and the associated wellbeing network had any idea at the time that Healing Sunday was integrally linked to action unfolding across the Australia top end and the East Asia Oceania Region.
This next segment introduces this wider action. Healing Sunday’s possible role in this wider action is then introduced.
None of the people linked to Healing Sunday knew that Neville had written about what had been happened in the Healing Sunday gatherings seven years previously in a seminal paper called ‘On Global Reform – Intercultural Normative Model Areas’.
In Neville’s ‘On Global Reform’ paper he wrote about processes that could unfold over the next 250 to 300 years that may lead to a more caring and humane world. Neville was writing about, and engaged in actions relating to societal transition with the potential for transforming the social life world all round the globe - what Neville termed ‘epochal shift’.
In that ‘On Global Reform’ paper Neville had envisaged three transitional phases each with different processes. He called these three transitional phases T1, T2, and T3:
Tl related to Consciousness-raising in National Arenas
T2 related to Mobilization in Transnational Arenas
T3 related to Transformation in Global Arenas
Neville had been energising T1 Consciousness-raising in National Arenas by networking among the Aboriginal and Islander nurturer women in the Australia Top End commencing in 1971.
Seventeen years before Healing Sunday (in 1971) Neville had written a brief document called:
‘Mental Health and Social Change’
An interesting pairing of concepts:
This paper was continuing Neville’s action research linking ‘Therapeutic Community with nurturing community action for global wellbeing
That document was a precursor to the ‘On Global Reform’ document written ten years later.
That 1971 Mental Health and Social Change document specified five reasons why the Australian Top End was the best place in the World to begin exploring global transition models amongst the people on the margins of dominant society.
It was far away from centres of power in Europe, UK and North America
It was far away from Australian power centres
Australia at the time was not sensed as a threat to anyone
It was where there were populations of indigenous Australians – creating possibilities of engaging with the most marginalized in exploring new social forms, and
It was Western, though just under Asia where more than half (by number and by peoples) of the world’s indigenous people live – providing ready access to more marginalized people as social catalysts
Neville Yeomans had expressly formed the therapeutic community Fraser House in 1959 to explore epochal shift with the most marginalized in Sydney society – those in the back wards of mental hospitals and those in prison to whom the authorities would not give a day of parole. The staff, patients and outpatients involved at the time did not know this, except Neville’s personal assistant, psychologist anthropologist Margaret Cockett.
Just as Neville invited the most marginalised people into Fraser House, Neville chose the most marginalised people in the Australia Top End to work with – the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Neville sensed the most marginalised in the current system are the best people to explore new societies.
Neville wrote in his ‘On Global Reform’ paper that healing networking in the far North (quote)
…would be accompanied by widespread T1 activities in an ‘Intercultural Normative Model Area’ (or INMA) around the Atherton Tablelands and Darwin in the Australia Top End, conducted largely by those trained by previous groups. Aborigines from all over Australia and overseas visitors would be involved. (End of Quote)
The ‘previous groups’ that Neville referred to began in Armidale in North East New South Wales in 1971. Yeomans led that gathering. It was at Neville’s suggestion called ‘Surviving Well in a Dominant World’. Aboriginal and Islander people from around Australia attended including a young Eddy Mabo who became very significant in getting the Australian Federal Government to pass laws giving Aboriginals and Island land rights.
That gathering was repeated in 1972 in Armidale and again in 1973 in Grafton, a little further north. These gatherings were followed by gatherings in Alice Springs and Katherine in the Northern Territory.
Those gatherings were led by Neville and the Aboriginal person fluent in Chinese and Japanese mentioned in the last program. From these gatherings networking has been spreading informally through indigenous healer networks in the Australia Top End.
At Neville’s suggestion, a brief letter was sent in mid 1993 about the possibility of a Small Island Coastal and Estuarine Peoples Gathering Celebration happening in June 1994. Neville spoke of it been both a gathering and a celebration. During this program we will refer to this gathering in the short form as the ‘Small Island Gathering’.
The letter indicated that this gathering celebration may possibly be hosted by local Aboriginal and Islander women from around Atherton, and may have a community wellbeing theme based open agenda, with one potential theme being ‘Creating Alternatives to Criminal and Psychiatric Incarceration’.
This is the same tentative language that was used in spreading the word of a possible Healing Sunday.
This letter was sent to many global governance organizations and other international bodies. Just like Healing Sunday, this Small Island Gathering was a potently articulated virtual reality.
Neville named the gathering in positioning it as a Follow-on Gathering to the Indigenous Section of the United Nations Small Island Development Conference in the Caribbean in June 1994.
In November 1963, the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva sent a letter saying that they had received our letter and that they were funding the Small Island Gathering Celebration. There was no request for submissions. It was already approved. All the Human Rights Commission were asking for were details of where they were to send $13,000 Australian and for the hosts to send a report of what happens and some photographs.
The Gathering did take place in the Atherton Tablelands in June 1994. Around 500 people attended and a report and photos were sent to the UN Human Rights Commission.
Aboriginal and Islander women and others, many from very remote parts of Australia, attended this gathering. Torres Strait Islander women also came from remote islands in the Strait between Australia and Papua New Guinea. People from small minority groups and others also attended along with Eddy Mabo’s son. Sharing healing and nurturing ways at this gathering helped form links between the attendees and linked them into wider networks nurturing community action for global wellbeing through the East Asia Oceania Australasia Region
It is understood that the UNHCR grant was made because of firstly the hosts been Aboriginals and Islanders, secondly the main invitee group was remote area aboriginal women, thirdly, that the gathering process was following indigenous way, and fourthly because of the themes being explored.
Down to Earth (or DTE) (the cooperative that runs the ConFest Festival) funded three people skilled in festival site selection and set-up to fly around 3,000 kilometres from Melbourne to Cairns in December 1963 and then travel up to Neville’s place in the Atherton Tablelands, a two hour trip.
Neville and others had started ConFest in 1976 as a Campout Conference Festival exploring global wellbeing futures. The 2006/07 New Years ConFest Gathering, still run by DTE, celebrated the 30th anniversary of the festival. Radio programs about ConFest may be found on the News Section of Radio TC International on the internat.
The aim of this trip by the three DTE people was to link these three people with a number of Aboriginal communities in the Atherton Tablelands.
Discussions were held with a number of communities and 14 sites were explored. A site for the Small Island Gathering was chosen by the host group; it was beside rainforest on a little peninsular on Lake Tinaroo near Atherton.
While these DTE people were staying with Neville in his house at Yungaburra, Neville set up fourteen different events and happenings to link them into a matrix of local action. One of these was a New Years Eve party attended by 75 Aboriginal and Islanders and 75 other people. Half were male and half were female. Half were adults and half were children. Just like his pattern in Fraser House, Neville worked to evolve balanced communities.
Typically, houses in the Yungaburra area are built above ground on poles to keep the houses cool. Most of the children of Yungaburra became involved in preparing for this party creating fantastic atmospherics underneath the house and having exclusive use of the area from dusk till around 9:30PM. The children dug a tunnel under the front veranda and placed fluorescent paintings along the sides of the tunnel and fluorescent tubes overhead. Fluorescent white sand was spread on the ground under the house so that the floor glowed brilliant white in the night-time. The children came upstairs at 9:30PM and escorted the adults down through the tunnel to the lower area.
Another event was a dance party in beautiful rainforest with the forest floodlit at night. Yet another event was a small campout weekend beside a stream in the rainforest. A busload of Aboriginal men who had overnighted in a hostel for inebriated street people attended and were considerable transformed by the experience.
At Neville’s suggestion, DTE also funded an Aboriginal woman and an Islander woman to go down to the Easter ConFest four months prior to the Small Island Gathering to experience how ConFest emerges through volunteer energy. These two women were considering forming the hosting groups for festivals.
At Neville’s suggestion DTE provided seed money to get the Small Island Gathering at Lake Tinaroo started when the overseas funding from Geneva was late in arriving.
A busload of regular attendees of the ConFest Festival travelled three thousand kilometres from Melbourne to attend the Small Island Gathering.
As well, another 90 ConFest attendees living around Nimbin in Northern New South Wales also attended the Small Island Gathering.
These 90 were all experienced in circus artistry – juggling, fire stick twirling, drama, drumming, Acapella singing and the like.
After being invited to the Small Island Gathering Celebration 90 marginal people made their own way north from Nimbin;. Some did car-pooling. Others borrowed cars and some hitched a ride.
Nimbin, the area where these artistic people had come from was where the large Aquarius Festival was held in 1972. Around 15,000 people attended that Festival. Neville played a large part in getting the Aquarius Festival started as well.
The 1994 Small Island Festival has links to a whole string of prior festivals that Neville energised dating back to the Watsons Bay Festival in 1968. There were three more festivals after Watsons Bay that Neville energised with other people.
The Paddington Festival in 1968 launched Paddington Market, a Saturday Village Market that surrounded Neville’s first Community Mental Health Centre. Paddington Market survives to this day as a Sydney icon.
The energy setting up the Watson Bay Festival and Paddington Festival also set up the Centennial Park Festival in 1969. That festival filled 650 acres of City parkland with around 15,000 people attending. The next festival was the Cambelltown Festival in the early 70s attended by half the cast and crew of the musical Hair.
The Cambelltown Festival initiated the Aquarius Festival attend by 15,000 and that festival in turn energised ConFest that in turn supported the Small Island Gathering. Associated with all of these festivals were hundreds of other associated activities that were linked into the matrix.
The Aboriginal woman that was funded to go south and attend the 1994 Easter ConFest energised local Atherton Aboriginal and Islander people to be the host group for the Small Island Gathering.
The Islander woman who also went down to the Easter ConFest energised ‘The Spirit of the Oceans’ Wellbeing Gathering in Townsville in 1994. Many young South Sea Island women studying at James Cook University in Townsville attended that festival.
Energising groups of people to preparing all these festivals was a major way Neville strengthened social networking. The festivals themselves created opportunities for small networks to evolve through linking with other small networks. Long thin dispersed networks would have scope to become more integrated, with people knowing and connecting regularly with more people in the network.
Back to the ‘On Global Reform’ paper – Neville’s had written and I quote:
Over a number of years the Indigenous population of the Intercultural Normative Model Area would be increasingly involved, both black and white. (End of quote)
Neville continued evolving networking among indigenous healers till his death in 2000.
Through the UN Indigenous Working Group in Geneva and the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (or UNPO) in The Hague many of the Indigenous people linked to Neville have been networking with others through the East Asia Oceania Australasia Region. It is understood that this informal network of networks now links into more than half of the indigenous peoples of the Region.
It is also understood that these networks are networking with other Indigenous groups around the world carrying out what is arguably the most advanced dialogue currently happening around the World on the theme of Global Futures - and significantly, these dialogues are typically going on in languages other than English.
Every aspect of Neville’s action was adding to a connected matrix. Everything Neville did was related to and supporting everything else he did. Many stories could be told relating things that Neville was involved in that have links to Healing Sunday.
Now to the significance of the Healing Sundays – these were held on the first Sunday of the month for 18 months in the late 1980s.
Through attending and linking with each other, attendees evolved a dispersed wellbeing network of around 180 people.
Neville had written in his ‘On Global Reform’ paper in 1981 about consciousness raising happening among people interested in wellbeing in the Australia Top End.
In his ‘On Global Reform’ paper Neville specifically refers to a period of consciousness raising among people living further South in Australia. This consciousness raising was to encourage resonant people supporting the movement up North.
Neville wrote – and I quote:
Co-existing with later T1 activity is a relatively brief consciousness raising program with the more reformist humanitarian members of the national community, i.e. largely based on self-selected members of the helping and caring professions plus equivalent other volunteers.
However their consciousness raising is mainly aimed at realizing the supportive and protective role they can play nationally, in guaranteeing the survival of the Inma beyond their own lifetimes, rather than trying to persuade them actually to join it by migration. (End of Quote)
In writing those words Neville was referring to the likes of the members of Healing Sunday and members of other actions energised by Neville in the South East of Australia, such as ConFest mentioned previously. These are the kinds of people Neville was writing about when he wrote of consciousness raising – and I quote:
.......with the more reformist humanitarian members of the national community, i.e. largely based on self-selected members of the helping and caring professions plus equivalent other volunteers.
In Neville’s terms Fraser House, ConFest, and Healing Sunday were all INMAs, that is, Intercultural Normative Model Areas. Neville obtained permission of the Aboriginal women of the Australian Centre to use their word ‘inma’. It has the some of the same sense as the two syllables in English – ‘In Ma’ as in ‘in the mother’.
Shortly after the cessation of Healing Sundays in 1989 Neville returned to live in the Atherton Tableland.
In 1993, he shifted to Darwin. From 1993 to 1999 Neville devoted his time to strengthening the networks in the Region.
At his death in May 2000, unfolding nurturing community action for global wellbeing was in tune with the transition stages envisaged by Neville.
T1 Consciousness-raising has been occurring in National Arenas. T2 Mobilization has begun to occur in Transnational Arenas.
An example was a gathering of 40 wellbeing nurturers from eleven countries in the East Asia Oceania Region held in the countryside outside Manilla in 2004. A Laceweb enabler had travelled extensively in the region networking with local grassroots healer networks in meeting 240 people and linking with 43 local wellbeing groups in the Region. The attendees at the Philippine gathering were in part selected from these 240 people.
Five of the 40 who attended that Philippines gathering have now been funded by DTE to come down to New South Wales and experience ConFest and link in to local wellbeing networks.
Many of the possibilities outlined in Neville’s On Global Reform paper are becoming realities.
It may be that models outlined in this program may be replicated, adapted and tested by resonant people in other parts of the World.
End of Script