Wellbeing Action Using Festivals, Gatherings and Other Happenings



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Drawn from writings from the 1960s to the present. Updated Oct. 2014.92



Festival One - Watsons Bay Festival - 1968

Festival Two – Paddington Festival - 1969

Festival Three - Centennial Park Festival - 1969          

Festival Four - Campbelltown Festival - 1971   

Festival Five – The Aquarius Festival - 1973

Festival Seven - The Evolving of the First ConFest - 1976

Festival Eight - The Cooktown Arts Festival - 1977

Festival Nine – The Small Island Coastal and Estuarine People Gathering Celebration - 1994

UN-INMA and the Atherton Tablelands Gathering Celebration Networks


This paper commences with brief descriptions of a series of eleven festivals evolved by Dr Neville Yeomans that were significant precursors and sequels to ConFest first held in 1976.

The Watsons Bay Festival


The first festival that Neville energized was at Watsons Bay on the South Head of Sydney Harbour. Neville was very interested in the significance of locality. Watsons Bay happens to be where Sydney people go to commit suicide – at the Gap. Neville wanted to reframe the meaning of the locality by evolving a festival that celebrated LIFE. It was held in the green park shown in the photo below between the drop to the Pacific Ocean and the blue waters of Sydney Harbour. Note the land topography. The drop into the ocean is along the main ridge. From the top right hand corner of the photo a primary ridge descends from a higher point along the main ridge to the Sydney Harbour shore line. The park happens to be in a very important Keypoint in this Primary Valley. Before all of this housing, all of the water at the head of this Primary Valley would run to the Keypoint under the free energy of gravity.




The Watsons Bay Festival site at the Gap




A Keypoint at the Left-hand of the Above Dam on a Yeomans Property at North Ryde, NSW


Notice that the land topography is the same in each of the above photos. Two primary ridges running down from a main ridge with a primary valley between; all of this has immense significance as a living metaphor of the Keypoint in the Yeomans family’s Keyline in sustainable farming. Neville’s father was P.A. Yeomans who is recognised as the person making the most significant contribution to sustainable farming in the past 250 years. The above photo shows the Keypoint (at the left hand side of the dam) in one of the primary valleys on the Yeomans Farm. Again all of the rain falling in the head of the valley runs to the Keypoint.


This Keypoint has main features with significant implications for making nature thrive. Neville extended ways to have nature thrive to ways to have human nature thrive. This is discussed in detail in Spencers two volume set ‘Whither Goeth the World of Human Futures’ and Cultural Keyline – The Life Work of Dr Neville Yeomans’  (Spencer, L. 2012).[1]


Working with Free Energy




A Clay Model Featuring Keyline Principles in the Left Primary Valley


In the above photo, note that in the left primary valley a dam has been placed high just below where the steep slope begins to flatten - at the Keypoint. This means the free energy of gravity may be used to distribute water over the lower land. The land both above and below the contour through the Keypoint (the Keyline) has been chisel ploughed. Note also that water has been tracked along these chisels grooves along the left hand side of the middle ridge and even around the chisel into the primary valley on the right. This allows irrigation of most of the land below the Keyline, especially all of the lower ridges. . Note also the flows of ‘water’ in the right hand primary valley (shown as light green). The ‘water’ run-off runs to the floor of the valley, causing a potential eroding rush. The practical consequences of Keyline and its application in ConFest and its outreach are detailed in ‘Whither Goeth the World of Human Futures (Spencer 2012a & b).[2]


In the Nineteen Sixties, Neville Yeomans joined with Margaret Cockett and others in forming, and becoming the president of the Total Care Foundation, a registered charity that is still active. This entity was one of many entities formed by Neville to replicate Fraser House Therapeutic Community. As Australia’s first Director of Community Mental Health and Community Health Neville evolved foundations, community groups, and collectives, as well as self-help groups and mutual-help groups - evolving what he termed Laceweb Functional Matrices.


One of these Mutual-Help Groups was Mingles. This entity also had an inter-cultural focus in supporting the linking of international students from Africa and Asia attending Sydney University and University of NSW (under the Colombo Plan) and also linking these with Australian students from those same universities and also linking in others interested in intercultural relational exchange .


Mingles supported social and academic relating, and lessened the stress emanating from having English as a second or third language. According to recent research, International students in 2014 are still experiencing psycho-emotional and physical stress from inadequate English language competence (G. J. Gatwiri, 2014). This is a major problematic in a sector contributing 17.6 billion Aus$ in 2009 and 15 billion in 2012. Mingles may well be an effective model for alleviating these problematics.


This Total Care Foundation was used to evolve and hold the Watson’s Bay Festival in 1968 on Sydney’s South Head. Watson’s Bay Festival was the first of eleven festivals, gatherings, and celebrations energized/ influenced by Neville.


1.    Watsons Bay Festival - 1968

2.    Paddington Festival - 1969

3.    Centennial Park Festival - 1969

4.    Cambelltown Festival- 1971

5.    Aquarius Festival - 1973

6.    ConFest - 1976

7.    Cooktown Arts Festival – 1977

8.    Developing Aboriginal & Islander Therapeutic Communities Gathering (Petford) - 1992

9.    Lake Tinaroo Relational Mediation Gathering Celebration - 1993

10. Small Island Coastal and Estuarine Peoples Gathering Celebration  (Lake Tinaroo) – 1994

11. Star of the Seas Festival Gathering (Townsville) - 1994


The process of exploring how people change as they work together to change aspects of society was as important to Neville as evolving and holding some event.


Neville used the process of organizing festivals and events in order to evolve networks and community. 



In the process of coming together to put on the Watsons Bay Festival the participants were forming ‘cultural locality’ a term denoting ‘people connecting together connecting to place’. The Watsons Bay Gathering was another opportunity for Neville to explore community mutual help; this time with the combined themes of ‘intercultural cooperation’ and ‘all forms of artistry for wellness’. Neville used the term ‘Cultural Healing Artistry’.


With the 1968 Watson’s Bay Festival, Neville fostered multiculturalism in Australia. The Watson’s Bay Festival in Watson’s Park was more than multicultural; it was intercultural in that it fostered sharing links among strangers from differing cultures. The Watson’s Bay Gathering demonstrated an early Laceweb[3] resonance with what Neville called ‘cultural healing action’, where social action combines music making, percussion, singing, chanting, dancing, reading poetry, storytelling, artistry, and sculpting – all within intercultural festive and celebratory contexts. 


A planning letter from the Total Care Foundation to the Sydney Town Hall details that the Watsons Bay Festival would be held Sunday 13 October 1968 from 11:30 am to 4:30 pm at Robertson Park and Watson Bay Park, and that it would be completely open to public with no fees. Preplanning for the Paddington Festival is also mentioned. The Watsons Bay Festival would feature an international display of music, dancing and national costumes. Artefacts would be displayed at the Watsons Bay Branch Library, including a display by artists John Olsen and Brian Cummins.


     olsen 3.jpg           


 Paintings by John Olsen in 1964


Clickers would be given out so the crowd could ‘clickerlong’ with the bands in the evening.


Neville’s blending together of all forms of artistry is a repeated theme in all of the events he energised throughout his life and parallels use of all forms of artistry in Indigenous life.


Another letter to the town hall in Sydney[4] speaks of the women’s’ social group, called the Care Free Committee of the Total Care Foundation, helping with the evolving of the Watson’s Bay Festival. This social group was another process for bonding people together. Neville always gave some care to his naming of groups and collectives. “care free’ has multiple meanings; ‘care-free’ as in ‘joyous’, ‘care provided free’ and ‘being free of care’. Having a women’s group was consistent with cleavering into sub-groups at Fraser house. The letter states that during the Festival there was an art exhibition at the Masonic Hall. One gallery alone lent $14,000 of paintings. $14,000 in 1968 is equal to $96,250 in 2014.


Neville timed the Watson’s Bay Festival to coincide with the Sydney All Nations Waratah Festival during 6-13 October 1968. This timing to coincide with a large festival is a precursor to Neville’s evolving micro-gatherings as pre or post gatherings to large global conferences in the nineties, discussed later.


Participants at Watsons Bay Festival




Australian Don Henderson sung folk with poetic interludes[5]

Australian Folk singer - Don Gillespio

A collection of expensive sculpture, pottery and art was on display

 -  on loan from Art Galleries

Czech Trich Trotch Polka

Filipino Band

Greek display by Girls of the Lyceum Club

Hungarian Czards

Indian dance by Rama Krishna

Indonesian singers

Israeli Dancer - Vera Goldmen

Japanese dancers

Karate display

Malaysian Scarf dance

Mike Harris - guitarist

Oriental dancers

Polish dance music and songs

Rev Swami Sarcorali and Roma Blair

The Yoga Fellowship gave a Yoga demonstration

Sally Hart - also folksy

Spanish Classical guitarist Antonio Lazardo

Spanish Flamenco Dancers

Spanish Flamenco Guitarist played by Ivan Withers

Welsh folk singers


In the evening was a psychedelic light display and pop band.



In keeping with Neville’s intercultural synthesis focus, the Watson’s Bay Festival featured the cultural artistry from twenty-three different countries (appendix 25).

The Second Festival – the Paddington Festival

To launch Paddington Bazaar to surround his Paddington Community Mental Health Centre, Neville worked with the local community in evolving the Paddington Festival. Creating a community public place (cultural locality) – the Paddington Bazaar was one of Neville’s themes in exploring community mutual help in energising the Paddington Festival. It was held over the weekend of 21 - 22 June 1969. On the Saturday there was a market bazaar in the main Paddington Town Hall. The Paddington mid-year Festival was held the next day. The Paddington Bazaar evolved out of the community energy of this Festival. The Bazaar, also called Paddington Market, thrives to this day as a community market. This model of embedding self-help wellbeing-focused action within everyday community contexts, and at times helping to constitute these contexts, is a central concept within the Laceweb. It is resonant with Tikopia way.

Festival Three - Centennial Park Festival


The next festival Neville and others evolved was the Centennial Park Festival, a few kilometres from the Sydney central business district. The Festival covered 540 acres (of the 889.5 acres) in the north eastern valley of the park.




This was Australia’s first hippie festival. Neville placed a number of Centennial Park Festival photos in his Mitchell library collected papers – refer photo below.[6]




Photo 1. Article and photo on Centennial Park attendees – Sydney Morning Herald



Neville was also a founding member of the Sydney Arts Foundation. This Foundation was the organizer of the Centennial Park Festival.[7] Again, for Neville, the shared experience of Foundation members working out how to get things happening together was a central focus. The key aim of the Sydney Arts Foundation was to establish an arts centre in Sydney.[8] The Centennial Park Festival was supported by many embassies, consuls, civic groups, arts groups, national and international societies and clubs and schools.  Neville’s inviting the support of many foreign embassies continued his ‘intercultural cooperating’ theme in events. He was also exploring the strengthening of civil society based artistry. The range of events at the Centennial Park Festival is detailed below:


A film show


Cultural displays

Display by Historical Fire Engine Association of Australia

Displays of national dress

Displays of yoga

Dog obedience exhibition

Dress and fashion parades

Folk dancing

Folk singing


Horse drawn cart pageant

Jazz groups


Kite flying

Light shows

Lions club display and activities

Marching girls

Marquee and geodesic dome

Music performances

National dancing; National feasts; National songs

Painting groups

Physical fitness activities

Poetry reading

Pop groups

Puppet ‘Shoes’

Qantas and TAA displays

Ropes area and ladders

School gymnastics teams

Six Vintage cars

Small tractors and trailers for shifting people; Static displays


Festival Four - Campbelltown Festival


Neville, Lien, his younger brother Ken, and Ken’s wife Stephanie were the key organizers of a small, though very important Festival in 1971. It was held at another country property Neville’s father had acquired off Wedderburn Road five kilometres from Campbelltown, which in turn is around 50 kilometres down the main highway from Sydney towards Melbourne. According to Bill Elliott[9] (a long term ConFest attendee – ConFest is described shortly), as well as Ken and Stephanie Yeomans,[10] the Campbelltown Festival was small, with around 150 attending.


Many of the cast and crew of the hit musical ‘Hair’ attended the Campbelltown Festival and added to the passion and artistry. Neville, Ken, and Stephanie have all attested to the fact that there was a real fervour among the attendees to mount a very large festival that would celebrate and engender possibilities for a New Age – to quote the ‘Hair’ hit tune, a festival for the ‘Dawning of the Age of Aquarius’.


After the attendees had packed up the Campbelltown Festival they held a meeting in an old shed near the Yeomans’ farmhouse where it was resolved to put on a festival and call it the Aquarius Festival. They had a target figure of 15,000 people attending.


At the Campbelltown Festival meeting Dr Neville Yeomans and his youngest brother Ken used their knowledge of Keyline to search maps of New South Wales to find a good place for the Festival. They suggested the Nimbin region in the hills at the back of Byron Bay. It was a beautiful green area of undulating forest and farm country, though stagnating economically.


Two people were empowered by the Campbelltown meeting to set off in search of sites and the result became the Aquarius Festival at Nimbin NSW (inland from Byron Bay). Again, the process of setting up such a large event provided a scope for Neville to action research how people may reconstitute themselves towards a more rich wellbeing through community mutual help. The process is in many ways more important than the outcome.


In their preliminary discussion at Campbelltown about the proposed Aquarius Festival, the group decided that they wanted to work cooperatively with local people around the proposed Festival site, have local people having a say in the Festival and sharing in any profits, and preferably using the farm lands of more than one farmer. They also wanted the whole process for evolving the Festival to be organic and natural – to be self-organizing.[11]


It is possible to see Neville’s Cultural Keyline design principles being introduced by Neville as a theme and having an influence on the decisions of this planning group. Note the implicit Cultural Keyline principles:


1.    Enable and design contexts where resonant people self organize in mutual help


2.    Have outside enablers work and network with the local people in the region


3.    The local people have the say in meeting their own needs


4.    Support the local people in networking – (Festival on a number of farms)


5.    Local people get flow-on (share in profits)


6.    The local action is self-organizing



Festival Five – The Aquarius Festival


The Aquarius Festival did take place in Nimbin between 12th to 23 May 1973 and 15,000 people did attend. It became the first of the large alternative festivals in Australia.


The Festival did make a profit and the local community decided that their share of the profits be used to create a municipal swimming pool. This was agreed to, and Ken Yeomans designed it using Keyline principles. The pool still functions well to this day. It is round and has a sand base over concrete. It very gently slopes in from the edges to become deep in the centre. The water flows up from below in the centre, and flows out at the edges. The sand stays in place. The young children enjoy the shallows. There is a lap swimming lane in the centre. It can be seen behind the Nimbin caravan park on Google maps.




The Nimbin Swimming Pool


Tuntable Falls Commune was started from some of the Festival proceeds, and was designed on Keyline principles. That commune continues to this day.


Festival Six – ConFest


When Jim Cairns, Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister under Gough Whitlam, his personal assistant Junie Morosi, David Ditchburn and others in the mid Seventies began preparing the first ConFest - short for ‘conference-festival’, Jim Cairns and his group chose to meet in the Church Hall next door to Neville’s Community Mental Health Centre in Paddington.[12]


Neville and others had energized a small urban commune focused around the Paddington Community Mental Health Centre and the Paddington Bazaar. The Hall next to the Vestry had become a regular Sydney meeting place for people who had been the energizers of the Aquarius Festival.




Photo by Michael Mangold - used with permission. The hall (next to the vestry) where the ConFest planning meetings were held



Neville attended the ConFest planning meetings next door and contributed to the planning of the first ConFest - Cotter River, 1976.


Ken Yeomans used Keyline principles to set up the water system at the Bredbo ConFest, Mt. Oak in 1977. Ideas from his father’s book, ‘The City Forest’[13] were used to lay out ConFest roads along ridgelines.


Walking workshop/conferences were held on Keyline.


ConFests have been held since the Seventies.


Since the early Nineties seven/five day events have being held over both the New Year and Easter periods. They are typically on the Murray River, or one of its tributaries in the Victorian–New South Wales border region.


Following encouragement by Neville to become involved in ConFest, during the 1990s and early 2000s I was one of a few people who selected ConFest sites and energized the initial site layout. A couple of weeks before ConFest 10 – 12 others would arrive to commence set up.


A few days before ConFest, site volunteer numbers swell to around 100. I have surveyed over 70 potential sites. Since 1992, I have regularly attended ConFest and since1993 have been one providing enabling support to the workshop process. By 2012 I had survey over 80 sites for Festival use up the East Coast of Australia, 15 of them with Neville and two with Ken Yeomans.


Neville attended the ConFest planning meetings next door and contributed to the planning of the first ConFest - Cotter River, 1976.


Ken Yeomans used Keyline principles to set up the water system at the Bredbo ConFest, Mt. Oak in 1977. Ideas from his father’s book, ‘The City Forest’[14] were used to lay out ConFest roads along ridgelines. Walking workshop/conferences were held on Keyline.


 ConFests have been held since the Seventies.


The Australian Down to Earth Network (ADTEN) was formed as a loose Australia-wide coalition body. ADTEN subgroups formed throughout Australia holding a number of ConFest inspired gatherings. ADTEN faded from history in the early 1980s. Ideas are evolving for re-energising ADTEN.


Since the early Nineties five/seven day events have being held over both the New Year and Easter periods. They are typically on the Murray River, or one of its tributaries in the Victorian–New South Wales border region.


Following encouragement by Neville to become involved in ConFest, I am one of a few people who found and visited potential ConFest sites and selected sites to use and buy, and who have energize the initial site layout and set up; a few days before ConFest, site volunteer numbers swell to around 100. I have surveyed over 70 potential sites. Since 1992, I have regularly attended ConFest and have been one providing enabling support to the workshop process since 1994. By 2012 I have survey over 80 sites for Festival use up the East Coast of Australia, 15 of them with Neville and two with Ken Yeomans.


In the 1990s around 350 workshops and events were held each ConFest on a very wide range of topics relating to all aspects of the web of life consistent with Cultural Keyline. Also consistent with Cultural Keyline, the ConFest workshop process is totally self-organizing. By 2014 the workshop numbers for the five day Easter ConFest has grown to over 870, with the top day having 265 workshops and two other days have over 200 workshops.




Deputy prime minister Jim Cairns speaking at ConFest  - photo from DTE archives; photo I took of ConFest workshop notice boards all prepared for ConFesters to arrive - December 2002;  and villages at ConFest (photo from DTE archive)


With Neville’s subtle orchestrating during the initial planning of the first ConFest in 1976, the site set-up process for this conference-festival is still based upon the enabled and enabling self-organizing community and implicitly uses Keyline and Cultural Keyline features. Nature guides design and layout. A few volunteers with the way walk the site till it becomes familiar to them. The land ‘tells’ the set-up crew where things can be well placed. Natural barriers such as creek banks may mark the self-organizing edge of the car free camping area.



Festival Seven – The Cooktown Arts Festival


Shortly after the first ConFest in 1976, Jaciamo Caffarelli a musician and painter (who was a Fraser House outpatient in 1961 who gave me permission to use his name) along with his wife Pamela were key energizers of the Cooktown Arts Festival in Cooktown on Cape York, Far North Queensland. Jaciamo had stayed in touch with Neville after Jaciamo ceased being an outpatient. Coincidently, Jaciamo was living directly opposite Neville in Yungaburra when Neville bought his house there in the Nineties. I spoke extensively with Jaciamo and Pamela about the Cooktown Arts Festival and his memories of Fraser House and Neville while I stayed with them at their place in Yungaburra for a week and travelled with them to the Laura Aboriginal Festival in June 2001.


At the time of the Cooktown Arts Festival, Cooktown was an extremely remote outpost of about 350 people on Cape York Peninsula in Far North Queensland. It was approachable from Cairns by a day’s drive over a torturous road. Given the remoteness and difficulty getting there, it was extraordinary that over a 2,500 people attended from all over Australia, with people coming from overseas. Jaciamo modelled the Cooktown Art Festival on Neville's Watson's Bay Festival, the Aquarius Festival and ConFest.





Photo 11 Photo I took of Jacaimo at Laura Festival


Given the remoteness, the festival was very rich. Jaciamo told me (July 2001) that the events included three three-act plays - complete with stage, scenery, costumes, orchestra and lighting. One was a Chekhov play – The Cherry Orchard. A puppeteer put on regular shows. As well, the Cairns Youth orchestra played along with a number of swing and Trad Jazz bands, pop groups and a xylophone/percussion group. Spontaneous acoustic music jamming sessions abounded. Neville Yeomans, Jim Cairns (Deputy Prime Minister), and Bill Mollison, one of the founders of Permaculture, were speaker/workshop presenters. There was a very active workshop scene on all aspects of wellbeing.



The Small Island Coastal and Estuarine People Gathering Celebration


In 1993 Neville arranged for a half page flier to go off to many global governance bodies that spoke of ideas evolving for a gathering celebration bringing together Aboriginal and Islander women and resonant others from remote areas of Australia to explore the following themes:


o   Softening of Substance Abuse

o   Stopping family violence

o   Human caring alternatives to criminal and psychiatric incarceration


In Nov 1993 a letter was received from the UN Human Rights Commission stating:


o   that they loved the idea of the gathering celebration

o   that they were sending many 1,000s and asking where to send it

o   Asking for a report and photos


The Gathering Celebration did happen in June 1994 and a Report was sent to UNHRC.




UN-INMA and the Atherton Tablelands Gathering Celebration Networks


In the early 1970s Neville travelled to and stayed for a number of times in the Atherton Tablelands evolving the UN-Inma self-help group and other self-help groups and supporting locals in generating healer networks, gathering celebrations, workshops and other events. The UN-INMA Atherton Tablelands Inma Project details the fifty year rollout of healing wellness action.





Gatwiri, G. J., 2014. The Influence of Language Difficulties on the Wellbeing of International Students: An Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis. Unpublished Research Paper; copy in Laceweb Archives.

Mangold, M. (1993). Paddington Bazaar. Sydney, Tandem Productions.




Laceweb Home Page


ConFest and the Next 250 Years


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[1] Spencer, L. 2012. Whither Goeth the World of Human Futures – Two Volume E-Book Set.

[2] As in footnote 4

[3] The name Neville gave to the Evolving network of healers through the SE Asia Oceania Australasia Region.

[4] Refer (Yeomans, N. 1965a, Vol. 12, p. 13).

[5] Refer (Yeomans, N. 1965a, Vol. 12, p. 3).

[6] Refer (Yeomans, N. 1965b).

[7] Refer (Yeomans, N. 1965a, Vol. 12, p. 36).

[8] Refer (Yeomans, N. 1965a, Vol. 12, p. 36).

[9] Sept, 2004.

[10] Sept, 2004.

[11] Self-organising systems are discussed later in this Chapter.

[12] Refer (Mangold 1993).

[13] Refer (Yeomans, N. 1965a, Vol. 12, p. 44; Yeomans, P. A. 1971b).

[14] Refer (Yeomans, N. 1965a, Vol. 12, p. 44; Yeomans, P. A. 1971b).