Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Lalgambook (or, this is what occupation looks like)

Visit my JustFreeWater site and find out how Coca-Cola occupies Lalgambook (Mt Franklin) as a brand name for their bottled water racket, and how Djadjawurrung resource and land theft continues today. There is not a single person of the Loddon tribe left to ask permission if we could camp at Lalgambook, let alone participate in the 'tanderrum', or freedom of the bush:
A diplomatic rite symbolising the landholder's hospitality, in which strangers were allowed temporary access to clan resources after a ritual exchange of gifts. Ian D Clark, 2003, p.117

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Permaplay 1

I'm taking a short break, but before I do I'll leave you with this summer holiday flick.

This video has been removed at the request of The Fugs, whose song "The Ten Commandments" was used as the sound track. See comments below. As I no longer have the film on my laptop and therefore cannot edit the sound out I have taken the whole thing down. This film was only to appear as a piece of home-brewed digital theatre for free public enjoyment.

Today's post, All right's relinquished (or, 'Copyright Nothing' after The Fugs) (19/1/09), will examine copyright and intellectual (private) property relations within a capitalist system of culture.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A de-civilising process

At this point, I can turn to Norbert Elias' argument about the civilizing process in Europe...essentially it came down to the attempt, largely on the part of middle class religious authorities, to improve the manners of those below: most of all by eliminating all traces of the carnivalesque from popular life. David Graeber, Possibilities, p31-32.
Earlier in his book David Graeber writes how gradually, from the twelfth century onwards, the social authorities imbibed a culture of shame and embarrassment for all things bodily – excrement, sex, etc.; things of common substance and their joking relations – think Rabelais’s dirty humour.

Property relations, not sacredness, was the rationale behind the church's enforcement of celibacy onto its priests. The eldest sons of priests were too often claiming church property as their inherited own, and the papacy cracked down on the loss of church property. If avoidance relations are so linked to property, as Graeber suggests, then it is little wonder that the ensuing culture of sex-secrecy – developed by so many priests struggling with celibacy, culminating in paedophilia and other abuses of power – has in turn led to the selling off of acquired properties to fund the thousands of law suites lodged by victims of their cause. It’s an interesting, sad and ironic several hundred-year cycle of avoidance, only checked due to recent demands of accountability on religious institutions by secular authority.

Every year in Daylesford there is a New Year’s Eve parade where various community groups and artists create themed floats or parade various skills, activities and crafts on foot. One year cartoonist, Michael Leunig, with some friends made a float using two inflatable sex dolls. It was called something like 'the garden of love'. The local authorities didn't share the humour and arrested them for public indecency, including the dolls. At the courthouse, while the trial was being heard, the male doll was brought into proceedings by a local cop who’d put a paper bag over his penis. A large group of locals, including kids, turned up to express their support for Leunig's float. I believe there was not a single local person against it. 

Last year, my own somewhat less contentious parade concept was in aid of my water activism; also using joking relations (based upon the behavioural relations between chance and cross-dressing). The purpose of this costume, after the joke for joke's sake, was to draw attention to a local thing of common substance – water, and its privatisation by Coca-Cola Amatil and Cadbury Schweppes for global profiteering. Meg handed out stickers that directed people to the justfreewater myspace page and over the next several days I watched my stats counter on the site grow measuredly. 

Photo: Peter O'Mara (as you can see he won't make Best Australian Photography, 2008, but he is included in this year's Best Australian Poems, UQP).

Zeph's mum, who was at the parade earlier on to drop Zeph off, made the joking remark, “no wonder we didn’t make it”, when she saw what I was wearing. Meg later jokingly said to me, “that’s why you're with me now”. Meg was dressed deliciously, as you’ll no doubt agree.

Photo: Peter O'Mara 

My ex-partner was raised in a Christian household. Her parents were missionaries, her dad become a scholar and translator, responsible for overseeing versions of the Bible into Chinese and other Asian languages. 

Sadly, his daughter and I now only have a relationship of avoidance based upon property rights, which regrettably over-rides a relation of common substance – our child. And it is tied up with the pressing issue of whether or not to sell the quarter acre, that constitutes the physical entity that partly feeds us and this blog: The Garden of Self Defence. 

Most people, most likely, relate with all three of the modes that Graeber and anthropologists before him have outlined: with avoidance, with jokes and with common substance. However, it remains to be seen whether the dominant culture, based on private property, waste and wealth generation – abstractions of avoidance in terms of the landbase that supports us – can ever close the broken cycle generated by capitalism's corollaries, and become a society more dominantly based on common substance again: children raised by whole communities; food not transported but grown within walking distance; natural resources not transported away from food and water bowls – in essence a permanent culture, based less on manners, restriction, hierarchy and capital growth, and more on an understanding of our place within a local ecology – where we consciously particpate in securing a sustainable and permanent future for those who come after us. A gift that has been provided by those who have come before.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Lousy at small talk

I'm now ready for the social season.

I mentioned yesterday that I'd have a t-shirt to give away. But I didn't have a spare one to print on. Instead, here's an old one of mine that fits a small person. Both are printed on American Apparel tops we found at the local op-shop. The first commenteer will have it posted to them on Monday.

Worship nothing not even Nietzsche! Now there's some small talk for the Christmas period.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Immutable fashion – notes on small talk

I have an idea for a t-shirt that says: 'Lousy at small talk', something I can wear to parties. I'll probably make one in the next few weeks, perhaps two, one for you dear reader, if you're inclined. 

Is small talk a thing of common substance or of avoidance?

1. Small talk as common substance: To speak small talk with others is to build relations based on a mutual lightness of spirit. Although I'm empathetic to this notion in terms of 'social warming', small talk functions best as an ancillary to something else, such as dancing or disruption: lobbing a boot at a psychopathic politician and calling him a dog after he has fucked your country.

The Dancers Inherit the party

When I have talked for an hour I feel lousy –
Not so when I have danced for an hour:
The dancers inherit the party
While the talkers wear themselves out and
            sit in corners alone, and glower.

2. Small talk as avoidance. The natural territory of small talk resides within the localities inhabited by the bourgeoise and petit bourgeoise. It is here that small talk is rarely allowed to become 'big'. It can be cut off with eye rolling, polite refrain or bodily squeamishness that breaks the social engagement. Small talk as a natural language modality of the middle classes is predicated on older religious boundaries of shame and embarrassment developed since the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. This is when art, incidentally, turned from a practice of everyday social activity, practiced by numerous, to one where the artist became sublime and individualistic – the development of the capitalist construct of the genius; worthy of marketing and cultural exploitation. The cult of the nice is society's modern, secular equivalent – here the genius has a happy disposition (see the likes of John Cage), or for an alternative, winter baby's view:

On middle class poverty 

The poet's teeth are rotten.
The poet doesn't drive.
The poet has an empire in the mind.
The poet writes the god.
The poet is assassinated.
The poet's unAustralian.

Patrick Jones (listen to this poem here)
NB. I'm writing this post after coming home from a party where I engaged in mid-sized talk and ate beautiful food and drank local plonk, all for which I'm passingly grateful. 

Cuba's eggs

Cuba, one of our chooks, went broody this week. There are two things you can do for a broody hen. Either give her some fertilised eggs to incubate over 21 days, or place her in a cage in full sunlight with plenty of air, clean water and food.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


After I posted the most recent WorkmanJones film, Tag, a friend of mine, Hamish Morgan, challenged me on why we chose to use the city as a site for our work. There are so many ways to think about and address this question. I initially gave some reasons in response, but having thought more about it lately, about impermanent culture (impermaculture), I thought I'd share some of this thinking.

Firstly, cities exist. Modern cities are toxicities, they rely on resources from elsewhere, they waste waste, they can (probably) never be sustainable, more people live in them than in rural areas (a recent global phenomenon), and cities are places of social invention and mutation. For all these reasons, critiquing, participating in and understanding the city is to understand the dominant psyche of modern humans and why centralised capitalism is killing us, and many other species, very rapidly and very cruelly.

Hamish has spent a few years living with an aboriginal community in remote WA, and I have spent the majority of my life living in occupied regional areas of Australia, namely the Wingecarribee district, Wagga Wagga and Djadjawurrung country for the past 13 years. Both Hamish and I have been educated in urban universities, where few questions are ever asked concerning urban impermaculture.

Recently, I voluntarily endured a paper given by a PhD candidate that cross-pollinated Situationist thought with her own desire to continue shopping. It was a seemingly clever paper using fashionable dérive poetics with individualist urbane desire. Michael Farrell brilliantly called it 'romantic shopping'. It simply repulsed me. She was a post-graduate student in sustainability and architecture. 

Her intellectual abstractions represented her mediated blindness. She told us that she drove her car into the city to carry out her shopping 'experiments', and that she had to consume things in order for her experiment to work. When I challenged her, pretty clumsily regrettably, on her work as capitalist embellishing, she exclaimed, "But what other system have we got?"

What was so offensive about this paper was that an architect working in the area of sustainability was not looking at urban permaculture in Havana as a model or focus point for her research, or any other transitional city. Havana is a living example that excitingly challenges my Jensenian belief that cities can never be sustainable (based on a reliance upon the importation of resources). Instead it was her own desire and its place in the world that was being indulgently understood. The other area this paper failed to investigate, regarding the question of future sustainability and urban psychogeography, was indigenous intelligence.

Our urban film, Tag, was never meant as a critique of the city, rather an example of using an impermacultural domain as a site for post-consumer play. A critique of the city occurs in other parts of my practice, as it does here. It was also made to demonstrate the body as common substance, devoid of shame and embarrassment, and directly influenced by the abstract and toxic environment in which we were courting chance behaviours. 

Photo: Kathryn McCool

Monday, December 15, 2008

Property relations

Photo: Kathryn McCool
If property is so closely related to avoidance, and if these two principals of identification and exclusion really are so consistently at play (and I think they are), then is it really so daring to suggest that the person, in the domain of avoidance, is constructed out of property? David Graeber, Possibilities, p22.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

An angry post cheered up by a harvest of garlic, freshly washed

The one thing that everybody wants is to be free...not managed, threatened, directed, restrained, obliged, fearful, administered, they want none of these things they all want to feel free...they do not want to be afraid not more than is necessary in the ordinary business of living... Gertrude Stein, 1943
The daughter of the businessman, the income to write, the ordinary business of privilege; ever expanding post-war growth, ever expanding freedoms: cars, white-goods, confectionary, packaging, holidays; ever expanding art and art memorials; ever-expanding construction of culture well beyond the capacity of the landbase. Impermanent toxiculture; the mass market, the small secondary markets of the bourgeoisie: the snobs, the aspirants, the collectors, the publishers, the biography factory; ever-expanding obsessions of the civilised; utterly pre-tending to life.

"The world is round", Stein tells us, "and you can go on it round and round", she adds, as she did, as we do now, up and up, down and down, around and around, adding and expanding, unchecked and ill-managed, unbridled freedom, unlimited population, unleashed psychosis.

We have had 65 years of run-away capitalism, and here awaits us the blurred edge of run-away climate change: gas chambers lit for a new era holocaust by industry's furnaces and our desires.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Ashes and boxes (some notes on death)

I'm thinking of Alice B Toklas in her seventies, and similarly an old friend, Val Herbst, trudging damply around her dry garden, fat fag smoking from her lips, high cloud drizzle falling on dying perennials, drought around, drinking coffee through unwashed glass alive with unnameable film, Alice, tasting her oldness in everything, listening to her thongs slapping the peddles of the baby harpsichord, punching out Scarlatti, lionising him while attacking the polite memorials, her mind that brave, her bed dank, a cat's bed under the Murrumbeena bowls and foxing shelves of printed thought. A lifetime corroding in full view of my early twenties, drawing her pictures; her decomposition a gift reversed.

Instead we burn our dead or box them tight from soil in coffins – the pollutions of avoidance. Val insisted on the right to be buried in her half dead garden and years later the same spirit home-birthed Zeph; the stuff of common substance becomes an argument with the fearful. 
The one thing that everybody wants is to be free...not managed, threatened, directed, restrained, obliged, fearful, administered, they want none of these things they all want to feel free...they do not want to be afraid not more than is necessary in the ordinary business of living... Gertrude Stein, 1943

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Avoidance relations (a mesostic)

             unfathomed fear is criPpling negation;

                           an immutable Agent for the simplistic and cruel.

 if your heart is sweet-juiced, Thirsty and open,

          your fear's reimburse 'a Human kind' (PO) –

                                 unlike the cOld and made-up minds that poison; 

                             the stupid are So dangerous, so blinkered and vain.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Marcel Duchamp's early success as a pedlar of art, namely Brancusi's sculpture, afforded him about thirty years of independent income, which in turn provided him the time to pursue his thought and art. Gertrude Stein's independent income was afforded to her by her father's success as an industrialist. Along with her own dedicated temerity (and Alice) this income provided her the opportunity to pursue forty years of thought and writing.

For years I have tried to foster a Duchamp-like canniness, or pathetically longed for a Stein-like stipend, but mostly I've made work on the hop, so to speak, my method is based on 'stealing time'. And when circumstances amalgamate so as not even theft is possible I tend to overheat, breathe far too thinly, self-loathe and spiral downwards, sometimes taking loved ones with me. 

The Garden of Self Defence – an experiment based on self-sufficiency – is my most ambitious attempt to live, not of independent income but independent of income, not outside of an ecology, but ecologically co-dependent. I've come to realise that 100% self-sufficiency is hard-core living, and I'm not sure I'm capable of it. However, I think 70-80% food, water and energy self-generation is possible, and I'm determined to find out whether this will provide a post-industrial income. 

Maintaining this life (a 'lifestyle' is a mediated perversion of capitalism), using permaculture and referring to indigenous intelligence, may result in permapoesis – a term I've developed to define a practice of sustainable meaning-making – but I'm not sure, so the GOSD remains an experiment of life founded on giving time, rather than stealing it.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Young people and the Yam daisy

This morning Barry Golding, from the University of Ballarat, led a group of us on a walk from inside the crater at Lalgambook (Mt Franklin) to Larnebarramul (Franklinford). Barry is a font of anthropological, geographical and archeological information dating from the earliest volcanic activity 20 million years ago, to more recent history, specifically that of the Djadjawurrung.

The other half of the day I spent at the senior citizens rooms behind Daylesford Town Hall with another group of people. The issue of heritage was a major sticking point with us, some people thinking that social heritage begins with Cornish miners. We were attempting to agree on a way forward for the contentious community reserve which adjoins the equally contentious youth (skate) park. On my agenda was public food, and I was sucessful in having fruit and nut trees (20-30%) considered as a recommendation for the final planting scheme.

Among the day's highlights was learning about the murnyong (Yam daisy). The murnyong was a major staple tuber that the Djadjawurrung lived off for tens of thousands of years, and which still grows wild in the area and across central Victoria. Barry had collected seed earlier in the morning and gave some out. I'm looking forward to propagating our five seeds. Another highlight was working with others of wide-ranging opinions to develop a common objective, and potentially the beginnings of a food relocalisation mind-shift, that local council backs on behalf of the community.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Shredding, gleaning, piling and heaping

Currently I glean most of the material for my composts. Neighbours recently saved a trip to the tip because I pulled up with my wheelbarrow and asked to take the loads away. I often take my wheelbarrow for a walk scavenging for material. Peter O has been getting into the habit of dropping off shredded paper from school (if only I could get hold of the White House's pile right now). We collect horse poo from the nearby horse riding ranch and, as I've mentioned before, we weekly collect the food scrap bins from a nearby cafe. As we have now started to harvest food, we have increased our green waste which, in a closed-cycle ecology, is not really waste at all. 

As you can see in the below picture our soil is highly disturbed, largely compacted clay. Intensive mulching, to keep moisture in the soil (which attracts worms who break down the clay), together with intensive composting over the next several years should see a dramatic decrease in water usage.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Scarecrow Jim Crow

Yesterday I wrote about crows; about scaring them off and about the crow as a totem bird in local Djadjawurrung culture, which reminded me to read up on Jim Crow segregation laws
The Jim Crow laws were state and local laws in the United States enacted between 1876 and 1965. They mandated de jure segregation in all public facilities, with a "separate but equal" status for black Americans and members of other non-white racial groups. (source: Wikipedia)
Lalgambook, a mythical mountain in Djadjawurrung culture was referred to by the newly arrived whites as Jim Crow Hill and the local mob was often referred to as the "Jim Crow Blacks". Lalgambook was later named Mount Franklin after Sir John and Lady Franklin had visited the area. Beneath Lalgambook flows the Jim Crow Creek.
The origin of the phrase "Jim Crow" has often been attributed to "Jump Jim Crow", a song-and-dance caricature of African Americans, which first surfaced in 1832. (source: Wikipedia)
In 1838 the first recorded killings of Djadjawurrung men took place by whites looking to settle the land. By 1841 the Loddon Aboriginal Protectorate was established on land owned by the Gunangara ginditj clan of the Djadjawurrung although occupied by a guy called Mollison, one of the invading squatters. (Source: Barry Golding GDTA Mt Franklin Walk Tour Notes). The history of the Aboriginal stations at Franklinford, near Mt Franklin, spans 23 years.

The last of the Djadjawurrung, 4 adults and 6 children, were forcibly removed from their land in 1864 and taken to Coranderrk. All but one had died by 1876 the year the Jim Crow laws were enacted in America.

The gold fields of both countries have similar legacies – mistreatment of black and indigenous races for the sake of get-rich-quick schemes. There were numerous killings and massacres of central Victorian Aborigines between 1838-1847 (source: Ian D Clark, 2003). For the Djadjawurrung who were not murdered, land and resource dispossession lead to a convert-or-die or a convert-and-die fascism. It continues today. Mt Franklin is now Australia's largest bottled water brand owned by Coca-Cola Amatil. Read more on my Just Free Water site.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The crow and the chook

The eagle, the crow and the bat are the three totems that belong to the local mob – the Loddon tribe of the Djadjawurrung people, a clan of the Kulin nation – local, at least, to where I live.
Aborigines saw man as sharing a common life-principal with animals, birds and plants. They embraced all these in human social and religious life by establishing totemic relationships between them and people. (A P Elkin, 1967, from The Loddon Aborigines, Edgar Morrison, p.17., private press booklet, 1971, from articles published in the Daylesford Advocate newspaper 1963-1971).
The Loddon Aborigines, as anthropologists like David Graeber might suggest, had relations of 'common substance' with the land – a closed-cycle, single-broken-line homeostasis, where the body (as tribe) is contiguous with everything else. Here, the closed-cycle represents the tribal land, a clearly delineated food and water bowl where nothing is wasted, and the single-broken-line represents the necessity for other relations outside of this land.
Within these clearly defined boundaries their hunting rights were ordinarily respected by their neighbours with whom they normally enjoyed friendly relations and a measure of collaboration and inter-marriage. (The Loddon Aborigines, Edgar Morrison, p16., private press booklet, 1971, from articles published in the Daylesford Advocate newspaper 1963-1971).
This kind of collaboration can occur because the line is permanently broken. By contrast, the gated-existence model of industrial civilisation – the privatisation, capitalisation and transportation of resources – is represented as a solid double=white=line; a line of brutally imposed impermanent or throwaway culture.

Last night at a meeting at the Daylesford Town Hall, David Holmgren, co-originator of Permaculture, spoke with climatologist Rob Gell, in relation to the funding of a community-owned wind farm, Hepburn Wind. After their presentations, I asked them whether 6-7 years was a realistic timeframe to make the transition from industrial civilisation to a zero emission, water, energy and food relocalisation system, such as what we are attempting, with permaculture principals, in the Garden of Self Defence. Gell said effectively that yes, 5-10 years is the timeframe for radical change and that runaway climate change will result if we don’t all act significantly within this period. Holmgren went on to add that those who make the transition earlier, especially from oil dependancy, will find it easier than others to adapt because in a culture of high waste there is still so much to glean and reuse when only a few are doing it. When he opened his address, Gell said that he had just met with Penny Wong, Minister for Climate Change and Water, which confirmed for him that those who place their trust in governments (to make the necessary changes) delude themselves.

Government, effectively, is in a war of contradictions with itself. The war goes something like this: good intentions plus millions of dollars of consultancy fees equates to greenwash, while old world industries pressure bureaucrats to retain business as usual in terms of consumption and waste. Last night’s sentiment and permaculture’s general call to arms since the early 1970s suggests that governments are sluggish beasts who cannot act as quickly as we can at a local level.

If we require a system to replace neoliberal capitalism, and I believe we do, then it is indeed Permaculture. Cuba has demonstrated this, albeit an easier task within a socialist country where there is little unburnt fat to start with. Which brings me to an issue that has been bugging me for a number of months, playing out in our garden as I write. Permaculture of course includes chooks as central to any design. Our two chooks are called Dirt and Cuba. Chooks give manure, eggs and companionship while we provide food, protection and a warm bed of straw reciprocally. A family of crows have come to enjoy the pleasures of gleaning the chook food and competing with them for local resources. Our natural inclination has been to frighten them off and protect our chooks' feed. Sound familiar? 

When German missionaries came to Central Australia they seduced the local tribes into following the teachings of Jesus Christ by offering white man’s food – mainly grain for bread – and when the cattlemen drove their cattle through tribal lands, polluting the water holes, the tribesmen couldn’t believe how easy (stationary) these beasts were to kill for food. As a result many indigenous hunters were rounded up and murdered by both white stockmen and police protecting privatised food sources. Until that time aboriginal men and women had observed public food laws in terms of tribal hunting grounds. After occupation black trackers also assisted in the killings of black people, they had been converted to the state of uniforms, surplus food and waste.

In order to understand the possibilities for our own localised, closed-cycle, single-broken-line ecological existence, we have come to realise we have to remain open to and not bully-away these potent black birds, whose environment we occupy. Indeed everything of our previous existence must be challenged, especially our double=white=line – the supermarket and the transportation of resources, and the interrelationship with the global market, conversion monotheism, profit-growth capitalism, our militarised and specialised education system, to name but a few of the most destructive hegemonies.

An ecological intelligence or permapoesis depends upon our sensitivity to indigenous intelligence. When our economists are equally our ecologists and our systems and resources are again shared, we will have reclaimed some of the intelligence for a permanent culture that the local mob fully possessed.

The crow shares a common substance relation to the land. Are we capable of this too; severing our relation to (private) property and therefore wealth, veiled violence and avoidance?

Monday, December 1, 2008

On joking, avoidance and common substance

In David Graeber's book Possibilities: Essays on Hierarchy, Rebellion and Desire he redresses earlier anthropological social categories such as joking and avoidance relations.
The body in the domain of joking, one might say, is constituted mainly of substances – stuff flowing in or out. The same could hardly be true of the body in the domain of avoidance, which is set apart from the world... While joking bodies are necessarily apiece with the world (one is almost tempted to say "nature") and made up from the same sort of materials, the body in avoidance is constructed out of something completely different. It is constructed of property. p21.
Relations of 'common substance' are also recalled.
...where an entirely material idiom of bodily stuff and substances can be seen as the basis for bonds of caring and mutual responsibility between human beings. p23.
He goes on to talk about the possibility of sex between two people in terms of sharing food, not as one person consuming the other (as mentioned in an earlier post). Sharing, here, is experienced outside of an 'owning' relation (of avoidance). Graeber, like Hamish Morgan a few weeks ago in this garden, brings in Marcel Mauss.
Mauss has also argued that in giving a gift, one is giving a part of oneself. If a person is indeed made up of a collection of properties, this would certainly be true... Gift giving of the Maussian variety is never, to my knowledge, accompanied by the sort of behaviour typical of joking relations; but it often accompanies avoidance. p23.
A double white Australia line policy, an expression fixé I have used in poems and other forms of thinking since 2001, is used to describe how colonialism (relations of avoidance) pierces and separates, disenfranchises and prepares Aboriginal land and resources for private use and sale. A double white Australia line is a policy of all governments since occupation. 

Colonialism also brought Christmas to the continent, imposing a gift-economy – guilt – on the people who had practiced (for 40,000 years) an extremely intelligent and sustainable gift-ecology.

Another's Brilliance (1' concrete), Patrick Jones, Meanjin, Poetics, 2/2001