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Commonground Blog

Commonground is a not-for-profit social enterprise that has been supporting social justice, environmental, disadvantaged and community groups since 1984.

Commonground News for August


Hello extended Commonground community, 
We wanted to share with you some of the exciting things that are happening with Commonground’s social enterprises. It’s tempting to focus on the Commonground Festival as we get closer to November, but as you know we are active on lots of fronts.

This weekend just passed we had a full house of kindred spirits helping to keep our Venue and property beautiful. Thanks to everyone that came along! Without people like you we wouldn’t be able to continue to offer the Venue at subsidised rates to the social change movement. We had a great time working outside and sitting around the fire with you all as we talked and played music. The next Gathering will be held in early 2017 because of preparation for the Festival in November.
Groupwork Institute
The Groupwork Institute is the collaborative education and training arm of Commonground. We wanted to share the good news that their very popular Advanced Diploma of Group Facilitation is back in 2017, with places already filling fast. Groupwork also have a great line-up of short courses running this year that we’d encourage you to check out and share with colleagues. There will also be opportunities to get to know GIA’s work in lots of free workshops at the Commonground Festival.
Commonground Venue
There are often challenging times for social justice. So if we ever need a dose of hope, we come and look at our calendar of inspirational groups using Commonground’s Venue. This month we are looking forward to hosting groups such as:

  • The local Taungurung clan as they prepare for Tanderrum, the ceremony of the Kulin nations that opens the Melbourne Festival in October.
  • The Australian Progress Fellowship, which trains and empowers 21st century change agents: campaigners, non-profit managers, and community organisers, who build and serve social change movements. 
  • Accelerate, a leadership skills development programme helping provide Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders working within the creative industries with the skills and networks to generate, take up and excel in leadership positions.
  • The Community Organising Fellowship, an initiative that equips community leaders and NGO staff with the skills they need to build community power and capacity, and influence decision-makers.

Just one month in the Commonground Venue! We’re now booked out on weekends for the remainder of the year. But if you’d like to book in for your organisation or group for 2017 or for a week day event this year, get in touch soon with our Venue team.

Beat Magazine featured Commonground Festival in their news. Nice to see our little festival making waves.          

Beat Magazine featured Commonground Festival in their news. Nice to see our little festival making waves.




2016 Commonground Festival

This year’s Festival is promising to be the best yet, with bigger bands, more workshops and some other exciting announcements coming up over the next months. So if you love Commonground and want to connect to others who live with purpose, principle and passion over a fun weekend, we’d encourage you to buy your tickets soon so you don’t miss out!
The theme of this year’s Festival is ‘Connection’. We’d love it if you could help us spread the word and connect people in the social change movement to this regenerative, fun weekend. Full info, first round band and workshop announcements and photos from the last Festival are now up on our website to get you excited!

Team Commonground
PHONE:  (03) 5793 8257

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Reviews of the 2014 Commonground Festival.


What is extraordinary about the Commonground Festival in Seymour, near Melbourne, is not the beautiful red gum landscape; not the soul-scoring music; not the delicious home-grown, home-cooked food; not the inevitable problems with blocked toilets… All these are already festival favourites. What is extraordinary here is the intense feeling of connection; the strong sense of purpose; the deep, meaningful conversation; the sparkly, convivial atmosphere. It’s like a huge family party, without the starched formalities which often accompany such events.
Commonground Festival billed itself as ‘a music festival with a difference’, and it certainly lived up to this claim. After three glorious days of music, workshops, food and a lot (a hell of a lot!) of dancing, it is no surprise that the festival was a huge success and I’m already looking forward to the next one!
What I found was a caring community, committed to change. From workshops on emotional resilience, happy yoga, fresh produce, or music, every experience was carefully crafted to challenge and to celebrate.

A new governance structure for Commonground


In 2014, Commonground began a project to renovate its governance and operational structures. This process was driven by the need to open up the management of Commonground to the next generation, and to better reflect contemporary legal and social realities while also maintaining our ethos of collaborative decision making.

The first task was to convene new working groups, which work alongside the Commonground residents and Melbourne and Seymour management team to perform all the day to day operations of the organisation. The groups have responsibilities for managing and nurturing the community, the venue and property, and the outreach mission. We also formed the GIA Circle, which will help expand the impact of the Groupwork Institute. 

With hundreds of hours of work and discussion, and the support of several pro-bono lawyers, our new governance structure is now in place. Late last year, we achieved:

  •          the appointment of 16 new members to the incorporated association
  •          the adoption of a new Policy Manual and Rules of Association
  •          the appointment of the Commonground Council, our new Committee of Management

In the coming two years, the Commonground members and Council will develop a strategic plan to help guide us in collaboratively achieving our radical vision to build a just, nonviolent and sustainable world. If you would like to help us achieve our vision please be in contact. 

Aaron Hart

Commonground Councillor

Making Our Vision Happen


We bought a 95 acre bush property near Seymour in Victoria and began what has been and continues to be an amazing journey. At the time we had the blind optimism of youth and our passionate idealism.  We also only had 2/3 of the asking price for the property.

We believed that we could attract funding for the organisational work we intended to do with disadvantaged and community based groups. A specific not-for-profit entity was established to take on our custodianship of the land, and to be able to receive donations. Commonground is a charity with tax deductibility status. We spent a lot of time chasing the philanthropic dollar. It was made somewhat easier because the Brotherhood of St Laurence gave us substantial backing because of our work supporting groups experiencing or working to alleviate injustice. Because of their lead, others followed…

We attracted over $500, 000 up to the mid 1990s. We only accepted grants for capital works where there were no strings attached. We were keen to maintain our independence.

We worked extremely hard, raising funds constructing roads, dams and buildings and washing nappies!  Soon after buying the property another couple and their baby joined us.  We then had a three year old boy plus three baby girls almost the same age so there were lots of nappies!

[alt] There were great times when we worked brilliantly together, supported each other, had lots of fun and felt proud of our achievements.  Then there was times when it seemed a great struggle with too few of us doing too much. There were conflicts, power dynamics to deal with and struggles at times to keep our relationship collaborative.  But, we stuck with it practiced and continued to develop our interpersonal skills and the processes to deal with challenging conversations and conflict. We were motivated by the belief:

Together we can achieve more.

It is a high benefit, high demand way to live and work!

Commonground started at the radical end of the Intentional Community spectrum.  We had a commitment to one roof, one table and one purse. We lived together at the residential wing of the main Conference Center complex, called ‘The Wedge’. All adults have their own bedroom, so there is one space that is their own! Here we shared all meals together, co- parented and home educated our children for many years. We tried to live lightly on the land. By ‘one purse’ we mean that we had contributed our income according to our means, and drew our living expenses according to our needs. This worked very well, and was never a source of conflict. Later on, we relaxed this approach as people wanted more flexibility.

People often ask us about our spiritual base.  It is very simple and low key. Maybe it can best be described as an honouring our relationships with each other and the Earth. Our key celebrations are:

Summer Solstice - this is our alternative to Christmas. 

We celebrate the winter Solstice as well as part of our annual Tree Bee (working bee)

Easter – this is our biggest public celebration. On Good Friday we hold a ritual of solidarity with the oppressed people’s of the world. At Sunrise on Easter Sunday we hold a counterbalancing ritual of hope. For the rest of Easter, we enjoy to company of kindred spirits, and gather wood for the ensuing winter.

From a Circle of Stones to Commonground Dreaming


This is Glen Ochre's Chapter, entitled ‘From a Circle of Stones to Commonground Dreaming’ from Utopian Dreaming Book, edited by Bill Metcalf and published in 1995. 


Glen Ochre trained as a social worker, and in 1980 founded an urban commune which has become Commonground, near Seymour, Victoria. With only five full time members (plus several long term visitors) Commonground is the smallest, but also the most radical and dramatic group in this book. It is one of Australia’s few rural communes (rather than community). Glen has had a tough life, but she truly shines through here as a ‘wise elder’ of the alternative life style movement. Commonground has taken very seriously their goal of promoting dramatic social change in Australia – a quest which has at times cost them dearly.

*          *          *

This is my story, my perspective on the Commonground story. It is dedicated, however with deep love and respect to all who have dreamed Commonground into what it is now.

I had an extraordinary childhood which shaped me away from mainstream culture in so many ways. I was born in 1944, of working class, communist parents, in outback New South Wales. My father was an extremely violent man who abused me both sexually and physically. My mother was emotionally distant, and stuck in powerlessness. I lived every day in fear. The bush was my haven, my only safe place. I ran away to it at every opportunity. Perhaps it is a measure of my neglect, but often I was left to sleep out on the earth that I came to love so much. At seven, I built my first circle of stones beneath the special tree that talked to me. This was my safe, magic spot. Here I would lie for hours, listening to the Earth, or talking to my friend the tree, and the curious animals who came to be with me. Clearly, they were my sisters and brothers, and the Earth my mother. It was from Her alone that I received nurture.

Sometimes, as I lay under the tree in my circle of stones, I would gaze for hours at the clouds above, and drift into a trance-like state. I would have the sensation of being surrounded by a big circle of women, white shadowy figures, singing. In some unconscious way I picked up important life messages from these experiences. I felt myself to be part of some greater picture - some ancient story. I felt deeply cared for. I now believe it was a genetic memory with which I connected - some mysterious chain in the genes that links us back in time, a ‘memory’ that now usually remains untapped in our culture. I felt connected to the care and wisdom of my foremothers, from earlier, more tribal times. In my early adulthood (early I96Os), I was ridiculed when, foolishly, I shared parts of this story. I learned to keep my ‘strange’ spiritual connection to Mother Earth a secret.

I pondered the state of the world from my circle of stones, even as a child. It was obvious from my family experiences that the social order left much to be desired. Ironically, along with the tremendous personal cruelty dished out to me came a lot of political information about the world, and a strong social-justice message, especially from my mother.

So I dreamed of how the world could be, and continued to plug into my genetic memory of how it used to be thousands of years ago. This is the foundation of my ‘weirdness’. Despite everything, I am grateful that I was not filled with conventional social values, and that my particular brand of weirdness was able to flourish.

During a rare visit to the city at thirteen years of age, I was brutally raped by a gang of five men. I kept this a secret from my parents for fear of blame and further punishment. This was yet another early life-shaping event which I had to survive and integrate into my picture of the world.

I ran away from my family as soon as I could. At fifteen I arrived in Melbourne, not even knowing how to turn on an electric light! I was poorly educated because of my inability to concentrate on schooling while living under my father’s reign of terror. Ever practical at least, my mother had furnished me with a forged birth certificate which said I was seventeen. With this, I started my training as a nurse.

In many ways I felt like an observer of that fast, mainstream life. I never felt as if I fitted in. I became acutely aware of the social injustices my communist mother had spoken about, and in various ways I began to struggle against these. My life as a social activist had begun. Although the definitions and methods I now use have shifted considerably I still see myself first and foremost as a social activist.

In my seventeenth year, I went back for a harrowing six months of caring for my mother until her death. Two weeks later I married Bob, a gentle, caring man, as unlike my father as could be found. I remember Bob with great affection as a very significant person in my life. He gave me love and a safe place to grow. And grow I did! I grew out of that relationship after seven years of marriage, but remained great friends with Bob until his death some years late.

By the time I was 23, I had four children under the age of five, one of them, Cherie, with a severe disability. In many ways I did try to be a conventional wife and mother at that stage of my life. But even so, I can remember at dinner parties talking about the need to organise society differently; about people learning to live together in more sharing, cooperative arrangements to ensure our well-being and our sustainability of my beloved Mother Earth. Without the right words or concepts, notions of the need for some new tribal consciousness were bubbling away in my head. You can imagine how these ideas went over at your average dinner party of that time!

By 25, my two and a half year old daughter Jodie had died, my marriage had ended and I was a single parent of three young children, one of whom was seriously disabled. I faltered under the accumulated pain and spent several months in a psychiatric hospital. I came through all this with a stronger sense of wanting to live out the messages from my circle of stones, and my wise foremothers. So much had already happened to me in my short life. After Jodie’s death, I felt I had the choice of either going under or learning and growing from my experiences. I had defied much well-meant advice and overcome a lot of obstacles to keep Jodie at home to die. In 1965 this was not a medically or socially acceptable thing to do. I felt after her death that I had at least shared in her young life to the fullest. This, along with my life-sustaining spiritual connection with Mother Earth, helped me to recover and move on.

I became more consciously connected to the values of feminism (I had in fact always been a feminist without having a name for it), and increased my involvement in social activism. I moved loosely between leftist and feminist circles but still did not fitting in anywhere with my strange combination of political, personal and spiritual values, and being full of uncool passion about the state of the world.

Throughout the next decade, I lived as a single parent on a low income, firstly working as a nurse, and later in a welfare job at the Brotherhood of St Laurence, a large, progressive welfare agency. I worked with extremely poor people who were attempting to survive with some dignity under the pressures of poverty and all that goes with it. This advanced my structural/political analysis of our society and furthered my understanding of the personal costs many people endure.

My resolve to be part of building different social structures and lifestyle options strengthened. During this period I juggled my life in such a way that I managed to get a social work degree.

In late 1979, I tentatively started a communal house in Melbourne. Our aim was to experiment in sharing life together at a deeper level. Ever since my childhood, I had mused about how a culture could be created that reflected the deep sense of community which I had picked up from my strange journey. My childhood left me with a clear sense of belonging with the Earth and Her children. I felt passionately that if our planet was to survive, we must rediscover our spiritual connections to the Earth, and learn sustainable ways to live together. After some comings and goings this communal household settled into the nucleus of the current Commonground. We engaged in much late-night raving about the meaning of life, and how best to contribute to the building of a better world, and still keep ourselves sane.

By 1982 we were five adults, including Phil, Kate, Terry, my new friend and lover Ed, plus our baby son, Dan. Dan was our first Commonground child, born amongst us on the lounge-room floor in late 1981. Our talks continued and we clarified our shared vision. They were exciting and hectic times! We were all working in the welfare/community development field, and were dissatisfied with this approach to social change and with the associated stress on our personal lives. We asked what might be our best contribution to the creation of a more just, non-patriarchal, sustainable world?

By patriarchy I refer to the basic structure of our society - the top down, ‘power over’ model. Primarily this is a male-designed and male-dominated model. Many women do behave in patriarchal ways of course, and conversely there is an increasing number of men who wish to live their lives in non-patriarchal ways. We must recognise, however, that generally men do have more power than women and children, and in order to maintain this violent system of ‘power over’, do much damage to women, children and the Earth. It is not an individual man-blaming concept, nor is it implied that in a non-patriarchal world we would wish for women to have power over men.

By 1984 I had finally left the conventional workforce, and given birth to Ruby, my second child with Ed. Kate and Phil’s first child, Emily, had also been born. Just to make life more exciting, we solidified our plans to move out of the city and to create Commonground as a resource for community based groups working for social change. Ed and I had been on a tour of intentional communities from which we brought back a list of dos and don’ts. We were clear about our desire to create a commune with a strong social-change focus reaching beyond ourselves.

For a long time I had serious misgivings about our move to the country. I did not want to ‘drop out’ of society so that we could just ‘do our own thing’ on our hippie commune. I feel that we are all responsible for this planet and the global social order. It is essential that I never stop making my best contribution to creating a just, non-patriarchal, sustainable world.

We spent considerable time clarifying our philosophy principles and direction, choosing the appropriate legal entity and writing our manifesto - all amidst hectic times with young children. We named feminism, anarchy, nonviolence and environmental sustainability as our major philosophical underpinnings. By anarchy we do not mean social disorder and chaos, as some envisage by the word. We mean self-responsibility and self-management. Anarchy means social order and government generated from the bottom up, not the top down. It is a ‘power with’, cooperative model of social organisation rather than a ‘power over’ system.

Our common work focus came from asking ourselves what our best collective contribution to this type of social change might be, given our particular skills and interests. The social change we wanted would best be achieved by citizen-based empowerment - by social action and changes in people’s hearts and minds. There were many groups involved in this type of work. All of us at Commonground had some experience in them. By this time, I had considerable group work experience and was being asked for support or advice on organisational issues ranging from getting groups started to sorting out difficulties. Gradually I became more involved in this type of work with groups, and so did others at Commonground. Thus, the foundation for the work Commonground now does with community-based groups was established.

From our combined experience we could see that many groups oriented towards social change had great visions, but often floundered or fell apart. Difficulties may have been caused by problems in their group dynamics, lost direction, or lack of appropriate structures and processes to achieve their aims. We were learning from our own experience that it is not easy to develop new ways of working together cooperatively.  It was decided to provide a resource base in the country for social-change groups. We would provide space for groups to take time out, to reflect on how they were going. Commonground would run workshops and provide other opportunities for people to develop the organisational and group skills that would help them stay together, and work best at their social-change endeavours. This has been quite successful and is still the focus of our work and income generation.

September 1984 saw Commonground Co-operative (a community settlement cooperative) formed, and the 55-hectare Seymour land purchased from all the combined money we could rustle up. Seymour is a rural town with a population of 12,000 about 100 kilometres north of Melbourne. Commonground is tucked away in a pocket of bush twelve kilometres from Seymour. We wanted to be close enough to Melbourne by road or rail for easy interaction with community groups from the city.

Our land is owned collectively and our cooperative is not-for-profit. We see ourselves as caretakers of this place, not private owners, and hope it remains a resource for the social-change movement long after we founders are gone. We have deliberately made it very unattractive for us to sell, and we cannot gain personally from any such sale.

We found a house to rent near the land, and began the hard slog of building, beginning our outreach work and looking after our gaggle of small children. Sue, Paul and their baby daughter Alexis joined us, and so there were eleven of us squashed into the rented house, with its one toilet and bathroom!

For me, a sense of tribalism was present then. We often talked about this concept, what it could mean for us and how we might achieve it. There was a strong sense of loyalty and belonging. But, of course, with this closeness came the reactivation of old family issues and the associated patterns of feeling and being. From my personal experience, and from my consultancy work with large numbers of groups, I would say the parent/child dynamic is likely to emerge within groups who work or live closely. Unfortunately, most of us have unresolved issues left over from early relationships with our parents. These may remain at the subconscious level and so, at that level, we seek, through our current relationships, to relive, correct, and thus resolve these deep issues from our childhood. To this end, we find people in our lives who at least subconsciously remind us of our parents. We then project our old issues onto this person, and may often be in the less powerful state of ‘child’ in this relationship. On the other hand, some of us will bury our painful childhood experiences by being super adult! This can lead us to play the ‘parent’ to someone else’s ‘child’. Some people play different roles in different relationships.

Commonground was not exempt from this dynamic. There are no prizes for guessing who was ‘mum’!

These were such heady days, despite the hectic pace and inherent stress. My dreams were coming true at last. We were idealistic, optimistic, and full of energy. All of us were committed to the more obvious collective processes, such as consensus decision making, sometimes doing this to death in fact. However, in our naivety and excitement, we did brush over or ignore a lot of the subtleties of our growing group dynamics.

Collectivism and consensus are notions I hold dear at a philosophical and practical level, but they are much easier believed in than understood or put into practice. At Commonground we started, like most groups, with only a naive understanding of these concepts. Consensus is a very complex and sophisticated form of decision making. It is not simply a group of nice people sitting in a circle and magically coming to unanimous agreement. Consensus challenges us to give and take, to speak honestly and assertively of our views and feelings, to let go of some things, and keep negotiating on only those issues that are really important - and to develop the wisdom and generosity to know the difference! All this can be learned, I believe, and I now spend time helping other groups to develop these skills. To work collectively requires us to face issues of personal needs, power, conflict and leadership with honesty and courage. Easier said than done!

Because a great deal of the impetus, vision, and philosophy for Commonground came from me, I had a strong leadership role. I had been thinking and dreaming about this stuff for years. I was also the oldest person and a ‘strong woman’. We were then working within a somewhat naive and idealistic collective framework. A philosophy where all were supposed to be equal, and where there were no leaders.

Thus we were not able to talk about or deal with issues of power and leadership, or confront our conflicts. Like many groups, we brushed them under the carpet! I was unprepared to acknowledge my leadership role because of my collective ideology and my unconscious fears that my dreams might crumble before they were even off the ground. Therefore, I often used my leadership power in an unconscious, roundabout way, not wanting to be up-front or push too hard in an obvious way, but pushing nevertheless. I took a lot of responsibility and sometimes found myself in lonely places. Ah, the wisdom of hindsight is a wonderful thing!

I have found the issue of leadership a difficult and personally painful one to come to terms with. It becomes clearer to me as I fast approach my ‘third age’ and ‘elder’ status. On the one hand, I have been deeply steeped in the philosophy of equality, and have a passionate commitment to non-hierarchical organisational structures, and of not following gurus. On the other hand, I now know so much more about the realities and insidious workings of power within groups.

In the social activist movements of the seventies and eighties, I think we threw the baby out with the bath water in our attempts at flat organisations. Leadership was confused with old-style leaders; tall poppies were slashed to the ground. ‘Elders’ was a word that just would not have been used. We lost access to a lot of valuable wisdom by not acknowledging the experience of long-term activists. Everybody was equal, no matter how long they had been in the movement, or their level of experience. This social change culture, plus my early confidence-crushing life experiences, left me ill-equipped to honestly and wisely embrace a leadership role at Commonground.

I think this aspect of culture is altering in the social-change movement, as it has at Commonground. We now talk about ‘leadership’ and ‘leaders’. Ironically, I sometimes find myself now referred to as an elder, and as such my wisdom is sought. I am slowly and somewhat awkwardly taking on this mantle. I know we need to value and use the wisdom and experience we have built up over time. I believe that we can have people with leadership roles without them becoming gurus, or leaders in the ‘power over’, dominating sense - an easier path to theorise about than to follow! As I move into my sixth decade, I want to be more courageous in taking a leadership role which is clear and directed at the empowerment and support of others in the social change movement, so that their contribution can be maximised.

I provided the major impetus for developing Commonground’s work. In many ways it would have been better if our work had been something we were equally skilled at to begin with. In the early years, I handled my leadership role in this work arena poorly and unclearly. We were not able to address the underlying issues of unequal power in our supposedly equal collective. I am pleased to say that in later years, as we tackled more of our group dynamics, I feel we developed a clearer apprenticeship model, which utilised my experience and built on other people’s skills.

I now work with community groups, supporting them with their collective processes. This includes a lot of conflict resolution with groups in crisis and dealing with despair, a big issue in social-change groups. I have a special interest in women and their personal and spiritual empowerment, and am committed to making all that I do accessible to working-class or disadvantaged people.

I have a very clear ‘big picture’ view of global structural/political and economic injustice. Because of my own experiences, and the work I do with other women, I have a deep understanding of how our patriarchal social structures affect particularly the lives of women. I proudly call myself a feminist, but I have my own brand of that tool I acknowledge that men are also repressed by patriarchal cultural messages (although not to the same extent as women), and do not blame men personally for all the atrocities other men have committed against women. I enjoy living and working alongside good men who acknowledge patriarchal structures, and are striving to help build a nonpatriarchal world. I have a special interest in seeking the goodness in all people, finding the common ground, and in building bridges between us.

My early social activism focused around protesting against things that were wrong with society. I am now in a stage of my life where I want to be involved in creation, not reaction. For a long time I have chosen to focus on helping to build a culture and social structures that reflect my vision for the world - nonpatriarchal, nonviolent and sustainable.

Balanced with my political analysis and my understanding of the effect on people’s lives is my connection with Mother Earth. I do see myself as Her daughter, and as such, am at Her service. I still feel nurtured, as I listen to Her guidance, from under my favourite, wise old tree here at Commonground. For me, it has long been crucial to have this conscious integration of the personal, political and the spiritual. This is what sustains me. I think we all need to believe in life- nurturing ways, and be able to give our best in order to breathe life into those ways. In my earlier life as a social activist, this combination meant that I was seen as ‘weird’, within whatever circle I moved. I still feel this three-way integration of the personal, political and spiritual is lacking in much social activism today. There are still hard-line political groups who shun the personal and spiritual, and we now have the frightening proliferation of a ‘new age’ movement which focuses on the spiritual and personal without proper regard for either the broader structural and political picture, or our responsibility for it.

‘ldealistic’ is a word I have always had associated with my name, accompanied by messages ranging from admiration to contempt. Commonground became known as an idealistic commune - and idealistic we have been, sometimes wisely, and sometimes naively. Our intention has been to develop structures and processes that facilitate the building of a different social order - a social experiment that will be of support and inspiration to others. We are all socialised with patriarchal, individualistic and competitive messages. lf we want to change these messages, we are going to have to work harder. It is not enough to be aware of what we don’t want. We have to create new ways of being together, new processes, new ‘rules’, new models of what we do want. We have to create a new culture.

Early in the development of Commonground we decided on a policy of ‘one roof, one table, and one purse’ in order to facilitate the building of these new ways and to help us create the sense of community we wanted. We wanted to deliberately offset the power of the nuclear family - the cult of the individual, and entrenched gender behaviour. At Commonground each adult has her/his own room. There are no family quarters or couples rooms (when couples sleep together is their own business of course!) We share cooking on a roster basis, and sit down together to eat our evening meal. From early days, all money was contributed to the common purse, and we each took from it according to our need and how full the purse was. I am amazed that we have never argued about money issues.

Even more challenging was our commitment to shared child-raising, We were not wanting to eradicate or deny the primary parent/child relationships, but to offset the private ‘ownership’ and responsibility for children inherent in the nuclear family. For me, this has been both difficult and joyful. Difficult because we were breaking such new ground and challenging deeply ingrained patterns of behaviour towards children. Joyful because I know we all love and enjoy our non-biological children.

Our ‘radical’ ideology became strongly embedded in Commonground’s culture. ln some ways, we lived up to it courageously and admirably. In other ways, it became a stick with which we beat ourselves. But we were not aware of all this earlier, and so on we went!

Because of my greater experience in our income-generating work, I quickly became the major breadwinner. This was acceptable to us within our ‘one purse’ policy. It was a practical use of my skills, and left others free to use their skills working on our building and other essential establishment work. Everyone at Cornmonground works hard, so there was never any sense of unfairness from that point of view. But I believe that being the main income earner did play into our parent/child dynamics. In theory all work was regarded as equal, and we tried to live up to that in our interactions with one another. The internalised messages of our culture, however, tell us that some work is more important. There are many exciting projects around Commonground in which people could get involved and have a high degree of responsibility and autonomy. But the work with groups is Commonground’s outreach focus. It takes a reasonably high level of self-esteem to accept at a feeling level that the garden, for example, is just as important as running workshops, despite all the theory that says it is. This must be especially so if ‘mother’ is the main workshop person! This issue will be of importance to any community considering joint income generation. At Commonground, we are still working on it.

A few years ago, we began the challenging and painful process of looking at our enmeshment, and the parent/child dynamics in our midst. In part, these issues seem to be an almost inevitable result of our close living and working relationships, and our high level of interdependence. All of us have played into dynamics that we now believe are dysfunctional, and which have caused us much individual pain. I feel so proud of how we tackled the pain of disentangling ourselves. I see it as one of our greatest strengths - that we will look at difficult issues, face conflicts, and make changes.

As a result of this process, we decided to change our financial and time commitments to allow more individual freedom. We are committed now to a baseline of 26 hours per week on Commonground priorities.  This gives people more time to pursue personal interests inside or outside Commonground. Our new financial arrangement requires people to contribute an individually negotiated amount of money per week. These figures are worked out by the collective, according to peoples capacity to generate income, and the needs of the purse. Each adult receives an allowance of $40 per week. People now have the entitlement to generate extra personal income in their own time, and have greater control of their money. In addition, we loosened some formal and informal mechanisms for maintaining our collective ways.

There was a period of grief for me after we made these changes, even if they only represented a winding back of our collective commitment, not a radical departure from it. Yet at the time it did seem a departure from our ideals, especially our one purse. I feared that we would lose our radicalness, and become just another commune that had caved into the nuclear family and the cult of the individual. Yet we knew we had to move from our prescribed collectivism. We hoped that the spirit of collectivism, our tribal consciousness, would remain intact, as we took this risky move into the unknown.

We had an evaluation of these changes recently and I heard people say ‘this is the happiest I have ever been at Commonground’.  We have maintained the spirit, the essence of our collectivist ideals, while taking the risk to allow ourselves more individual freedom. We are truly growing up.

Commonground began with five adults over a decade ago. During this time Terry has left, Paul and Sue came for seven years and have also left, and Gavan joined us four years ago, so again we are five adults. I have sometimes felt panic-stricken about size, fearing that we will just get smaller until we are no longer a viable commune. Mostly, I am more optimistic and feel that, although we are small, we are strong and will grow.

It has been hard to attract people to share our life at Commonground. For some people the challenge is just too scary. For others, it feels like a serious loss of individual freedom - although I don’t see people in conventional work or lifestyles as having nearly as much freedom as we have. I believe that times and the Australian culture will change, and the need for places like Commonground will become clearer. I have a vision that Commonground will grow, but will always be a relatively small commune.

Even though we are a small tribe, there is so much happening - visitors coming and going, people being supported and inspired, and helping out in many different ways to put the Commonground show on the road. When visitors go, they take the spirit of Commonground with them in some form or another. They spread the seeds of hope for finding ways of living and working that are cooperative and caring of people and the Earth. I trust that we will grow stronger in this seed-sowing role.

Writing this causes me to reflect on my dreams and visions, and a gentle warm glow settles in my centre. Sure, there aren’t many of us and there have been some painful and difficult times, but there is a strong sense of tribal consciousness here for me. We do belong together in some very deep way. We have shared so much. I know that if any of us became ill or disabled, we would care for them without question. We are generous in terms of each other’s needs, be they financial, emotional, or time-related.

Six months ago our youngest child, Jimmy Jack, was born to Kate and Phil. That was a beautiful and consolidating time. There we all were, crammed into Kate’s bedroom to welcome our newest member; the children hanging enthralled at the end of the bed. Every face was filled with love and wonder. I was privileged to be the midwife, and as Jimmy Jack slipped into my hands l felt that this was indeed a magic moment for Commonground.

Every Monday, we have what we, tongue-in-cheek, refer to as our ‘Revolutionary Planning Meeting (RPM)’. We start by sharing any personal issues, and then allocate our weekly duties ranging from running workshops to collecting firewood, preparing meals and putting the children to bed. We have lots of fun and celebrations together. Every Monday evening all adults, children and visitors play community games. At various times throughout the year, we have rituals to celebrate our relationship to Mother Earth and to the peoples of the planet who work to be free from oppression.

As the social change movement grows in its acceptance of the role of elders, I am increasingly challenged to use my experience to support and teach others. Nevertheless, I still find this a difficult role. I have always worked extremely hard, always been a doer - not a writer or teacher. At some deep level I still feel like a weird, working-class shit kicker from the bush. There is a beautiful, old, wise redbox tree just outside my room. At my ever-increasing strong moments, I picture myself there in my old age - sitting under the tree talking with younger people who are carrying on with work I used to do - sharing my experience, being an elder.

I see myself forever in the service of Mother Earth. I have various mechanisms for plugging into Her messages for me, and am still guided by these, just as I was in childhood. I can’t explain at a rational level what happened back then in my circle of stones, under the protection of women from another time. But I know so deeply that Mother Earth saved me and sustained me. I feel like a chosen daughter, called upon to work on Her behalf. 

Many people will think that this is quite mad, and brush me off as a crackpot, or worse still, as a ‘new age hippie away with the fairies’. The thought horrifies me. There is still no camp in the social-change movement in which I can comfortably pitch my tent. I feel that my spiritual groundedness in Mother Earth is well balanced by my 'big picture' understanding of how the world is politically economically and socially structured. From my own experience, and from years of work at a deep level with others, I have a good understanding of the psychological and spiritual wounds we sustain in this society.

I believe that the wounds of the individual and the world have to be healed within a total context of action, at the structural, personal and the spiritual levels. We can’t heal the wounds of childhood sexual abuse just with crystals and essential oils, nor Third World poverty with prayer.

I talk to a lot of people who are searching for a meaningful direction, lifestyle, work focus, and spirituality. They lack a sense of belonging and settledness. For me, it has not been an easy journey, but I feel good about so much of my life now. I have a sense of direction, spirituality and belonging.

I never question where I will go next, or where I will end up. I don’t dream of any other way of living, or working. As I snuggle down in my special room, ‘my cubby’ as I call it, with its curved mud-brick walls, I think contentedly, ‘I’ll leave here when they carry me out for my last journey up the hill’. I’m not going anywhere! I am working now to get permission for a burial site on Commonground. I abhor the state taking over our intimate rites of passage into and out of this world. I want to be gently placed in a box which is hand-made here, and carried up the hill by the loving hands of my Commonground sisters and brothers. As long as it does not come too early death holds no fear for me. At the right time, and in the right place, I am happy to return to the arms of Mother Earth who has nurtured me all this time, happy to be turned softly into useful compost for my beloved Commonground.