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November 22, 2017



SPOTLIGHT ON...

...BEYOND THE THERAPEUTIC COMMUNITY"


'Healing Sunday and Nurturing Community Action for Global Wellbeing'


I am Craig Fees for Radio TC International and this is another program in a series about the lifework of Dr Neville Yeomans, the founder of Therapeutic Community in Australia in the 1950's. This program has been prepared from a paper by Dr Les Spencer, a behavioural scientist and clinical sociologist in Melbourne, Australia. Les' PhD was on Dr Yeomans' life work

The paper is called:

Healing Sunday and Nurturing Community Action for Global Wellbeing


In this program Les Spencer explores the implications of Healing Sunday, a monthly healing sharing day held in Bondi Junction, Sydney that was discussed in the previous program in this series. That program may be found by following the links.

From 1985 when Les and Neville first met, through to 1999 Neville engaged Les in action research in over 90 contexts, many with Neville jointly involved. Even while all of this joint activity between Neville and Les was going on, Neville was linking with and working on all manner of activities and projects with other people both inside and outside Australia. Generally, Neville did not tell Les anything about this other action. As said in the previous program, Neville operated on a 'need to know basis'. If Les did not need to know, he was not told.

Neville had an understanding with Les that Les would not tell or send Neville anything without first checking with Neville whether he wanted to hear or receive it. Neville liked to have his home and brain uncluttered.

Regularly Neville would donate his library of books, academic journals and magazines that he had acquired to the nearest library. Neville travelled light. When he moved to a new house he wanted to take himself, his three address books and a couple of changes of clothing, and that was all.

None of the people involved in forming and evolving Healing Sunday and the associated wellbeing network (including Les Spencer) had any idea at the time that Healing Sunday was integrally linked to action unfolding across the Australia top end and the East Asia Oceania Region.

This next segment introduces this wider action.

Healing Sunday's possible role in this wider action is then introduced.

None of the people linked to Healing Sunday knew that Neville had written about what had been happened in the Healing Sunday gatherings seven years previously in a seminal paper called 'On Global Reform – Intercultural Normative Model Areas'.

Neville told Les about the existence of this 'On Global Reform' paper in January 1994. Les had no idea at the time what this paper was about except from the sense implied in the title. Neville declined to give details.

In 1994, Neville said he had no idea where any copies of that paper could be found. During 1998 and 1999 Neville again told Les that still did not know where a copy of that paper could be found.

Les finally found a copy of this On Global Reform paper in July 2000, two months after Neville's death; the copy was amongst some of Neville's papers held by an Aboriginal woman in the Atherton Tablelands. Without sustained networking Les would not have found it. This woman let Les have a copy after obtaining clearance from the local Aboriginal elders to do so.

In Neville's 'On Global Reform' paper he wrote about processes that could unfold over the next 250 to 300 years that may lead to a more caring and humane world. Neville was writing about, and engaged in actions relating to societal transition with the potential for transforming the social life world all round the globe - what Neville termed 'epochal shift'.

In that 'On Global Reform' paper Neville had envisaged three transitional phases each with different processes. He called these three transitional phases T1, T2, and T3: Tl related to Consciousness-raising in National Arenas T2 related to Mobilization in Transnational Arenas T3 related to Transformation in Global Arenas

Neville had been energising T1 Consciousness-raising in National Arenas by networking among the Aboriginal and Islander nurturer women in the Australia Top End commencing in 1971.

Seventeen years before Healing Sunday (in 1971) Neville had written a brief document called:

'Mental Health and Social Change'

An interesting pairing of concepts:

'Mental Health'

         and

'Social Change'

This paper was continuing Neville's action research linking 'Therapeutic Community with nurturing community action for global wellbeing

That document was a precursor to the 'On Global Reform' document written ten years later.

That 1971 Mental Health and Social Change document specified five reasons why the Australian Top End was the best place in the World to begin exploring global transition models amongst the people on the margins of dominant society.

  1. It was far away from centres of power in Europe, UK and North America
  2. It was far away from Australian power centres
  3. Australia at the time was not sensed as a threat to anyone
  4. It was where there were populations of indigenous Australians – creating possibilities of engaging with the most marginalized in exploring new social forms, and
  5. It was Western, though just under Asia where more than half (by number and by peoples) of the world's indigenous people live – providing ready access to more marginalized people as social catalysts

Neville Yeomans had expressly formed the therapeutic community Fraser House in 1959 to explore epochal shift with the most marginalized in Sydney society – those in the back wards of mental hospitals and those in prison to whom the authorities would not give a day of parole. The staff, patients and outpatients involved at the time did not know this, except Neville's personal assistant, psychologist anthropologist Margaret Cockett.

Just as Neville invited the most marginalised people into Fraser House, Neville chose the most marginalised people in the Australia Top End to work with – the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Neville sensed the most marginalised in the current system are the best people to explore new societies.

Neville wrote in his 'On Global Reform' paper that healing networking in the far North (and I quote)

…would be accompanied by widespread T1 activities in an 'Intercultural Normative Model Area' (or INMA) around the Atherton Tablelands and Darwin in the Australia Top End, conducted largely by those trained by previous groups. Aborigines from all over Australia and overseas visitors would be involved. (End of Quote)

The 'previous groups' that Neville referred to began in Armidale in North East New South Wales in 1971. Yeomans led that gathering. It was at Neville's suggestion called 'Surviving Well in a Dominant World'. Aboriginal and Islander people from around Australia attended including a young Eddy Mabo who became very significant in getting the Australian Federal Government to pass laws giving Aboriginals and Island land rights.

That gathering was repeated in 1972 in Armidale and again in 1973 in Grafton, a little further north. These gatherings were followed by gatherings in Alice Springs and Katherine in the Northern Territory.

Those gatherings were led by Neville and the Aboriginal person fluent in Chinese and Japanese mentioned in the last program. From these gatherings networking has been spreading informally through indigenous healer networks in the Australia Top End.

At Neville's suggestion, Les sent out a brief letter in mid 1993 about the possibility of a Small Island Coastal and Estuarine Peoples Gathering Celebration happening in June 1994. Neville spoke of it been both a gathering and a celebration. During this program we will refer to this gathering in the short form as the 'Small Island Gathering'.

The letter indicated that this gathering celebration may possibly be hosted by local Aboriginal and Islander women from around Atherton, and may have a community wellbeing theme based open agenda, with one potential theme being 'Creating Alternatives to Criminal and Psychiatric Incarceration'.

This is the same tentative language that Neville had Les use in spreading the word of a possible Healing Sunday.

This letter was sent by Les to many global governance organisations and other international bodies. Just like Healing Sunday, this Small Island Gathering was a potently articulated virtual reality.

Neville named the gathering in positioning it as a Follow-on Gathering to the Indigenous Section of the United Nations Small Island Development Conference in the Caribbean in June 1994.

In November 1963, the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva sent a letter saying that they had received our letter and that they were funding the Small Island Gathering Celebration. There was no request for submissions. It was already approved. All the Human Rights Commission were asking for were details of where they were to send $13,000 Australian and for the hosts to send a report of what happens and some photographs.

The Gathering did take place in the Atherton Tablelands in June 1994. Around 500 people attended and a report and photos were sent to the UN Human Rights Commission. Aboriginal and Islander women and others, many from very remote parts of Australia, attended this gathering. Torres Strait Islander women also came from remote islands in the Strait between Australia and Papua New Guinea. People from small minority groups and others also attended along with Eddy Mabo's son. Eddy was mentioned in the previous radio program. Sharing healing and nurturing ways at this gathering helped form links between the attendees and linked them into wider networks nurturing community action for global wellbeing through the East Asia Oceania Australasia Region

Les met a person in Canberra in July 1964 who was on the team that granted the funding in Geneva. That person said that the grant was made because of firstly the hosts been Aboriginals and Islanders, secondly the main invitee group was remote area aboriginal women, thirdly, that the gathering process was following indigenous way, and fourthly because of the themes being explored.

At Neville's suggestion, and energised by Les Spencer, Down to Earth (or DTE) (the cooperative that runs the ConFest Festival) funded three people skilled in festival site selection and setup to fly around 3,000 kilometres from Melbourne to Cairns in December 1963 and then travel up to Neville's place in the Atherton Tablelands, a two hour trip.

Neville and others had started ConFest in 1976 as a Campout Conference Festival exploring global wellbeing futures. The 2006/07 New Years ConFest Gathering, still run by DTE, will be celebrating the 30^th^ anniversary of the festival. Radio programs about ConFest may be found on the News Section of Radio TC International.

The aim of this trip by the three DTE people was to link these three people, accompanied by Les and Neville, with a number of Aboriginal communities in the Atherton Tablelands.

Discussions were held with a number of communities and 14 sites were explored. A site for the Small Island Gathering was chosen by the host group; it was beside rainforest on a little peninsular on Lake Tinaroo near Atherton.

While these DTE people were staying with Neville in his house at Yungaburra, Neville set up fourteen different events and happenings to link them into a matrix of local action. One of these was a New Years Eve party attended by 75 Aboriginal and Islanders and 75 other people. Half were male and half were female. Half were adults and half were children. Just like his pattern in Fraser House, Neville worked to evolve balanced communities.

Typically, houses in the Yungaburra area are built above ground on poles to keep the houses cool. Most of the children of Yungaburra became involved in preparing for this party creating fantastic atmospherics underneath the house and having exclusive use of the area from dusk till around 9:30PM. The children dug a tunnel under the front veranda and placed fluorescent paintings along the sides of the tunnel and fluorescent tubes overhead. Fluorescent white sand was spread on the ground under the house so that the floor glowed brilliant white in the night time. The children came upstairs at 9:30PM and escorted the adults down through the tunnel to the lower area.

Another event was a dance party in beautiful rainforest with the forest floodlit at night. Yet another event was a small campout weekend beside a stream in the rainforest. A busload of Aboriginal men who had overnighted in a hostel for inebriated street people attended and were considerable transformed by the experience.

At Neville's suggestion, and again energised by Les Spencer, DTE also funded an Aboriginal women and an Islander women to go down to the Easter ConFest four months prior to the Small Island Gathering to experience how ConFest emerges through volunteer energy. These two women were considering forming the hosting groups for festivals.

At Neville's suggestion and again energised by Les Spencer, DTE provided seed money to get the Small Island Gathering at Lake Tinaroo started when the overseas funding from Geneva was late in arriving.

With encouragement from Les Spencer, following a suggestion by Neville, a busload of regular attendees of the ConFest Festival travelled three thousand kilometres from Melbourne to attend the Small Island Gathering.

As well, another 90 ConFest attendees living around Nimbin in Northern New South Wales also attended the Small Island Gathering.

These 90 were all experienced in circus artistry – juggling, fire stick twirling, drama, drumming, accapella singing and the like.

At Neville's suggestion Les had lived around Nimbin for six weeks just prior to the Small Island Gathering to raise interest among these artistic people in attending the Small Island Gathering.

When Les failed to get funding for a 60-seater bus for these Nimbin people, 90 marginal people made their own way north from Nimbin without telling Les; they wanted to surprise him. Some did car-pooling. Others borrowed cars and some hitched a ride.

Not knowing where the Small Island Gathering was being held, the 90 put on a fire twirling and circus performance along 200 metres of the Cairns foreshore for a few nights and Les found them. Now they could continue on up to the Festival.

The Aboriginal women from remote places loved these circus people, especially the women fire twirlers.

Nimbin, the area where these artistic people had come from was where the large Aquarius Festival was held in 1972. Around 15,000 people attended that Festival. Neville played a large part in getting the Aquarius Festival started as well.

The 1994 Small Island Festival has links to a whole string of prior festivals that Neville energised dating back to the Watsons Bay Festival in 1968. There were three more festivals after Watsons Bay that Neville energised with other people.

The Paddington Festival in 1968 launched Paddington Market, a Saturday Village Market that surrounded Neville's first Community Mental Health Centre. Paddington Market survives to this day as a Sydney icon.

The energy setting up the Watson Bay Festival and Paddington Festival also set up the Centennial Park Festival in 1969. That festival filled 650 acres of City parkland with around 15,000 people attending. The next festival was the Cambelltown Festival in the early 70s attended by half the cast and crew of the musical Hair.

The Cambelltown Festival initiated the Aquarius Festival attend by 15,000 and that festival in turn energised ConFest that in turn supported the Small Island Gathering. Associated with all of these festivals were hundreds of other associated activities that were linked into the matrix

The Aboriginal woman that was funded to go south and attend the 1994 Easter ConFest energised local Atherton Aboriginal and Islander people to be the host group for the Small Island Gathering.

The Islander woman who also went down to the Easter ConFest energised 'The Spirit of the Oceans' Wellbeing Gathering in Townsville in 1994. Many young South Sea Island women studying at James Cook University in Townsville attended that festival.

Energising groups of people to preparing all these festivals was a major way Neville strengthened social networking. The festivals themselves created opportunities for small networks to evolve through linking with other small networks. Long thin dispersed networks would have scope to become more integrated, with people knowing and connecting regularly with more people in the network.

Back to the 'On Global Reform' paper – Neville's had written and I quote:

Over a number of years the Indigenous population of the Intercultural Normative Model Area would be increasingly involved, both black and white. (End of quote)

Neville continued evolving networking among indigenous healers till his death in 2000.

Through the UN Indigenous Working Group in Geneva and the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (or UNPO) in The Hague many of the Indigenous people linked to Neville have been networking with others through the East Asia Oceania Australasia Region. Neville linked Les to an Aboriginal woman called Helen Corbett in Melbourne. Helen went on to be the General Secretary of UNPO.

It is understood that this informal network of networks now links into more than half of the indigenous peoples of the Region.

It is also understood that these networks are networking with other Indigenous groups around the world carrying out what is arguably the most advanced dialogue currently happening around the World on the theme of Global Futures - and significantly, these dialogues are typically going on in languages other than English.

Every aspect of Neville's action was adding to a connected matrix. Everything Neville did was related to and supporting everything else he did. Many stories could be told relating things that Neville was involved in that have links to Healing Sunday.

Now to the significance of the Healing Sundays – these were held on the first Sunday of the month for 18 months in the late 1980s.

Through attending and linking with each other, attendees evolved a dispersed wellbeing network of around 180 people.

Neville had written in his 'On Global Reform' paper in 1981 about consciousness raising happening among people interested in wellbeing in the Australia Top End.

In his 'On Global Reform' paper Neville specifically refers to a period of consciousness raising among people living further South in Australia. This consciousness raising was to encourage resonant people supporting the movement up North.

Neville wrote – and I quote:

Co-existing with later T1 activity is a relatively brief consciousness raising program with the more reformist humanitarian members of the national community, i.e. largely based on self-selected members of the helping and caring professions plus equivalent other volunteers.

However their consciousness raising is mainly aimed at realizing the supportive and protective role they can play nationally, in guaranteeing the survival of the Inma beyond their own lifetimes, rather than trying to persuade them actually to join it by migration. (End of Quote)

In writing those words Neville was referring to the likes of the members of Healing Sunday and members of other actions energised by Neville in the South East of Australia, such as ConFest mentioned previously. These are the kinds of people Neville was writing about when he wrote of consciousness raising – and I quote:

with the more reformist humanitarian members of the national community, i.e. largely based on self-selected members of the helping and caring professions plus equivalent other volunteers. (End of Quote)

In Neville's terms Fraser House, ConFes, and Healing Sunday were all INMAs, that is Intercultural Normative Model Areas. Neville obtained permission of the Aboriginal women of the Australian Centre to use their word 'inma'. It has the some of the same sense as the two syllables in English – 'In Ma' as in 'in the mother'.

Shortly after the cessation of Healing Sundays in 1989 Neville returned to live in the Atherton Tableland.

In 1993, he shifted to Darwin. From 1993 to 1999 Neville devoted his time to strengthening the networks in the Region.

At his death in May 2000, unfolding nurturing community action for global wellbeing was in tune with the transition stages envisaged by Neville.

T1 Consciousness-raising has been occurring in National Arenas. T2 Mobilization has begun to occur in Transnational Arenas.

An example was a gathering facilitated by Les and two others of 40 wellbeing nurturers from eleven countries in the East Asia Oceania Region held in the countryside outside Manilla in 2004. Les had travelled extensively in the region networking with local grassroots healer networks in meeting 240 people and linking with 43 local wellbeing groups in the Region. The attendees at the Philippine gathering were in part selected from these 240 people.

At Les' suggestion, five of the 40 who attended that Philippines gathering have now been funded by DTE to come down to New South Wales and experience ConFest and link in to local wellbeing networks.

Many of the possibilities outlined in Neville's On Global Reform paper are becoming realities.

It may be that models outlined in this and the previous program may be replicated, adapted and tested by resonant people in other parts of the World.

This concludes this program.

We have been discussing how Dr Neville Yeomans used Therapeutic Community as a core model within civil society for evolving dispersed wellbeing communities nurturing community action for global wellbeing

I'm Craig Fees for Radio TC International and this program has been drawn from a paper by Dr Les Spencer a behavioural scientist and clinical sociologist in Melbourne, Australia.

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