Bundanon Day 1: Bleary-eyed Wombats and broken Wifi

We have been given the most excellent opportunity to visit the Bundanon Trust for the week to develop our new project: Earlwood Farm Radio. This is an extension of the ideas we have been exploring both at the Farm and also in a more explicitly creative context with projects like erskineville for Tiny Stadiums in 2013.

We created a slow schedule for our first full day here, which involved conversation over stewed apples at breakfast and perambulatory reflection (AKA walking and talking) down by the Shoalhaven river. We talked about everything from what the hell we think this project is to what we think about the Farm now after 18 months to what kinds of audio works we see as inspiration for this new project. The morning was indulgently productive. The kind of productivity that would be possible in Sydney, but is obligatory at Bundanon. What else are you going to do with a free morning but wander through the paddocks and talk about your ideas?

Saw this sticker on a fence near the river. What is it?

Saw this sticker on a fence near the river. What is it?

After sketching some basic conceptual and formal parameters for ourselves by midday, we had set aside the afternoon for reading. But, we were steadily being sucked into the wifi world. Jen was veering into useful-but potentially endless-research rabbit holes, looking up the fable “Town Mouse and Country Mouse” and exploring the vibrant radio/podcast community in Australia, for example; meanwhile Craig was taking a break from formal AIR duties to write letters to the Government in protest of cut backs to renewable energy research. All these tasks were useful, but we were swiftly put back on our specific track when the internet stopped working.

The initial moment of panic, involving such worries as “How on earth are we going to update the blog?” and “Oh my god, do you know that our shared Dropbox folder is now not going to sync?”, swiftly turned into a very productive afternoon. We sat side by side in the spare room with hot tea and crunchy snacks, reading, taking notes and watching live wombat politics play out in front of the window (and, according to the visitors book, everyone who comes here gets to experience this amazingness!), as the clouds turned pink and the sun set.

Some of the very famous wombats of Bundanon! Feel honoured to be in their company.

Some of the very famous wombats of Bundanon! Feel honoured to be in their company.

Jen began reading Raymond Williams’ classic leftist literary history The Country and the City from 1973. In this work, Williams explores the development of ideas of the country and city in poetry and literature. In particular he tracks how those ideas either reflect or utterly mystify concomitant social histories. Her favourite idea so far is the idea of a “charity of production” as opposed to a “charity of consumption”. Williams explores this idea specifically in relation to pastoral poetry that omits mention of the labours and toils of workers in the field, and yet represents all characters sitting around a table with a shared meal provided by the magnanimity of a wealthy landowner.

He writes:

“The Christian tradition of charity is … weak. For it is charity of consumption only, as Rosa Luxemburg first pointed out:

The Roman proletarians did not live by working, but from the alms which the government doled out. So the demands of the Christians for collective property did not relate to the means of production. But the means of consumption.

And then, as Adrian Cunningham has argued, this version of charity­­–of loving relations between men expressed as a community of consumption, with the Christian board and breaking of bread as its natural images, and the feast as its social consummation–was prolonged into periods and societies in which it became peripheral or even damaging. A charity of production–of loving relations between men actually working and producing what is ultimately, in whatever proportions, to be shared–was neglected, not seen, and at times suppressed, by this habitual reference to a charity of consumption, an eating and drinking communion, which when applied to ordinary working societies was inevitably a mystification. All uncharity at work, it was readily assumed, could be redeemed by the charity of the consequent feast. In the complex of feeling and reference derived from this tradition, it matters very much, moreover, that the name of the god and the name of the master are significantly single–our Lord” (31).

Craig read Val Plumwood’s article “Shadow Places and the Politics of Dwelling” and began reading A History of World Agriculture: from the Neolithic Age to the Current Crisis by Marcel Mazoyer and Laurence Roudart (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2006). In her piece, Plumwood considers the political implications of being attached to particular places as a response to the apparent fragmentation of our relationship with land and ecology. She notes:

“[P]lace attachment is developed and exercised in the context of dominant market cultures which commodify land and place, and of markets in labour usually requiring individual workers who have few or portable attachments. […] Since the industrial revolution, attachment to place has been punished in the economic and employment systems…and current examples are either hangovers from an incompletely realised project or practices of resistance.”

In those circumstances it’s no surprise that an over-romanticisation of particular places is a common artistic or socio-political mode. People might profess deep love for their side of the mountain, their secluded bay, their abraded urban quadrant, their stretch of arid scrub or whatever it might be, aiming at a kind of transcendent approach to uniting with the essence of place. However, Plumwood replies, “[it] may be vital to love, but in these conditions, individual love for a place is unlikely to be innocent, may register false consciousness and be exercised at the expense of other places, and fostering individual attachment must be incomplete as a strategy.” Instead, Plumwood has in mind a deeper and more complicated—and explicitly political—solution. “Think what it would mean to acknowledge and honour all the places that support you, at all levels of reconceptualisation, from spiritual to economic, and to honour not just this more fully-conceived ‘own place’ but the places of others too. Such a program is politically radical, in that it is incompatible with an economy of privileged places thriving at the expense of exploited places. Production, whether from other or self-place, cannot take the form of a place-degrading process, but requires a philosophy and economy of mutual recognition.”

Here Plumwood has in mind a type of networked exchange of mutual benefit with justice at its core: “The responsibility principle is compatible with some forms of exchange…provided [they meet] the ecojustice criterion of making one or both places involved in the exchange better and no places worse. Is it not perhaps poorly accountable commodity systems of exchange at whose door we should lay much of the blame for the contemporary fragmentation of place, rather than the existence of exchange itself?”

Critical to Plumwood’s conception of place-attachment is the knowledge of other places and the ‘places’ appreciated by other species in addition to our own, and how these spaces are attached to one another. Ecology is at its heart the study of interconnected natural systems operating under the drive to establish equilibrium. Our ‘places’—both those worth putting on a postcard and those relegated to wasteland status—form nodes within an ecological web that are characterised as much by their intrinsic properties as by the regulation of their exchange with each other. Plumwood’s call is a reminder that no place stands alone, and that a conception of place based on (eco)justice is a goal that is desirable, radical and urgently necessary.

Tomorrow: Mazoyer and Roudart diagnose the causes of the crisis in world agriculture and present their prescription for change. No surprise, it will be a radical and invasive procedure indeed.