LAND | The Dreaming

Posted on 03/04/2009

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I’ve just had a brief email exchange with a representative of the Queensland Folk Federation, which promotes the Woodford Folk Festival, The Dreaming and another event I hadn’t heard of called The Planting. The QFF was wondering if these events might be considered relevant for Placed. Each submission I have received for Placed has required some quick assessment of how it fits. As I explained to QFF, when I set out to produce Placed, I didn’t set up heavy duty criteria for what I was looking for or how it addressed ideas of place-based creativity and innovation. My challenge is to find it and establish it within the discourse of the project. Placed is a story of many stories, it is a place of many places. I probably take events like the Folk Festival and The Dreaming for granted given that they are situated on my own cultural horizon, part of my own cultural landscape. There’s that old saying of not being able to see for looking. In scanning, I need to be mindful of my own blindspots.

All those events are vital local expressions of culture and creativity bound to a place in a peri-rural locale. When people go to those events, they come back with stories of the landscape – how the site turns to mud when it rains (and apparently it doesn’t always rain); how the site is rehabilitated after the influx of cars and humans in a makeshift settlement; how the land itself welcomes the activity, then quietly settles and regenerates when everyone is gone. In my writer’s mind, I wonder about the story and dignity of that place, knowing it is located in the heart of Jinibara country, and wonder if the land itself adapts to or changes with the rhythms and cycles of festivals.

There is no denying that The Dreaming is a worthy event. However, how does it cultivate practice and collaboration of and in place? When I hastily emailed QFF, I wrote about Placed as a project I started so that I could see what was ‘out there’ and identify what might foldback as new thinking or ideas into how we live. In another sense this is about somehow mapping the feedback loops in the system. In the context of Indigenous cultures, some of those new ideas are very old indeed. I understand that an event like The Dreaming is major in terms of (a) attracting people to a site of cultural significance (b) creating a frame for a dialogue with Indigenous cultures (traditional, urban, contemporary, rural, regional etc) and about cultural values about land, learning and heritage and (c) maybe even having that inform the way designing and planning happens.

The QFF has an environmental policy and, with a 500 year plan, sustainability is high on the agenda. Landholders fill the gaps of the land use system, which performs a balancing act that isn’t especially attentive to Indigenous land use practices and traditions. Certainly, there are provisions in planning regulations and plans about Indigenous heritage, but we couldn’t then say this means the planning system is based on Indigenous knowledge of land use and land care. In my experience of studying planning and working in planning, it’s not really discussed.

Does the planning system affirm terra nullius? I am aware that land use schemes have been developed for the Torres Strait Islands and I am curious to know if these schemes respect prior cultural knowledge and practices, while also acknowledging the potential dangers of climate change which pose new threats of dispossession. It’s not just land use planning; resource management e.g. Burrup Peninsula, and native title are also complicit. Native title, for all its limitations, presents some curious opportunities. For example, in the Noongar native title win over Perth metropolitan region, I assume an opportunity – if not an imperative – to bring traditional knowledge and reconciliation in touch with the planning and design environment as part of living culture. Incidentally, the claim for the Gold Coast was not accepted in a decision handed down by the Tribunal last year.

QFF informed me that The Planting is a three day annual happening where people plant trees on site, learn about the environment, and in the evening live music and food bring everyone together. Since 1994, 80,000 endemic species have been planted on site, nesting boxes have been placed and endangered species have moved in. The QFF site does indeed speak, perhaps it even sings, calling us all to care for it and all land. As Design Theorist Tony Fry might say, “to bring something into use is to bring it into care”. So there are some questions embedded here that prod us to consider what we value now and what will have value into the future. I wonder if a new kind of postcolonial planning or natural resource management might emerge that doesn’t erase the people and their past, a new kind of planning that comprehends the complexity of land use as care for people and place rather than that singular planning catchcries, “best use”.

The Planting is planned for 1-3 May 2009 and The Dreaming will be happening on 5-9 June 2009. More information at http://wwwthedreamingfestival.com

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