Flows and Catchments, website narrative, 1 November 2012
The project originates in a number of inter-related initiatives: an engagement with the development of place-based values and programs at the Point Nepean Quarantine Station (Mornington Peninsula, Port Phillip Bay); the establishment at Deakin University of a Chair in Creative Place Research; and the formation shortly thereafter of a strategic research centre called the Centre for Memory, Imagination and Invention (CMII). On joining Deakin’s Faculty of Arts and Education, Carter consulted widely with the Deakin Creative community and as a result recommended that one of the CMII’s research priorities should be ‘Creative place-based knowledge’; bringing the intellectual capital built up during the Point Nepean engagement into play, he suggested that this theme might be materialized through a project that studied ‘the role of creativity in managing public assets.’ This proposal foreshadowed a community partnership; however, it also depended on building relevant research capacity within the Faculty (See Document 1: DeakinInaugural2). When the CMII’s funding was confirmed, Dr. Ursula de Jong and Carter applied for seed funding to conduct a literature search and establish the terms of reference for this project (See Documents 2, 3 and 4: Tourism Lit review draft, PBK271010, PBK 081110v2). On the basis of this work I prepared a briefing document (‘Place Based Knowledge’), which synthesized our material to date and circulated to members of Deakin Creative and the CMII seeking interest in joining us in the further refinement of the project (See Document 5: PBKProjectBriefs1).
Place-based knowledge is self-evidently place-based: it implies a community partner or forming situation. The research dialogue that develops between university and community extends the idea of ‘practice-based’ research found in the creative arts into the broader domain of the humanities, where we can speak of a new culture of ‘applied humanities research,’ addressed to the investigation and amelioration of real world problems. However, nurturing external partnerships is usually a slow process and in the first months of this work it was not straightforward to find a good ‘fit’ with an appropriate external partner. The handover of the Point Nepean Quarantine Station to the Victorian State Government stalled the implementation of a place-based knowledge economy at the Station, and in this circumstance we turned to the organization known as the Kanawinka Global Geopark, whose remit (the promotion of the cultural and environmental values of the volcanic plains region of south-west Victoria), seemed well suited to our own ambitions. At this time Dr Paul Venzo and his colleagues (Warrnambool Campus) proposed an artists in communities program called ‘Kanawinka and the Living Classroom.’ The Kanawinka association had, however, to be loosened when (after going to Caberra to discuss thepoject with the federal environment minister) we were advised that the Federal Government did not recognize Kanawinka’s UNESCO listing, and that, as a consequence, federal, state and even regional support for our partnership was unlikely to be forthcoming.
Accordingly we regrouped. We continued to embrace the creative research-based engagement with the region, whih kanawinka promoted, but accepted the need to broaden our community partnership base. I opened discussions with the Lake Bolac Eel Festival and the Warrnambool Art Gallery (which under its new director was embarked on an ambitious community engagement program); and I suggested to Dr Patrick West that he redirect a ‘Desert Ethology’ project located in Victoria’s Little Desert southward to the volcanic plains. For we agreed that the Kanawinka geo-region remained a natural unit for the application of place-based knowledge research; further, I had by then been able to bring into play a longstanding research interest of mine that until then had not seemed relevant, that is the life and work of the western district settler, humanist and advocate of Indigenous cultures, James Dawson. These kinds of rearrangement and refocusing of materials are typical of a research program that operates in and with the real world, and the setbacks always in the longer term contribute to the resilience, the wisdom and the value of the outcomes. Out of this creative ferment came a largely rebadged project description, ‘Flows and Catchments’, which was circulated and adopted by an enlarged research team with active encouragement from both the Gallery and the Festival. The new brief stated:
The name of the project refers respectively to lava flows, water flows and language flows and to the problem they pose of description (or catchment). The proposed region of the project is the town of Camperdown, the surrounding volcanic plains and the (roughly) north-south-west Mount Emu Creek/Hopkins River, extending down to Warrnambool. This landscape exemplifies the features of a volcanic ‘catchment’ typified by a network of volcanic cones and intervening, subtly inclined and eroded stony plains. Mount Emu Creek/Hopkins River is to be understood within a network of water types – seasonal creeks, near permanent fresh and salt water bodies and underground seepage – and because of its course in relation to a variety of historic, cultural and regional features and events. Its flow both defines a catchment and, through the periodicity of its flow, redefines it. The human heritage of Camperdown is, for the purposes of this project, focused on the figure of James Dawson, whose lifelong campaign for natural justice for the Western District Aboriginal peoples, and whose 1881 publication, Australian Aborigines, documenting the languages of the Western District, exemplify a commitment to the flow of knowledge and its catchment.
The object of thinking geomorphology (or landscape values), water passages and attachments and extinct language flows together is to apply the principles of place-based learning to the practical challenge of defining ‘sense of place’. It is understood that ‘place’ is a highly problematic descriptor of belonging, particularly in a colonial and postcolonial context. The working hypothesis is that ‘place’ is better thought of in terms of rates of exchange: the interest attributed to certain aggregations of natural and human capital is a product of creative investment and ongoing cultural production. The processes that broadly underwrite the ‘knowledge economy’ and more importantly incubate senses of belongings involve a poetic capacity to think – to narrate – different phenomena within a shared domain of immanence or becoming. In contrast with teleological understandings of place, community and wellbeing, that understand these instrumentally – therefore amenable to top-down planning – place-based learning models argue for the heuristic value of places. That is, places as intensifications of flows, pose the problem of catchment, tracing its process and passage rather than standing as repositories or destinations (See Document 6: Flows and Catchments 4)
As this summary indicates, our project identified a connection between human processes of place making and natural processes. In particular, a parallel existed between human creativity and biological and geomorphological forces: cultures grow up through the dialogue between these different aspects of becoming at that place. To grasp community formation, growth and transformation dynamically, it is necessary to factor in the turbulence that characterizes change. Turbulence is both a feature of concept formation, new ideas always involve a more or less tortuous rupture with the accepted intellectual framework, and the everyday expression of complexity (water flows, cloud patterns, the self-organisation of ecosystems). For these reasons we saw a logical and mutually benefical relationship between the emerging work of the Flows and Catchments team and the outcomes of ‘Turbulence 1’, a one day symposium convened by CultureLab and the Newcastle Institute for Research on Sustainability (University of Newcastle, UK) in July 2011. At ‘Turbulence 2’, held at the Deakin University Waterfront Campus on October 28 2011, work from the Flows and Catchments projects formed a prominent part of the exhibition specially curated for the event. (See Document 7, the online website called Turbulence – www.materialthinking.com.au/turbulence. Username: paul; password: carter1)
Just over a month later these projects, featuring work by Deakin artists and researchers including Dan Armstrong, Rozalind Drummond, Jondi Keane, Patrick West and Simon Wilmot, were presented more fully at the launch of ‘Flows and Catchments, creative regions and communities,’ at the Warrnambool Art Gallery (See Document 8: Warrnambool Flows and Catchments Program). Badged as ‘a new community partnering initiative,’ the launch emphasized the role that creativity plays in building longterm sustainability. ‘The capacity to think laterally, to visualize abstractions – and to communicate complex issues in ways that build regional know-how and shared sense of place’ – is ‘building a new picture of the past and the future of the Warrnambool hinterland through a better understanding of the analogies between lava, water and language – between different rates, mechanisms and expressions of flow. The new ‘catchments’ it is studying are human networks of new knowledge that possess the rich, multifaceted ‘sense of place’ that regional communities intuitively possess, but which the artificial divisions between arts and sciences obscure. These ‘catchments’ can take the form of schools programs, exhibitions, films, festivals and other expressions of place-based knowledge that contribute to a richer understanding of the region’s social, cultural and creative capital.’ (See Document 8: FCWAGproposal) At this time we significantly enlarged the scope of the Flows and Catchments work by formalizing two sound-based sub-projects: ‘The Auditorium for Echoes’ and ‘The Lava Sonatas’ (See Documents 9 and 10 respectively – FCWarrnamboolLaunch and The Lava Sonatas’).
On the basis of the forming community partnerships and the deepened research associated with the sub-projects, the goal in 2012 was to translate these dialogues into concrete programs. The Flows and Catchments team got off to a good start through its intimate participation in the Lake Bolac Eel festival program (See Document 11: Attachment2Poster). The 2012 Lake Bolac Eel Festival took place on Saturday 24th March 2012 by the shores of the lake a short walk from town. Over the weekend, a festival-associated Art Exhibition of work by mainly local artists was on display in town at the Lake Bolac Memorial Hall. This was the venue for a photographic and video display by Daniel Armstrong, photography by Rozalind Drummond (with accompanying text by Patrick West), and an installation work by Jondi Keane. On Saturday afternoon The Memorial Hall was the venue for an ink and brush drawing workshop run by Jondi Keane and the screening of a short film directed by Simon Wilmot (with script by Patrick West). Dawn Joseph ran a workshop on the Saturday afternoon upstairs in the boat shed by the lake as a preparation for the Volcano Dreaming Twilight Celebration on the Saturday night. Both Jondi’s and Dawn’s workshops attracted enthusiastic involvement. The Festival was an opportunity to meet with people from the local community, including staff and students from the Lake Bolac Secondary College, and Festival guests and visitors (See Document 12: FCEel Festival 2012) and it was pleasing that later in the year the Festival attracted an Australian Business Arts Foundation award with Deakin as its principal partner (See Document 13: Abaf nomination text).
One of the side effects of our engagement with the Lake Bolac community was the strengthening of their relationship with the Warrnambool Art Gallery. This was an important factor in the discussions that culminated (in late August) in the signing of an MOU between Deakin University (represented by the Vice Chancellor) and the Warrnambool Art Gallery (represented by Warnambool’s Mayor) (See Document 14: MOUCopyDraft). The object of the MOU was to position both parties as working to build south-west Victoria’s identity as a ‘creative region’, and in the wake of the agreement being signed Carter made presentations in Camperdown, Hamilton and Portland, highlighting the potential of the new institutional arrangement to benefit cultural development initiatives regionally.
Called ‘Shared Place,’ the MOU committed the parties to building a ‘creative region’ strategy for promoting cultural and social entrepreneurship opportunities in the Warrnambool region.’ It explained that the ‘strategy’ would be channeled through concrete creative research projects: ‘Drawing Our Region,’ ‘Telling Our Story’ and ‘Making Our Place.’ At the time of writing new works by Wilmot and Keane are exploring bicultural traditions of place-making through, respectively, documentation of the Gundidjmara community’s language reclamation program and the examination of the human labour involved in the creation of the Lake Condah eel trap complex and the associated stone walls. We have developed two briefs for ‘Sounding the Landscape,’ one focused on an ‘audit’ of the regional sound environment, the other planning the production of a long forgotten regional theatre work called Muutchaka: the Last of his Tribe. Taking advantage of the opportunity created by the recently released strategy for the revitalization of the Warrnambool CBD, we propose to deliver ‘Making Our Place’ through the development of a design strategy for the ‘cultural precinct’ (including Liebig Street and the public spaces adjoining the Art Gallery). Initiating the research for this latter project, Carter delivered a public lecture in Warrnambool on 20 October 2012 (See Document 15: Liebig Street). These first fruits of the MOU set up some extremely exciting research prospects and partnerships in 2013 and beyond.