Endangered Community Book

endangered-communities This blog is about how objects weave us together and contain stories.  The object I want to talk about today contains some strong weave, it is woven of story upon story motivated by story… It’s a triple layered tale folks!

The other focus this blog is collaboration, and in this project I got to collaborate with a wonderful photographer and creator – Matt Nettheim, and the permanent Residents of the Brighton Beach Caravan Park.  What was created is a document that honors the stories of the residents and witnesses their struggle to hang on to their homes and their diverse and caring community.

It came about because my Mum lived at the Brighton caravan park for a number of years, invested her life savings into buying into it and had laid down her anchor for this phase of her life.  She loved living there, with their diverse back rows of community who often ate together, supported each other, sometimes annoyed each other, and cared in an unconditional kind of fashion for each other. She was very happy living there, and I was very happy knowing my Mum lived in a caring community where she was safe and included.

Out of nowhere in January 2013 they received eviction notices for a place most did not realise they could be evicted from.  They were under the impression their homes were secure and they could not be ousted.  Holdfast Bay Council knew otherwise, and the residents were expected to leave in a couple of months and clear their sites, no compensation, barely any warning, and definitely no assistance or acknowledgement of the long term residential status of these people.  One of the most painful things was that the Council would not communicate with the Residents directly, they would not listen or negotiate or explain, the orders had been given and that was that.  The inhumanity was heartbreaking and totally unnecessary.

That is why I decided to make the book.  I wanted to hold them all, care for their lives and stories, provide hope and encouragement, and make their humanity a public affair and a private holder of precious memories.  Quite a tall order for a book and I knew it would hold a lot more depth with images, and not just snap shots but someone who knew how to weight an image with meaning and story – *cue in* highly talented photographer boyfriend I had been really wanting to do a collaboration with! So great to have someone to bounce ideas and formats off, another creator to hold the container as the work manifests through hours/days/weeks of focused attention.  I love the images Matt took for this book and his format vision, the internal/external portrait.  This was important to show the ‘houseness’ of the ‘caravans’ because the Council folk mostly had never visited and had no idea that the residents could not just attach their caravans and drive away.  For most inhabitants the caravan served as the initial structure that homes were built around, and these dwellings were quite permanent. Caravan-Park-Interior-web The Residents seem to really like the book and got copies for family and gave it as gifts to a number of people who helped with their campaign.  It even got submitted as evidence in their court case which was a little bit like winning an award for us!  Unfortunately they never got a fair hearing.  It appeared the Holdfast Bay Council’s strategy was to keep the Residents on the witness stand until they could not afford to be their anymore, so they got starved out without a just and fair hearing.  Many are left with layers of complicated grief and issues of homelessness to work through.  What can I say – it is fucked up.  A community that could have modelled a way forward in building fabulous low-income housing communities, a community that improved the quality of life for its people and provided safety, connection, support and care.  It was highly human and very rare in our busy impersonal cities.

Now our book bears witness to a great loss and the displacement of a community. I hope it also holds fond memories for the Residents, who showed tremendous fighting spirit and solidarity.  Big Respect goes out to all involved with this legal case and community, along with heartfelt wishes for healing and making a new home.

Ky    

Matt (photographer and collaborator):

 I am really proud of this book. Seeing it I am reminded of how quickly we had to work. All the photos and most of the stories we were taken on the one day, over a few hours. With 20 odd residents, I remember working out that it would mean only 10-15 minutes per visit. It helped that the residents themselves were so welcoming, and prepared; their places were all immaculate and they were very grateful for our support.

The book was my first artistic collaboration with Ky, my cool new arty girlfriend, and we worked really well together. We still do. I remember Ky running around with my bounce board doing the lighting and helping lug my gear from place to place. She was a great assistant and a fantastic creative to work witb. Laying out the book together was fun.

I was lucky to have visited the Brighton Caravan Park in the pre-eviction notice period. It had felt safe, the location was a beautiful the place was vibrant with nature and activity. Coming back to do the portraits the tension and heaviness was present. As Ky and I went from house to house I got to experience just how diverse this tight little community was. All the age groups were there, many nationalities, and all the relationship status’s and configurations. The place was a microcosm of Adelaide’s cool diversity, perhaps minus the rich folk. The residents diversity and unity was never more apparent than when I photographed them a second time, as a mob, marching and protesting together at the council chambers. _SAN7269 Of the many injustices and indignities that the residents faced it was the fact that they had paid big money for these homes, and then paid regular park site fees on top, and they would get absolutely no money back. These were generally very low income people to start with, before losing everything. They were even originally expected to pay to have their places demolished and the sites cleared.  

Among the residPhoto by Matt Nettheiments was my cool new arty girlfriends mum, she had fought battles before and she was certainly not going to shut up and fuck off. Marilyn was an inspiration and I am so proud of her. Exhausted, she faced up to endless photo shoots and media calls. She was a dynamo.  Her little van in the back lane became campaign headquarters and she fought passionately for over a year until their case was crushed by the council with their bigger money.


Ky gets the gold star for doing the hard yards on this book. Learning on the run, she built it, collected and edited all the stories which are alive with the residents own voices. When we published the compliments and thanks we received from the residents was a huge reward, many books were ordered. The books appearance in court as evidence was also very satisfying. Personally, the book marked a welcome return to my roots as a social documentary photographer, which had always given me a huge amount of gratification.

With the last of the vans only just demolished I feel that Endangered Communities stands as a fine record of a really interesting and successful community, a rare species, and a precious memory on the shelf for the now scattered residents to remember and share. Photo by Matt Nettheim

 

to view or order the book:

http://au.blurb.com/books/4452593-endangered-community

all photographs by Matt Nettheim

Matt’s website:

http://mattnettheim.com

 

 

unique collaborations

uinique collaborations

 

I am intrigued by people stories, and I have been blown away by how these stories unfold out of objects.  Sometimes when I start a new Arts Therapy group I ask people to bring an object from home that holds meaning for them as a way of introducing themselves. This deepened my interest in the stories objects hold, and how they remind people of different things, and most importantly, how they weave us together.

Above are a set of objects left to me by my late Nanna.  Well she didn’t really leave me the head, it was one of the things left over from her belongings offered out to the family – anyone want this? I took it, because I remember this head staring at me from a number of different houses over a long period of time, she was always in Nanna and Grandpa’s house as long as I can remember.  She may have a name I don’t know, and she herself does not remind me of much apart from the 60’s velvet painting era.  She does however remind me of the terrible bread my Grandpa used to make.  He had a heart attack when I was a young teen, and after that began taking long walks with his amazing dogs (always Labradors), and baking this health bread that resembled bricks.  I would turn up at their place and he would have just made bread, which smelled good but had no taste appeal to me at that time.  When I start thinking of his bread, I think of his dogs.  He was a bit of a dog whisperer, and all his dogs had particular talents, such as retrieving archery arrows from great distances out in the paddock behind their house, and one that floated on its back in the sea.  I remember the smell of weetbix with hot milk and golden syrup, and old ABC radio news, with the ‘da da dun’ music intro.  The other thing about my Grandpa is that he let me, at age 12, become his personal hair dresser- which was quite a thrill.  It was just a straight old man’s haircut, but he trusted me to do it, and that really meant something to me at that time.

On the right is the tea set that Nanna did mean to leave to me, as she knows I am quite a fan of the tea party. This was a wedding present, and wears the tag – from Office Staff, Bilson’s PtyLtd, Colac, 11.5.1946.  As I write this on 6.8.2012 it is a complete set.  6 cups, saucers, cake plates, milk jug, sugar bowl and big cake plate.  I don’t know how often it got used, I only bring it out on special occasions – it’s a big responsibility having a full unbroken tea set!

Unlike Grandpa’s death, Nanna’s was long, drawn out and painful.  She died with Anaesthetic Dementia, which means – it came on suddenly and was a slow confusing trot to the grave.  She was my shrinking Nanna.  By no means a tall lady to begin with, she was a miniature version of herself when she left this realm.  She had cool cranky lady stuff going on.  I know it was unpleasant for people who saw her more than me, but I really enjoyed her crankiness and dis-satisfaction with the aged care facility she ended up in.  I used to massage her hands, and communicate wordlessly with her, and one day when stroking her head I touched ‘the hair’.  She momentarily transformed into Medusa, and I did not continue with that!

Another time I visited her and she was playing Bingo.  I sat with her a little, dreaming about taking the mic from the caller and breaking into some 40’s show tune as the lights went down and the room transformed into a cruise liner or something, when Nanna says to me in snakey voice (hiss) – “Get me out of here, I hate Bingo”.  I was thrilled to rescue her from Bingo.

She cooked things in microwaves for decades, knitted a lot back in the day, and was a big CWA women who wrote the family history and kept so many journals that my Mum and Aunty couldn’t keep them all.  I journal – thanks Nanna, this one’s for you….

Over to you Mum aka Marilyn Pearson…..

What do these pictures remind you of?

Memories of a safe and secure childhood that, at the time, I thought was boring and restrictive because of where we lived. In hindsight I realise I am one of the lucky ones who grew up in stable and safe community that cared. I grew up with more freedom than most kids only dream of.

The head has a name but for the life of me I can’t remember what it is. Maybe my sisters or brother will.

My memories of the head are probably merged over several incidents but the first thought she brings to mind is the travelling salespersons who would visit our home in Wirrulla. Mum and Dad had a small general store with petrol bowsers. Dad was also the Shell fuel rep and delivered fuel to surrounding farms.

Travelling salespeople would arrive in their vans laden with a plethora of wonders to show and sell. Keep in mind this would have been in the 1960s or early 1970s. Wirrulla was a small, remote and isolated community. Our exposure to the commercial world was limited to irregular trips to nearby towns and the occasional shopping bonanza’s to Port Lincoln – itself only a medium size provincial town. 

I think the head made her appearance the night a travelling salesperson visited following Ormond’s attempt setting fire to his bed. He’d been playing with a lighter and lighter fuel and set fire to his bed. Noela and I threw a bucket of water over it, spreading the flames but somehow the fire was confined to Ormond’s bed. That night one of the regular salespersons arrived bringing with him a bottle of Crème de Menthe. It was the first time I remember seeing Mum and Dad drink alcohol. Mum got very giggly and silly.

The next morning the head was ensconced at the end of the long pine laminated buffet alongside the dining room table. My memory says Dad was the one who was captivated by the head. She kept an eye on us kids for a lot of years. She holds secrets no-one else is privy to and we have probably long forgotten.

She moved to Wallaroo with Mum and Dad and with Mum to Adelaide after Dad passed away. We installed her on the bookshelf in Mum’s room at the Nursing Home to continue to watch over Mum. She has been in the family for around 50 years I would think.

I can’t remember where the teas set lived when we were on the farm but can clearly visualise it in the buffet in the house at Wirrulla – the same one the head lived on. It lived alongside a white fluted tea set that Dad had given to Mum for her 21st birthday (I think). The tea set was often viewed but rarely touched. I don’t remember it being used until we took Mum to Ky’s for a tea party probably about a year before she died. It was one of Mum’s last visits to the outside world. I’m so pleased it now lives where it is treasured.

The head and tea set were never far apart in my memories, living with Mum until the end and now together with Ky. They were kept company by a ruby glass lolly jar which not resides with Kendie.

OK siblings now you can dispute my memories.