Sunday, 8 July 2018

In the company of others

In Landcare, we exclude people who are different. People of colour. People who pray three times a day to Allah. People with tats. Young people. People inventing other versions of Australian than ocker or gentleman farmer.

We’re at a Landcare Forum. As she says this, the Landcare coordinator knows she’s edging onto thin ice. Landcare groups assume they welcome everyone. But the coordinator tells us that the Green Army team that worked for her Landcare Network for six months last year (the ones with the tats and all considerably younger than the members of the Landcare committee) had told her—‘We feel we’re outsiders here’. And the coordinator herself has noticed a tendency for men to speak first at Landcare gatherings, and for women to speak later, and often only when they insist on being heard.

Volunteers and staff from across Landcare in Victoria gather twice a year, and this time we're on the Bellarine Peninsula. After an afternoon looking at nearby Landcare work, and a convivial dinner, 45 of us have convened to share with each other what is getting stronger in the way we work in our communities, and to reflect on where Landcare needs to break new ground.

Being more inclusive is one area where Landcare needs to break new ground. We talk around the issue, move away from it, then come back. It’s a difficult subject. And as we talk, another tough question surfaces: what is Landcare’s role now? Many of the valleys have been treed up. Properties have their shelterbelts and are fenced so the landscape can be better managed. The proportion of people who want to change have changed. What’s next? As a community-led movement, Landcare has done a lot in its 30 years, but how can it hold its sense of purpose?

These forums, run by Landcare’s advocacy organisation, Landcare Victoria Inc, are a time to go back to fundamentals. Landcare members want to remain effective in the social landscapes in which they operate, and they want communities and government to understand the role Landcare plays. Communities are changing, government policy is changing. Having been successful in the past is no protection against obsolescence, and our idea of who we are may need an up-grade.

As we move through the weekend, we talk a lot about how to get younger people into Landcare. The challenge of inclusiveness and the challenge of relevance join together in this bedevilling issue of how to speak to younger people. The grey haired elders who started the Landcare movement 30 years ago as young adults sit and ponder how to pass on the torch to a very different generation. There’s deep listening going on, and respect for differing points of view. We don’t all immediately agree that there is a problem with our inclusiveness, but we come back to it, rather than dismiss it. We know we need to rethink our role, but this is a big question from which many paths open.

Sometimes it feels like we’re going round in circles. But we are experienced enough to know that to break new ground, you do have to move around and go back over things to get the measure of a situation. And we’re mature enough to tolerate uncertainty without needing immediate answers.

By the end of the weekend, I feel that the world has tilted a bit for all of us, and that the difficult questions that have been raised are there now, in our shared awareness. We will need to make room and give them attention. But in the company of others, we can do that. We learn and reinvent together, and revive our spirits in the process.

Ross Colliver, Riddells Creek Landcare,

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