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This website aims to develop case studies of the development of farming practices and attendant transformations of local ecologies of defined blocks of land. Through these biographies of particular plots of land we are developing localised analyses of the wider historical trends in the political economy/ecology of the Northern Rivers.
Leigh Davison’s Story

Leigh Davison’s Story

By on Jul 1, 2013 in Dharmananda | 0 comments

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Communal living

The name Dharmananda – which mind you, most of us don’t like particularly – but once you give some place a name it sticks. There was a time when we were setting up the co-op, we wanted to change the name -the name of the co-operative is the Chop Wood Carry Water Cooperative, which is an old Zen thing. I forget the whole wording: ‘Describe enlightenment’ and the Master says ‘Chopping wood, carrying water.’ It’s not some special heightened state of awareness, it’s the everyday life. So we tried to change, you know. All the old timers were saying ‘Oh lets change it to something like Gumboot Gully’ – something ordinary, chop wood carry water. But some of the people who had just joined said ‘Oh no this is Dharmananda’. To me being Buddhist is not being aggressively Buddhist, it’s being every day. So for many years one just assumed that the people who were attracted here had that kind of background, but a lot haven’t. The people who are coming here now don’t necessarily have a background in that.

In Buddhism and also vegetarian?

Yeah. JJ eats meat and Brian and Julie do. So I helped JJ slaughter the calf and Brian helped him chop it up, butcher it. JJ cuts it up into rations and people can buy it off him and eat it at home but not in the community house. It’s sort of a general agreement that you don’t eat meat in the main house.

So what does bring the young people here, or the new people?

Well you’d have to talk to them I suppose but um…a desire to live communally. I think there are two main draw cards, the communal thing, doing things together, well, that’s much more efficient. When you think about a lot of the people who bought land in this area they don’t achieve a lot in the farming dimension because it’s just mum and dad, they’ve got kids to take to soccer. You know when you’ve got your foot in mainstream you can’t have it half in, the kids have got to have their mobile phones and all their apps you know? You’re either in it or you’re out of it. They’ve got to go to soccer or whatever else. We found a lot of people who were in the original, the new settlers, when the kids got into their teens, they’d moved into town or down to the coast. Got sick of driving the kids into soccer. And they realised, they’d got over living in the country. Yeah. It’s something that attracts some people but the connection doesn’t deepen for them.

It’s not always going to work at different life stages for people necessarily.

That’s right yeah. The other demands, there are so many demands on people. One reason why I’ve been able to get right into farming is because we don’t have any kids. There are eight kids on the place. One family have four kids from like, let me think, the oldest is eleven down to TJ who just started big school, she’s five I think. And they go to the Channon School. JJ’s kids go to the Channon School. There’s another in first year at Richmond River. Yeah then there are two littlies about one year old.

So did you already know those families or did they find you?

Often they find us – well JJ was a student of mine at Uni, that’s how I first met him. And then he quite, unconnectedly, just moved into the place next door and he and Rena have lived there and she still lives there. So they have a kind of a relationship where they find it works best if they’re not under the same roof. It’s a pretty small, little dairy that they live in you know? The kids spend three days here and three days there type of swap. And Rena comes over to dinner and all that, it’s a sort of organic thing but um…so he moved in over there probably twelve or thirteen years ago and then he started giving me a hand with waste water systems that I was installing and he’s now got a business doing that. He did his honours with me on waste water systems up in Dunoon. A very well-funded project, he did a really good job on that. Then three years ago he was living in a concrete block house on the place next door and Rena was living in the dairy. But the concrete block house became unavailable so he’d known us all and he said ‘Look I might as well give Dharmananda a go.’ So that’s JJ’s story. Brian and Julie Wwoofed here many years ago, Willing Workers on Organic Farms. And then went away for a while and came back and gave it a go yeah. It’s interesting, Thomas who’s here, he’s trying the place out. He was living on Bhodi Farm up there for a while but it’s not very agricultural. So he came down here and he gave it a go and asked if he could do a try out.

And is it the agriculture that has attracted him?

I think it appeals to a lot of people. Tam, you didn’t meet him but he’s building a laundry out the back of the main house, it’s going to replace the old tin shed that I showed you. He’s a builder by trade. Now he’s an interesting bloke, but he likes cows. They looked in through the Wwoof book, they wanted to live communally, and this was the only community that had cows apparently. It’s very unusual yeah and so they …that was the attractor for them.

So do you get a fair few people coming through Wwoofing?

We’ve got a couple here at the moment but it’s been a bit quiet but we do get a lot. A typical year we get twenty or thirty coming through, stay typically for a couple of weeks. We’ve had some who…one Italian guy, Claudio, he came back every year for three years for six months. He liked it here. We’ve had other Wwoofers stay, a Japanese guy Anji he was great, he just stayed for nine months or something. He became part of the team really. It suits some people, doesn’t suit everyone yeah. The arrangement with Wwoofers is, if somebody wants to Wwoof here we book you in for two weeks, but if it’s not working after three days we’ll ask you to leave or you can leave. But that rarely happens; sometimes you get odd bods yeah.

And do you find that some of the Wwoofers are actually looking to find an agricultural place like this to settle?

I think a lot of people have it in the back of their mind yeah. A lot of people do, it’s a bit of a fantasy isn’t it, to escape the city? This land was very cheap then. It’s one reason why this place has been so successful is that the land was so cheap. If you want to set up a MO today, and apparently there’s one setting up on Ron Cameron’s place down the creek there, I mean the cost of the land and the council regulations that you have to fulfil in relation to roads and all that makes it very – it’s almost like buying a suburban block. So yeah, we were lucky that we got in at the time when it was just really easy.

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