This is an edited version of a conversation between Ray Flanagan, Leigh Davidson, JJ Bruce and Carol Perry, and Jo Kijas on February 2, 2013.
It contains Introductions | Dharmananda: from individual title to a multiple occupancy | WWOOFers | Growing food | Neighbours | Introducing Carol | The early years: creating community | Neighbours | Channon Markets | The Fire Brigade | Generational change and building community | The farm’s history | Bananas | Old roads | Finding a sense of belonging | Mr deSorzi | The Ivans | Back to the early days | Being a local
Leigh arrived with his wife Ellen in 1979. He is introduced in a previous interview. Ray, would you please tell us some of your background and coming to Dharmananda?
Ray: I came to Dharmananda in ’75. I was living on the north coast prior to that although I’d been away about five, nearly six years. I grew up in Ballina, went to school in there, left school, I think I was eighteen and went to Sydney cause that’s where you went if you wanted to get a decent job. My mother moved to Sydney to be closer to her parents. I spent a total of about four and a half years in Sydney. For a year I worked in the Lands Department, as a draftsman, survey draftsman. Moved to Maitland for about a year and then back to Sydney for about six months and then I travelled for about a year and a half after that, through Asia and across to Europe.
Were your family all from Ballina?
My father’s family grew up in Ballina. He came from a big Ballina family and my mother’s parent were not originally from Ballina – well actually my grandfather on my mother’s side was born in Jiggi. He was a local but they moved around quite a bit – they were hoteliers. My mother was born in Sydney, but they owned and built the Ballina Hotel, so they lived there, in Ballina for many years. I don’t know so much about my dad’s side but they lived in Ballina. I knew all the uncles, there was I think nine of them in the family. Ballina was pretty nice in those days – it was a little town. There was lots of open country. We had a big back yard so we had plenty of room to play. I just remember, you know, that it was very free in those days. We used to cycle all over the place and we just had free run of the place really. My parents never bothered too much about where we were. I remember the population being about 4000 at one stage. I was old enough to understand that, so I was probably in my teens.
When I came here I had just recently returned from overseas. I was living with some friends back in Ballina and had a very strong pull towards the land at that stage. I’d started a bit of a garden at my mother’s place in Sydney before I left. Yeah, just was living with some friends who were also keen to get some land and start growing your own food and things. And so we’d been looking around the area at properties with the possibility of buying something together, maybe. It was during that time that a friend of mine, Sue Robins, who’s now Subhana – I’d known her from Sydney – she told me about a meditation retreat in Queensland and that she was going to and it interested me. So I went up, I went to Queensland and after the retreat I met Dudley, Dudley Leggett and he’d put a notice up on the board after the retreat saying that they were looking for people to join a community in Northern NSW.
And, so I went and spoke to Dudley with a few other people and thought that sounds fantastic, it’s what I’m after, cause I didn’t really have much money after I had travelled, so I don’t know how I was going to buy land [laughs]. So I came and had a look at the property after the retreat and thought “yeah this is fantastic.” I went back to Sydney, bought an old car and a tent and came back here with Subhana and Jerry Bridgeland another guy who was at the retreat and we lived in my tent for some months, and eventually stayed on – the others left. Oh Subhana eventually moved to a community, Bodhi Farm next door. Jerry now lives in the Blue Mountains, at the meditation – the Vipassana Meditation, next to the Vipassana Meditation Centre in Blackheath.
And what was it about Dharmananda that caught your attention?
Ah, well – I suppose I was blinded by meditation and I thought “oh this is fantastic: – something new I’d found, and this was potentially a community that was based on meditation – you know, with other meditators. Plus, as I said before, I had this pull toward the land. Yeah, seemed the ideal situation really.
When you went to Sydney, did you go to university?
No, I didn’t get a good enough pass to go to uni so I ended up just getting this job in the Lands Department as a trained draftsman. And went to TAFE part-time, or tech college as it was then.
The reason I ask is because often we get the story of people who came to this area in the 70s and 80s – urban city/Sydney dwellers with university backgrounds. So your background’s a bit different to that. How did you find yourself doing meditation and being interested in alternative food cultures?
Well I’ve always been into surfing, since I was about fourteen I started surfing. And so, you know every weekend we used to go away with a bunch of my mates we’d go surfing somewhere down the coast. And there was a publication came out – a surfing publication – and in those days surfing was more of an underground sport. It was nothing like a mainstream sport. And so a lot of the people involved in it were fairly free thinkers. And so I remember this magazine came out and I think it might have been the early Tracks, I’m not sure, but there were articles in it about meditation and yoga and growing your own food and yeah, a lot of stuff that really probably wasn’t, in those days, available anywhere else. You know it was one of the early counter culture publications in a lot of ways. And then I started, before I left Sydney to go overseas, I’d already been going to yoga classes in Sydney and we’d done a little bit of meditation there. So I was interested in it at that stage.
There was still that surfer as opposed to clubby opposition?
Ray: Oh yeah very much. That was more the redneck path [laughs].
We wouldn’t touch a surf club with a barge pole. That was a no, no. Although both my brothers were into it. And my father. My father was a beltman in the surf club when he was younger.
Leigh: You’re the black-sheep right? [laughs].
And was this place already being set up with a food culture alongside the meditation or was the meditation more the draw card at the time?
Ray: It was both. Dudley and Carol already had established gardens – there wasn’t a lot happening when I came I remember. It was just starting, yeah there were a few patches that were a bit run down but …, but no they’d already been growing food here and the mediation – it was quite a strong pull, but both really.
JJ would you introduce yourself with some family background and tell us how you came here?
JJ Bruce. I came to the Northern Rivers in 1996 to study at the university. So I lived in Lismore while I was doing that and then before the birth of my first child I moved into Terania Creek Valley but not on to this farm. And that was twelve years ago, thirteen years ago. And I’m the newest member on Dharmananda as of a couple of months ago; so I’ve been living on the farm for two and a half years.
Looking back, I don’t think anyone in my family has followed the family tree. But as far as my mother’s side of the family goes – that side of the family came from the Isle of White and on my father’s side I think they came down through Scandinavia and into England. When I came onto the scene it was in Sydney, 1975. Ah Dad was in – I’m pretty sure he was in advertising at that stage. Like advertising heavy machinery; and Mum, well Mum was being a Mum. She later worked at Sabco and various places around the city. But Dad had grown up in Barham, on the Murray River and Mum had grown up on a farm just outside Armidale. Can’t remember the local town at the moment, maybe Walcha? And she had moved to the city. Obviously same thing as Ray – cause that’s where you get a job and the lights. Dad had been in the bank in Darwin, he travelled around a bit and he ended up in Sydney.
I was the product of Dad’s second marriage, and we lived in Greenwich in Sydney. So waterside north shore on a lovely dead-end street above the Greenwich baths. So my youth was spent in and out of the water, regular ear infections and fishing, a lot off the local wharf. I had it, yeah, really nice. For being in the city it was fairly free, I could come and go as I pleased. And then when I was nine Mum and Dad sold their house, that house and bought the Berridale General Store. So Berridale is a country town between Jindabyne and Cooma in the Snowy Mountains. I only spent, you know, half of year five and year six, the end of my primary school in Berridale. So I have a sister who is two years older than me she, she went back. She was old enough to want to go back to Sydney, so she went to boarding school in Sydney. And I went to boarding school when my time came in Canberra.
But before I went to boarding school I that’s where I really – I always really liked ‘Harry Butler in the Wild’ or ‘In the Wild with Harry Butler’ and all those out-doory sort of shows I saw on TV. When I got to the Snowy Mountains I really got to be on farms. Either friend’s farms and when Mum and Dad went on an extended holiday somewhere I ended up landing on a farm for a month or two months. Sheep farm and getting to do all the farm things, mustering sheep and working with the animals, all the jobs, chopping tails and nuts off. It was just really grabbed my heart – being, I guess, close to the land. And, so then I went to boarding school but I’d come back to that every holidays, I’d come back to that rural lifestyle.
When I finished school in 1993, graduated, went to Sydney for a short period of time looking for work. I think my grand aspiration was to be a cellarman on Oxford Street! Before it had a chance to eventuate I got accepted into two university courses; Agriculture at Hawkesbury, Western Sydney, and the other course was Aquatic Resource Management up in Rockhampton. And I chose the Rockhampton course because I thought Rockhampton would be a great place, I always wanted to live on the ocean and I thought that Rockhampton was a big yellow dot that touched the coast. That was very disappointing when I got there. [all laugh].
Leigh: Which way’s the beach?
JJ: That was probably my first question. It was 40 k’s. No surf either. That was my next huge disappointment. But yeah, I finished that Associate Diploma over two years and the thing that drew me to this area – when I drove back to the Snowy Mountains in my big holidays, the Christmas holidays, I drove through this area and it was about half way. I ended up finding a place around Byron Bay that I could camp on the beach and I’d just noticed how green it was. How the smells changed once you hit the Tweed River. And it wasn’t an irrigated sort of green either, like you get in patches in Rockhampton, in Queensland. It was a, you know, a real hearty growing-sort-of-green.
And without ever visiting Lismore I applied for university there and that’s how I got here. I did science, Environmental Science, majoring in Coastal Resource Management. It complimented the course I’d done with all the biology and chemistry and stuff like that.