For the Saturday 4 October event people from rural and urban centres from all over WA got together for a day and a night to find out what has been going on in this particular neck of the woods.
Cars arrived in numbers on the Saturday and we were directed to park up over a huge paddock ringed with trees. The event itself was held in a large arena marked by moveable fences and tents holding displays from sponsors, activities, food stalls and a sound stage. Next to the ground stage there was a space for aerial and fire performances and in the centre communal water tanks, shade tents and 'prop' areas were spaced around.
On the face of it nothing out of the ordinary; except that it worked. The scale of the arena helped: big enough to have to walk to work out what was going on, and small enough to not be tired by the distances.
The overall theme helped: 1000 tickets sold and I was in with a bunch of people loving the idea of seeing remnant bushland massaged back into biodiversity. If the environment was the big drawcard, the talk was inclusive in that the flora and fauna included words about other land uses, including mining and social opportunity where humans were counted as a valuable part of the local fauna – something that doesn't always happen when the environment is the main meal.
Maybe being out of mobile range had something to do with it?
Maybe it was the sense of co-operation? The iron ore companies were in there rubbing shoulders with groups dedicated to bringing Aboriginal people back to country via economic opportunity and others working to get profitable and socially responsible start-ups off the ground. Hearts were being listened to, systems analysed and the can-do attitude flowed from Not For Profit organisations, companies and community groups with the resources and intelligence to follow directions that look fruitful rather than those that merely capture the funding.
The Gunduwa* Young Leaders' Program is a case in point. It is one of several projects being funded by the Gunduwa Regional Conservation Association – an ambitious partnership that brings together local Government, pastoral and agricultural businesses, Aboriginal landholders, State government and the minerals sector to develop collaboration and environmental solutions. It's currently funded by Mount Gibson Mining and Asia Iron.
The program is run by the Perenjori and Morawa Shires with support from Bush Heritage, the Geraldton Regional Community Education Centre, and The Morawa District High School and aims to expose young people to education and mentoring opportunities
Bush Heritage Healthy Landscape Manager, Western Rangelands, Luke Bayley, has taken a leadership role as chair of the association, which he expects to have an impact in the Southern Rangelands and Northern Wheatbelt region on a landscape scale.
"There's no doubt that collaboration is the best way to monitor and control regional threats such as invasive weeds, feral animals, bushfires and drought," says Luke. "We can't operate in isolation. And getting young people involved is really important to foster their connection with the land."
And speaking of kids, they had a ball, with imaginative workshops, all day activities and the freedom to roam in packs kicking up their heels in the red dust. Kites of various hues flew throughout the day creating a festive feel and the adults were treated to tours of the property, intelligent and forward thinking discussion and imaginative workshops.
The food was fabulous and aimed at grown-ups. Food you would actually want to eat ticked boxes for being nutritious, delicious and very reasonably priced. The takeaway containers were bio-degradable, the coffee was of great quality and there was no fairy floss in sight, even though at times actual fairies were thick on the ground.
Something was brewing at Blues for the Bush; something deep and warm was enabling connections to flourish between festival goers. The set-up encouraged interaction, the theme was geared to alternative ways of going about the business of life and every aspect of the festival fed into this vision.
It all added up to a spirit that was buzzy to the point where I felt the excitement of a real change of direction in how we organise ourselves in society. I don't believe I have ever managed so many easy, pleasurable and fascinating encounters with so many people – friends and strangers - in a period that covered less than 24 hours. At Blues for the Bush it was possible to see that what is considered 'mainstream' is only one way of looking at the world and there is a groundswell for doing things differently that is already upon us.
In the immortal words of that funny little lawyer in the movie The Castle who struggled to articulate his sense of a case: it was 'The Vibe'. The vibe rocked.
*Gunduwa means echidna in Badimaya language.