This chapter provides a diachronic perspective on the Down to Earth movement, documenting the emergence of the Victorian Down to Earth Co-operative Society, and the evolution of DTE's ConFest. As its conflict ridden history demonstrates, DTE is a perennially unstable organisation. The occurrence of conflict within DTE has prompted me to divide its history into three phases, which I attend to respectively: (1) 1976-1980, (2) 1981-1994, and (3) 1995 to the time of writing (1999). While it is true that such delineation is an imaginative abstraction entertained by the author, it is equally true that 1980/81 and 1994/95 were synaptic periods occasioning unquestionable breaks and new growth in the organisation. While most crises in DTE achieve resolution or lead to submerged conflicts, at other times serious rifts develop after prolonged internecine dispute and open hostility. The latter has occurred on two occasions. The first became a media spectacle, largely because once-Deputy PM Dr Jim Cairns played the lead role. The second 'drama' is less known, yet it generated widespread concern, and subsequent notoriety, within DTE as the rift was completed with the establishment of a rival organisation and festival.
This historical exegesis seeks to demonstrate two features. First, DTE has evolved into a unique 'neo-tribal' (Maffesoli 1996) organisation, a form of sociation Hetherington (1994) describes as a Bund. The current DTE Bund, possesses the following six characteristics: 1) Its membership is elective - individuals choosing to be members of the Society. 2) It is responsive, members responding to the consequences of modernity, especially the perceived dissolution of community. 3) Its members therefore seek and achieve (especially in their desire to recreate the 'ConFest Spirit') an affectual solidarity. 4) It tolerates social diversity, the membership constituted by individuals with a vast range of backgrounds, interests and agendas. 5) It is neutral. Though members are not necessarily apolitical or irreligious, as an organisation, DTE has adopted a stance of non-allegiance to specific movements. 6) It is unstable, a result of the tension between the responsive and neutral traits, the diversity of members' personal agendas, and an ambivalence towards structure and formal procedure.
Second, both diachronically and synchronically, ConFest accommodates and indicates a multiplicity of alternatives, rendering it a unique ACH. As a 'closed phenomenal world', ConFest, for participants and observers alike, is a 'privileged point of penetration' (Handelman 1990:15,9) into the amorphous cultural codes of alternative Australia. According to Cockatoo, 100,000 people have probably experienced ConFest. A diachronic study of this enduring public event offers a unique record of the evolution and composition of alternative culture in Australia since the mid-seventies. For more than twenty years (30 events - see Chronology), ConFest has been a veritable magnet for a heterogeneity of subcultures, rebellious lifestyles and modes of escapism emerging in the wider cultural sphere. Its evolution reveals an exhibition of alternative cultural lifeworlds, which, in themselves, convey the fashionable discourse and practice of a multiplicity of contemporaneous social movements achieving degrees of popularity and influence over more than two decades. ConFest's framework of interdependent sites or 'centres', known as villages, are significant synchronic repositories and indices of such alternate cultural formations.
An organisation facilitating a unique cultural production, DTE provides the experience of community that is a source of strength and identity for individual members. Like many neo-tribes, DTE is not 'spatially proximate' - its members do not all live together or near each other - though members experience the periodic communion of ConFest, the biannual reproduction of which has become the primary, unifying objective of the Society.
Glossary of Acronyms and Abbreviations
Chapter Three Contents