We must begin by rejecting what the system imposes upon us, and begin with what meets our real, natural needs, and transform that into a social movement. We must go Down to Earth. (Cairns 1976:5)
In October 1976, a leaflet was distributed from the Parliament House office of the former policeman, Deputy Prime Minister, Treasurer and anti-Vietnam War crusader with a PhD in history, Dr Jim Cairns. It was a statement inviting all 'who feel the need for radical change' to a forthcoming event. It stated that the event would be host to:
Aborigines, ethnic communities, women's liberation groups, peace activists, homosexuals, lesbians, members of rural and city communes and co-operatives and those concerned with self-management and work democracy, law reform, ideology, theories of social change, alternative food, health, energy, living structures, education, psychotherapy, yoga and meditation. (Rawlins 1982:24)
The event was the first ConFest held on the Cotter River Recreation Reserve in December 1976, an occasion realised through the political muscle, charisma and nascent psycho-politics of Cairns. With the purpose of organising such a 'national Alternative Australia gathering', Cairns had since May that year travelled the country establishing contact with, and harnessing the support of at least 2,000 people (Cock 1979:49). One of the more radical thinking politicians in Australian history, it wasn't until the mid seventies (in his sixties) that Cairns began taking steps which would eventually distance most of his political allies. To the chagrin of former colleagues and staff, he befriended Junie Morosi,1 who stimulated his own personal liberation and commitment to a lifestyle of 'voluntary simplicity' (Miles 1978:71), and who became his personal secretary and 'partner in his crusade for an Alternative Australia' (Ormonde 1981:241).
In May 1976, still an opposition backbencher and member for Lalor, Cairns called a meeting in Melbourne at which there were gathered a motley of individuals and groups disaffected by the dominant culture (what Cairns called 'the lead society'). Those responding to his 'call' gathered at ensuing meetings such as that in Canberra in September where those present sought to unite their skills and energies in an event to incorporate a serious discussion of, and experimentation with, 'the way out', to be undertaken in a relaxed and festive environment. It was therefore - paralleling the Aquarius event - to be a conference and a festival. Presented with a Canadian newspaper carrying the promotion for an upcoming event there - 'Down to Earth - A Festival of Alternatives' - the title 'Down to Earth: A Shaping of Alternatives' was chosen for Cotter (Schmidt 1983: 8-9; DTE Canberra 4 March, 1980; King 1980:5).
In the mainstream media Cairns became spokesman for what he called, in early pamphlets and literature - especially Growth to Freedom (1979) - 'the new culture'. Though in the main, little more than a banal cargo-cult of quotations, I cannot eschew consideration of Cairns' work since, for a moment in the late seventies, he was the champion of the alternative movement. His message to (and dialogue with) the flocking legions of distraught and disillusioned (printed on the October '76 leaflet) was precisely what they wanted to hear, and they seemed particularly curious, as here was a man who had achieved such a senior position in 'the establishment'. Cairns promoted a loose tract of Reichian inspired libratory psychologism,2 a philosophy which subsequently became synonymous with ConFests, and an enduring theme long after Cairns had left DTE.3 His mind was that 'we need a new theory and understanding of social growth to help us chart a course for the rest of this century. And that requires an alternative lifestyle and cultural pattern' (Sunshine News 34, c.1978). He went on to maintain (on a flier distributed at Berri 1979) that 'we must bring politics to an end ... [and develop] a people's liberation movement'. The primary goals of such a 'culture' or 'movement' were liberation from sensory repression and self-determination (DTE Canberra 4, March 1980:22).
Cairns had been a long time proponent of Marx, yet by the early seventies his position had shifted. As Horin put it, for Cairns 'Marx considered man only in the cold light of economics; psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich on the other hand, saw man and woman in the hot glow of sex, psychic energies, and mysterious life forces' (1979:31). In an eclectic style of literary patchworking, and following the example set by Reich, he attempted to marry the ideas of Freud with those of Marx, and then Reich with those of Engels (Ormonde 1981:245), supposing that a host of social problems (including repressed sexual attitudes) have their root in patriarchy, which, Cairns thought, superseded matriarchal cultures about 5000 years ago. Persisting with the quest for social change, he shifted attention away from parliamentary politics towards the liberation of the self. He aimed at nothing short of a panacea, a 'True Alternative', to the 'logic of destruction' set in motion by the 'theologies and ideologies of the lead society': the 'good society' could be achieved by liberating the repressed 'life force' (Cairns 1979:6).4
In 1976, preceding his retirement from federal politics the following year, Cairns produced a manifesto: 'The Theory of the Alternative'. The document encapsulated his ideas about, and intentions for, cultural revolution, and as far as later developments were concerned, it was embryonic. In it, Cairns revealed his principal aim: 'to transform society and bring an end to alienation, oppression, exploitation and inequality' (1976:16). 'Survival now [Cairns stated] requires a radical break with the past; it demands a future which has to be created. Survival demands a revolution in the way of life of everyone' (ibid:3). The necessary radical elision would be achieved in four stages. 1) 'Cultural preparation or consciousness raising'. 2) 'Building up radical groups or alternative enclaves of all kinds based on real needs of the people'. 3) 'The development of a community for change, of a peoples' liberation movement, with the capacity to challenge the structure of authority'. 4) 'The radical groups or alternative enclaves [would] take over as self-governing and regulating communities and replace the bureaucracy and machinery of the centralised, nation-State' (ibid:15).
To elaborate, Cairns saw that in most industrial systems:
there is a rising crescendo of violence, and everywhere, there is smoldering dissatisfaction ... [T]he prevailing and insatiable demands made on resources which cannot be replaced cannot long continue. Mental illhealth, a result of alienation and stress, is spreading. Ecological unbalance distorts and poisons life, and thermo-nuclear processes, if continued, will destroy it. (1976:3)
Alienation and oppression are revealed to be rather complex: not only are people alienated or estranged from themselves through meaningless work, but 'alienation begins at birth or before'. 'The worker [he contended] reaches the factory well prepared for a subsidiary role ... [A]ll authorities - parents, churches, schools, employers, and States - conspire to create the kind of character structure which is conducive to their authority' (ibid:11). A Marxist critique is then not an entirely adequate explanation for humanity's 'willingness to submit to authorities ... for its fear of freedom, nor for its acceptance of compulsory morality and guilt' (ibid:9). An economic analysis of the 'authoritarian social structure', therefore, must be supplemented by 'a radical psychological analysis' (ibid).
Further, it was suggested that three forms of alienation afflict modern humanity, for which there are three corresponding, yet integral, revolutionary responses.
In the Marxist tradition alienation was the result of production, of work, when the economic system was controlled by a few. For writers like Shilimith [sic] Firestone [and other proponents of] women's liberation, alienation is a result of a male dominant society. But more significantly, alienation is the result of repression of the natural needs of children. Each of these views is correct, but taken alone each one is insufficient and misleading. A complete theory of social behaviour requires the integration of these three views into a comprehensive social theory, which may, at this stage be called the Theory of the Alternative. (Cairns 1976:13-14)
The struggle is the need to eliminate private ownership: 'but it is not only private ownership of economic capital, it is far more significantly, private ownership of people - women by men, children by parents, and the people by the system' (ibid:14).5 Without a 'development of consciousness' - the demystification of the alienating and oppressive nature of an authoritarian, patriarchal society which claims to act 'in the public good' and which represses sensory pleasure, especially sexuality - liberation cannot be achieved. This liberation, Cairns argues, demands three things: the 'discovery of real, natural needs by each individual ... pride in those needs, and then participation in the common struggle to achieve them' (ibid:5). With this new consciousness, a 'free and strong individual' would emerge anticipating new social values and priorities. Indeed, Cairns later proposed multiple shifts - from: 'feelings of worthlessness to acceptance of self'; 'being directed by others to self-direction'; 'lack of awareness to sensibility of self, others and nature'; 'sexual inhibition to sexual fulfilment', and 'unproductiveness to creativity'. Such transitions would, he continued, stimulate capacious social modifications - from: 'authoritarianism towards participation'; 'a society based on guilt to a society based on joy', and; 'standards based on efficiency and mass production alone (ie. "quantity") towards standards based on human fulfilment (ie. "quality")' (Cairns in Hast 1979:11).
Cairns' October '76 statement forecasts the movement's acceptance of diverse alternatives: 'the new society will be made up of the choices of multitudes of people - individuals and groups - who are determined to find a way out. No one can be excluded' (Cairns in Rawlins 1982:26). DTE's legacy of providing a heterotopic harbour for most conceivable alternative options, tolerating the disordered and the contested, a space where marginal knowledge and experimental modes of co-operation are embraced and exchanged, is here found in blueprint. The profusion of ideas that found haven in DTE in the early years is reflected in the following statements taken from a variety of sources. In an early letter entitled 'A basic philosophy of the DTE movement', Dik Freestun feels DTE is a multivocal educator:
[Down to Earth is] a name that means a common ground upon which all individuals who love Nature, Equality and Peace, can and do relate ... [DTE Australia is] a linking together of minority groups who have been suppressed and oppressed ... supplies alternative answers to solve society's age old problems of greed and power [and will become] an instructor, a communicator, an educator, a demonstrator of life ... DTE is many things and speaks with many voices, to bring about a time when Man with God as One rejoices. (circa Sep. 1977)
There were orientations more avowedly Marxist in inspiration:
We must challenge the present power structure in which those who own or control the means of production have the power to buy worker's lives for the fulfilment of their projects. We must challenge alienation & oppression of individuals caused by our present moral code and by the institutions who control our lives. (L. Redman in the first DTEQLD newsletter Feb. 1977, reprinted in DTE North East Aust March 1997:7)
Down to Earthers' ... function should be to help all those who are in conflict with the present authoritarian social structure, both in industry and in society at large, to generalise our experience and to make a total critique of our condition and of its cause, and to develop the mass revolutionary consciousness necessary if society is to be totally transformed. (B. James. DTE Canberra 4, March 1980:34)
Alternatively, a 'search within' may engender 'new mythologies':
[DTE and ConFest] offer you a real chance to explore the alternatives to daily living to broaden your canopies of vision and discover some exciting new routes to survival in a rapidly crumbling social order. We offer choices for living ... the change and restoration does not come from without but from individual consciousness-raising as a result of self inquiry ... The emerging new image of humankind developing from this search within entails new cultural and knowledge paradigms and is being reflected in the creation of new mythologies. As we become more aware of these new images we need to create ways to transform the vision to reality. (Anon. DTE SA 2, 1979:1)
Self healing may be connected to ecological and social alternatives:
[DTE offers the chance] to make our world an egalitarian and ecologically sound place to live in - within our lifetimes. We can replace our wasteful consumer cult with a sustainable creative and fulfilling way of life by working together, if we continue to work at communicating our vision of the possibilities: to learn, to create alternatives, to heal and reshape ourselves and our society. (in a letter from 'BLM', DTE Canberra 3, Dec. 1979:15)
Ultimately, it is envisioned as an expanding movement:
It's a movement that offers people a wide variety of choice to move out of the narrow confines in which they live. The safe, happy, restrictive, unquestioning pathways ... The analogy of the movement as an umbrella needs to be true at all levels. Not only as an umbrella for the various alternative lifestyle groups, but as a continually extending umbrella, continually broadening, and encompassing the universe. The limits of the umbrella are the limits of the people who make up the movement; and our aim has to be to extend the umbrella to the rest of the world, to the point of total inclusion. (letter from John Rainsbury, member of 'the Down to Earth Council', 5/9/78 Aldinga Beach, SA)6