Site hosted by Angelfire.com: Build your free website today!

The Movement in Historical Context

Before discussing DTE and ConFest itself, it will be useful to explore the historical context of its emergence. What was the economic, political and social climate out of which DTE arose? Dennis Altman earlier argued that the first three ConFests together 'represent one of the more visible manifestations of the "alternative culture" that emerged in the Western industrialized world in the late 1960s' (1980:116). DTE and ConFest were clearly products of the radical culture of the sixties, a culture heavily influenced by radicalism in the US. Indeed, according to one experienced ConFester, the first ConFest was held in 1967 in San Francisco. An expatriate American, he was referring to the 'Human Be-in' held in that city's Golden Gate Park, a massive convergence of the radical New Left and the psychedelic 'love generation'. Reports of that event convey a primordial moment from which ConFest atavists may rightfully claim descent. The commentary of Gary Snyder should suffice here: '[a]t the Polo Fields, on a wonderful day, the new aboriginals gathered in bunches with their elders and children, and some of them with their own flags and banners. These were the real tribes and clans' (in Buenfil 1991:43).

Though the direct roots of ConFest are located in what became known as the counterculture, it should be kept in mind that the 'counter cultural movement' of the sixties itself represented the 'rebirth of a Dionysian culture' which possesses deep historical roots (e.g. Romanticism, early utopian socialism, anarcho-syndicalism communitarianism, beats: Musgrove 1974:12). In Australia, communitarianism for example, has a long history (cf. Metcalf 1986:Ch.3; 1995).

Yet, in advanced industrial societies, the 1960s occasioned a momentous youthful avalanche of spontaneous strategies taken up in opposition to what Roszak (1968: xli) called 'the consolidation of a technocratic totalitarianism'. Conventional religion, gender relations, work practices, the nuclear family, reductionist science, allopathic medicine, the corporate media, leisure pursuits and mass consumption practices became subject to an unprecedented cultural assault. If an underlying goal of the international counterculturalists was to be found, it would approximate the radical struggle for individual liberty and freedom of expression. Yet, with no consensus on 'radicalism', strategies ranged from genuine opposition to outright disengagement. The culture of dissent possessed bohemian and militant elements, aesthetic and instrumental tactics - perhaps best clarified in Musgrove's (1974) 'dialectics of utopia'.

In Australia, an insurgent and highly derivative 'cultural radicalism' (Alomes 1983:29) mobilised especially around 'the quintessential sixties event' - Vietnam. As opposition to the war and conscription mounted, the era saw the revival of the peace movement (Burgmann 1993:190). Moreover, 'protest and youth became synonymous'. As Gerster and Bassett (1991:46) assert, being 'against Vietnam' meant, for youth, 'a blanket rejection of almost everything associated with the world of their parents'.

What became known as 'the counterculture' should be explained in terms of the complex consequences of both the economic prosperity associated with the 'post-war boom' and the increasing numbers of tertiary educated adolescents. That which Roszak deemed 'the Age of Affluence' (1995), or 'the sixties' (delineated as the period between 1942-72) saw the unprecedented increase in the standard of living in high industrial economies (especially the US). The liberal child rearing and education experienced by 'baby boom' children, stimulated reaction 'against both repressive institutions and ... the smothering security and overly comfortable conformity of their parents' way of life' (Gerster and Bassett 1991:33). In this era, prolonged education and the 'extended protection from the pressures of adult responsibilities' artificially extended the 'natural period of adolescence' (ibid:49). Suffering from an 'affluent alienation', the adolescents of the new middle classes were transfixed by the Romantic and anarchic concept of 'personal freedom' (ibid:38), seeking 'rebellion', 'experience' and 'spontaneity', sometimes with the aid of marijuana and LSD, sometimes through uninhibited sexual expression, but, significantly, also through consumer capitalism.

This situation has continued throughout the 1970s and '80s, and into the '90s. In the mid 1970s, Inglehart stated that 'a new culture is emerging within Western societies'. He claimed that '[t]he values of Western publics have been shifting from an overwhelming emphasis on material wellbeing and physical security toward greater emphasis on the quality of life' (in Heelas 1992:141). Dominated by the inward gaze of new religions and psychotherapies, Wolfe labelled the 1970s 'the me decade'. And, Lasch claimed that 'to live for the moment is the prevailing passion - to live for yourself, not for your predecessors or posterity' (in Yinger 1982:70). While some argued that this introspection was a response to discontentment with depersonalising and self-fragmenting modern technocracies (Berger et al. 1974), others, like Inglehart, following Maslow, have suggested that economic prosperity triggered advanced needs - especially 'self-actualisation' - and their fulfilment (Heelas 1992:149).

In Australia, it is clear that a preoccupation with individuation, with an authentic self, gathered momentum from the early seventies. As the psychologies of Wilhelm Reich and Carl Jung superseded the historical materialism of Marx in the popular culture of alternative lifestylers, the children of 'the silent revolution' have concerned themselves with the growth of the mind, body and spirit. As Cock (1979:215) argues, the 'back to the land' or communitarian push of the 1970s and '80s was seen to signify a shift away from a direct challenge to the 'Corporate State' towards changing oneself. Communes and intentional communities provided the social environment for 'self-actualisation' and the expression of one's 'authentic self' (Munro-Clarke 1986:219). The trend continued in the form of an explosion of retreats, weekend intensives and short duration workshops designed for psycho-spiritual (re)growth in the 1980s and '90s. This has provided fertile ground for the burgeoning 'self religion' of the New Age.

Yet healing the self, I contend, is contiguous with a strengthening eco-consciousness. As I will elaborate (in Chapter 7), personhood and politics are difficult, if not impossible, to regard in isolation. My approach here is consistent with new social movement (NSM) theory. As 'resource mobilisation' models have fallen into disfavour, social movements are no longer simplified as collective efforts at reforming production and distribution patterns. Interest now lies in symbolic repertoires employed by the 'submerged networks' of contemporary collective identities - whose meaning construction is considered to be an end in itself. As Melucci (1989) infers, 'the movement is the message'. Everyday symbolic activity, especially consumption patterns - or, perhaps, anti-consumption strategies - constitute a significant aspect of the identity politics of NSMs. Symbolic codes employed may include fashion and body decor, diet, choice of medicine, method of waste management, and chosen form of sociality.

At its birth, and through its reappearance for over two decades since 1976, ConFest became a large reservoir for diverse streams of the Australian ACM - itself, constituted by a multitude of NSMs. Two broader arms of alternative culture convened at ConFest's ontogenesis: the alternative health and therapy movements, committed to self-liberation/actualisation, and the peace and green movements, committed to activism and the raising of environmental awareness. The former, both responsive to the 'alienation' and 'repression' of modern industrialism, and pursuing advanced need fulfilment, were steeped in psychotherapy and advocated expressive individualism and self 'growth', later becoming a key trope of the New Age. The latter, responding to the global Cold War environment, the real prospect of nuclear Armageddon and the 'limits to growth', advocated collective action and solutions based on participatory democracy. So ConFest, in the mid-seventies, became an outgrowth of the contemporaneous interests of self-liberationists such as Jim Cairns, and activists, such as those mobilising against uranium mining - an industry supported by the reinstalled Liberal administration of 1975.

Indeed ConFests rapidly became occasions for mystics and militants, Maoists and musos, aesthetes and activists, to bed down together. Over the course of its history ConFest would be multi-subcultural, becoming a haven for hippie, punk, anarchist, pagan, raver and feral subcultures, and would accommodate a multitude of organisations: human potential, alternative health, communitarians, new spiritualities, women's and men's groups, queers, greens, alternative technology-energy, nuclear-free and forest activists.



< BACK

NEXT >




Footnotes
Chronology
Appendices
Glossary of Acronyms and Abbreviations
References: A-L
References: M-Z
Chapter Three Contents
Thesis Contents