My background in peace and environment groups

Peace sign made out of pebbles

(Photo: Beth)

At a recent Transition Newcastle planning weekend, we shared some of how we came to be at the weekend. As I celebrated my 50th birthday last week, I think I am justified in reflecting on how my journey so far has led to this blog.

I was born in South Korea, where my parents were missionaries, and lived there until I was seven. While I wasn’t aware of all the implications at the time, I was certainly aware of some of the poverty that surrounded us and I wonder how I was influenced by these early years.

Mum and Dad were very involved in the church and this provided me with a strong community for many years. While far from radicals, conversations about world issues, social justice and current affairs were common. As a child I was involved in a variety of events addressing social issues including the Walk Against Want (organised by Community Aid Abroad, the predecessor of Oxfam Australia) and collecting signatures for a  land rights petition. At high school I was involved in a small group highlighting pollution.

My real involvement in social change groups began when I started a Bachelor of Music at Melbourne Uni at the age of 21.  Ronald Reagan was in the Whitehouse and the cold war was escalating. There was a large build up of nuclear weapons and I became very involved in various peace groups, especially People for Nuclear Disarmament. People really were very worried by the prospects of nuclear war, as shown by rallies in Melbourne and Sydney with over 100 000 people.

I was also involved in a few other issues and spent a month in Strahan supporting the Franklin Blockade, but my main focus was on peace and disarmament. While at the Franklin Blockade, I met up with some Quakers and, inspired by their commitment to nonviolence and inclusive practices, started attending their meetings.

I finished my degree in 1985 just in time for the International Year of Peace the next year. The Uniting Church’s Division of Social Justice offered me a sort of internship as a peace worker, and I spent 1986 working for them on a range of issues including conscientious objection to military service, a Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific, and nuclear disarmament. I also volunteered with a variety of groups including People for Nuclear Disarmament (in the Melbourne office and a local group), Action for World Development and the Quaker Peace Committee.

Working with church activists was great. There were some inspiring people and it was a very supportive, positive environment to work in. Quakers had a large impact on my philosophy and practice. Although I am no longer involved (and am now an atheist) I really appreciate the influence of Quakers.

Despite 1986 being the International Year of Peace, we discovered that Desiko Pty Ltd had plans for a major arms exhibition in Australia. According to Desiko, PADEX (the Pacific Area Defence Exhibition) would be the “first ever exhibition of global defence equipment in the Southern hemisphere.” It was not something I thought Australia should support, particularly in the International Year of Peace.

It amazed me (and still does) that the organisers thought it was appropriate to invite both sides of arms build ups (e.g. India and Pakistan) and countries with very poor human rights records. A small group of us joined together to oppose the exhibition and started to create awareness of the event. We, and other groups, slowly built momentum so the organisers decided to move the event from Sydney to Darwin. We had been told we had no chance of stopping the event, but after unions started to threaten black bans and the Australian Government decided not to support it, we succeeded in forcing the cancellation of the exhibition.  (You can read more about this and subsequent campaigns against arms exhibitions here.)

The other important event of 1986 was Cathy and I marrying. The following year we started 18 months travel around Australia. While we travelled I volunteered for a few groups, helped the Alice Springs Peace Group prepare a submission about Pine Gap for the City Council, and helped the Darwin Environment Centre to document the impact of the Ranger uranium mine on Kakadu National Park.

Through our travels we saw many amazing places and it showed us that we really didn’t want to live in a major capital city. As Cathy’s family lived in Newcastle we decided to settle there. Unfortunately there were very few jobs in peace, social justice or environment groups, and so I had to find other work. I decided to study welfare at Newcastle Uni as I felt there was a link between welfare and social justice. With my background in social change, not surprisingly, my main interest was community work.

Two years into the degree I started working in an accommodation unit for homeless youth and was horrified at the way in which some staff handled conflict. While I was completing my degree I started exploring conflict resolution through reading and attending training with the Conflict Resolution Network and the Alternatives to Violence Project. After my welfare degree I started a Master of Letters in Peace Studies through the University of New England. My minor these was on youth work and conflict resolution.

The Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) became a major focus for me from 1994 to 2000. AVP, a voluntary group,  runs excellent workshop on nonviolence (at an interpersonal level). In 1994 I helped establish AVP in Newcastle and over the next seven years I help facilitate over 50 AVP workshops, over 20 AVP youth workshops and over 40 workshops on conflict resolution. I learnt so much through this work – both about facilitation and nonviolence.

Through AVP and working with schools and youth services, I became interested in how youth services could develop work environments and cultures that were consistent with a philosophy of nonviolence. As I was eligible for a scholarship (which, when combined with a bit of part-time work, was about the same as my youth worker wage) I started, and completed, a PhD exploring the implications of a philosophy of nonviolence for youth workers.

Just after I had started working full-time on my PhD, Cathy discovered she was pregnant. With the birth of Jasmine in late 2000, my priorities changed. It has always been important for me to be actively involved in being a parent. Particularly in the early years, I didn’t have the time to devote weekends to facilitating AVP workshops and so only helped with a few more workshops. (One day I would love to return as they really are great workshops.)

After my PhD I started working at the Family Action Centre (part of Newcastle Uni) which really is a family friendly workplace. Unfortunately, my new role and family commitment meant I didn’t follow-up the work I did on nonviolence and youth work practice as much as I might have, but that’s OK.

My work at the Family Action Centre has led me to focus on asset-based community development and community engagement (as well as a variety of other things).

By the time Jasmine was seven and Alexa was four, I was ready to start becoming involved again in a peace or environment group. At the Bellingen Global Carnival, Will suggested I should consider joining Transition Newcastle. I looked it up and appreciated its positive focus and decided it was a group I could happily support.

I am still passionate about peace and nonviolence, but I can see we need to transition to a more sustainable lifestyle as a matter of urgency. For now I am putting my energy into helping to encourage Newcastle to a leading role in becoming more sustainable. Of course this can only be done through community engagement.

As you might see, this blog is attempting to bring some of these strands together. My work at the Family Action Centre has a large focus on community engagement (in a range of settings). Through my daughters’ schools, I am encouraging community building in the school. Through Transition Newcastle I am interested in how we can use community engagement to promote sustainability.

I still have much to learn and this blog is one way I can reflect on, and share, my journey.

If you liked this post you might want to follow my blog (top right-hand corner of the blog), and you might like to look at:

  1. Principles of nonviolence
  2. Nonviolence as a Framework for Youth Work Practice
  3. The widening gap between rich and poor – Time to even it up.
  4. What is terrorism?
  5. Parenting for a better world

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, environmentalist, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace, sustainability.
This entry was posted in Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), Personal, Social change and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to My background in peace and environment groups

  1. Anonymous says:

    Really interesting Graeme!


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