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Alabama—Mildura—Broken Hill

Cultivator Conference began in 2010 with the like-minded residents of Mildura setting out to establish innovative ideas for regional community development. 

Cultivator focuses on creating an annual event that invites a variety of diverse speakers from both Australia and the world to consider how design and ideas can play an important role in community development.

This year attracted over 200 participants in the one day event with four speakers taking the floor and discussing unique stories of community change. The speakers this year were: Pam Dorr—HERO Housing, Greensboro, Alabama; Alison Page—Aboriginal Design, NSW; Kane Hibbard—Music Photographer, VIC; Jihad Dibb—Principal, Punchbowl Boys High, NSW.

Alison Page

Alison Page began the day’s conversation with her insight as an indigenous designer. Alison studied interior design at the University of Technology Sydney and has expanded her craft over the last decade or more with many other art forms including jewellery, furniture and a remote community hospital as well as being a long appearing judge on ABC’s New Inventors.

Alison connected with her indigenous heritage at university when her lecturer asked her “What do you know about Aboriginal architecture?” She was instantly intrigued by the clash of these two words and how foreign they sounded together. 

Alison began to use design as a way of storytelling to connect with her heritage and through this journey she began to link economical sustainability in a way that allowed growth through designing objects to sell and to establish social initiatives for others. Jewellery design led into creating a licencing space so that aboriginal artists could collect royalties from their art or as she stated “Social justice for Aboriginal people is through economics”.

Allison develops alliances and initiatives to build on organisations with a particular example of asking land councils for $4000 to establish events to be initiated for aboriginal cultural significant. By doing this she then creates leverage for other councils to fund initiatives where she believes that “culture is people”. 

Kane Hibberd

Kane Hibberd grew up around Seymour in Victoria during the 1980’s. He felt that school didn’t offer an inspiring environment for creative growth and focussed more on listening to music and packing shelves at the local supermarket to finish year 12. 

This path allowed him to realise that “No way I wanted to work in a supermarket[for the rest of my life] after working full-time at night finishing year 12 to get into uni” and left for the city to study sound engineering—a direction that he fell into though he craved to make things.

Kane found a good job working for a software company that allowed him to travel around the globe for business. He found that during his downtime in different destinations he was led, mostly by loneliness, to start shooting pictures with his camera when visiting new places. In these different destinations he would catch up with friends and go to live music venues and capture gigs where he was driven to “not just take a photo but capture a moment”. 

Kane has enjoyed a prolific career capturing the greats of rock and roll including: Artic Monkeys, Flume, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and Pink.

Jihad Dib

Jihad Dib became Principal of Punchbowl Boys High, a school in Sydney’s West in 2006. 

This was a moment in time when the school was regarded as one of the worst in Sydney and all members of the teaching staff (all male) were offered transfer packages—an offer that is relatively unheard of. “It was on the brink of closure. Violence and other incidents were rife. It would have been easier just to close it”.

Jihad developed a vision surrounding the idea that it was more important for kids to be inside the schools gates than out and set out to visit parents of the students in there homes—a believe that calling them from his office was impersonal and closed connections. 

The area of Punchbowl is mixed race and many of the students parents come from countries where they don’t trust the Government so Jihad believed that connecting with the parents in there homes was a good first step.

During his first few months he witnessed the year 12 graduation where a handful of parents and students were gathered to celebrate there graduation “a solemn affair” whereby only a handful students graduated or as one of the student put it “Kids like us don’t go to uni”.

After implementing small change to the school and spending as little time behind his desk and as much time with the students (it helps that he has great support staff) Jihad has turned the school around and has doubled enrolments during his tenure. 

One method that he has adopted, called Kaizen or loosely translated to good change, is a Japanese term that means small change. He believes that slowly implementing many little changes evolves the environment or as Jihad remarked, “In all these years I keep changing; the school keeps changing—it’s a continuum”.

Jihad has been an active member of the local Labor party and his next ambition is to move further into politics to effect change on a larger level.

Pam Dorr

Pam established a successful career in the advertising industry and quickly climbed the ladder to work with major brands such as Victoria’s Secret.

From an early age growing up in Northern California, Pam became interested in renovating a derelict home she purchased using found and existing materials and a social network to help her. This belief and ideals later led her to visit the town of Greensboro, Alabama and engage with creative people to begin to change the community in this small, economically disadvantaged area.

After leaving her professional career she relocated permanently to Greensboro in the Deep South and began to work on establishing an organisation that would create affordable housing; establish economic development and feed community development.

Pam has, in the past 10 years established HERO(Hale Empowerment and Revitalisation Organisation), an enterprise that has generated a dozen or so feeder initiatives that feed back into the community. Pam has began to develop the town of Greensboro by buying derelict buildings, using free labour from volunteers, to take back the main street and create spaces to develop community businesses.    

There have been many initiatives that have been established in the Main Street with HERO working with the group; Project M led by John Bielenberg. Project M is made up of student volunteers who develop ingenious projects rapidly in a two week period. This partnership has created ideas such as utilising bamboo, a local weed, to create a bike that can be shipped worldwide. People can also stay in Greensboro for a weekend and make there own bamboo bike. This has allowed the bike business, HERO Bikes, to employ local staff and training in skills of bike building and bamboo manufacturing all while utilising the existing resource of bamboo.

Another of these initiatives has been Pie Lab, which was the culmination of ideas and pie. Pie Lab was build for $6000. $4000 of this went towards air conditioning. Pie Lab was nominated for a major Architectural award only to lose to the Guggenheim Museum Café. Pie Lab employs local students and helps them to learn new skills and funding to continue to finish high school, where most students leave in year 9 or before.

Other development has included creating a homestead that sleeps over 60 people so that anyone wanting to come and offer free labour can do so. Greensboro receives many volunteers per year including a Karate Group who visit annually and build a house in a week.

Pam is a true inspiration and somebody who has dedicated their life to creating positive change in local rural communities. During her time she has established HERO as an organisation that allows funding streams to feed these initiatives and is now only 5% dependent on government funding—A considerable achievement as well as many other initiatives including HABITAT Housing creating $20,000 homes and offering below interest 

Broken Hill Community Engagement

After Cultivator we travelled 350km north-west to Broken Hill where Pam Dorr addressed a number of invited community members at the local civic centre. 

The Mayor introduced the engagement and some background on Broken Hill and the challenges it faces. These challenges are many though they include the issues surrounding mining and when the companies begin to leave the community. 

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Broken Hill community is an isolated community 300km from the nearest small city. The community is made up of a large per cent of miners who are transient and fly in for short periods of time. A small percentage have been there for generations and the predominate industry after mining is tourism.

Pam was selected to speak to key community members, around 50 people, about what she has achieved in Greensboro, Alabama and to spark ideas that may feed the sustainability of Broken Hill. Sustainability in generally measured through three areas: Social Sustainability, Economical Sustainability and Environmental Sustainability. 

The idea around HERO in Greensboro was to develop feeder businesses that fed into the organisation. These comprised of small bets that would either survive the first year of existence or fall to be self-sustainable during this time. The more small bets the more chance that they will succeed and feed back into the community creating 

a small economy, skills development and an overall participation from the general community.

The Broken Hill community members keenly listened to Pam and what HERO has achieved for its community and asked a broad array of questions after surrounding what they can do to continue to engage in the community. The challenges that they face are numerous and entrepreneurism is a new skill that the community sometimes struggles with understanding especially regarding scalable ideas.

Keir Vaughan