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November 24, 2020


A series of programmes about Fraser House, a total therapeutic community in 1960s Australia, featuring David Cruise and Dr. Les Spencer, a behavioural scientist and sociologist in Melbourne, Australia.


Programme Ten: "Fraser House - A Model for the World" (Click for Programme)

David Cruise [DC] I am David Cruise in Melbourne Australia for Radio TC International. 'Fraser House' is a series of Programs about Dr Neville Yeomans – the founder of the Fraser House psychiatric Therapeutic Community in Australia. This extraordinary unit ran from 1959 to 1968 and was responsible for introducing many psychosocial innovations into Australian society. This series introduces doctoral research into Neville Yeomans' work by Les Spencer a behavioural scientist and clinical sociologist. I have Les with me in the studio.

Les Spencer [LS] Hi David. Today I am going to give an overview of Cultural Keyline that I promised in the very first program, and also would like to talk about Neville's wider intention in creating Fraser House in the first place.

Now listeners to the early programs would have heard me talk about Keyline and Cultural Keyline - and I stated that Keyline was developed by Neville's father PA Yeomans. Keyline is a way of engaging with land as a system, a way of been open to the full richness of nature and having a mode of attending to nature in a profound way so that one is open to learning from nature and been guided by it. From this one is able to enter into a very enhanced form of perceiving. PA and Neville started noticing aspects of nature and landform that perhaps no one in human history had ever noticed before. As a result, Neville's father, supported by Neville and his two brothers Allan and Ken, were able to take a degraded property of 1000 acres with very, very poor soils (and it was about two hours drive inland from Sydney beside the rolling hills above the Hawksbury River) and within three years they had visitors coming from all over the Earth that were describing the soil on that farm as 'this must be the best soil ever was'. And the key insight in all of this is to recognise that nature did the change work. The Yeomans only created the context for nature to do its own changing. And in those three years four inches of magnificent new topsoil was generated by nature.

Neville applied Keyline as Cultural Keyline and in this short program I can only give a small taste of what Cultural Keyline involved. There's been hints of this through the previous programs. PA Yeomans, in relating with his farm as a complex inter-related living system was continually looking for the way in which it was self-organising. He noticed many, many aspects of the way in which water would run on the land by being out in nature and seeing how it actually behaved. They were able to create subtle changes in the whole topography that created an ideal environment for all of the living creatures in the soil to combine with increased aeration, less compaction in the soil and for there to be an absolute massive increase of trillions of more living organisms in the soil, so much so that there was a very large percentage of the soil was actually living creatures. The way they worked with this living system was such that they were continually increasing their perception to be able to see what I have been calling 'connexity'. The inter-connection, the inter-dependence, the inter-wovenness, the inter-relatedness of everything with everything. And Neville viewed every aspect of Fraser House in a similar way, as a complex inter-related living system.

Now I would like to revert to what was Neville's wider intention in setting up Fraser House. It was not commonly known among the people connected with Fraser House that Neville had a far wider and far-reaching purpose in setting up and designing Fraser House the way he did. There was good reasons why he chose the very mad and the very bad, and why he had a balanced community with equal numbers of men and women, equal numbers of under and over actives etc., and a very good reason why he had patients required to have family and friends sign on as outpatients, and why he had them all engaged in self governance.

To my knowledge Neville only confided in two females about his wider intentions – one was his personal assistant at Fraser House, Margaret Cocket - an anthropologist, and the other, Stephanie Yeomans his younger brother's first wife - Ken's first wife. Both of these confirmed what Neville had told me, and what I confirmed from archival material, and what I could put together from my research.

Neville's life long endeavour was to action research processes that would be self-organising and self-sustaining way beyond his own lifetime in transforming the way of life on Earth -as big as that. He was into Epoch Change. He wanted to change the whole of Earth towards a new caring nurturing epoch that respects cultural diversity, is humane and respects all life forms and planet earth. Neville was into epochal change!

Neville told me he chose the mad and bad on the fringe of Sydney society because he believed these were the VERY BEST people to begin a new epoch; to begin evolving a new cultural synthesis. He had them reconstituting their own lives as they reconstituted a way of life together. Like a completely collapsed society, Neville had them evolving their own norms and values towards evolving their own self-governance and creating a new micro-society together in Fraser House.

Fraser House was living model of a folk cultural renaissance – and following Karl Marx the sociologist and other social commentators he created a process whereby together they constituted their micro Fraser House society as that society supported them in re-constituting themselves.

Neville demonstrated that the mad and bad were able to transform themselves and their world. They were able to evolve their owngovernance. This would be a model for the likes of re-constituting of East Timor or in Bougainville.

It was one thing to create this model of epochal transition within the confines of a psychiatric hospital. The next task Neville set himself was to translate Fraser House ways into therapeutic community in wider society.

To give a taste of that, Neville engaged in many outreach activities in the years up to his death aged 73 in the year 2000.

Neville wrote perhaps his most significant paper called 'On Global Reform – Intercultural Normative Model Areas' in 1974. That paper is available on the Laceweb site that David mentions at the end of this program. In this paper 'On Global Reform – Intercultural Normative Model Areas' Neville sets out his 250 plus year plan for epochal change. And we are over 45 years into his plan, and if anything, we are ahead of schedule.

After exploring the outreach of many of the Fraser House ways in Sydney, firstly as Australia's first director of community mental health, Neville developed Therapeutic communities as networks of natural nurturers. Again Neville linked with the most marginalised and the most oppressed, namely Australian indigenous people. And through these indigenous Australian networks there is now evolving through the SE Asia Oceania Australasia Region networks of healers. Fraser House ways are very much alive in the hills in very remote places in the Region – and information about this is contained in the Laceweb site. So that concludes what I have to say today David.

DC You can find the site that Les has been referring to – www.laceweb.org.au

I'm David Cruise of Radio TC International. I have been talking with Les Spencer here in Melbourne, Australia

End of Series

Essential reading:

Dr. Les Spencer (2005), CULTURAL KEYLINE - The Life Work of Dr. Neville Yeomans, PhD. Thesis, School of Social Work and Community Welfare, James Cook University (Australia)

Email comments and questions to Les Spencer, for incorporation into later programmes: lspencre@alphalink.com.au

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