Grey haired nomad, yogi, Varjayana Buddhist practitioner, Aquarian elder, maker of artful events, change agent, long time yippee and exponent of the ancient arts of creating cultural movement via celebration and the occupation of public place.
For the Earth! To the dust!
In 1972, over 38 years ago, Graeme, by then a long time student peace activist, went to the tropical north coast of New South Wales, Australia, with a rainbow vision. He was in search a site for a counter cultural dreaming.
There was a meeting, Graeme and the village of Nimbin, both were searching for a new dreaming. So it came to be that in May 1973 Nimbin hosted the Aquarius Festival, the 3rd and last biennial arts festival of the Australian Union of Students. Johnny Allen and Graeme Dunstan were its co-directors.
The Aquarius dreaming brought on many changes to the lives of the people it touched, to the village of Nimbin, and to the Rainbow Region generally.
As a student organiser of anti Vietnam War protests on the University of NSW campus (see Strange Twists of Fate
From Duntroon to Aquarius), Graeme had learned that the celebratory approach to citizen protest not only removes the need for violent confrontation as a way of getting noticed, it also wins hearts and builds cultural movement and community resistance as it goes.
He was thirty at the time and the Aquarius Festival was Graeme's biggest-to-date, experiment with that truth. He learned lots and has been following that path, organising culture moving events of one kind or another, in community contexts of one kind or another, in ways big and small for the past 38 years.
Always an innovator, always a seeker, always chasing dreams at the edge of impossibility.
His passion hasn't won him wealth, property, worldly power, celebrity status or a stable family life. He has many friends who love and respect him. But his fire and passion has also offended and frightened many, even those ploughing the same fields of change.
"So it goes for those in the vocation of change making", shrugs Graeme. "It is a grasping and grasping brings suffering. It is a forcing however subtle and force brings counter force."
In the past he has known the passionate vision and the need to act to come upon him with the ferocity and power of child birth. A future demanding to be born will not be stopped though the body and spirit of the bearer be exhausted and bruised by the labours.
But Graeme has nothing if not a warrior spirit.
Of all the slogans in the Nimbin Museum, the one attributed to Milarepa, 16th century Tibtan saint, sums it up for Graeme. "Like a lion, I have no fear. Like an elephant, I have no anxiety. Like a madman, I have no pretensions and no hope."
He has served as a community arts officer in local government (Campbelltown City Council 1980-1984), as festivals consultant in state government (Victorian Tourism Commission 1985-89 when Don Dunstan was chairman) and as a tourism and cultural consultant to the Australian federal government (Commission for the Future 1990).
As a master lantern maker and fire shaman, Graeme has produced some memorable mass lantern and fire spectacles. For example Lismore Lantern Festival 1993-4, the Woodford (Qld) Folk Festival 1992-3 and Ballarat's Eureka Dawn Walks 1999 - 2004). He designed and manufactured the street lighting for the Woodford Festival and more recently for the Splendour in the Grass music festival in Byron Bay.
As an event organiser Graeme is remembered by a few for his daring work healing riots and other dysfunctional events (Minto NYE Carnival 1984, Byron Bay NYE 1995, Bondi Beach Christmas and NYE 1996, Nimbin "Let It Grow" Mardi Grass (1998-99) and the Sunshine Coast Schoolies Week 1997).
In collaborations with Sarkissian Associates Planners his work as an innovator in community cultural development and community building consultation processes has been recognised with awards by the Royal Australian Institute of Planners (Goonawarra Story 1990, the Timbarra Welcome Home 1990, and the Eagleby Stories in a Park Project 2000)
Graeme Dunstan is the father of four grown up children (David b. 1964, Silas Ho b.1971, Softly Sigh b. 1974 and Holly High b. 1976) by three different mothers. Once a serial polygamist he now lives the nomadic life travelling alone and mostly celibate.
And that too has changed of late. Marie Jack of Burringbar, whom he met at the No Rally in the Tweed protests in September 2009, has become a reguar travelling companion and consort.
For many years, Graeme travelled with a Maremma dog which he had inherited after the death of his father in November 2000. Named Jennifer she was an endearing Peacebus companion, much loved and admired for her beauty and peaceful presence and much grieved upon her death in April 2007.
So he goes, traveling from kindness to kindness, visiting friends, organising political actions, speaking up and speaking out and bearing witness for peace and justice for all beings, present and future. In Eureka spirit, maybe. Engaged Buddhist practice, maybe. Footseps of Gandhi, maybe. Deep ecology as the Holy Path, maybe.
Always a spiritual seeker, he maintains a morning practice of meditation and chanting, invoking Guru Rinpoche Padmasambhava with his mantra, BKS Iyengar with a yoga stretch, and the Sufi spirit with daily readings of Rumi and Hafiz. He also reads extensively: novels and non fiction, histories and biographies, lessons of the ancestors.
Happy Wheels, his 1996 Mitsubishi Express SJ, is his mobile home and it is fitted out with a kitchen at the back, a bunk, a doona, a set of yoga blankets and a basket of books, some treasures passed on or loaned by friends, others found in second hand bookshops along the way.
Most nomads choose to be invisible but Graeme chooses the contrary. Happy Wheels carries vivid signage, slogan murals which are painted with the help of friends and changes regularly. Happy Wheels also carries speaker horns, an amp and mike, plastic crates of flags and banners, steel pickets and driver under his bunk and bundles of bamboo poles on the roof racks.
When Happy Wheels spreads its wings for a Speak Out, the array of colour and message can be a truly wondrous transformation of public place. But simply putting out his folding table and chairs is enough to invite the approach of friends and strangers. Sweet ginger tea is the Happy Wheels special and many a mug is served, many a joint passed, many a story exchanged.
Even so Graeme spends a lot of time in solitude, camped out, watching his mind, listening, sensing the natural world, breathing in the breeze and breathing it out. Pranic breath. He camps in forests sometimes, in graveyards, on suburban front yards and bush driveways, the refuges offered by friends and family.
He follows issues of interest on-line and emails often but he eshews television and rarely reads newspapers (Murdoch media in particular repels him). He listens to ABC Radio National as a treat but the fear-creating urgency generated by repeated news bulletins grates upon his peace of mind and so his radio is most often silent.
Daily he grows more ignorant of these passing media storms, daily more marginal to current affairs as defined by corporate media, daily more eccentric; an old man and his dog walking together into sunset in an unfamiliar landscape all light and shadow and wonder, lost and not wanting to be found, open to whatever life brings.
It used to be that such contentment would soon be shredded as if by the talons of a dark angel demanding action and engagement once more. A cycle of talking up, writing, making and getting noticed would begin, another daring Red Rover run commenced, the heroic dash to manifest vision, the drive to achieve deadlines in the face of inertia and obstacles created as much by friends as enemies.
In such an the exertion of will and tissue, an event, maybe a Peacebus.com mission, would be born and brought to fruition. Graeme might notice imagination shift but not with any sense of accomplishment. Most often the immediate fruit of his labours is exhaustion of the body, madness of mind and wreckage of spirit. The angel, eyes on eternity, had moved on and Graeme cast aside like a husk after harvest, its destiny compost.
But life goes on, meditation practice bears fruit, understanding deepens, so too surrender. The storms become less frequent, the angels less dark, the talons less demanding. And the cultural influences more subtle.
Just being visible, present and setting a good example is enough. What better aspiration than to be respected and remembered as an honourable elder?
In the confusion of events and with the frailties of mind and body, Graeme does best he can.
Posted 9 January 2007
amended 13 September 2010