In November, 2018, Lee and I headed out in a tiny university hybrid to make our first visits to Northern New South Wales and South East Queensland Intentional Communities, allowing ourselves a full day to visit four communities.

I drove from Brisbane to Lismore to pick up Lee, who had flown in from Sydney that morning. We made three visits to communities in the sub-tropical Northern NSW region, talking with residents about our project and how we might design it with their input. That morning, we learned that the key to obtaining multiple occupancy status at one settlement was the humble composting toilet. Imagine that.

What I failed to imagine, was that we would be driving some pretty gnarled dirt tracks to get to these little hideaways. Suddenly the compact hybrid didn’t seem like the best decision for this venture. We didn’t bottom out, nor did we get bogged into the wet grass that served as parking spots in the places we visited. But we picked up a lot of red dust.

After many promising conversations, we bid NSW adieu and headed back up to Queensland to a community in the Granite Belt. It took three hours to get there. The landscape was rugged and arid, the dry air teaming with flies whenever we stopped to observe an historical remnant with one of the original founders. The sun was low when we left the community and headed out on the highway, turning East for Brisbane. In all, we had spent 12 hours on the road together. Not bad for two complete strangers who had only met once, face-to-face,  six months previously. We had spent an hour over coffee in Brisbane’s central business district to talk about this idea Lee had…

All of our planning was done via the Internet. We spent hours shuffling documents back and forth and discussing ideas over Skype. Once in the car, however, we needed an ice breaker.

I have often wondered if Kerouak were to write On the Road today, would he have a soundtrack for the reader to listen to? What would that soundtrack be? I imagine jazz – experimental, fast, hopped-up. Lots of drums.

Lee plugged in his phone to the car and in between Siri directing us to turn left or take the third exit at the round-about, we listened to one of his playlists. It wasn’t jazz, but it was pretty good. My compilation, however, was perhaps a little too dated and obscure – I love the Rheostatics. I needed an update or upgrade.

Intentional Community hot-spots

There are other things about us that are different. Mainly, our research methodologies are different. Lee spends hours reading, digging through archives and writing. I spend hours reading, researching and documenting (photography, audio and video). We are both, I have learned, astute observers. And our research interests intersect. We are both curious about countercultures. Lee is particularly interested in the hippy-era and the architectural movements that sprung from it. His work has taken him across Australia, the UK and the United States. I am curious about what constitutes belonging – particularly in the context of identity and spatial politics. I have documented different communities in Eastern Europe, Asia, North America and Australia. This shared curiousity of countercultures – intentional communities, hippies, LGBTIQ, dissidents, outcasts and the myriad intersections they populate, is what drives Way Out Down Under.

After our first road trip, I filled the car up with petrol (all that driving and it cost under $40AUD), then waited an hour in a line-up at the service station to go through the car wash so I could return the little rusty red hybrid to its original colour – white.

Since that first outing, we’ve made a few more road trips – this time in an AWD with a lot more ground clearance.

As for the soundtrack, like this project, it’s a work-in-progress.

– Heather

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