From the Brink: A Fringe Festival about ageing, dying, grief and our community

“Artists, doctors, community workers and everyday folk are telling us what the world whispers back to us from the wild valleys, rock platforms and dense bush of this immense World Heritage National Park that surrounds us. That death is natural; a force of nature, a season of life, and not a failure of human striving.”

This year, following 18 months of local engagement, the Blue Mountains Compassionate Community project heeded the call from a broad spectrum of community members to develop spaces in which to openly converse, learn, share, celebrate and connect around issues to do with dying and bereavement. A locally conducted Death Literacy Survey further showed us that a high number of residents learn about and engage with such issues through cultural experiences. No surprises from readers here I imagine! Enter, From the Brink! A Fringe Festival with a difference.

For context, Compassionate Communities is a worldwide social movement that aims to build community capacity to support people approaching the end of their lives, and beyond. Built on Health Promoting Palliative Care principles, Compassionate Communities recognise that caring for each other during times of life and death and personal loss is not solely a task for medical services, but is a whole of community responsibility, and one that is rich in opportunities to flourish and for meaningful living. The Blue Mountains Compassionate Community project is delivered by The GroundSwell Project, in partnership with The Nepean Blue Mountains Primary Health Network.

The GroundSwell Project, a not for profit organisation with a decade long commitment to changing the way Australians do death and dying, and to arts and health, has always believed that art has the power to contribute in a big way to this social change.

From the Brink ran through October 2019 in the upper Blue Mountains NSW. It was both a satellite event to the International Public Health Palliative Care Conference, which had strong arts and health direction, and a community engagement strategy showcasing local, national and international artists working with the themes. Each event of the festival had woven through them, opportunities for ‘lights on’, ‘face to face’ and intimate conversations between artists, local community members, health service providers and conference delegates. Rich and goose-bumpy moments and exchanges ensued, citizens were activated, myths were busted and death came out of the shadows.

Featured in the festival were Fiona Davies with Racing Patients ICU, the Spooky Men’s Chorale with Masculinity and Mortality; songs and conversation, an evening with Mary Moody and her book An Accidental Tour Guide, Vigil/Wake by Dr Peta Murray. At The Blue Mountains Cultural Centre were Ageing Creatively workshops by Melinda Jewell and Rachel Morley, an Arts in End of Life panel discussion, and a film festival featuring Tender Directed by Lynette Wallworth, A Love that Never Dies by Jane Harris and Jimmy Edmonds, Life:Moving; a unique collaboration between researchers, photographer and film-maker, Briony Campbell, and hospice patients. There were community coffin club workshops, an evening of excerpts from Eating Pomegranates by writers: Margaret Davis, Amanda Kaye and Aeva O’Dea, and directed by Margaret Davis, Touching Stories by Niki Read and Gillian Hand, and an intimate evening with Shared Readings’ Christopher Smith. Also featured were Michele Eliot, Jan Melville, Evelyn Argall, Nina Lipscombe, Scott Pollock, Jim Pettigrew, Georgia Monaghan and Darren Wagner.

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Niki Read and Dr Peta Murray

From the Brink, and PHPCI 2019 Artistic Directors

and Jessica Raschke, From the Brink Coordinator.

November 2019.

Posted by  Dr Claire Hooker
Director, Bioethics program, Sydney Health Ethics