ON AIR: 40 years of 3RRR

Last year I took the unprecedented step of subscribing to not one, but two local community radio stations, RRR 102.7FM and PBS 106.7FM.  I kind of got sucked into their subscribe-a-thons because they do such a great job with them, but I also figured I do listen to them when I’m driving around in a GoGet car, and certainly get my money’s worth. What is  great about listening is the absence of whiny and insistent ads for things you neither think about nor want to buy.

Public and independent radio has for a long time been my much-loved medium for information, thoughtful comment and music (my other favourites are of course ABC Classic FM and ABC Radio National). I sometimes engage deeply when I am listening to broadcasts, and I blogged about one such experience in Skirting the Doldrums. Listening to radio sends me on philosophical tangents, takes me delving into filing cabinets worth of memories and often makes me laugh or cry. In the form of independent radio, it can bring a diversity of sounds and opinions that is so sadly lacking from mainstream media.

As part of Melbourne Rare Book week in 2016, I was lucky enough to take a guided tour of the hallowed conservator’s room in the State Library of Victoria where we were shown some large posters that were being prepared for the upcoming RRR exhibit to mark their 40 year anniversary,  ON AIR: 40 years of 3RRR. Being newish to Melbourne, it was not until I wandered into the State Library of Victoria just before Christmas that I saw the manifestation of the strong and vibrant grassroots movement I’d joined. The space set aside in the Keith Murdoch gallery of the State Library of Victoria forms a fitting tribute to the hours of audio, hundreds of volunteers, social and musical history of Melbourne community radio.

It is an interesting challenge to showcase the history of audio and musical culture in a building housing a collection devoted to books but it is successful in its multi-media approach. Ranging from letters to the station, posters and other ephemera to a collection of audio devices found in the station and prepared video interviews with station stalwarts, this display was a walk down memory lane for a child of the 1970s whose musical experience spans exactly the same era. I’m sure for music lovers who have resided in Melbourne during the last 40 years, this exhibition would re-kindle many memories. The display also speaks to the symbiotic relationship between the station and the local/national alternative music culture and industry.

The value of RRR is in the alternative voice it brings to Melbourne’s cultural mix. The fact that it has lived and grown to a community of over 12,000 people in the 40 years is a testament to the need for it and it has now taken on a life of its own, “It’s there as an alternative to the mainstream. It’s a bit like a footy team – committee men (sic) come and go, players come and go, but the fans and the colours stay the same” Leaping Larry L, 2004.

I would thoroughly recommend a visit. It is a free exhibition and its showing has been extended until 26th February, 2017 at the State Library of Victoria.


Skirting the doldrums

A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for. Grace Hopper

I have, more often than not, succumbed to the magnetic force of the doldrums.  My mind often gives me a run for my money, taking my negative experiences (of which there have been a few), and sucking me into obsessional thoughts that are at best unhelpful, and at worst plain destructive. Numbness, depression and ennui can set in like a London fog, confusing thinking and leading to less than ideal decisions.

It is interesting to note that term the doldrums (according to a Google search), born in the 1800s, had it’s heyday between the 1880s and 1950s. These years seem to coincide with a period of industrial history where our senses became increasingly bombarded with sounds of industry, transport and war and strangled from an appreciation of the natural cycles, rhythms and seasons. In modern society, the occurrence of the doldrums has continued to rise and be ever more medicated. I am reminded that in music, the doldrums has birthed a whole musical genre, the blues.

Three separate occasions wove together this week for me, bringing new realisations and teasing out my understanding of handling the doldrums in a different way.

In our philosophy material for the week we touched on the wisdom Henry Thoreau gained through nature at Walden,

When we are unhurried and wise, we perceive that only great and worthy things have any permanent and absolute existence – that petty fears and petty pleasures are but the shadow of the reality. (Where I Lived and What I Lived For).

As I have observed so often, the strategies we might apply with the best results, could be so easily gleaned if we were to stop and observe nature.  In the absence of our own Walden experience, luckily these days we have other people to do the patient observation for us.

A new teaching came to me via New Scientist as discussed on the RRR 102.7FM program, Einstein a GoGo.  I heard the wonderful tale of birds who skirt the areas in the oceans known as the doldrums to continue flying for hundreds of kilometres, seemingly without sleeping.  These birds have highly developed sensing systems which assist them to navigate along the edge of these areas characterised by low wind. Sailors have long known these areas on one hand don’t have winds enough for progress and on the other can spawn hurricanes.

Is it necessary to have down-periods that might prove to be launching pads for new adventures: times of inertia where it is not advisable to attempt to move forward, but to gather energy for the next leg of the journey? Is it possible to learn the lesson of the doldrums without venturing into them?

It was not coincidence that in this same week I also spent a wonderful one and a half hours listening to the humble wisdom of Craig Hassed, mindfulness teacher, at Erasmus School in Hawthorn, Melbourne.  The ideas he spoke of, dovetailed neatly. Through a practice of mindful observation and connection with the senses, may we also observe and skirt the doldrums?

Try it sometime. Pause. Find stillness. Feel the weight of your feet on the floor, the touch of your clothes on your skin, the air moving around your body, the smell, taste and finally the sound of your situation. Be present entirely.  Merely observe the thoughts coming and going, letting them glide away.

Perhaps if we can practice tuning into our senses, becoming acutely aware of our inner navigation system, we will be able to skilfully skirt the doldrums.

I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship. Louisa May Alcott

Article as appeared in The Observer, One Hundred and Seven, publication of Melbourne School of Philosophy.