The faraway land of the house and two cows: The poetics of creative writing research methodology to capture the social history of the Metropolitan Sewerage Farm in Melbourne, Australia
4:30 PM, Tuesday 30 Aug 2022 (20 minutes)
UQAM, pavillon J.-A. De Sève (DS) - DS-1520
This paper discusses the poetics of creative writing research methodology used to draw out understandings of abject communities through sewerage ghost towns, and resurrect an almost lost community. It focuses on the methods employed to capture the social history of Melbourne's first sewerage farm community established on the outskirts of Melbourne in Australia, where those working on the sewerage farm, lived on site with their families for around 100 years. The community reached a peak population of over 500 in the 1950s. Melbourne’s unsanitary conditions in the 1880s resulted in the establishment of the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works (MMBW) in 1891, to treat Melbourne’s sewage and supply water to the city. The following year, The MMBW established the Metropolitan Sewerage Farm to treat Melbourne’s sewage on 8000-plus hectares of land, 30 kilometres to the west of Melbourne. It progressively built cottages across the vast and isolated site for its growing workforce and their families, resulting in a community growing on the sewerage farm, to live alongside sewerage. This is the typical nature of sewerage communities: men and, in modern times, women, working on a sewerage farm or treatment plant to treat sewage, living with their families on site and community facilities growing around them. It is how a sewerage town community grows, how the Metropolitan Sewerage Farm community grew to support the establishment of sewerage for Melbourne. The community was behind the making of one of Australia’s most important civic works projects in the 1890s and into the 1900s. In earlier years, these workers’ towns were known as construction camps in Australia, where workers and their families developed into communities to live beside large construction projects. Today, we hear more commonly about mining towns and company towns. Capturing this social history centred on a poetics of creative writing research methodology with practice-based research at its core. Poetics supports a multi-layered and multi-disciplinary approach, with the implementation of a strong stakeholder engagement framework to draw out and capture the social history of the sewerage town community. Poetics also supported an exploration of theoretical ideals from philosophers Giorgio Agamben and Julia Kristeva, around segregated communities, the power held within the resulting abject community and the new community that emerges, as well as current practice on resilient communities. Concepts of Aboriginal spirituality and hauntology, on what remains once the sewerage town is abandoned, were also considered for the premise that an interconnectedness exists in everything: the link between animal, object and land, and all things continuing to be connected beyond the disappearance of the visibly physical. Sewerage town communities are abjected because of their association with sewerage, and can experience discrimination because of it. However, they do not see themselves as living in marginalised abjection, nor of living in the adversity others perceive them to be in. In fact, their experience is the opposite: that of living a utopian or ideal lifestyle, where they are left to prosper as a cohesive community, a community with humanity. They grow into communities where the individual finds belonging, for a ‘humanity’ within community where there is kindness, empathy and acceptance of people. I will discuss the resulting interpretation of this abject community and its social history through creative work: as a written historical fiction novel and the creation of a song, for a haunting of the ‘truth’. Capturing the social history in this way allowed for a rebirthing of the Metropolitan Sewerage Farm community and an aesthetic paradox of sewerage. The paper covers much of the themes and topics of the Congress: sewerage towns (company towns), methods and practices used to capture the social history of the Metropolitan Sewerage Farm that has led to a rebirthing of the sewerage town community, theoretical concepts of abjection relative to sewerage towns, the sewerage ghost town (what remains once the town is abandoned), and a means of discussing and reigniting interest in sewerage ghost towns (company ghost town).