350 delegates from all over the world converged over 12-16 October on the 6th Public Health Palliative Care International Conference, held in the Blue Mountains and co-hosted by Western Sydney University and the The Groundswell Project, a not-for profit co-founded by HASH network member, Peta Murray.
The theme of this conference, Compassionate Communities in Action: Re-claiming Ageing, Dying and Grieving brought together researchers, clinicians, artists and practitioners in a unique interdisciplinary gathering built upon the Ottawa Charter of Professor Allan Kellehear and the foundational work of Dr Suresh Kumar.
Two years in the making, this year’s conference endeavoured to walk its own talk, not just activating but also “artifying” most panel sessions, under Peta’s curatorial eye. It also made itself porous at the edges, admitting members of the Greater Blue Mountains communities through various events that were outward looking. These included a Fringe Festival: From the Brink, curated by Niki Read, and featuring a death-themed film festival, book launches, exhibitions, a panel discussion among artists who work on end-of-life issues through material and writing practices and, as a major drawcard for a hard to reach demographic, an evening session dedicated to Men and Mortality, featuring the Spooky Men’s Chorale.
By day, delegates pored over a packed program of workshops and presentations, book-ended morning and night by opportunities to collaborate in playful, exploratory and creative activities. Local dances from Dharug country were shared by members of all female indigenous group, The Wagana Dancers, at a moving opening ceremony.
Early morning poetry workshops took place in the scenic bushland setting, amidst whoops from lyre birds and shrieking cockatoos. A Dawn Chorus of delegates, under the musical direction of Rachel Hore, OAM, met at 7.15 each morning to practice a suite of selected songs that were later performed alongside community choristers in the closing ceremony.
A corner of the foyer was dedicated to the construction of a bower, and delegates were invited to adorn it with found objects, trinkets and messages in bower bird blue. A series of small films, Michele Aaron and Jed Jerwood’s Life:Moving were available on iPads for private viewing all day and many delegates also chose to attend vigil, Peta Murray’s contemplative installation for one, followed by its companion work, wake, a performance-cum-ceremony for groups of twelve, devoted to mourning the unmourned. A series of textile works by artists Anzara Clark, Sophie Conolly and Jessie Deane braided all of this together within the theme of the fabric of life and death.
The conference finale, hosted by incoming PHPCI President Dr John Rosenberg, included the announcement that Belgium will co-host the next conference, in 2021, alongside colleagues from the European Association for Palliative Care. For further information: http://www.phpci.info