David Cruise DTE Director 1991 – Present
Interview 24th July, 2019
What year did you get involved with DTE?
I first went to ConFest in 1988, the next year in 1989 I took a bus load of people to help with the setup process, at the third festival I went as a market vendor. We set up near the market and took a twenty foot freezer container and we shared this with a few vendors like the Ananda Marg. Then in '91 my daughter and I went to a DTE Annual General Meeting at Ceres. At that time Director nominations were taken from the floor and they were asking for nominees, someone said to me David you nominate and I accepted, then straight away someone said to me "oh now you will go to hell, you will be legally liable, you will get sued" and all that sort of stuff. So I went along to have a look and then found myself a director of a cooperative. Then once you have a position you then feel obliged to continue doing stuff.
Had you been on a Board or involved in Committees before?
I was involved with two school boards. I was on committees with the primary schools that my children attended and when my daughter went to a girls college Saint Sophia and I ended up being on the Board, then when she moved to a Catholic Secondary School and I went on that Board as well. I was involved in the Coburg National Theatre and was the president of that for a while. Mary (David’s wife) was an opera singer, she sang with the National Theatre Company and was in a couple of professional shows. I got her involved in St Mathews musical theatre and I designed and built sets and scenery and so on, we did Oklahoma, Fiddler on the roof, Calamity Jane & For me and my girl.
So prior to DTE you had Board experience, did you know what you wanted to bring to DTE on a Board level or was it more a learning experience?
It wasn't something I planned to do, it actually really just fell on me. The board did not operate in the same way it does now, that was more a symbolic thing that happened in the background, the board made the meetings legitimate. Initially they were always open and didn’t operate in a sense that this is a board. Later in the 90s the board became a control function and we had a group of people who wanted to meet in secret and make all the decisions and run the cooperative directly, they started the Earth Haven ConFest Festival, they put it in their name and were literally hijacking the ConFest , I became very unpopular with those people because I stopped them from doing it.
Is that what led to the situation where Directors walked out and DTE was put into administration?
No that came much later, that was because in 1996 the Act changed and required the rules for the period to be on the basis of membership. We ended up with two competing groups both writing up different sets of rules, I was in one group and there was another group and they couldn't get theirs passed by the Justice Department and so a number of those directors resigned. I knew we were going to have a problem because we needed to have a quorum of four. Without a quorum we couldn't hold an election or do anything and we would have automatically gone into administration. I knew we were in danger of that but the remaining directors couldn't see the bigger picture, when I asked for another director to be appointed they said no and then it happened, one more resigned, we had a two day period where we were vulnerable, I suggested an elderly ConFester John O'Neil appointed and by the time this happened we were late with the replacement. It wasn't just about the rules but about control. This happened just prior to a ConFest, however, the appointed administrator was reasonable and allowed us to have the Easter ConFest, money was available for that so it worked out in the end.
How did DTE get out of financial difficulties given that it cost DTE $75,000 to get out of administration?
DTE was never financially strapped but the problem was that the Board is the key element in a corporate structure, the problem wasn't a money issue but a control issue. And for a time the administrator became the board, his job was to get a new board elected. At the time we had 1800 shareholders and a small number of active members, the law at the time meant if you wanted to shut their membership down you had to give their shares to the government (adding another loss of $18.000) Over the years people move and become uncontactable, we had a mailing list of 2 to 3000 shareholders most of who we couldn't contact. At the time we were allowed to raise levies against members, so I devised a levy credit, so you mailed members and asked them to pay a $10 levy and giving them a $10 credit note and if they didn’t return their credit note we could write off their shares. If anyone wanted to remain a member they just needed to send back the $10 credit note levy, now the administrator accepted this method so we were literally allowed to write off the shareholders. All the remaining shareholders who did return their levy became the basis for the next AGM. So which group the administrator decided to appoint came down to what set of rules the Justice Department chose to accept.
The $75,000 was the overall cost of the Administer.
Would you consider this one of DTE most tumultuous time?
No, the real tumultuous time was, as I referred earlier in this conversation, when some directors in secret set up a rival festival called Earth Haven and one registered the trade name. We challenged the registration in court and won.
What do you think is your most valuable contribution to DTE?
I think distributing money for people to use, to fund villages etc. It was always my thinking that money is the power and once you put money into other people's hands then they have the power. Structurally that is how Down To Earth was structured and became embedded in the system. In reality this was my creation, maybe no one else will agree to this but there aren't many current people who were there at the time but Cheryl and I put that process together. Cheryl did the bookkeeping and chased after receipts, it was always a challenge chase these things up, there was always going to be problems when dealing with people, especially non-financial people, often people have no personal money, DTE always had money and we didn't have to borrow capital to do stuff, so if people wanted to do something at ConFest they didn't have to use their own personal resources to run a village.
Is there anything that you would like to see at ConFest that hasn’t happened yet?
I see each ConFest as a new creation, it creates itself and is an expression of the people there and I become worried when it becomes too fucking organised with all the facilitators and control functions. Actually people don't have the faith for the creation, people don't believe it will create itself. With all the fuss over showers and everything, I have never seen any person die from terminal dirt. Actually my view is very much like the indigenous view which is to connect with the Earth. I have witnessed people go to ConFest who have never been camping before, that is what ConFest is, a camp out for grown-ups. People have to come to grips with living in the bush. It is an introduction to the Earth for people who live in the cities.
So you would like to see it continue as a people powered gathering?
People feel frustrated when things happen that they didn’t plan for, well things happen at ConFest and people get frustrated, like how dare people do that, but that is what we want, that people feel comfortable to do stuff, that they don't have to ask permission so long as they are not harming anybody. We don't want people having to seek out directors and ask them can they do things. Now once we give people money that gives them the authority to do stuff. Some people are dishonest and scam us, there will always be that element. For me I have wanted DTE to have enough money in the bank that we can always hold a festival in the future and now with money in the bank we are insured for a few years anyway. In my experience, ConFest has always been self-financed, we have always made enough money from one festival to carry on the next festival.
So DTE has always been financially viable.
Yes, it always has been. I can only speak for the time I have been involved
On getting permits and locating sites for ConFest
At Tocumwal I got the job of locating the next ConFest site. Denis Robertshaw was a TBT (DTE Auditors) customer who had a property and he agreed that we could use his property. Then to get a permit from the Shire I was very lucky that the town planner was a very switched on guy and very helpful, he said that we can give you a permit through the primitive camping grounds conditions and it would be good to have a meeting on site to discuss plans, so we went on site and the town planner said we could have a permit based on us having a primitive camping ground for a year but in reality we use one year of conditions in the five days of ConFest. The meeting consisted of police, local hospital people and others. On the high bank of the river I said “we're not going to talk about drugs are we.” You see we are a hippie festival so we can be assured that local people will have smoking dope in their minds (local authorities). So I said again “we are not going to talk about drugs are we” basically it was a hypnotic loaded suggestion, a double negative, I have been told in recent times that I have a habit of using language that has hypnotic content. And they said no we are not (going to talk about drugs) so that ends the whole issue with drugs. I thought we will put it on the table first and they said OK. So that was the first thing ticked off. We got the permit through and the permission to use the site. At the next DTE meeting I explained it is terrific, wonderful me the whole thing is a goer and then at the meeting everyone spent the whole night discussing what we were going to call it, there was a debate where one woman said to not use the name ConFest because it was going to be a disaster, that it would ruin the name for ever so you can't use it. We spent the whole night arguing about the name with them saying we can’t destroy ConFest, so we ended up calling it 'Autumn Gathering' but it was bloody Easter ConFest run by DTE. Just as you get all your ducks lined up with the site and the permit then we are not supposed to use the name. This is typical DTE where years are spent arguing over something trivial that someone will grasp onto and go on and on about it. I have seen this bizarre logic many time in DTE meetings Recently there was a talk about alcohol content in Kabuture and everybody gets hooked up on it instead of looking at it logically, looking back over 10 years of Market documents there is no rule in the market saying that no alcohol can be sold. I have also looked at our promotions which doesn't say that alcohol is not to be sold either, so people sometimes have an image in their heads that is not the reality, there is nothing about alcohol in our rules or anywhere. People see ConFest as a common vision, that it is open, friendly, you can do what you want and that commonality is widely spread, people gather and assume a cultural value.
At the directors retreat you spoke of significant existential life issues or resignation and mortality.
Mortality in particular, if you buy a product you have a use by date on it. Once you are over 80 you are looking at what is your use by date, many people live to their 90’s and you are not likely to live longer than 90 which means I have 9 more years to go, and what are you going to do with the rest of your life. I have found that Down To Earth has been a heavy involvement for me the last 30 years and I think it has becomes essential for my mental wellbeing that I stay involved. If anyone wants me is another question.
Diversity of the Board is essential, we need old, young, varied ethnicity and gender, skills, LGTIQ +
Yes I read a book where it stated that we need a wide social mix and that we have a variety. I have been a lapsed Catholic for many years. I grew up in the Catholic Church and primary & secondary schools, Christian Brothers and all of that. It got to the point where I considered myself an atheist, the whole process of God didn’t seem logical to me, the big bang doesn’t either but that doesn’t matter. So just before our children started school, my old school was having a reunion at Coburg Town Hall, there I found that being Catholic meant being part of a significant social group and that a reasonable proportion of the nation identify with Catholicism. It is a significant social group and was probably useful for my children to have as well so then as being a non-believer I felt I should contribute physically to their school because otherwise I was just sponging off them. So that is why I became involved in the parents groups and clubs. I needed to contribute so I wouldn’t just be bleeding the Catholics for their social structure. It was my guilt of being an atheist in the Catholic Church
Would you say your brothers who have also contributed a huge body of work to ConFest have the same need to give?
I wouldn’t say that, the twins went to St Josephs but they didn’t get along there so they went to the local technical college. They developed their trades and Peter went to work in the family business, I did too but I had a blew with my father so branched off and ran a few shops. Peter just gets on and does stuff, where I work with people.
After buying Bylands why did DTE see the necessity to buy Woorooma? DC Because I believed we needed to keep buying new sites, so we could have autumn in one place and summer in another place. It was important to have new locations. We were constantly looking for properties and when we found Woorooma there was a magic to it, there was a spiritual presence there, when we walked around we felt comfortable. Initially the property was being sold in two sections, one where ConFest is held now and the old site. The woolshed was down the middle and if we wanted the woolshed it was another $100,000. Don Royal said we should buy both sites, we took video footage to a meeting and we decided to buy both, I still have that video, then because we purchased both properties we had the woolshed too. I negotiated a vendors finance for the property so we didn’t have to borrow outside money, we had $100,000 down payment and we paid the rest off in two years.
Now because we put so much capital into the current site now, we are becoming entrenched there, it will become like a Luna Park Camping Ground and that will be it, we will miss out on the adventure of shifting. Shifting means mixing people up. It concerns me that when you have a property and use it too much, people become territorial and that is already happening now and that is not a good social process. When we shift site there is a newness. Often people go to ConFest many times, sometimes over 2o and the site becomes part of that confest and those people. With a new site there is no possessiveness of a location and we don’t have a social problem when people become entrenched to a place.
Was buying properties was a way to safe guard DTE’s finances, that tying money up in assets properties meant that the community wouldn’t be wasteful.
The primary reason was that in 2000 it was difficult to get people to rent you properties, it was becoming more bureaucratic and it was hard for landholders to get insurance. It was my task to find properties and it was getting difficult. It struck me that if we owned our own property we wouldn’t be searching all the time. We were using the property next to the Bylands property and the owner said he didn’t want us anymore because the implications were too great. Then the next door property from the one we were using came up for sale. It was a no brainer all we had to do was cut a hole in the fence and shift. We had a short amount of time to get the approval. I got an agent to do our bidding and we paid $200.000. It surprised our neighbour when he found out, he didn’t know we were bidding on it.
Do you think we should buy a new one?
I think we should buy a premise in the city, of course getting people to agree on a property will be very difficult.
Going back to when your art and being a president of a theatre group, did those skills transfer well into being a director of DTE?
I have always been an active doer of things, Peter just gets in and does stuff but I was better working with groups of people. The way DTE is structured is that the Board is there because we are required to by the Act. But the aim was just part of the process, that if anyone was going to go to jail that it would be you, and that people take personal responsibility like guarantors of a loan. The Board was more like the legal guarantors more than anything, they take the responsibility which is really just mythical anyway. Unfortunately the committees are not working particularly well, we need people to manage the committees and that hasn’t happened.
Do you have a philosophy or motto in life?
I suppose my one is if at first you don’t succeed, quit.
You have spent 30 years in DTE, what gave you the staying power?
Don’t take it too seriously. We are dealing with people, accept that people are flawed, most people are not nasty, not evil and I think most people try to do the right thing, whatever the hell that is. People actually believe that what they do is correct, they don’t deliberately be harmful, sometimes people do a little bit but it is the way it is so why worry. You do what you can and what you can’t well there is no point flogging a dead horse, get another horse. There is more than one way to skin a cat, if it is not working be flexible enough to see around another side. My rational to be involved with confest is that there is a certain innate process of community at ConFest where people gather and we get a lot of young people attend and they come and see that they can live simply, that it is a gathering of people and the community can be functional, engaging and comfortable. Young people come and have a dose of the possible, they are going to grow up and go into the world and be the people who actually run the rest of the world so they have a learned experience of what is possible in community, I think that can change the world somewhat. I find it interesting when I listen to young people at ConFest and they see it the same way I do, like as a social process. I won’t have much chance to influence the rest of the world or civilisation but ConFest does and I hope that ConFest continues going. I see it as an infection that can spread to the rest of the world, it may be a vain hope but I hope it continues.