Connection through a sense of place

I’m fascinated by the things that help to bring groups of people together especially if they don’t normally interact, or see themselves as having a connection.

Connecting with others is important to our sense of well being and yet many people in today’s world seem disconnected from each other despite the potential power of technology to bring people together.

Each April I organise an event called the “McLeods of Condah”. Condah is a tiny community in south western Victoria, Australia. There’s not much there now days except the local pub, the historic public hall, and the CFA shed. Once however, it was a bustling community. It’s where my maternal grandmother grew up and married. You can read about the work I did for the ANZAC centenary on how the Condah, and Lake Condah communities, experienced World War 1 by clicking on this link

This post is about the McLeods of Condah bringing people together and how participation over the past seven years has built relationships and a sense of collective identity. This has been true for both the McLeod descendants as well as for the numerous non descendants who participate each year.

Each event explores an aspect of the story of Norman and Susan McLeod who left the Isle of Raasay in the Scottish Highlands as dispossessed crofters arriving in Australia in September 1854. This year descendant Professor Neil McLeod (Niall MacLeòid) from Murdoch University will help the group better understand the Gaelic tradition of writing the surname MacLeòid. At last year’s event the group couldn’t decide if a proposed plaque to be erected in Portland where Norman and Susan landed in 1854 should have the spelling of McLeod or MacLeod. The research done by Neil can hopefully help the group reach a decision.

The story of Norman and Susan and what happened to their numerous descendants helps connect people because it speaks to our values. Their story is one of endurance as well as hope and optimism. In relatively short lives they dealt with adversity beyond the imagination of many of us today (for example, losing three children in ten days during a diphtheria epidemic). However, they established themselves enough to buy some property and this helped their descendants to prosper.

In coming together each year we are able to take the story further to build and deepen our knowledge of the people and events that shaped the country we live in. Many times new relationships, connections and objects are discovered that enrich the story. In addition to the appeal to our values the participants have built a stronger sense of their personal identity.

There’s also a sense of place identity. Postings and comments on the group’s Facebook page show that there’s an appreciation of the community of Condah, past and present, with those living a long way from it being prepared to travel significant distances to be part of the community for the day.

The event helps to bring out the best in participants. I notice there’s a willingness to accept others that strengthens each year as the group’s identity continues to emerge at each event. So the things that often become a barrier to forming an enduring connection, for example, age, geography, wealth, education, digital literacy and so on, are much less important than the collective story we enrich each year.

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Maryanne Martin