Castlemaine Free University (CFU) is a forum for discussing contemporary issues of special interest for those living in Mount Alexander Shire and Central Victoria more generally. For the latest and up-coming events, please see our new CFU page and the event calendar at Degrowth Central Victoria, with which CFU is now integrated

Past Events Only

4 March – Wage Peace

Déjà vu? Australia’s new wave of militarism began long before AUKUS. What’s happening, and who profits from it? How far does it reach into our communities? And who are the people and movements challenging this? WHAT? — Wage Peace is part of the global campaign for earthcare not warfare, targeting companies making billions from the war machine. Their Get Your Armies Off Our Bodies podcast tells the stories of friends and colleagues in this and related campaigns, from Afghanistan and West Papua to First Nations on Country, from South Africa to the US and UK. Come and get a taste of these stories, and chat about some of the campaigns. Maybe have a listen ahead of time on any podcast app or at – or just wait till the event. WHO? — This CFU event is presented by Matthew,
a sometime-podcast producer who has worked in a number of lands impacted by conflict over the past 20-plus years.

12 February — Resident-led collective housing conversation

WHEN? Monday 12 February, starts sharp at 6pm – 7.30pm.

WHAT? — Community members are invited to bring their ideas, expertise, resources and connection to a discussion of resident led collective collective housing models. The My Home Network is driving this workshop, a spin-off from the 8 November 2023 CFU event run by RMIT on the same topic.

WHO? — Kaz Neilson is convenor of the My Home Network, which is auspiced by Dhelkaya Health. Anitra Nelson convenor of CFU will assist.

5 February — Creative Community Participation for Social and Environmental Change

WHAT? — Exploring a range of creative grassroots experiments reflecting community participants’ engagement with environmental sustainability and social justice, Michael offers space for discussions around using creative participatory methods in community engagement projects. See Project archive —  WHO? — Dr Michael Chew, a participatory designer and social ecologist, co-founded grassroots NGOs Friends of Kolkata and Friends of Bangladesh, coordinated international volunteer programs and North-South solidarity projects and has run participatory storytelling projects in the Asia-Pacific region. His practice-led work explores participatory processes in social and environmental contexts, drawing in interdisciplinary ways from degrees in Participatory Design, Mathematical Physics, Critical Theory, Art Photography and Social Ecology.

4 December – Wage Peace

Australia’s in a new wave of militarism that began long before AUKUS. What’s happening, and who profits from it? How far does it reach into our communities? And who are the people and movements challenging this? WHAT? — Wage Peace is part of the global campaign for earthcare not warfare, targeting companies making billions from the war machine. Their podcast Get Your Armies Off Our Bodies tells the stories of friends and colleagues in this and related campaigns, from Afghanistan and West Papua to First Nations on Country, from South Africa to the US and UK. Come and get a taste of these stories, and chat about some of the campaigns. Maybe have a listen ahead of time on any podcast app or at – or just wait till the event. WHO? — This CFU event is presented by Zelda Grimshaw, a long-time activist and campaigner at Wage Peace, who hosts Get Your Armies Off Our Bodies.

8 November 2023 – Resident Led Housing Workshop

WHAT? — A workshop facilitating community members to design resident-led housing futures for Mount Alexander Shire. We invite Castlemaine and other shire residents interested in resident-led housing options (developing multi-residential housing for their own occupation in partnership with other households) to a workshop focussing on the collective resources required to deliver such projects.

WHO? —Initiated by Jen Lynch (RMIT Architecture + Urban Design) and Dr Andrea Sharam (RMIT Property, Construction, and Project Management) presenting representatives of successful housing projects:

  • Jasmine Palmer (Urban Coup Brunswick — 29 apartments)
  • Tim Riley (Property Collectives) — 10 apartment/ townhouse projects
  • Mary-Faeth Chenery and Anneke Deutsch — 30 apartment project, in-progress in Castlemaine
  • Liam Wallis (Hip vs. Hype, Davison Collaborative) — townhouses.

NEXT? – For all participants of this session please note the My Home Network (MHN) offers a space and organisation in the future to follow through on your ideas of sharing land, cohousing and other forms of shared housing. The MHN has many working groups and encourages further clusters associated with other forms of housing locals want to pursue. The MHN coordinator is Carolyn Neilson (Kaz) who can be contacted here:

2 October 2023 —The Dao of Civilisation: Freya Mathews

WHAT? — A rare, and not to be missed, opportunity to hear from one of Australia’s most important eco-philosophers. Freya Mathews’ most recent book imagines our transformation to an ecological civilisation supporting the biosphere. ‘Termed Dao (or Tao) in ancient China, and often coded as Law in indigenous and First-Nations cultures, this innate template is here taken as a first principle for economic production that could shift contemporary societies toward a genuinely ecological form of civilisation.’

WHO?— Freya Mathews is a grandmother, land carer, and Emeritus Professor of Environmental Philosophy at Latrobe University, Bundoora. Author of over a hundred books, articles and essays on ecophilosophy, The Dao of Civilization: a Letter to China has come out in 2023.

4 September 2023 —Towards Eudæmonia 2023

WHAT? — This session recalls highlights of the Towards Eudæmonia 2022 series, explains ‘Eudæmonia’ and seeks to build small bridges back to belonging, feeling and harmony. Expect a rich mélange of words, images, sounds and conversation. All in opposition to modernity’s disenchantment of our world where the beauty and complexity of nature has little value beyond its utility to humans and their never-ending quest for ease, comfort, and to be one-up on the neighbours. Expect to breakthrough all this.

WHO?— Renowned locals, namely the writer, anthropologist, garlic farmer, once-and-future camel-man Peter Yates; the nature sound recordist Andrew Skeogh; the artist, designer and researcher Kirsten Moegerlein; and the filmmaker Rory McLeod.

7 August 2023 — ZADs: Autonomous Zones

WHAT? — 4000 acres of wetlands, farmland and forest sit ready to be destroyed for a new international airport near Nantes (France). But, after 40 years of struggle, in 2018 the proposal is defeated by creative forms of direct action by occupiers of the local ‘ZAD’ (Zone to Defend, zone à défendre). The French Government responded to the victory with revenge against what they had called ‘the territory lost to the republic’. Yet it was not the end of the story …

WHO?— Yoann and his family took an active part in the occupation movement at the ZAD of Notre Dame de Landes, France, before moving to Australia, to live in Mount Alexander Shire. Recently, Yoann has been a member of the local Orchard Keepers Collective and the Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op.

3 July 2023 — Theatre Making Practice

WHAT? — Theatre maker and creative learning producer, Kate Stones discusses strategies to meet the challenges of theatrical creative practice. Along the way, she digresses into realms of meaning making, personal philosophy, story-telling and community service.

WHO? — Kate acts, directs, writes, produces and teaches as Creative Director, CreateA, Bendigo (with ensembles of adults who identify as having a disability); Creative Learning Producer for Castlemaine State Festival; and Castlemaine Theatre Company’s President (2017–). Her ‘Peter Panto or One Flew Over the Second Star on the Right’ (2022) was CTC’s most successful production in recent memory.

5 June 2023 — Community Climate Transition Plan 2023–2030 Launch

WHAT? — Our local Community Climate Transition Plan 2023–2030 (1.0) will be launched by Wararack, a community-driven coalition supporting local activities for a regenerative, relational transition to zero emissions in Mount Alexander Shire. Come to the launch to learn about The Plan and about Wararack …

WHO? — A panel including Mayor Rosie Annear, Castlemaine Institute Co-Founder and economist Warwick Smith, and Greens Candidate for Northern Vic Dr Cate Sinclair —with their unique insights and perspectives on The Plan. AND — After the panel there will be plenty of time to network. Wararack can hear from you and explore ways for us to bring The Plan to life as a local community.

1 May 2023 — LGBTIQ Homelessness and Ageing: What does it mean for Mt Alexander?

WHAT? — Mount Alexander Shire has a significant LGBTIQ population with particular experiences of homelessness and ageing. Hear from three speakers, followed by a discussion on what all this means both for LGBTIQ communities and for local homeless and aged care services.

WHO? — Dr Cal Andrews (Social researcher, University of Melbourne — LGBTIQ Homelessness and LGBTIQ training for homelessness service provides)  Tonye Segbedzi (Local resident, social researcher and policy specialist — LGBTIQ housing, participant in LGBTI ageing research on housing)  Karen Corbett (local resident with lived experience of homelessness, and knowledge of local homelessness; co-writer and performer of ‘unHOWsed’ play and film on homeless older women that has toured locally and internationally).

3 April 2023 — Not so Rare Earths, and Toxic

WHAT? — ‘Rare earths’ are critical components in mobile phones and solar panels, essential raw materials for the hailed ‘green revolution’ to combat climate change and reduce emissions. But, there’s another side to this story. WA based company, Lynas, is a dominant actor in it — the major producer of rare earth oxides outside of China and owner of a notorious refinery in Malaysia. Harcourt has a rare earth, monazite, deposit!

WHO? —Lee Tan is a Stop Lynas campaigner and Aid/Watch Policy Coordinator, a statistician and a social researcher with decades of health, environmental and social justice campaigning experience and was, for over a decade, the Asia-Pacific Campaign Coordinator for the Australian Conservation Foundation.

13 April (note Thursday 5.45 for 6 pm) — Villagers vs Coca-Cola: The Water Miner

WHAT? — A David and Goliath story of dedicated protesters running Coca-Cola out of town. In 2000, Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages set up a water guzzling plant — restricting villagers’ access to water, issuing toxic effluent, encroaching on villagers’ land, evading stamp duty, ignoring labour laws, paying little for its water use and harassing residents.

WHO? — Nandlal, concerned about lack of education causing poverty, inequity and social stigma, started teaching village children for free. Growing a learning centre, from 1994 with a handful of students to over 500 students from nearby districts, he became known as Nandlal Master. Meanwhile, Ranju, who had always fought against India’s caste system, married Nandlal for love, outside her caste — in the district jail where they were being held for taking part in the protest against the Coco-Cola plant near Mehndiganj village.

6 March 2023 — Beehive Design Collective: ‘True Cost of Coal’ Mural

WHAT? — World-renowned Beehive Design Collective swarmed our way with a mural showing the True Cost of Coal. to talk about mountaintop removal and damage to communities and ecosystems but also a future of alternatives, remediation and regeneration! We scrutinised their gigantic mural teeming with intricate images of plants and animals from ta biodiverse temperate forest as they shared stories of how mining impacts us all.

WHO? — The Beehive Design Collective is a wildly motivated, all-volunteer, activist arts collective ‘cross-pollinating the grassroots’ with collaborative, anti-copyright images for learning and organising.We strive to provoke discussion, raise hard questions, and share hopeful stories about actions big and small we can take to build a better world.’

6 February 2023 — The Flooded Forest and Further Thoughts …

WHAT? — The Flooded Forest is a short film made by Rory McLeod and Peter Yates — reflecting on filming a documentary on the flooding of the Baarka early in 2022. It is hot. Father and son are surrounded by mosquitoes. They are not just on, but in, the river …    Screening this alluring film, talking about documentary making, how we live our lives and their curious meanings, Peter will take us on a journey

WHO? — Peter Yates has lived on the northern shoulder of Mt Tarrengower for eleven years, walking its secret paths most days. He knows the Australian bush as few of settler origin do, having walked the deserts with camels, and worked with Aboriginal people in Central and Northern Australia over two decades. An anthropologist with a keen interest in the mythopoetic connection between people and land, you might already know him as the purveyor of delicious garlic at your local farmer’s market!

5 December 2022 — No Room at the Inn: Housing in Mount Alexander Shire

WHAT? — Come and hear about the local My Home Network (MHN). MNH includes community and government organisations, and community members with diverse expertise and lived experience of homelessness and housing crisis who are all working together to ensure that everyone in our Shire has affordable, secure, safe, sustainable and appropriate housing, as a basic human right.

WHO? — Coordinator Carolyn Neilson will introduce both the network and other members who will speak to the various aspects of MHN’s integrated work. Hear about advocacy for Tiny Houses on Wheels to become more accessible as long-term affordable housing. MHN is encouraging use of currently vacant dwellings, including shop-top vacant dwellings, for future affordable rentals. MHN is developing a local Home Share model. Beyond local action, members advocate for improved housing funding, policy and legislation — including crisis, transitional and social housing — across local, State and Federal governments.

7 November 2022 — Mount Alexander: Connecting Country, Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forests and Landcare

WHAT? — Friends of the Box–Ironbark Forests (Mt Alexander Region) is a community organisation advocating sound ecological and Indigenous management practices to conserve vegetation and associated wildlife on private and public land. See their prolific publications — Likewise Connecting Country is a community organisation educating, monitoring and actively restoring landscapes and habitat for local plants and animals across Mt Alexander, including through Landcare. Over 200 landholders and community groups have been restoring more than 10,000 hectares in the past 15 years —

WHO? — Newstead resident and ecologist Asha Bannon is a FoBIF committee member, was a Landcare Facilitator and is a volunteer with Connecting Country. She is particularly interested in wildlife conservation and community engagement. Guildford resident Hadley Cole recently joined Connecting Country as Landcare Facilitator for the Mt Alexander region having worked in various environmental management and conservation roles with government and non-government organisations. Inaugural member of Golden Point Landcare, Marie Jones has spent years on the Natural Resource Management Committee of the North Central Catchment Management Authority, and on both Connecting Country’s Management Committee and the FoBIF Committee since their inception.

3 October 2022 —Singing a Polaroid and transforming Lyrics to Light: A Photographic Approach to Writing Songs

WHAT? — ‘On Polaroid’ is James Marples recently released EP of alt-country music, inspired by portrait photography. His talk will focus on overlaps between the ‘song’ form and the Polaroid photographic medium — songs inspired by Polaroid’s ‘instant’, intimate and nostalgic qualities. His talk features live performances of some of the songs and recordings from the EP. And he will screen its accompanying haunting music video, which was filmed at Autoplex in Castlemaine (dir. Simon Trevorrow).

WHO? — James Marples is an artist, songwriter and composer whose songs explore love and psychodrama. His music and deep baritone voice has drawn comparisons with Howe Gelb, Bill Callahan and Richard Hawley. In London, he joined the Blind Dog Studios collective, and performed with gothic chanteuse Anna Calvi and her percussionist Mally Harpaz to hone his orchestral Americana sound. Songwriter-in-residence at Kings College, London, his EP ‘Go Quietly’, received extensive BBC radio play in 2018–2019. Returning to Australia, the City of Melbourne funded his EP ‘On Polaroid’. See

5 September 2022 — Planet Local — A Quiet Revolution

WHAT? Local Futures recently released their 50-minute film Planet Local — A Quiet Revolution on World Localisation Day. The international film features grassroots activists alongside well-known figures such as Noam Chomsky, Vandana Shiva, and Helena Norberg-Hodge to offer inspiration, clarity and a call to action in a dark world. From restoring topsoil to sharing traditional knowledge and opposing free trade treaties, they propose a path forward for humanity.

WHO? The film is presented by Carolyn Neilson, Ilka White, John Terry and Nikki Marshall of Localising Leanganook whose members continue the spirit of the 2015 Castlemaine Local Lives Global Matters — A Conference for Future’s Sake. That conference offered space to share ideas and stories of active sites of resistance, to both imagine and renew relationships between humanity and nature in rural central Victoria, and to connect with stories of activism in other parts of the world. For more than 40 years, Local Futures has raised awareness of the power of going local to restore ecological and human well-being for decades, with a mantra of Rethink, away from globalisation to glocalisation; Renew — local economies and communities, cultural and biological diversity; and Resist.

6 June 2022 — Sound and Climate with Kyla Brettle

WHAT? How have the defining events of our time — the digital revolution and the climate crisis — impacted the production, consumption and voice of creative soundwork and audio storytelling? Kyla Brettle draws on her twenty-year career producing sound-rich, non-fiction radio features to explore this question, touching on the unique attributes of the audio medium and the diverse audio culture of our shire. With a background in filmmaking, music, literature and cultural studies, Kyla will play soundscapes and show extracts from other work.

WHO? Winner of international awards at New York Festivals and the Third Coast International Audio Festival (the ’Sundance of radio’), Kyla’s work has been broadcast in eight countries and presented in special forums. Axel Burns describes her audio work as ‘an outstanding example of what innovative, collaborative production methods can create’ (The Conversation). A practice-led researcher, Kyla has written for the RadioDoc Review and presented at the NonFictionNow conference — supported by ABC Radio National’s features and creative audio units and by the Media Program, RMIT University, where she lectured.

2 May 2022 — With Legendary poet TT.O. (Pi O)

WHAT?  A short journey through the life and work of epic poet and anarchist Pi.O. whose working life was spent as a draughtsman in the Victorian land titles office. Known as ‘a legendary figure in the Australian poetry scene’, ‘the chronicler of Melbourne and its culture and migrations’, and ‘a pioneer of performance poetry in Australia’ (Giramondo), his Epic trilogy is 24 Hours (1996), Fitzroy: The Biography (2015), and Heide (2019) a 560-page poem comprised of 300 poems) which won the prestigious 2020 Judith Wright Calanthe Award.

WHO? Writer Pi.O. is editor of magazines such as Unusual Work, which features creative writing and graphic art, and a publisher, namely Collective Effort Press. Born in Greece, his life has been spent in and around Fitzroy. His prolific work includes Panash (1978), The Fitzroy Poems (1989) and Big Numbers: New and Selected Poems (2008).

4 April 2022 — Cuba Then and Now: The End of the Revolution?

WHAT? — As recent protests broke out in July in Cuban cities and towns, US media and others pronounced, yet again, the death of the Cuban Revolution. With decades of experience and research in Cuba, David Deutschmann and Deborah Shnookal explained the origins and significance of these protests and Cuba’s revolutionary project. They discussed prospects for renewal of ‘normalisation’ talks under Obama, cancelled under Trump, and now in the hands of Biden.

WHO?David Deutschmann and Deborah Shnookal co-founded Ocean Press, and international publisher of books from and about Latin America. David was an adviser for Steven Soderbergh’s two-part bio-pic Che (2009), has regularly travelled to Cuba for 36 years and, among other publications, is editor and the Che Guevara Reader (2005) and Fidel Castro Reader (2017). Similarly, Deborah is an editor and writer, most recently revising her history doctorate as Operation Pedro pan and the Exodus of Cuba’s Children (2020, University Press of Florida).

7 March 2022 — A World Without Money?

WHAT? — Why might we want a future without money and, if so, how might it operate? Author Anitra Nelson will offer a brief overview of this newly released book and sketch out how a more socially equitable and ecologically world might operate liberated from money. There will a limited number of copies with misprinted headers available free. Anitra will also give out a coupon code for discounted corrected copies to buy online.

WHO? — Anitra is an activist-scholar affiliated with Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute (MSSI) at University of Melbourne. Many of her academic activities coincide with her political activism and philosophical passions, e.g. Castlemaine Free University. A decade ago a collection that Anitra co-edited with the late Frans Timmerman Life Without Money: Building Fair and Sustainable Economies was released by the publisher of Beyond Money. Meanwhile she has written or edited six other books, including Small is Necessary: Shared Living on a Shared Planet (2018).

22 January 2022 — Launching The Politics of Permaculture and Young People and the Far Right

Saturday 22 January — Central Victorian launches of two topical books by sociologists, Terry Leahy and Pam Nilan.

2–3pm Cam Walker (Friends of the Earth) will launch Terry Leahy’s The Politics of Permaculture (illustrated by Brenna Quinlan).

3–4pm Shane Homan, (Director of Research in the School of Media, Film and Journalism at Monash University and co-editor Popular Music History) will launch Pam Nilan’s Young People and the Far Right.

Come along and hear what the authors have to say, have them sign you a personal copy (for purchase) and have a drink at the bar!

Download flyer here.

6 December 2021 — Creatively Embodying the Balance

WHAT? — Entitlement and trauma are sabotaging the planet. This talk looks at the import of the body and arts in healing trauma. Many new psycho-sensory trauma therapies have developed through dance and theatre arts. So, what is the role of creativity in healing? And what impact could this have on our future? Karen Corbett sings and performs excerpts from her plays to enhance our understanding of the role of embodiment and creativity in healing.

WHO?Karen Corbett is a highly awarded writer, performer and theatre director, winning the German Medal of Ulm for one-woman show Orphanage of the Animals — in this image performing a dog, ‘World’s fucked, you’re an idiot if you reckon it’s not’ and the Murray Sutherland Prize for Outstanding Achievement and Contribution to Theatre for one-woman show To The Outside World, co-authoring the play on Sylvia Plath’s life, The Girl Who Wanted to Be God, nominated for two Premiere’s Awards. On a brief break as a trauma therapist, she is performing in unHOWsed, a theatre project she co-devised on older women’s homelessness.


14 November 2021 — The Loudest Island in the World: From First Nations to Reggae

A special Sunday afternoon event 2–6pm, with breaks!

WHAT? — Once again, Ralph Newmark on the history of music in Cuba. Experience and understand political, economic, cultural, and social change in the region. Enjoy ‘history through music’ and participate in the Q&A

WHO? — Honorary Fellow, University of Melbourne (Spanish and Latin American Studies, School of Languages and Linguistics) Dr Ralph Newmark is an historian, past Director Institute of Latin American Studies, La Trobe University(ILAS, 2008–2020), a media regular, discussing Latin American affairs, and presenter of a 3CR radio program on the history and music of Latin America and the Caribbean.

1 November 2021 — Impact Producing with Alex Kelly

WHAT? — What is the role of arts, culture, film and storytelling in the climate emergency?

In contrast to politics, art doesn’t try to readjust or fix the machine. Instead, it does something more subversive and troubling: it shows the possibility of another world.  Zapatista Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano

How can Impact Producing be used to drive real world change alongside creative projects?

WHO? — Alex Kelly is an artist, filmmaker, producer and activist based on Dja Dja Warrung land, ‘Australia’. Working across film, theatre, communications strategy and troublemaking, Alex purposefully connects the disciplines of art and social change. Producer of award-winning documentaries Island of the Hungry Ghosts and In My Blood it Runs, creative producer on Ngapartji Ngapartji, and Global Impact & Distribution Producer on Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything.

5 July 2021 — Everyday Photos and Social Change

WHAT? — Where and how do images and social change intersect? Michelle Dunn talks about her photography (and film making) practice and the ways we interpret and take photos in our everyday life.

WHO? — Michelle Dunn is a professional photographer and filmmaker and social change advocate, find out more here


7 June 2021 — Central Highlands Mutual Aid Mapping project

WHAT? Hear about the Central Highlands Mutual Aid Mapping project, a work-in-progress showing all kinds of local production and support services you can access. Think local markets, enterprises, associations and cooperatives showing us the possibilities of collectively sustaining ourselves. Engage with the panel on how you might participate in developing the map and use it in everyday life.

WHO? Brasilian academic and consultant Mirella Gavidia, who grows food and regenerates Dja Dja Wurrung country; Ellen Madigan, who grows, caters, researches and advises on food; Karl Fitzgerald, instigator of the Central Victoria Mutual Aid Mapping project and Director of Advocacy, Prosper Australia; Ian Lillington, permaculture practitioner, teacher and writer.

3 May 2021 — Tango, Samba, Salsa & Society: A History of Latin America through Music and Food

WHAT? — Hear and engage with Dr Ralph Newmark on the history of music and food in Latin America as a way to understand political, cultural, economic and social change in the region. Come and enjoy ‘history through music and food’ and participate in the Q&A.

In this talk Ralph explores the political, economic, social and cultural themes in Latin American history. Tango is employed to analyse Argentina, Samba to understand Brazil, and Son/Salsa to examine Cuba. The history of Latin Americans in the United States and its foreign policy in Latin America are investigated along with the most important challenges of the 21st century: globalisation, neo-liberalism, persistent poverty, conflict, racism, sexism and environmental degradation.

WHO?Dr Ralph Newmark is an historian, past Director of the Institute of Latin American Studies at La Trobe University in Melbourne (ILAS, 2008–2020) and a media regular, discussing Latin American affairs, he presents a 3CR radio program on the history and music of Latin America and the Caribbean.

Mirella, 7 June 2021 event
1 March 2021 — CFU LAUNCH EVENT — Community Voice

WHAT? — Nikki Marshall, Patrick Jones and Councillor Jen Bray on Community Voice, which started in 2020 to promote participatory democracy in Hepburn Springs Shire talked about their experiences, visions and achievements. An idea for Mount Alexander Shire? Come along and participate in Q&A.

WHO? — Among a plethora of other activities, Nikki Marshall edits the monthly Localising Leanganook newsletter, Patrick Jones and his family are pioneering ‘neo-peasant’ lifestyles locally, and Jen Bray has just become one of the two new councillors for Birch ward in Hepburn Springs.

Download flyer, with more details, here