This week I am spending four days in retreat at Deakin University’s Warrnambool City Centre with 20 other PhD candidates and academics, led by Professor Trevor Gale. The group, known as “The Warrnambool Collective”, meets at least annually to focus on writing and research around “practice”. Most, not all, who attend are affiliated with Arts and Education. Each day begins at 9.00 a.m. with a “shut up and write” session that runs until we break for lunch at 1.00 p.m. After lunch there are streamed and plenary sessions, presentations, and discussions until 5.00 p.m. I am very fortunate to be included in this event (prompted by my thesis supervisor, Dr Julianne Lynch), and this year is my second visit to the retreat.
As a full-time PhD candidate, I’ve spent much of the last two years researching and writing alone. Indeed, over the last 15 years I’ve engaged in study of some sort, and I’ve become accustomed to the solitary nature of the work, with brief intense interactions at conferences or seminars. One of the things striking for me about the retreat is how the solidarity of quiet collective writing, the awareness of minds and bodies around you engaged in constructing and reflecting on texts, comforts, succours and encourages me. I am reminded that I am not alone, that I’m part of a larger quest. By itself, this activity is a powerful product of the retreat.
The afternoon sessions include presentations by PhD candidates about their work (at different stages of candidature), provide multi-perspectival insights about how individuals grapple with, and resolve, theoretical and methodological issues. The senior academics are supportive and constructively critical, with a focus on problem-solving and knowledge-sharing. Chaired discussions on topics as simple as “how do you keep up with the literature?”, “how do we conceptualise “practice””, lift the lid on privately-held innovative practices and ideas that are sometimes startling in their simplicity, but substantially effective. The chance mention of a theorist, an article, a concept can catalyse fresh insights, fresh directions.
It is, as Trevor remarked on Day 1, an enormous privilege to have time, funding and personnel allocated to the retreat. And it pays off, with a review of the previous year’s event noting manifold conference papers, journal articles or book chapters commenced, advanced or completed during the retreat. As far as I am aware few, if any, retreats like this exists for those engaged in practical legal training or professional legal education in Australia.* I think this is a great pity. We need reflective and creative spaces within the field, not just “professional development” activities.
Sincere thanks to Deakin University and all involved for making this event possible.
* If you’re involved with such an event, invite me!