Training Retreat for the Madlands Book Tour – Day 1

It’s the morning of Friday May 4th. Brrr. I skulk in to a shower then knock back stewed pear with muesli. I slot my laptop in to my bag and am out the door, heading to catch the 7:22 am bus from Separation Street. Outside TripleR radio I meet Anna Rose and we catch a cab to the airport, where we and 5 others will spend the next three days training for and organising an upcoming three-month road tour to promote her newest book, and the most recent tactical maneouvre in her climate campaigning, Madlands: A Journey to Change the Mind of a Climate Sceptic.

Things don’t begin well. For one, our flight is cancelled (update: I have since spoken to customer support and they apologised and gave me a $50 voucher. We’re back on good terms.) For two, a last-minute change of flight plans means that Anna is flying under the nom de plume of “India Prior”. This subterfuge depends on as little scrutiny as possible from ground staff. Luckily, Anna, despite her fame, isn’t recognised when we go to confirm the change in flights. We manage to scuttle in to the Qantas lounge, and make use of the free time. In Anna’s case, this means doing crucial work toward her next undertaking. In my case, this means grabbing some yoghurt.

Before too much longer we arrive in Sydney, make our way to the AYCC’s office and settle in to a workshop for which we are, regrettably, half an hour late. David Barrow, an organiser from the Sydney Alliance, is talking the seven of us through the principles and practice of ‘relational organising’. It is simply brilliant. While I consider myself an organiser of some ability, this guy shows me how far I could potentially go. I take notes furiously, marvelling all the while at the concentration of so much skill in one slightly-weedy guy. My tour mates are similarly impressed. The key lesson from this workshop? To understand the subtle balance between selfishness and selflessness, what Davad calls self-interest. He impresses upon us the value of making sure ourselves to look after our needs as much as others’, and also the value of identifying others’ needs and how one can help to meet them.

Time flies by. Anna briefs us a little on the tour and then delegates tasks with a reckless abandon that would make a mid-level AYCC organiser shudder in to their PCQQRT. People settle down to work, though I’m still chewing on Live Below the Line, which is days away from lift-off. A nagging donations error means I’m dealing with a steady flow of somewhat irate emails, and organising a forum in Wollongong is going to have to wait for another day.

4 pm sweeps around and our next trainer bustles in: Kim McKay, who is going to train us a little in media. She generously brings two bottles of white wine, and Anna goes to put one in the fridge. Not wanting Kim to feel isolated in the presence of six people young enough to be her children, I engage her in conversation. She doesn’t need any encouragement. By the time Anna returns we are well on our way in to a rollicking story about Google’s food, America’s corporate culture, and the ubiquity of the search engine in modern life. Before the session is out we’ll also be treated to anecdotes about Oprah, and some vocal appreciation of my Herculean sideburns. We’ll also learn a lot about media engagement. The key lesson from this workshop? Working with the media requires one to be a facilitator for journalists – to make their job as easy as possible by supplying neutral media releases, by being available, and by suppling as much content as possible.

Evening time comes and we’re soon packing out and heading to the house of one of our own for dinner. Then plans, as they are want to do, change, and we wind up in a Vietnamese restaurant. It’s a fun experience. In a fit of effectiveness and directive leadership, Anna planned the menu on the train and has an order ready when we arrive. I’m in the middle of the table, with the two other men to my right, and the four women to my left. As the courses begin to pile up, I’m party to two competing narratives. On my left: “How will we eat this?”, “Maybe we can take some home?”, “Should we ask them to cancel the salad?”. On my right: “Om nom nom”, “Man I’m hungry”, “This is delicious”. Myself, I’m just struggling to deal with the consequences of my masochistic preoccupation with chilli.

I’d begun yawning in the middle of the media workshop, much to the consternation of Kim. The food is now having its effect on me, and I’m swaying gently side-to-side, avoiding speaking lest I say something stupid or highly controversial. Shortly we finish and go our separate ways and I find myself a bed on Anna’s couch. I read a few chapters of Madlands. My eyes glaze over. I sleep.


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