Beyond the Claddings: A Commune in the City
Young families are plentiful. Kids play on bikes and tradies dash about. Seemingly everybody has a dog. The area is much like a maze, but you finally arrive at the outer rim of a newly built housing development site. Look outwards, and behind you are individuals living simple lives in their simple homes, unaware that beyond their close-knit neighbourhood, less than 100 metres away, is Finntown* — what one might call a commune.
“We didn’t have these houses a few years ago,” said Jake*, founder of Finntown. “Back then it was just us and the lumber yard next door. A dirt road which led to one the main roads around here — fucking tough on our vans and other conventional cars. Shit changed in just three years.”
There was pride in his voice and I got the sense that housing development has not fazed him or the community one bit.
Finntown, located approximately 30 minutes away by car from Brisbane CBD, unsurprisingly lives up to the features of a standard commune you’d find in a film or article from the sixties: secret-ish location in tall grass, semi-open-door policy, people living outside of the system, sharing and teamwork and, of course, rampant creativity and drug use. This was basically what my friends pitched me a few months before my first visit, and how true it was.
What we missed, however, was how bizarre and unpredictable life in and around the commune is.
Upon my arrival, I exchanged quick greetings with some new faces who were (as expected) engaging and friendly. Mary* in particular was quite charming, and joined me on my aimless strolls to take photos. We found my friend Dean,* who moved here from the CBD to live semi-permanently, but before we could do our routine catchup and I could ask some questions about Finntown, we noticed some smoke nearby and heard a loud sound, as if a can of flammables had just exploded.
Indeed, something was burning in close proximity, and curiosity got the better of us.
Through the field of hip-high grass we walked, barefoot and unaware of what harms may lie ahead. With gradual progress, Dean started to moan: “Guys, I think we should turn back…”
His excuse? We looked malicious.
Ahead of us, also in the tall grass, only 50 metres or so away from Finntown, was a car on fire.
Mary agreed with Dean and turned back to the safety of their commune, leaving me alone.
I pressed on, camera and bag hung around my shoulder, conventional-ish clothes trumping my physical appearance.
The owners of the burning car arrived at the scene a few minutes after I had blasted through a roll and a half of photographic film.
An off-duty police officer then arrived in a marked car, and even politely offered me a lift back to the scene after I had walked away, despite me being alone with an inspired look which some might have assessed as questionable (or suspicious).
Luckily, the fire was soon under control. Finntown was safe. Credits to the local fire department.
The two lads lost a car, but they certainly didn’t seem too bothered.
“Bugger, that’s another one,” the featherweight man with yellow sunglasses half the size his face and a huge mullet mumbled to his mullet-less mate.
As I walked away, the two shared a joke which I could not hear, and hopped into their mid-2000s Chevrolet-badged Holden ute (which they nearly lost — parking near to a fast-spreading bushfire was not the smartest idea) to drive back home, just up the hill, between Finntown and the colony of houses.
Within minutes of my return to the commune from the dramatic scene, I was bombarded with information — Dean and Mary must’ve told the others that I was there taking photos.
According to some of the Finntown residents and visitors, the owners of the car were performing skids and donuts the prior day, and got it stuck in a ditch. Its sudden combustion remained a mystery — rumours quickly spread that it was an insurance job. I don’t encourage speculation, but I couldn’t help but agree.
Within the hour, Finntown was back to routine. Its residents were cheery, hanging out and smoking marijuana. Perhaps a celebration from escaping their near-demise… No, I remembered, this is normal here.
A young man in his underwear was receiving a massage from another in a tent. On the coffee table next to them: Tiger Balm, a wooden bowl with a small handful of marijuana and tobacco mixture, a couple of bongs and a bowl of oil for massaging from a large can of Moro Extra Virgin. High, the men with eyes closed connected (perhaps in a higher dimension) through effortless and almost sensual massaging.
I watched curiously.
Next to me in the corner, a girl in a unicorn beanie was fast asleep.
Mary had just finished decorating the communal space with knick-knacks bought from op-shops. Holding a camera, she then joined me on a walk.
Dean was back to work building his soon-to-be home. All the materials were free or incredibly cheap, sourced from Bunnings and online sites. At this point, Dean had purchased three trailers (of which one was specifically for a boat — which he doesn’t have), about eight-to-10 working and non-working trampolines and, of course, countless sheets of metal and glass and planks of wood.
Any bolts that didn’t properly fit or connected were hammered in.
That’s more secure than a loose bolt, I guess, I thought to myself.
Jake was setting up the DJ booth for another night of partying. I helped put up some UV-activated, psychedelia-printed fabric around the booth, then some UV lights pointing towards the fabric. To his left, next to his laptop, sat some blotter paper.
The others around Finntown were preparing for dinner. Anyone who could, helped, whether to chop up vegetables or cook cous-cous for 20. These veges and cous-cous, and the side — a dozen variations of bread — were salvaged from the bins of ALDI a night ago.
The sun was falling. The busy individuals preparing for the party or otherwise occupied in any way were served a meal when ready. The contents of the dishes were of course all the same.
Unfortunately, as the party began, I was bound to leave. This was the end of my stay for this time around. But I thought I’d stick around for about an hour… So I got a warm beer out of my van.
A man shouted in my direction as I locked it.
“You can’t drink here!”
*Names have been changed to protect privacy
Photos by the author