By Tim Boykett

Control of the Commons is a Time's Up project that was organised and implemented by Pippa Buchanan and Tim Boykett with help, assistance and encouragement from a many people. When we write “we,” we might mean anyone from the two of us to any (or all) of the collaborators warmly acknowledged below.

The object of the project was to investigate people's attitudes, hopes and fears about the waterways that surround us everywhere. We travelled in small vessels built from scrap, leftovers and sustainable bits and pieces. These peculiar vessels were designed to be temporary: passed on at the end of the project into other hands or processes.

We did not attempt to be overly scientific in the collection of our data. We are not anthropologists, journalists or environmental scientists. We are simple people concerned about water and its use – the way that we, as a society, deal with water as one of the most conspicuous resources of the commons.

The interviews we conducted during the project concentrated on five core questions:

  • What do you like about the river/canal?
  • What do you fear?
  • What changes have you seen?
  • What changes do you hope to see or you think you will see?
  • What would you do if you were responsible and could make something change?

We did not confine ourselves to these questions. Initially we had much more rambling conversation about these and many other issues. Even at the end of the final journey we welcomed the tangents that our interviewees offered us, from rightwing fears of foreigners not respecting the waterways to idealistic dreams of returning the canals of Brussels to a state of nature that would even make them suitable for swimming.

The most interesting answers were often in reply to the last question. They ranged from the pragmatic to the absurd. Making land use rights along the Murray symmetrical and enforcing crown land within 50 meters was a simple yet pragmatic wish. Enforcing lanes as in a swimming pool to keep speedboats away from canoeists was a brilliantly-imagined but misguided suggestion from a young teenager. Tearing out all the river dams, whether on the Danube or the Murray, was a not uncommon notion; while in Belgium, maintenance of the rivers, canals, locks and bridges was a recurring theme.

The waterways seem to be a focal point for resilient behaviour. Vessels are resilient, and people and lifestyles have to adapt to continuous variations. Waterways flood, bringing problems as well as fresh fertile soil. They dry up in drought, silt up with reduced flow. Systems need maintenance but are also self-repairing.

Waterways have been part of the surface of the planet for longer than we have been here and will flow on in our absence. They are grand, but still accessible, less intimidating than the ocean or a mountain range. They are a commons that is accessible and seems to offer an avenue for control.

CoC was presented in a small exhibition at the 2012 Burning Ice Festival, at the Kaai Theatre in Brussels on June 2012.

(Almost) complete list of contributors and supporters

  • Andrew Galpin
  • Franz Xaver
  • Steven Pix Pickles
  • Les
  • Renmark Rowing Club
  • Dave Pickles
  • Nic Spragg
  • Claremont Yacht Club
  • Royal South Australian Yacht Squadron
  • Greer Allen
  • Olivia Allen
  • Sylvia and Peter Boykett
  • Ed Lowrey
  • Kathi Buchanan
  • Rick Buchanan
  • Scout
  • Norbert
  • Simone Boria
  • Markus Hackl
  • Markus Luger
  • Christine
  • Cecilia Tasso
  • Cobi Smith
  • Jane Marr