Know thy Friend: Joss Brooks

Joss Brooks

Peter Jones, Tasmania Regional Meeting

Joss was born in Manchester to Kenneth and Helen Brooks who had been married there at Mount Street after originally meeting at Woodbrooke. Kenneth had been a C.O. during the Second World War while Helen had worked at Friends’ House in Euston Road.

 The family came by boat to Australia in 1953 when Joss was seven – one of four boys – and lived in Launceston (Tasmania) for a year before moving to Hobart. Kenneth was involved with Adult Education and the family were regular attenders at Hobart Meeting, although Kenneth resigned his membership when he felt that The Friends’ School was not taking a strong enough stand against the Viet Nam war.

 Joss attended state schools in Hobart and started studying Law at the University of Tasmania. He was heavily involved in drama, read a lot and ran a Jazz Club, revelling in the intellectual ferment of ideas in the 1960s. Having decided that Law was not his calling, he made a radical change of direction by becoming a lighthouse keeper in Tasmania before moving to Western Australia. There, he resumed his studies at the University of Western Australia with a focus on History, French and Anthropology while being active in the drive to establish scholarships for Aboriginal students.

 He attended Meeting in Perth till his wanderlust got the better of him and he started to explore Australia by hitch-hiking around the continent until his ticket came out of the barrel to be sent to fight in Viet Nam. Not surprisingly, he opted out, evading the authorities by leaving the country, heading East as a stowaway and ending up as a waiter when his presence was detected. He got stranded in Mexico, but The Seamen’s Union looked after this penniless draft dodger, eventually flying him to Panama to rejoin his ship which continued with him to Southampton, back to the country where he was born.

 For a few years Joss moved around Europe continuing his adventures and meeting a range of interesting people, including his first encounter with the name of Sri Aurobindo in a cafe while he was living in Turkey. Sri Aurobindo was an Indian spiritual leader born in 1872 who had grown up in England from the age of seven, then returned to India in 1893. He became involved in politics till a vision persuaded him to take a spiritual path and he moved to South India in 1910 to set up what became the Aurobindo ashram at Pondicherry, south of Madras, now Chennai.

 Meanwhile, a restless Joss had settled in France, working at a psychiatric clinic in the Loire Valley for two years until the events of 1968 caught up with him – the year, as he once remarked, that Auroville was also founded!  Disillusioned with the collapse of the movement that nearly brought France to its knees in the summer of 1968, like many others, Joss headed East and eventually arrived in India. In between, he spent a year in Ethiopia where his father, Kenneth, was continuing his involvement in Adult Education.

 Joss landed in Bombay (now Mumbai) but continued to Madras before heading North to live on the Ganges around Hardware (later made famous by the Beatles on their spiritual search with the Maharishi), then back south to Kerala.  Finally, a dream sent him back to Tamil Nadu where he encountered the people involved in creating the world village at Auroville. At last, he had found where he belonged!

 Joss has remained in Auroville ever since, as one of the early settlers at this unique community, but retaining his links with Friends in Australia, through his membership of Tasmania RM and support for his work from QSA. Auroville or City of Dawn, just north of the former French colonial territory of Pondicherry, which had joined India in 1954 but has special status there as a Union Territory, was founded in 1968 as a community where men and women from all over the world were to live in peace and progressive harmony above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. Its guiding hand was a French woman, Mirra Alfassa, known as The Mother, a companion and disciple of Sri Aurobindo who had died in 1950. She herself died in 1973 but her vision persists in the community, which today has around 3,000 residents, half foreigners from 45 countries and the rest Indian, mostly people from the local villages.

 Many Australian Friends and friends have visited Joss at Auroville over the last fifty years, where he has developed his passion for ecology with the creation of a 75-acre forest – Pitchandikulam – as part of the 20 square kilometres of the Auroville area which was once a barren wasteland. He has expanded his work beyond Auroville to a nearby village as well as the southern outskirts of the sprawling city of Chennai, where a swamp has been turned into an environmental showpiece.  He regularly returns to Hobart and the Meeting there – his campsite as he calls it – but travels extensively to network with other ecological experiments around the world. Pictures of Pitchandikulam Forest can be found on the QSA website and Joss welcomes visitors as well as invitations to share his work with Friends around Australia.


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