08 February 2021

Yarra Valley Living Centre is transitioning

Sad news this. So many of us will have happy memories of times well spent on this amazing land, meeting, working with or supporting wonderful people doing truly wonder - full things. 

And as all things change, it seems the conditions created by the pandemic have proven too much to overcome and the Centre will close, with the prospect of morphing into something new. So this week, a few reflections and observations, but first

Thought for the day

The world is a fragile and unpredictable place. 

There are no sacred cows here either :) 

Everything can be turned upside down in a moment. 

That must not be a shock, 

But rather an expectation of an inevitability.  

If we had 1000 lifetimes to live, 

We would pursue every pleasure and adventure. 

Fulfill every wish. 

But after all that, at some point,  

We would choose a life that is a total surprise. 

One where nothing is under control, 

Where you do not know what is going to happen. 

That is the life we are living right now. 

The closer I am to experiencing reality 

Instead of trying to control it, 

The closer I am to God. 

This year is a practice in presence.

Adam Schwartz

Maybe it is worth remembering the work of the Foundation began in 1981 with the inception of the Melbourne Cancer Support Group in rented premises. It was not long before we were conducting wellness groups and meditation programs. Residential programs commenced end of 1983. 

However, it was not until 1984 the land at Yarra Junction was purchased and not until 1991 we had established buildings on that land to enable fully residential programs to be presented there.

So the early history was of many years without a place to call a centre we owned. While it is appropriate to mourn the end of the Living Centre as we know it; it will be interesting to learn what arises in its absence.

Having said that, so many people benefited from that wonderful property. It was selected because of its palpable presence. 

So many people have walked onto those 40 acres and felt a deep, natural peace, along with an atmosphere of healing. Maybe it is because the land is in the heart of the Yarra Valley with all its magnificent tall trees. Maybe it is because the buildings are nestled into the land away from roads and the gaze of others. There is comfort in its solitude. Maybe it is the view from the top of the hill, or the tranquil sounds of the Little Yarra River flowing on through.

Maybe the place had significance for its indigenous ancestors; it certainly has been developed more recently with work, love, prayer, a great deal of meditation and the good-hearted efforts of many, many well motivated people.

Having not been so directly involved for nearly a decade now, I remain acutely aware of all these good people who have contributed. Those who donated time or money, those who worked as staff or as volunteers, those who attended programs and contributed their own learnings and energies. What a remarkable time we all had! And how much good work was accomplished – so many people’s lives transformed for the better.

The first Melbourne Cancer Support Group, the genesis for all this, was held on 16th September 1981. It will be 40 years this September since it all began. Forty years. Wow!

People are beginning to ask me how I feel about the closure. 

It is like this.

I feel deeply saddened that things have changed to a point where the Centre is no longer viable. So many people benefited from what was offered there by an incredible crew of staff and volunteers. And while the MS work is carried forward by Overcoming MS, and there are plenty of people and groups offering meditation and retreats, there is real concern for how the cancer work will continue to be made available. In my view the cancer residential program remains world’s best practice; offering a truly integrated, lifestyle-based, cancer self-help program. 

It is hard to be clear why such a closure should happen; the pandemic was clearly a major and final factor, however, it would be simplistic to say there was no more to it. 

Times change. People change. Foundations change. Some come for a while, do their work and then fold; others morph into something new.

Regarding ownership of land, it always has been clear – we never really own land, we simply serve as its custodians and guardians for a while. My aim with all the places I have lived and worked upon was to leave them better than when I arrived. 

Also, I do not identify too closely with the many and varied roles I have played in this life. 

So - co-Founder of the Foundation, student, teacher, father, son, husband, veterinarian, athlete, football player, gardener, one-legged person – lots of roles. And this by way of saying, I care for what the Foundation has offered and may still offer, but have little attachment to its personal impact upon my own sense of self. 

Hope this sounds close to the way it is intended – not dispassionate; I care deeply for others and to be engaged in how to be more useful, but it is what it is and we have no idea as yet as to what will emerge from it all.

I do feel deeply for those closely involved with the Centre as this unfolds. The Board has difficult decisions to make, staff will need to look for new employment, volunteers lose their connection and all those who relate to the Centre as a place of healing and renewal, a place where they might return to one day, and need time to adjust to the loss.

So in practical terms, I have been informed that the meditation retreat Ruth and I will present end of March will be the last before the doors close and staff cease employment. For those of you who know and care for Dorothy Edgelow, every effort is going into ensuring she can continue to live on the property. 

Apparently discussions are under way with the Board and several groups interested in taking
responsibility for running the Centre going forward, with different models being explored as to how this might work. 

The Board has told me their primary aims are to preserve the legacy of the Foundation and to be of benefit to the community as much as possible. 

So thank you again to all who participated in what was achieved until now, and all best wishes to those who plan to contribute to what transpires. Life goes on… Bon chance to all.


  1. A significant moment and one that may cause sadness for many. Being sad is ok, just one of the many feelings we experience in life. Much good has been done at the Centre, and no doubt the positive impact of this goodness will continue to flow. And a new something will arise in its place.

    1. Yes, likely a sadness for many, as with all the major changes we experience in life. It is wonderful to read the Comments - so much heartfelt gratitude :)

  2. Wow. I don't always remember to open your notifications of blogposts. This one, though, is big. One query on the history. I took part, as staff, in what we said was the 'first' residential program. It was in 1985. In Melbourne. Sessions were at either a university or the teachers college, can't quite remember. Participants stayed either in motels or Uni college. Then the following year we located Jumbunna Lodge in Launching Place and started up there. So what was the residential program in 1983? Whose memory is better on that, yours or mine? :-)
    It is sad, shocking, hard-to-believe that the Gawler cancer programs can't go on in anything like the form of the last 30 or 40 years. And like you write, everything changes and transforms anyway; it will be fascinating to hear what becomes of the use of that land. But beyond that, what would be interesting would be a full accounting of the many and varied ways that the type of healing, support and knowledge that Gawler programs pioneered, have found their way into other programs that run around the country and also into mainstream medical and cancer support practices. In other words, has your experience and work (you + others) transformed how cancer is understood and approached — in hospitals, in oncology and everywhere.
    Anyway, what an extraordinary unheaval 2020 was and 2021 will no doubt be.
    Lots of love, David

    1. Dear David, lovely to hear from you as one of the easy staff and one who did so much in the residential and non-residential programs. The first residential was at Mannix College, Monash University end of '83 i thought; maybe end of '84; we can check. Participants lived in. The food was terrible from our point of view and provided a big push to move the next program to Jumbunna Lodge where would could control the nutrition more closely. The influence of the Centre, its staff, volunteers, supporters and participants has been considerable over the years; what a pleasure and a privilege to be a part of it for so long. Wonder where it goes from here???

  3. Words cannot express the heart felt gratitude for the work the foundation has achieved and its ongoing ripple effect thought-out so many lives

  4. Words cannot express the heart felt gratitude for all that the foundation and its team have achieved and its on-going ripple effect.
    All the very best for all those involved.
    Raymond Roberts

    1. Many thanks and best wishes to you too Raymond :)

  5. Although this news is sad, I look back with gratitude to what the Gawler Foundation has meant in my life over the past 30 years. Thank you Ian, Ruth and all the staff who have been involved in providing an exceptional service to so many. We'll meet again...

  6. The Yarra Valley Living Centre changed my life. The combination of people, place and wisdom put my life on a new trajectory. For the first time I told my full story there. And for the first time it was heard. We all saw a Koala, we all shared in the sound of that little river. I meditated for the first time in the sanctuary. I remember the first challenges of the beginners mind but also found a way to calm abiding in that first week. And over the years I have returned and the calm abiding has got ever deeper. I feel that the place washed through me and all those who have walked the land. It is palpable with love and compassion. It has healed but we all have nurtured it. I trust that the place will renew and continue to sustain with love ever circling.

    1. Very eloquent, evocative and heartfelt; thank you for sharing :)

  7. I am celebrating 10 years clear next Sunday, Valentine's day. It was a touch of breast cancer, a wake up call. A gift! My closest sister friends came from my 10 day retreat there, we still talk every day. Thanks Ruth and Ian and all staff and volunteers. I am a lucky Grandma now with 3 gorgeous little ones who bring SO much Joy. Blessings to all thru this transition, maybe it's a gift. Kind regards Caroline, one of the Gawler girls

    1. Lovely to hear from you Carolyn, so many good relationships developed through meeting at the Centre

  8. I am very sad to hear this news. Hopefully, new opportunities will open up to fill the gap. Best wishes to everyone involved.

  9. Thank you Ian for your beautiful words.Yes it leaves one with a heavy heart, but..... you have reassured us all.....it is as it is.
    Blessings for whatever unfolds and to you too.

  10. Thank you for sharing Ian.
    I am forever grateful for the time I spent at the centre with Paul, Maia and the passionate team and students while doing my meditation teacher training. I enjoyed every minute.
    My training helped pave the way for me to establish a new chapter in my life and to give back to the community so I write with thanks, happiness and love.
    Every day and every moment brings new opportunities so I look forward to the changes and growth.
    Helen Appleyard
    Shine Meditation WA

  11. Thanks Helen, many ripples have flowed out from the Centre courtesy of people like yourself :)

  12. This is indeed sad news. I attended in February 2014 - a time and experience that has a special place in my heart. I hope there will be some unexpected wonderful outcomes.
    Thank you Ian and the whole team

  13. Lovely Ian and Ruth - I was so saddened by your news. I have not been to this marvellous place you have created along with so many others, but many people who have crossed my path in spiritual quest have. They invariably say that experiences in the care of your Foundation were transformative, life-changing. Thank you so much for your trailblazing. And for leaving behind so many lives well-touched. Much love - Mara.

  14. The centre & it’s surrounds was a very special place & time for me 10 years ago recovering from lymphoma. I was empowered in many ways to heal. Thank you all from my heart ♥️ Jeanette Byrd

  15. Hi Ian :) Well words escape me (very unusual for me I must say) how I could possibly express the gratitude we both have, for first being given your book in 1995 and our first jaunt across the ditch in 1996 to experience the 10 day programme first hand. The diagnosis of stage 4 Non Hodgkin's lymphoma with a palliative plan the only option available to us. The living centre was a beacon of hope in a very dark time for us. Coming up 25 years from being cancer free is a joy we feel and a continuing gratitude for all involved and continue to do so in our lives, finding our own path but never veering far from the original concepts in "You can Conquer Cancer" and the living centres philosophy. The sadness I feel is for those who will not have that live in option available to them, however "you can conqueror cancer" is always available and updated book available for the same path and principals to be followed at home too.Blessings and love to you both Jen and Ross XO

    1. Thanks Jenn and Ross; nice to hear from you - Ross as a great survivor who has inspired many others, and keen the role model for partners; what a partnership indeed

  16. Thank you Ian for letting us know. After the initial shock, the profound gratitude of all the Center stood for, taught and generously shared with so many people over 4 decades. Thank you in particular for the amazing support you gave us here in New Zealand with the Aratika Cancer Trust when it was a fledgling dream. Although I can understand the grief and sadness that comes with the decision, I feel the healing energy of the place will draw to it the right set of people to continue healing work in some form or other. Deep speaks to Deep! Thank you also for so generously sharing your view of non-attachment and letting go to the new unfolding. A lesson so important at this present time. You are as always an inspiration and profound teacher.
    Arohanui, Britta

    1. Thanks Britta, nice to hear from you again and you are another one of the "ripples" flowing out from the Centre and positively impacting the lives of many others :)

  17. Dear Ian and Ruth
    It must indeed be a shock to realise that the Foundation that has been so well established by yourselves and many others over the years is unable to continue in the way that achieved so much
    We recall our first weekend retreat with you, having heard you talk at the Camberwell Town Hall. Was it at Jumbunna Lodge? I remember walking beside the aqueduct behind the lodge. The Living Centre property had just been purchased, as I recall
    In those days our aim was to stay fit and healthy. If your retreats could help those with cancer, they must help us avoid it. And we are sure they have. Little did we know that it would not be us but our daughter Louise who would be struck, dying of bowel cancer on Christmas Eve.
    We recall many other retreats that we have shared with you – in the desert, in New Zealand, at Myall Lakes, at the Learning Centre and elsewhere – all bring that sense of tranquillity and peace that is so important for a fulfilling life.
    We have shared the experience of visionary plans not achieving the long-term fulfilment that you might have expected, with the loss of Rotary International support for our teacher training in Nepal. But other outcomes emerge, and our work in Nepal goes on. So, we hope, will the Gawler Foundation, in whatever form it may take.
    With best wishes
    Peter & Ronda

  18. Thanks Peter and Rhonda, there have been so many ripples flow out from the Centre as it touched people's lives in many ways and inspired them to be of service in their own unique ways - as you two have done so successfully in Nepal. More power to you and your project :)

  19. WOW interesting times indeed, I never made it to the centre but certainly felt and heard its positive influence on so many people. We are in the early stages of setting up a holistic healing centre here in NZ and would love to connect with anyone who would be interested in joining us.. The would needs more Gawler centres not less so hopefully this closure is the beginning of something even bigger. Thankyou Ian for all your amazing work you have touched more people than you know including me.. abundance of love ,,Dennis dennis.hyde@spacedome.co.nz

    1. Thanks Denis, more power to you too and all the best with your new venture; there is much need :)

  20. Hello Ian,
    It is with sadness overlayed with much gratitude that I read this news.
    I feel such gratitude for the many retreats I attended and the wonderful tuition I received to work as a Meditation teacher and retreat facilitator.
    I love teaching MBSM, Guided Imagery and Contemplation.
    How can I express my gratitude sufficiently for all I have received at the Yarra Valley Living Centre?
    I would like to thank Ruth, Paul & Mia Bedson, your good self, and all the staff & volunteers who have worked at the Centre.
    It's now 18 years since I was diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer and I am so very well. I'm certain that practicing meditation regularly and all I have learnt from others at the Centre has proven to keep me well!
    With best wishes and many thanks,
    Christine Convery

    1. Many thanks for the kind words Christine; great to know how well you are, that the meditation remains with you and life goes on. I suspect something good will come from the Centre's closure too - we shall see ... :)

  21. Dear Ian & Ruth and team! While it is very sad to hear that your centre will close, the way you informed us and wrote this newsletter is another great lesson from you about how we all need to face inevitable change with a calm, optimistic and loving mind. I am really glad I had the opportunity to meet you both a few years ago. Now every one of us has a chance to contribute a little bit in our own way to spread the spirit and optimism of the Gawler foundation in our own lives. All the best!

  22. Dear Ian and Ruth
    I admire you tremendously for what you have done and yes, 40 years is a magnificent achievement. Congratulations! Despite a feeling of sadness, I also acknowledge that it is a time of celebration for a magnificent job done and an incredible contribution to others. Bravo

  23. Dear Ian. As your news filters through I always remember yourself and the Centre were about living. Over 25+years we were fortunate enough to participate in your work. Thank you for the opportunities given so that we could experience your work first-hand both in Melbourne & New Zealand. Our very best of wishes to you, Ruth and the team at the Centre. Pat Stelzer & Grant Donald.

  24. Just to thank you for 'being there' for so many, so generously. I trained with you many years ago and am so appreciative of the depth of experience offered. Warm best wishes to everyone at the centre, past and present. With metta, Grace.

  25. Hi Ian, my beautiful sister Natalie,worked there for a while and whilst I never attended the center, her knowledge and influence inspired me so much, that throughout my nursing years up her in Queensland, i have referred many people to your centre, your books, your recipe books, (of which my sister gave me one and i love and use to this day), an your web site. So your influence has inspired many no doubt, across this great land of ours. I am sad to hear of your centre folding. God knows we need more, not less. I look forward to seeing / hearing what the new opportunity brings.

  26. That is a pity, sadness from the news and love from the memories lived there inundated my chest.. Originality and Geniality share the same root, "coming from the source", when we create from there, things like the Yarra Valley living Centre come alive...Yet the emanated concepts, the abstract part of it, the Gawler Foundation essence itself has expanded in a way of living for many, many families, including mine, and that will last still for many generations ahead...Thank you Ian from bringing your true into the world!


  27. Very sorry to hear this Ian. I hope something positive and beneficial emerges from this new situation. Best wishes Dominique Side

  28. As a cancer survivor, I have to give thanks particularly to Ian Gawler's work which was the bedrock of the cancer support groups I attended for 2 years. His own experience too was a lifeline in the storms of painful treatments and uncertainty about the future. The legacy will live on in all those whose suffering was made light due to his service - heartfelt thanks.