Experts suggest more than a billion animals have died in the bushfires engulfing eastern Australia and animal rights groups have asked the Victorian Government to replicate the action of the NSW Government and drop thousands of kilograms of carrots and sweet potatoes into bushfire-affected areas to save starving wildlife.
Although feeding wildlife and making them dependent on people for food can create problems too. However, Lyn White, of Animals Australia has said:
This is an unprecedented situation which requires unique and innovative solutions.
It is indeed!
And Guardian Australia revealed two days ago that already 80% of the Blue Mountains and 50% of Gondwana rainforests have burned – and the bushfire crisis is ongoing.
As a conservationist and longtime supporter of animal organisations, even proudly earning the title ‘Champion’ from WWF Australia, never in my worst nightmare did I think the devastation we are experiencing would happen, but the signs have been there for a long time regarding habitat destruction as this 1999 article states:
The terrible losses suffered must motivate all levels of government and all communities to think about development, urban creep, logging, mining, land clearing and overall treatment of our rivers, parks and nature reserves.
Do we want a world with less diversity, a world without birdsong, a world where TV documentaries or zoos are the only available access to certain species?
The only creature on earth whose natural habitat is a zoo is the zookeeper.
What have we done & What can we do?
The statistics of a billion animals dead and millions of acres destroyed, and figures skyrocketing daily are too massive for me to comprehend. This is where a picture is worth a thousand words and heart-breaking images saturating social media and the traditional press show the urgency of this climate catastrophe.
There are also heartwarming stories and pictures of animals being rescued and treated for burns, other injuries, plus starvation or thirst because their homes no longer exist.
Communities not affected by the fires have responded in amazing ways. One of the most popular and most needed at the beginning of the bushfire disaster was the plea for pouches for injured and orphaned baby koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, possums and bats.
Bushfires had been burning for weeks in Queensland and NSW but increased as summer drew near and temperatures got hotter. Much of the news taken up with debates about climate change, fire resources and apportioning blame and it took some time for the public to understand the impact on our wildlife.
I was aware because of membership of WWF but wanted to do something practical. I can still hear my parents saying, ‘actions speak louder than words’ and I always feel I’ve achieved something if I can see a practical outcome.
However, it felt strange attending a workshop as a participant, not the facilitator! I hadn’t visited the House for two years although I’d taught writing there for over twenty and it was the ‘home’ of Mordialloc Writers Group.
There was a new manager, and I didn’t know anyone in the sewing group – in fact, I was the only ring-in who had answered the call advertised on Facebook.
Made welcome immediately and offered a brief tutorial, I joined the production line, to cut out pouches and listen to expert advice and tips. I took a baker’s dozen pouches home to sew and posted them to Sydney the following week, receiving a lovely email of appreciation.
The patterns are freely available from the Animal Rescue Freecycle Craft Guild and many other places found on Google. You can mix and match material – injured wildlife care about comfort (cotton or other soft materials for liners) not fashion.
Knitters and those able to crochet can make items too and Facebook groups have sprung up advertising community gatherings and mass knitting and crochet events.
I had an attempt at knitting an outer pouch over Christmas but the pile of pouches I sent to Gippsland were mainly liners from cutting up a flannelette sheet.
Not sure if it was because I was recovering from surgery, misread the pattern, or I’m a slow knitter, but the one outer pouch I knitted took ages and turned out a different size than I expected. And here was me thinking the pattern would be easier to follow than the Poppy Project I did!
Support From All Over Australia and Internationally
Just like the firefighting and fundraising efforts, people from all over the world have rallied to send money and craft items for a variety of wildlife organisations. I’ve heard reports the response has overwhelmed some centres with koala mittens and bat wraps, while others desperately need large pouches for kangaroos.
I hope this fabulous outpouring of support will continue but we must put pressure on those in power to accept the realities of climate change, accept the consequences of lost or degraded habitat and instigate policies to turn this tragic situation around.
Think Global and Act Local
Our CSIRO scientists warned us about the effects of climate change as has Greta Thunberg and the ‘A-list’ of conservationists headed by Sir David Attenborough and Jane Goodall.
As I write, giant hailstones pelt Parliament House, Canberra – I’m sad for the damage to vegetation, homes and birds but oh, how I wish they could knock some sense into the politicians ignoring all the best advice from public servants, emergency service personnel and scientists.
Meanwhile, we can all look after the native vegetation and wildlife in our own communities – and for most of us living in suburbia that could include possums, wombats, lizards, ducks and birds. Although experts do not recommend feeding because of increased development and unusual weather patterns, looking out for the health of native wildlife will ensure their survival.
Ringtail and Brushtail possums in Melbourne have suffered because of increased development, domestic cats, and the periods of intense summer heat becoming longer. Some councils have guidelines to help positive interaction between human and possum.
On hot days I leave a bit of food and water in the garden for our resident possums. Some friends do the same for their furry friends.
Although nocturnal animals, our little possums come down to sleep in the camellia tree during the day when it is boiling – a behaviour I’ve never seen until recently.
Sadly, when out walking I’ve come across dead possums more often. They may have died because of the heat, starvation, a cat or dog attack and even electrocution when they’ve got too close to power lines.
Native birds dislocated because of dense development, the drought, changing climate, introduced species and lost habitat can also do with some proactive love if you still want to wake up to birdsong.
It is preferable to plant trees and flowers that provide natural food but that isn’t always possible in an urban environment.
I love it when the magpies, butcher birds, wattlebirds, rainbow lorikeets and even the vocal noisy minors visit me. Several bottlebrushes provide a feast for various birds but I supplement their diet with some wild bird seed and fill the water dish on hot days.
Google information on plants that attract butterflies and bees and trees that nurture the birds – but also the fact sheets on what not to feed them!
But most of all, listen to the scientists and take climate change seriously we do not want this horrific summer with all its tragic losses to be the new norm.
Last month breast cancer loomed large in my life again when an annualmammogram and ultrasound detected a small tumour.
If the worry about bushfires and climate change wasn’t enough to shatter equilibrium, here was a personal crisis requiring me to face pain, grief, loss and other assaults on happiness.
Supposedly, the season of goodwill, quality family time and holidays – I had a list to complete:
putting up a tree and decorations so the glorious smell of pine resonated throughout the house confirming Christmas
celebrating the successes of the year – my daughter and I published four books for people wanting to leave a record of their life or a legacy for family
publishing a class anthology – an annual event to crown a year or semester of writing for my students
shopping for presents for loved ones and friends and writing cards or emails for those annual catch-ups
planning outings for visitors from overseas and looking forward to returning a little of the hospitality I received when I travelled to Europe and UK 2017
cleaning and decluttering and other rituals associated with Hogmanay – the traditional Scottish New Year, which since childhood signals clean sweeps of cupboards and wardrobes
writing a final blog post for the year to share my poems published and play shortlisted in 2019 enabling me to lay claim to the title ‘creative writer’ …
The best-laid schemes of mice and men gang aft a-gley
Diary of An Unwelcome Diagnosis
Monday, December 2 Mammogram and ultrasound at Mentone. The radiologist said nothing but her body language; the time spent on the ultrasound, the check of x-rays just completed … a tiny fear formed in my stomach …
‘When are you seeing the breast specialist?’
‘Good. He’ll get the results and report.’
Thursday, December 5 the annual check-up with breast surgeon Peter – nine years since my mastectomy. I could tell by his body language this visit was not going to end with Happy Christmas…
‘Not great news… something there, probably a cyst… how do you feel?’
‘I’ve had pain, on and off … thought it was coming from my neck … too many hours at the computer…’
Ever solicitous and kind, Peter asked if he could examine me,
‘Where is the pain… Good, not about the pain but I can’t feel any lump, can you?’
He showed me the mammogram report and the ‘cyst’ causing concern…
Conclusion: New right breast 8 o’clock lesion 50mm from the nipple. This can represent complex cyst or fibroadenoma, ultrasound guided biopsy will be helpful.
‘I’ve arranged for you to have a biopsy tomorrow at Mentone – a fine needle aspiration, and, if necessary, a needle core biopsy.’
‘Needle core biopsy? Oh, that hurts… I remember…’
‘Probably won’t be necessary and I’ve requested Dr Ron Sher do it – the top man!’
Friday, December 6 I spent the night convincing myself and the girls it was a cyst. Routine follow-up biopsy. Peter being cautious. Rather than have my daughters miss work, I caught the train to Mentone and arranged to text my dear friend Lesley when finished.
I’ve had several needle aspirations and knew it would be uncomfortable but did not realise how rough that day would be.
The small room filled quickly with ultrasound equipment, two radiologists and a nurse who with Florence Nightingale compassion held my hand and stroked my arm as a fine needle aspiration became 5 core biopsies.
I received some local anaesthetic permissible for the procedure and remember stilted snatches of conversation as I fought back tears to survive the torture. Everyone was thoroughly professional and empathetic, apologising for the pain being inflicted and allowing me to catch my breath between ‘shots.’
With a collective sigh of relief almost an hour later, I took my bruised breast and instructions for care – and left.
‘You’ll get the results Wednesday at the latest.’
Again, a reading of the body language started foreboding… Lesley took one look at my flushed face and asked if I wanted to go straight home rather than have the coffee and chat we planned.
‘No, if I go home, I’ll curl into a ball and cry – let’s go to Truly Scrumptious and overindulge. I’ll buy you lunch and promise not to cry in public!
Truly Scrumptious lives up to its name; the ambience, food and service always great. And Lesley, my oldest and dearest friend in Mordialloc, was the most understanding and ideal companion for the start or was it the continuation, of my breast cancer journey.
‘Can’t believe it’s nine years,’ we said in unison as we sat down facing each other.
Later with a heightened sense that life is finite, I admired how window boxes outside softened bricks and mortar, beautifying ugliness.
Lesley shared her knowledge of plants, explaining the popularity and usefulness of Star Jasmine. (She bought this plant for me a couple of days later. Bless her!)
I’m greeted at home with a ‘pamper pack’ from my daughters: Vera and Shetland DVDs, massage oil, Bio-oil, a crossword book, chocolate, butter menthols, Rescue Remedy, calming Lavender oil – no pretence, memories of years before, a fear voiced and unvoiced – suppression of mild panic?
Lots of spontaneous hugs and expressions of love.
Monday, December 9 Sitting at the computer, completing the final edit of a class anthology, Peter rang to say the pathology arrived.
‘I need to see you tomorrow and you’ll be in the hospital next week.’
It was after 8.30pm. A little voice inside commended his diligence for checking the pathology results and letting me know straight away but I blurted,
‘I can’t come tomorrow, I’m working. It’s the last class for the year… I can’t miss it…’
‘Well, come to my rooms as soon as you can after finishing work. I’ll tell my secretary to expect you when you can make it.’
Concentration weakened and no ‘good’ night’s sleep ahead!
I made stupid mistakes editing the class anthology – thankfully, my work (always the last included) and not a student’s.
The copy since corrected – bless the digital world! But the news of cancer returning was the beginning of a month of inner turmoil and ‘putting on a brave front’, the shrivelling of any desire to write or have confidence in what to write.
Tuesday, December 10 while preparing for the final class of the year radiologist Ingrid from Mentone rings, ‘How are you feeling? How is your breast?’
I’ve never had a follow-up phone call before and thank her while explaining I’d be seeing Peter that afternoon. I got through the class with a tight knot in my stomach and tears burning the back of eyelids.
After sharing the disconcerting news and showered with love and concern for what lay ahead, we played some fun writing games.
Would this be the last class I teach?
Late afternoon, daughter Mary Jane came in with me to hear Peter explain the result of the biopsies. He showed me the report – a paragraph of scientific gobbledegook swimming before my eyes but the last line, in capitals and underlined:
RIGHT BREAST 8.00 5CM FROM NIPPLE CORE BIOPSY – FEATURES CONSISTENT WITH ADENOID CYSTIC CARCINOMA.
‘This is a rare cancer, but we’ve caught it early. You may need some radiotherapy but no chemo…’
I glanced at Mary Jane who was taking notes (always have someone you trust with a notebook!) in case I mishear or forget the conversation.
Tears glisten and she struggles to keep it together while I surprise myself at feeling so calm. I joke to break the tension,
‘Of course, it’s a rare cancer, I’m a rare person!’
Amid the laughter, Peter explains I’d have a blood test before I leave and his receptionist will explain the arrangements for a sentinel node biopsy and hospital booking.
In a room down the corridor, Jack draws blood – an unusually pain-free experience. Well done Jack!
Many people struggle to get blood from my veins – and it’s not because I’m Scots and we give nothing away!
While Jack worked, we discussed taste in movies – he was young but didn’t like Sci-Fi or Marvel movies, preferring Realism.
Then he expressed his annoyance with computer technology – a new program recently installed by IT made his life more difficult not easier. Ah, a familiar story – just hope whatever details of mine fed into the machine arrive where they’re supposed to!
In the evening, daughter Anne stays the night – there are tears, cuddles, cider, a favourite funny DVD that has us laughing…
We’ll get through whatever lies ahead – we’ve done it before. There’ll be disrupted sleep patterns ahead, inappropriate food choices (who said chocolate is bad for you?) and a rollercoaster of emotional energy including outbursts, tears, withdrawal and fear.
We cancel our holiday to Port Campbell booked months ago. We were to leave on Boxing Day but with the operation scheduled for Tuesday 17th, I probably won’t feel in holiday mode, nursing a sore boob. Nor will I be able to walk the dog and the attraction of Port Campbell was the dog-friendly cabin.
Wednesday, December 11 I receive a call from Brightways, a breast care nurse cancer service. They want me to come to Cabrini on Friday morning and talk about the operation, what to expect and how they can support me.
Beautiful flowers arrive from Tash, a dear friend who claims to be daughter number 3:
Joy and Fun lighten the mood…
At 10.00am my friend Jillian picks me up and we attend an end-of-year concert by Silver Blades, the Olympic Ice Skating Group of Oakleigh.
Jillian’s friend Rosey one of the group that is a mix of ages. However, the majority retired and/or aged pensioners. Seniors skating on (thin?) ice – haha!
To the strains of Abba’s Mamma Mia and other upbeat tunes, the Silver Maids (and a token male) glide around a skating rink I hadn’t visited for 40 years.
The solo displays of skill, fun, themed, team displays, glossy and glittery costumes, and a grand parade delightful and impressive.
Suddenly, it’s home time. Thank you, Jillian, for a bright spot in a so so week!
On the drive home I reminisce about teenage years in the late 60s.
A carload of excited adolescents looking for romance and excitement or just freedom from the mundane travelled from Croydon to Oakleigh on Friday or Saturday nights.
We spent most of the evening clinging to the barrier, bumping into each other or on our bottoms before returning home sitting on towels to protect the car upholstery.
I remember a lot of laughter, cold numbness of hands and feet and the discomfort of wet jeans!
Jillian is my walking buddy, a good friend, and an inspiration. A patient of Peter’s who survived breast cancer – twice, she shared that her second cancer different too and occurred thirteen years after the first!
I imagine Jillian has experienced the tangle of thoughts coursing through my mind. A FB post makes me think Google is listening not just to my spoken words but thoughts!
Wednesday, December 11 News is spreading to dear friends and family. A close friend and writing colleague, Lisa turns up with a beautifully worded card, a box of sunshine, plus empathy and support.
I can unpack the contents one by one or all at once – I do it gradually but here are pics of the wonderful, thoughtful, organic products – what a box of loving sunshine!
Another friend Glenice pops in with ‘fun’ presents for under the tree and words of love and encouragement. Her husband’s health is frail yet she’s taken time out to visit me and I know she is supporting others through health crises.
Emails from friends and relatives in the UK and those living here also cards form ex-students. The cliches ‘no news is good news’ and ‘bad news travels fast’ spring to mind.
Maureen calls and continues to do so regularly, also sends texts and emails. She visits with chocolates, DVDs and buckets of love.
Barbara calls and later visits with a gorgeous orchid.
All the support and love is humbling… and a sharing of the collective strength of resilient women memorable.
‘I bounce – we bounce!’
Thursday, December 12 Longbeach Place staff break-up lunch at Chelsea RSL. A nice meal and we cover various topics while not dwelling too long on stories about breast or any other cancer!
I learn that the State Government funding body has decided not to fund writing classes in neighbourhood houses – not enough employability outcomes for the demographic attracted to the classes. Not surprising since many of the students have retired that’s why they have the time to study non-Accredited courses in community houses. But surely improving skills and education access doesn’t stop – whatever happened to a commitment to lifelong learning?
Yet, so many studies and reports talk about the challenge of our ageing population, combatting loneliness and depression, cultivating belonging, easing the tragedy of mental illness, the need for ESL students to learn the nuances of English, the importance of recording personal histories.
Ah, well, interesting timing…
Friday, December 13 Superstitious people say the day is unlucky but I have already compromised my luck! Anyway, Dad always said 13 can be lucky – he was thirteenth in his family, was born on 13th March and had thirteen letters in his name. He always chose 13 as his lucky number.
Bronwyn, the smiling face on the Brightways brochure meets us at Cabrini. She explains the role of breast care nurses and gives me a lovely floral pillow to use post-op.
There is not an available bra in my size but she promises they will post a free Berlei bra to me. I’m advised to register for My Journey Kit from Breast Cancer Network Australia. The kit available online.
‘Thank goodness – I remember when the hard copy arrived by express post last time.’
‘Yes, the size of a couple of house bricks,’ Bronwyn said with a smile.
‘Overwhelming too – at least online I can choose what to read, download or skip.’
Thank you Berlei – funding My Care Kit is an altruistic, much appreciated financial commitment.
Estimated number of new cases of breast cancer diagnosed in 2019 19,535 = 164 males + 19,371 females
Estimated number of deaths from breast cancer in 2019
3,090 = 32 males + 3,058 females
Chance of surviving at least 5 years (2011–2015) 91%
People living with breast cancer at the end of 2014 (diagnosed in the 5 year period 2010 to 2014) 71,943
I’m not special – just one of many living with a breast cancer diagnosis – I acknowledge how entitled and fortunate I am to be in Australia with a network of professionals and access to excellent medical care…
At Cabrini, there were reminders of Christmas and the spirit of giving:
On the way home, we discuss the information about the operation – a lumpectomy this time – and the logistics of getting to and from the hospital.
We’re aiming for upbeat.
I notice a car parked by the side of the road and we giggle about alternative business names after Anne googles the company…
The girls drop me home and pick up a Christmas tree. We spend a lovely couple of hours decorating the tree, discussing arrangements for Christmas Day and leaving all Christmas shopping to them.
I almost feel normal!
Monday, December 16 On this date, 57 years ago, nine-year-old me arrived in Australia with my family. This bit of sentimental trivia sprung to mind as I prepared to go to I-MED Radiology Moorabbin for a Sentinel Node Injection before surgery.
They sent me a video to watch to prepare – this is not a pain-free procedure you’d volunteer for!
Jess, the young lass who injected small amounts of radioactive dye around my nipple apologised for the pain and said I was very brave – often people cry or baulk at the procedure.
After the injections, I had to massage the breast to make sure the fluid distributes evenly. ‘Positively erotic,’ I joke, ‘if it wasn’t so painful!’
Jess and Mary Jane laugh.
The next step, a scan and gamma-ray photo to show the radiation has highlighted the tumour and lymph nodes. Apart from a dull ache in the breast and the beginning of a tension headache, I feel fine. Alas, no turning into the Hulk with super strength!
Tuesday, December 17 The Blue Moon rose growing outside my window, vibrant and beautiful as I got into the car to head to Cabrini for 10.30am. Both girls were with me and in true grief/loss reaction, I feel guilty they are going through this trauma a second time.
We don’t voice our fear – will things go pear-shaped like last time? (A lumpectomy, haematoma, more cancer discovered, mastectomy, mistaken chemo dose and pneumonia… ) Please no ‘Oops.’
Flashbacks to John’s death and feeling his absence keenly. None of us slept well – me least of all – it was after 1.00am when I drifted off, before waking at 2.00am. John’s sister, Janet rang from England, sending love and wishing me luck.
How lovely to hear her voice, know her genuine concern but she’d forgotten how many hours difference between zones so I was the dopey – and then couldn’t sleep much afterwards because many memories stirred.
And then one of those inexplicable experiences occurred – did I imagine, dream, hope? There’s a shadow in the doorway of positive, loving energy – John, Mum… the little girl whose spirit lives in the house?
Will I get through this latest health hiccup? Is this a primary or secondary cancer? What is death like? What is life about? What have I achieved? Does it matter? What is my legacy? Will the girls be okay?
Wide awake I didn’t need the alarm to go at 6.30am so I could have a light breakfast before fasting at 7.00am!
The operation was super successful (a huge thank you Peter!) and although Christmas cards were late; I sent them out with this ditty:
An Excuse of Sorts…
Please pardon this generic computer note to explain
how plans derailed when breast cancer struck again.
Mammograms, scans, doctor visits, biopsies,
hospital trips, lumpectomy and opinions galore…
this whirlwind treatment left my only boob sore!
But the surgeon triumphed, ‘I got all the tumour -‘
I smiled thanks from my drug-induced stupor,
Therefore, if he’s that happy, why not me?
I’ll also revel in being again cancer-free!
Now this health hiccup came at an awkward time
so please, accept my apologies in this twee rhyme.
I’ve been otherwise busy to muster the usual cheer
but rallying like a true Scot, ’Here’s to a guid New Year!’ Mairi Neil 2019
Another Facebook meme doing the rounds seems appropriate.
I’ll get back to writing about important happenings not centred around me in the next few posts. Finish the ‘to do’ and partially written list!
Meanwhile, to all those who read my blog. Belated best wishes for a productive, prosperous and most of all peaceful 2020
The award-winning Bendigo Hospital showcased last year for the inaugural Open House Bendigo and again this year. The result of the Victorian State Government’s $630 million-dollar project, the largest regional hospital in Victoria is well worth a visit, even though hospitals aren’t usually on the tourist circuit.
Over the last few months, I’ve had more interaction with the Victorian health system than I’d like because friends and close family members have needed serious surgery or other procedures. As a consumer health representative, I’m always interested in the ‘where, when and how‘ healthcare is delivered as well as any outcomes so I was determined to see Bendigo Hospital this year during Open House Bendigo.
The Bendigo Hospital Project’s much-lauded design includes therapeutic gardens and harnesses the healing power of inclusiveness and nature to deliver world-class healthcare facilities in a welcoming, holistic, and positive environment.
I can assure you ‘seeing is believing’…
The project a Private Public Partnership between Exemplar Health and the Victorian Government and involved collaboration and consultation. The contract hands the hospital back to the government in 25 years.
Is this a pathway for the future of providing public hospital care?
Medical technology and expertise can detect and treat disease earlier, replace or heal damaged body parts, and extend life expectancy – but it all comes at a ‘dollar’ cost.
Students of history know the difficulties experienced when Medicare was introduced and the ongoing battle to retain it. To fund or even establish a universal healthcare system opens the proverbial ‘can of worms’ in Australia. Maintaining public health systems is costly financially and in political terms, because there are those ideologically opposed to the idea of government completely funding anything.
And ‘bean-counters’ must be satisfied.
Australia’s two-tiered health system of public and private services already stretches government dollars and there is an underlying reluctance or suspicion of change from most people – especially radical change – private-public partnerships may be the compromise we need to have.
The design, organisation, and management of hospital buildings evolve at a slower pace than medicine and treatments because bricks and mortar and technological equipment require huge investment and often relocation. Expanding existing facilities may not be possible and any new site can meet community opposition or the shortcomings of political expediency.
The Bendigo Project united three existing sites. From the beginning, the architects, design team, and landscape architects OCULUS collaborated and consulted to join the various precincts through a series of connecting paths and diverse landscaped gardens, where staff, patients, and visitors could move or sit in communal and private spaces.
The scale, colours, and proportion of the built form of the hospital reference Bendigo’s distinguished heritage buildings, while establishing a strong sculpturally, formed civic element creating a more friendly and human scale.
Dja Dja Wurrung & Chinese Gardens
There is a designated area for the Dja Dja Wurrung respectful of their needs and Chinese gardens reflect the cultural diversity of the region since colonial times. The green infrastructure ensures trees and plants are inside the building as well as in gardens outside.
Mainly indigenous plants are used but also non-indigenous to mirror the history of gardens in the Bendigo area – special plants that may have been introduced or cultivated by colonial settlers.
Tree bark was an important resource for the Dja Dja Wurrung People and was used for the manufacture of a number of different articles such as canoes, shields and coolamons (bowls). Trees like this one, bearing the scars from bark removal can still be seen in many parts of the Country and are an important reminder of the Dja Dja Wurrung presence in the landscape.
When you enter Bendigo Hospital there is a sign that reads ‘ We are proud to acknowledge Dja Dja Wurrung as the Traditional Owners of this Country’and at the entrance to the Aboriginal Support centre/gathering place, there is a framed Possum Skin Cloak by the artist Jida Gulpilil with the following explanation:
The creation of a Djaroon – Possum Skin Cloak to Dja Dja Wurrung people is a direct link to our past and connection to our physical and spiritual world today – it continues our healing, forever telling the stories, customs, beliefs and culture of our people. The Djaroon creates warmth and is shared with others for healing, health and wellbeing.
The Mootchung (wattle seed pod design) represented reflects the practice of seasonal food cycle collection and movement. It is high in protein and can be cooked or eaten raw like green peas. The wood of the tree is used to make the implements for hunting and gathering other bush-foods and medicinal plants that build strength and connection to country.
Our belief, which has been passed down over 2000 generations is that our spirits and physical presence were created to encourage and support all peoples health and wellbeing, through health support, education, mutual respect and understanding: we should never disconnect from that objective as a universal community.
Jida Gulpilil 2016
The privacy of the Aboriginal Support area, the secluded garden with a fire circle for smoking ceremonies and meetings were designed with consultations to meet the needs and cultural sensitivities of those who use the services.
The impression of tranquillity and quietness is strong, also the smell of eucalyptus leaves. The furniture and building features made with natural materials blend into the landscape to create an inclusive and beautiful space.
The Chinese Garden with its central Pomelo tree surrounded by seats for rest and contemplation is also distinctive and beautiful.
The plaque in English and Chinese reads:
Number 88: Representing abundance, prosperity, good health and family unity.
Pomelo trees are an important symbol in Chinese culture. To the Bendigo Chinese, this is a ‘tree of life’, and pomelo tree leaves are made as an offering to the decorative Chinese dragon at many special ceremonies. This tree was propagated by Russell Jack AM, from trees grown from seed by his mother, Gladys Ah Dore in Elmore during the early 1900s. A donation from the Golden Dragon Museum of Bendigo this tree is a living reminder of the growing contribution the Bendigo Chinese community has made to Bendigo Health for more than 100 years.
Nature Invited Inside
This recently finished hospital impressive in many ways and it was a joy to be shown around the place by one of the Oculus architects and a representative from Exemplar Health. Both women were exceptionally generous in the details they provided, answering every question, no matter how repetitive.
Yesterday, I received a list of all the plants and trees used in the incredibly stunning gardens because many of us requested it.
This list for the precinct is nine pages and as Joan from Exemplar Health stated in the email ‘a live document, changing over time as we work with our horticultural staff to maintain the gardens and see what is thriving (or not!) in each area.’
When I walked through the gardens and entered the hospital, first impressions were unlike any hospital I’ve ever visited. I say this as a positive, not a negative. Inside the building was even more stunning than the magnificent garden area outside where you’d expect to see rows of parked cars.
The entrance, airy and light with abstract paintings and sculptures by internationally renowned, Daylesford based artist Esther Stewart contributing to the positive ambience.
Stewart explores repetition and composition through colour and line. the intricate hand-painted wall painting references decorative arts, crafts and flowers from the Bendigo region. Inspired by the symmetry and formal geometry of Bendigo’s famous gold-rush era architecture.
The wall-painting features architectural elements drawn from German-born, Bendigo architect William Vahland’s ornate structures, as well as from the historic Victorian threshold tiling found in domestic and civic buildings in the Bendigo region.
Bendigo’s native flowers, Shrubby Dampiera, Sweet Bursaria and Rosy Heath have been incorporated into a repeated pattern through the piece. These decorative elements contrast with solid blocks of joyous colour, the palette of which has been inspired by the work of artists Agnes Goodsir and Emma Minnie Boyd, who were amongst the Bendigo ArtGallery’s first female acquisitions.
The elaborate wall work is a complementary counterpoint to the feathered natural light and earthy materials of Bendigo Hospital’s internal street space, providing a human warmth and local familiarity to the important new civic space.
You notice the trees growing inside the building and can’t resist checking if they are real or artificial.
At Bendigo, there are three full-time gardeners over the three sites, plus contractors at particular times when seasonal changes may demand extra maintenance.
Our guides told us that the design of the ceiling in the entrance area was influenced by the way light filtered through the tree branches. The architects altered their original design and materials accordingly. This openness and flexibility apparent throughout the project and staff and patient input were given high priority.
We walked through the ground floor of the hospital and learned about the landscaping, soil depth, microbes, plant needs, tree needs, light and sunshine available, the reason for rainforest trees.
When choosing plants they had to consider allergies, if plants were poisonous and could be ingested, if plants, seeds, branches, stones in rockeries could be weaponised. The mental health and dementia area have their own closed-in and safe garden.
Each floor has its own garden/rainforest – wherever you are receiving treatment there is a view to the outside world and access to plants and fresh air closeby. On the lower floors, canopy trees offer privacy from upper storeys and balconies.
We walked through the Cancer Centre and several other departments, each decorated in a specific colour scheme with artistic backdrops reflecting the seven shires that make up Bendigo. An aerial photo of some aspect of the shire enlarged behind the reception desk while chairs and other furniture complement the main colour.
When looking at the Cancer centre, one of the volunteers told me her husband was treated at the hospital and died in the hospice. I appreciated her volunteering because her grief would still be raw.
The Treatment and Chemotherapy Rooms look out onto gardens, which help you relax and take your mind off what is happening but for some procedures ‘staff and patients have to remember to shut the blinds,’ she said with a smile. Patients can see out but people sitting outside can also see in!
I told her that when I was going through chemo at Cabrini Brighton, they had scenic landscapes hanging on the wall and I used to stare at one of a beach, close my eyes and pretend I was in Samoa! My daughters waited in a nearby cafe until I was ready to go home but at Bendigo, support friends could sit and relax in one of the lovely courtyards.
An Interesting Segue
Last year the Cancer Council of Victoria chose Bendigo to launch a national campaign tackling obesity and cancer – a campaign claimed to be a world first.
Targeting ‘toxic fat’ around internal organs, the campaign revealed sugary drinks contribute to obesity and being above a healthy weight is a preventable cause of 13 types of cancer, including breast cancer.
Sugary drinks, including soft drinks, sports drinks, sugar-added juices and milk are the single biggest source of sugar in our diets.
98% of Australians are aware obesity is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes and heart disease but as few as 40% know about its link to cancer.
Bendigo Health BANNED all sugary drinks being sold within its precinct – a great initiative for the sustainability of our health resources!
We want people to realise that they could be drinking their way towards weight gain, obesity and toxic fat, including their risk of many types of cancer.
Dr Sam Harris, consultant medical oncologist
It can’t be overstated how important a relationship with the outside world is when recovering in hospital. To be able to access natural beauty with its promise of new buds, leaves, and flowers contributes a promise of healing.
Central to the landscape architectural approach was the idea of connections and kindness… delivering high-quality public spaces, streets and edges inviting use and respite.
Key Outcomes & Sustainability Pluses
Design using evidence-based & biophilic design approaches
nearly 50 green roofs, roof decks, balconies & courtyards (some accessible), nearly 20 mental health courtyards and an Aboriginal Services Garden (part of closing the gap initiative).
the largest green roof in a hospital project in Australia
the hospital’s green roofs reduce glare and heat island effect, improving acoustics and thermal performance.
a 770panel 200-kilowatt solar photovoltaic panel array generates clean energy power
annual reduction in greenhouse gases of approximately 300,000 kilograms of CO2
the hospital roof can harvest and store more than 300kL of potable and no-potable rainwater in this drought-prone region
recycled water systems supply landscape irrigation, toilet flushing and heat rejection systems.
green infrastructure has been incorporated combining water sensitive urban design and structural soils and increased biological diversity.
Not surprisingly Exemplar and Oculus have won a string of awards for Bendigo Hospital, the latest only recently: the Prize for the Civic Landscape by the International Federation of Landscape Architects.
Other awards include:
Premiers Sustainability Awards, winner Regional Recognition Prize
PCA Victorian Development of the Year
Good Design Awards, winner Architectural Design
AILA Sir Zelman Cowen Award Public Architecture
AILA National prize Civic Landscape
Robots In Use
While listening to our guides some hardworking robots glided along a designated corridor on a walkway above us.
The robots looked like large silver boxes to me.
The robots made in Germany (Siemens) operate on a small platform/trolley that can be raised. They deliver food and linen after being loaded by humans. The robots operate in a special corridor and lift reserved for their use, taking the items to the wards to be distributed by nurses or other staff.
The robots take themselves into a storage area to be recharged and when you consider all the repetitive movements and effort required to lift clean or dirty dishes and linen, having a machine to do it makes sense.
Further Improvements Transform Bendigo Health
The transformation of Bendigo Health is amazing considering in 2012, some buildings were deemed non-compliant after failing to meet fire-safety standards.
The Victorian Government promised $60million last year to fit out the old hospital building, demolish towers at the Anne Caudle Centre, and complete the redevelopment of Bendigo’s hospital precinct.
Stage three of the hospital’s redevelopment brings together allied health services, including physiotherapy, social work, speech therapy, prosthetics and orthotics, clinical psychology and neuropsychology.
People recovering from illnesses and injuries will have good rehabilitation services and support close at hand when the new rehabilitation centre is complete by 2023. Work will start in 2021, this enables current services to move with minimum disruption before towers are demolished.
This stage is not part of the private-public partnership that delivered the first two stages so it will be interesting to see if the greening continues!
It’s uplifting to spend a few hours with others interested in the environment and always a challenge to learn something new. These workshops the council organise aim to engage and educate but also to foster friendships and community spirit. A bonus is experiencing parts of the city you may rarely visit.
When I walked up Thames Promenade from Chelsea Railway Station and spied the garden from the road and horses in the fields opposite, I thought how rural it seemed compared to the rapid development of townhouses and apartments across Kingston.
You cross where the Long Beach Trail comes from Mordialloc and continues through Centennial Park – I’ve cycled and walked this trail with my children and later with walking buddies.
The community garden has been operating for ten years and welcomes new members. I can remember attending a meeting at Chelsea Heights Community Centre when it was first established but further visits have been rare. The established garden beds and host of activities offered now are impressive.
Members can have individual garden plots but more than half the beds are communal with work and harvests shared.
An excellent choice of venue to meet others in the community and gain knowledge about sustainability. Many of the plants were in bloom and the variety was inspiring. We were given a complimentary booklet (available from the Council) crammed with useful information about growing vegetables and herbs, including planning, maintenance, garden health, preparing for harvest and recipes too.
The First Step Towards A Very Edible Garden
The workshop was a Wicking Bed Demonstration – Growing Plants that Thrive with Less Water, presented by Jeremy from Very Edible Garden.
A wicking bed is an agricultural irrigation system used in arid countries where water is scarce. It can be used both in fields as in containers. Besides use in fields/containers outdoors, it can also be used indoors.
If you Google Wicking Beds, the first post from Very Edible Gardens is 2015 but they have a whole new site dedicated to this increasingly popular way of creating sustainable garden beds here https://www.wickingbeds.com.au/and they offer ‘foolproof wicking bed conversion kits and instructional materials to the public‘.
It was a perfect day for being outside and Jeremy reminded us this was an interactive workshop. We’d build a wicking bed together. Before he began his presentation he asked for a volunteer to hold a glass jar while he put a small amount of water in the bottom and inserted a rolled-up piece of paper into the jar.
This was a timer – and Jeremy promised his presentation would be over by the time the paper had absorbed the water.
Capillarity (capillary action) will occur. The phenomenon, in which the surface of a liquid in contact with a solid – the tube of paper – is raised or lowered depending on the relative attraction of the molecules of the liquid for each other and for those of the solid.
This piece of showmanship a great introduction to a basic physics lesson and explanation as to how a wicking bed works – water is drawn up through layers from the bottom by the roots of the plants and is a more efficient way of conserving water and feeding.
Science was not my best subject at school but Jeremy was a good presenter and kept my attention better than Mr Menzies all those years ago at Croydon High.
I understood the explanation of osmosis, how plants absorb water and the cycle of evaporation into the air, but if you are interested the science is explained here.
The inventor of the wicking bed, an Australian Colin Austin has his own website, and his ongoing research into soil and improved wicking beds can be read here.
Most people present had never used a wicking bed. Some, like me, had never heard of the concept until invited to the workshop.
Jeremy noted the list of questions people wanted answers to and proceeded to answer them:
what is a wicking bed?
can you convert an existing raised bed?
what is the cost?
what soil is needed and are there different materials to choose from?
how small can the bed be?
how do you manage size?
can you build on concrete?
troubleshooting an existing bed.
can it be made to water automatically?
The last point was from a couple who were tired of returning from holiday to find many plants in their garden dying or dead.
Jeremy admitted the wicking system allowed you to water less frequently and a garden may survive a week in summer without adding water but it is not designed to be fully automatic.
He added that less water is used if you stay engaged with the garden bed and it is healthier too. The wicking bed is fixed irrigation, a different type of watering system and doesn’t replace the attention and care you give to the plants apart from ensuring they have water.
Your container can be any waterproof receptacle – a bucket, the colour bond garden beds commercially available, or one similar to the wooden beds of the community garden. Jeremy converted two wine barrels because he lives in an apartment and has a small patio.
A base is not necessary, but a flat surface is – a wicking bed can be built on the lawn, concrete or paving – anywhere strong enough to handle the weight, and any shape that can have a plastic liner inserted if needed because it must be waterproofed.
Jeremy advised choosing the plastic carefully – it has to be thick and lasting. Some cheap commercial products may disintegrate or puncture easily. His company imports a Canadian product from Adelaide.
Measuring and placing the liner a great example of organisation and cooperation – the size needed cut from a roll and folded before being placed in the bed – the sides then pulled up and clamped in place.
When folding the corners attention must be paid to ensure it is as evenly upright as possible and water can’t be trapped between folds.
Water is fed into a layer of gravel underneath the soil and moves up through layers so that the plant has access to water all the time. The roots suck up the water when needed.
There is a layer or barrier between the soil and base to ensure the soil is not wet all the time and air is circulating through the soil. This reservoir is important.
A pipe outlet is needed – one pipe/hose is used to feed in the water but there needs to be an outlet in case there is a lot of rain that fills the bed and to ensure no overwatering. The pipe must be between the soil and the barrier layer.
The various bits of hose and pipe can be bought from a hardware store or a kit online. Generally, the proportions for the bed are 2/3 soil and 1/3 gravel in the reservoir.
35-38cm soil depth should remain moist when the reservoir is full and the pipe outlet can be lower down at the base of the bed, or just beneath the soil layer. 40cm is a good ballpark figure to use for placement of the outlet.
It was an interactive workshop and each stage of explanation or work, Jeremy called for volunteers. People offered to cut an access point, to seal the washers, to attach the outlet pipe – we were a cooperative crowd!
All the work is upfront – it takes time to build and prepare but once that is completed, choose what you want to plant. A timely reminder to choose plants carefully before placing the bed in either the sun or shade – whatever is appropriate for the climate and situation.
Some plants do better than others in a wicking bed but plants often surprise us by adapting to an environment. According to Jeremy, ‘plants do life differently to us and are a lot more chill.’
The advantage of a wicking bed is that you can go on holiday and not come back to dead plants providing you are not gone for several weeks! You don’t have to water daily and you can judge and monitor how much water is used.
The Plumbing in place, now the Layers
The hard work began filling the bed with gravel, soil and mulch. Teamwork meant some people wheelbarrowed, others shovelled, and others watered. (We took it in turns and also watered ourselves with the tea and coffee provided!)
The pipe and hose in place before the gravel put in and water added to ensure a reservoir soaked before adding soil. Care must be taken at all times not to tear or puncture the plastic.
A layer of textured material placed on top of the gravel before soil added – this is to provide the all-important ‘air-obics’, plus measurements to make sure the 40cm drainage outlet.
The Soil Ready to Be Added
Every gardener knows the importance of good quality soil and compost. We wheelbarrowed and shovelled the soil as everyone shared tips and stories about where to get the best quality … Jeremy revealed the soil came from the Zoo… there were jokes about who knew elephant poo was good fertiliser.
I remembered how a random pumpkin vine appeared in my garden when I had a neighbour who kept Lucy, the pig who loved recycling vegetable waste and rubbing herself against the fence. Nature’s recycling indeed wonderful!
After the soil came the mulch. Jeremy emphasised that the mulch should be dampened during the process. All this preparation is done before seedlings or plants added. This was the time too for trimming and stapling the plastic liner.
The Finished Wicking Bed
Jeremy reminded us:
You look after the plants and soil in the top of the bed as you would normally – this is a different type of irrigation that’s all.
Do not add fertiliser to the water pipe because it may build up and won’t all be flushed away.
Remember, it is a heavy set up and once it is in place it is hard to pull apart and move.
It is a fixed irrigation system and less water is used by staying engaged and enjoying looking after your plants. Some plants like garlic that like drier soil may be harder to grow.
Enjoy the fruits of your labour!
Please share if you discover resources or information that may improve the system or benefit others
After the workshop, I noticed the other beds had similar water systems installed, where the main water outlet was and the community garden’s huge water tanks.
The Grand Tour
Vicky, one of the stalwart Earthcarers gave me a grand tour and I felt honoured as she generously shared her knowledge and commitment to the garden and community.
Vicky is ‘the bee lady’ and I saw the hives. She shared her concern about the tragic loss of human and animal wildlife because of the bushfires but said that many people won’t realise the impact on an already worrying ‘bee situation’ worldwide.
Many Australian beekeepers place their hives in the National Parks and forest reserves believing they’d be more secure and the honey purer. In these catastrophic fires, habitats, houses, and everything else have been destroyed.
She showed me the composting area, where members could deposit stuff for composting and mulching and the healthy soil produced.
There are hens to recycle much of the by-products of gardening. Tables groaned under the weight of plants and herbs for sale.
Seeing the Community Garden through Vicky’s eyes was wonderful – the area where young mothers come with their babies and toddlers (one little boy loves to play ‘au natural’) and the children learn to love and nurture the environment and feel happy in a safe place.
Hopefully, nurturing the environment and gardening will be second nature to them.
Walking around the garden, you notice innovative repurposing of receptacles like baths and barbecues. Reused plant pots – even children’s toys!
There are beds devoted to flowers, to herbs, to companion plants, to fruit… community beds and those cared for by individual members.
I know clubs and schools have their own gardens and I can see the benefit of wicking beds for these places.
The world is faced with climate change and Australia is coping with catastrophic bushfires, drought and floods but it is heartening to know that there are communities and individuals, caring for the environment, nurturing gardens, sharing knowledge and contributing to sustainable living.
A good way to learn about the region’s First People is to take a vintage tram ride on the Dja Dja Wurrung Tram – a moving celebration of their cultural heritage that navigates the past and present of the changing environment since colonisation.
For the second year, the City of Greater Bendigo opened its doors and partnered with Open House Melbourne to host Open House Bendigo on the last weekend in October. Supporting partners were Creative Victoria, DELWP, Heritage Council of Victoria and the La Trobe Art Institute.
I was thrilled to volunteer again because Bendigo is a place you can easily fall in love with and being part of a volunteer crew hosting a building for Open House, I indulge my love of history and heritage and chat with a host of interesting people sharing a similar love or just satisfying their curiosity about buildings they pass every day or had a connection to in the past …
Whatever the reason, the air comes alive with stories, characters and settings and for a writer – to paraphrase our PM – How good is an Open House weekend!?
In a thank-you email received yesterday (and the wonderful crew who run Open House nurture and always thank the volunteers!) the statistics have been collated:
over 10,000 visits across 27 buildings and 9 special events
a clear demonstration of continuing public interest and engagement in the city’s architecture and heritage.
as expected the Beehive was the most popular building with over 2,123 people taking advantage of walking through the door
The cooperation and enthusiasm of building managers, owners and architects also make the program possible and local volunteers from a variety of community or educational organisations keen to showcase on this extremely busy weekend for Bendigo.
There is an annual Cycling Classic plus a Sustainable Living festival and lots of cross-pollination between events. I even paused to enjoy the excitement of one of the cycling heats:
Bendigo is only 90 minutes by train from Melbourne and although the weather wasn’t as pleasant as last year visitors were not deterred and not only the Beehive Complex saw increased numbers.
People queued patiently outside and inside the building to be allowed a walkthrough of half an hour – 15 minutes downstairs and 15 minutes upstairs and volunteers kept the numbers moving by ensuring the time limit strictly adhered to.
My teaching voice came in handy as I herded those on the upper floor, as did the timer on my mobile phone and the response from a good-natured crowd.
Why was the Beehive so busy?
The Beehive Building is a Bendigo landmark and dates back to 1872 when it was the Bendigo Mining Exchange. The building has been through many manifestations since then and therefore holds a variety of memories for the people of Bendigo.
Last year, Open House Bendigo allowed access to the construction site and the interest generated resulted in queues wending around the streets with waiting times of more than two hours – hence the timed viewing and entry this year!
The exclusive ‘sneak peek’ of ‘never-before-seen restorative works’ and the opportunity to hear from the Developer, Craig Lightfoot, a golden opportunity few locals wanted to miss.
I’ll own up to being critical of many building developers, especially those who seem to want to get rich quick and bulldoze and build rather than restore and redeem but after meeting Craig and seeing the efforts to beautifully restore the Beehive to its former glory I could become a fangirl!
His enthusiasm and passion for retaining heritage aspects obvious. Parts of the restoration will show the history of the building to spark interest and discussion but also as a reminder of the various tradesmen who applied their skills over the 147-year history of the Beehive. Where it is safe to do so, the history of the building and restoration work will be exposed.
In many of the rooms, you will see traces of past occupiers – paintwork, wallpaper patterns, ornamental plaster, brickwork, fireplaces…
Similar in style to Melbourne’s Royal Arcade and by the same designer, Charles Webb, the building’s original uses include a hotel, a mining exchange, a restaurant, offices and function space. The current development uncovers the rich layers of use by removing most of, if not all of the 1920s’ and 1950s’ changes, revealing key features of the original building. Visitors had access to the ground level construction site during the 2018 Open House Bendigo program, and this year visitors will access the newly completed arcade including the second story, revealing the intricate beauty of the glass ceiling not seen for decades.
Behind a still-to-be renovated staircase there will be a quirky memento. Workers have written their name and date they worked on the building, the earliest entry legible is 1939.
Craig assured me he’ll be adding his signature to the wall and that piece of plaster will be made stable and remain as is!
He laughed when I said his commitment to retaining so many historical details reminded me of Kevin Mc Cloud closing many of the episodes of Grand Designs with praise for the builders who retained the ‘autobiographical details’ of a building!
The Beehive Project has been several years in the making and started five years ago. After four years of planning, lots of compliance hoops had to be jumped: Heritage Victoria, CFA building regulations and health and safety issues as well as local building regulations. Times and expectations have changed since 1870.
To ensure disability access, a lift will be installed, modern toilet and plumbing, and most voids had to be removed because of health and safety requirements. Craig managed to keep the centrepiece that gives those downstairs a view to the floor above and the magnificent glass ceiling by widening the walkway on either side.
To remind people the voids were once there he reversed the fill-in floorboards and although the centrepiece had to be narrowed, the cast-iron railings remain, albeit they are replicas. Craig said the original railings were removed and sold off or are languishing somewhere in Bendigo.
Craig duly noted the suggestion and added it to a list of snippets he’d gleaned since opening the building for the public to view. Never underestimate the value of local knowledge!
The building has had many reincarnations – Craig’s plans are for the food and beverage industry. A function centre, with retail and pub or cafe downstairs and intimate and cosy private dining rooms and two larger reception areas upstairs, ideal for weddings and other celebrations like corporate functions.
Coincidentally, both weekends I stayed in Bendigo for Open House, I witnessed a traditional wedding party posing for photos – this year the group was on the steps of the Art Gallery.
I hope Craig gets plenty of bookings and if the response from locals is an indication the building will get plenty of use, people love it and regard it as a Bendigo icon, pleased that it will once again be a place to visit.
A young man dressed intypical tradie gear came through with his mum, grandad and other assorted family members. His first reaction was to retie a striped plastic ribbon cordoning off one of the no-go areas, ‘I’ll get into trouble if this isn’t tied tightly and people go in…’
‘If anyone cops criticism it should be me,’ I said, ‘ part of my job is to ensure people stay to designated areas and don’t go into rooms closed for safety reasons or because equipment and tools are stored.’
He took a bit of convincing from his mother and me that it was okay, it was not his responsibility and it was his day off!
I later saw him explaining to his family in great detail, how he stripped the old paint off, what he’d been instructed to leave, how he scraped, sanded and carefully applied new coats…
Careful, painstaking work, but often rewarded by treasures hidden beneath.
I’m sure he is learning a lot about past painting practices and the type of paint used. Most paints were lead-based and not the healthiest of products so I’m glad he is taking health and safety seriously!
A Cat Through The Roof!
As mentioned, Craig was noting a lot of the stories people told him about how they interacted with the Beehive Buildings. He intends to have a ‘Story Wall’ or some kind of archive where people visiting can learn about the building’s past.
The builders have uncovered ‘historic gems’ and some of these discoveries were on display for Open House – artefacts as well as building features like previously boxed-in metal columns, hidden plaster arches and a steel strongroom door thought to have once blocked the public from gold stored on the premises.
Last year, people got access to the ground floor, but this year they could venture upstairs and one story stands out – in fact, both Craig and I agreed we’d probably dream about it!
There was a staircase leading to ‘offices’ upstairs – the staircase where the tradies had left their marks. People were curious:\ ‘what is up there?’, ‘what will it be?’
A lady said her Uncle Bob and Aunt Win Woods owned the Dad and Dave Cafe and ‘lived up those stairs.’
She became quite teary talking about them and remembering childhood visits when she was around 7 or 9 years old. She recalled Uncle Bob built a clothesline for his wife and placed an extended wooden walkway above the glass ceiling so she could walk out and hang her clothes.
One day, the Siamese cat that used to follow Aunt Win fell through the glass! How narrow and dangerous was that homemade path to the clothesline?
Craig and I both agreed we couldn’t get the image of a falling cat out of our mind and I kept having surreptitious peaks upwards until the end of my shift.
Perhaps the story influenced my reaction when a young mum carrying a baby leant over the cast-iron railings to stare below. Stomach lurching, I moved closer as the much-criticised scene of Michal Jackson dangling his son from the balcony flashed through my mind.
Thankfully, an anxious friend accompanying her spoke up and the young mum moved away. I didn’t have to declare my nervousness or fear of heights.
Another lady told the story of coming up the back stairs and into a shop to get her wedding dress made. The tailoress specialised in wedding dresses and discreet fittings. Craig has chosen to leave the etchings of past occupants on two of the upstairs columns and restore the various staircases.
I hope Craig meets his deadline for March 2020 and that Bendigo will be host to Open House again because I know where I’ll be going to have a cup of coffee or ice cream or just a wander through the restored arcade because as I’ve discovered curiosity does not kill the cat!
… the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life…
The preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed by the UN General Assembly on 10 December 1948
Kingston for Human Rights Inc. aim to ensure the community is aware of the importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a blueprint for peace. It is regarded as the world’s most important document and has been translated into 360 languages, spelling out the rights of every human being regardless of race, religion or gender.
Each year the group also host a poster art exhibition for children to explore the concept of human rights and prizes are awarded for the posters best interpreting the theme, which this year was Help Clean up The Planet.
The artwork was in the gallery attached to the Shirley Burke Theatre where the event was held and here is a selection of entries who were from local schools. The competition sponsored by the City of Kingston, Lions Club of Mordialloc, Dingley Rotary and St Augustine’s Op Shop.
And the prize winners …
There was also a lovely musical interlude provided by students from Mordialloc College. Two female vocalists accompanied by their teacher, on the keyboard. Both my daughters attended Mordi College so it was nice to see an aspect of their music program showcased.
Geoff Cheong, the president of the Kingston Human Rights group acknowledged the traditional owners, the Boon wurrung before explaining the aims and a little of the history of the volunteer network instigated by the Baha’i Community of Kingston in 2000.
Members come from many walks of life and they are always looking for people to become involved and help support their aims. Contact can be made at www.kfhr.com.au or their secretary at email@example.com
Their sole aim is to stimulate awareness of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and they maintain an independent status, non-political, non-sectarian and non-denominational. They invite highly qualified speakers to talk about some aspect of human rights and share their skills.
In the past Julian Burnside AO QC, barrister, advocate for refugees and author has spoken about the International Day of Tolerance, Rev Tim Costello AO and CEO of World Vision has spoken about the contribution of refugees to Australian society, Assistant Professor Margarita Frederico from Latrobe University has spoken about the human rights and abuse of the world’s children and Professor David Chittleborough from Flinders University spoke about water as a prerequisite for life… and so the list goes on.
This year keynote speaker, Tracie Armstrong is Director Cities Power Partnership at the Climate Council, Australia’s largest local government climate network, which advocates for green energy initiatives within local communities.
Geoff made the point in his welcome speech that the record of the Indigenous owners was one of 60,000 years of impeccable stewardship of land, sea and air and we should embrace their spirit as custodians, especially since there are increased challenges facing the world globally.
It’s Hard To be Sustainable If You’re Poor
Tracie was officially introduced by Gum Mamur a youth worker and one of last year’s inspirational guest speaker, Les Twentyman’s team. Adhering to the Declaration of Human Rights can unite and preserve the dignity and welfare of all. Tracie’s topic of Human Rights and the Environment vital and most important for our times.
Gum Mamur, a youth worker in Footscray shared his story of being born into a war zone in South Sudan. His mother travelled through 5 countries before finding refuge in Kenya and he spent 12 years in a refugee camp where many had no basic necessities like good health or water, therefore, no one worried about protecting the planet and nor did he when he first came to Australia!
On reflection, he experienced what can happen to the environment through neglect and overuse – when they arrived at the camp he remembered it as green and beautiful. However, as the war continued and thousands needed refuge, resources depleted and the area was desert by the time he left.
It is challenging to see how people around you only think of survival and only their own environment – and most of the people he looks after in his job here have similar attitudes, which he strives to change because we must care for the planet!
He is motivated to make a difference and believes the next 20-30 years are pivotal. 80% of his clients are Caucasian and 50% live beneath the poverty line. His challenge is to make them care about improving their lives and therefore the planet.
There are barriers such as no job, no housing, no easy access to health services, no easy access to food or water, feeling unsafe…
But these are surmountable barriers if resources are deployed, if they get support to find a job, decent housing, and turn their lives around! When you are struggling to survive it is not easy ‘being green’ and if struggling ‘to keep your head above water’ saving the environment and being sustainable is often not an option!
If society provides good conditions for people to live, employment and equality of opportunity, then those people can start caring about their actions in relation to sustainability!
What is the Climate Council?
Tracie explained that the Climate Council was once the Climate Commission and a government body but Prime Minister Tony Abbott abolished it because he didn’t believe it was necessary.
What the Climate Council does is an enormous topic but she didn’t want discussions or attention to focus on its creation or degenerate into an argument over global warming. Check out their website! https://www.climatecouncil.org.au/
The scientists made redundant by Abbott crowdfunded and created the Climate Council, separate from government. It is a not for profit organisation. Their first donation was $15 from ‘Steve’ but in two days they got so many donations that the site was shut down by PayPal because they thought it was set up by Mexican money launderers!
Tim Flannery who was pivotal in setting up the new organisation was in the South American jungle trying to get a signal on his mobile phone to give his personal credit details and prove they were legitimate!
That was 5 years ago and they are still going strong with lots of programs to encourage individuals, companies and communities to make the transition away from fossil fuels.
Tracie mentioned that during the last 40 years there have never been below-average temperatures recorded, bushfire season starts earlier and lasts longer, there are more incidents of coastal flooding and supercharged storms.
For those 40 years and under, climate change is a reality!
Why Is Climate Change Relevant To Human Rights?
Think economics, environment, social and sustainable development:
Policies to halt climate change can also impact on human rights –
The right to life impacted by weather events/disasters – death can be immediate if you live in areas not wealthy enough to be prepared.
Or it can be gradual if there is deterioration of food and water supplies – again, poor people don’t have an equal or level playing field.
The right to adequate food – crops and livestock will be affected, land may become unusable, fish stocks depleted. Tracie mentioned there have been tropical fish discovered in Tasmania!!
The right to water – drinking water and sanitation, increased risk of contamination
The right to health – disease incubation, waterborne and respiratory diseases will be increased (thunderstorm asthma)
The right to security – many people will be more vulnerable to poverty and degradation along with the environment
The rights of Indigenous people – there will be an impact on their relationship with the land.
Mitigation – lower the rate of accumulation, which in turn lowers greenhouse gas
Adaptation – planting trees on rooftops etc
Location – refugees and forced movement of people eg. Pacific islands
Disaster relief needed because low-income people will be disproportionally impacted by government measures against climate change.
A Climate of Fairness
This report states that policies must incorporate human rights
Refocus and recenter the debate on communities
Government decisions must have an input of local knowledgeand traditional practices
Minimum human rights standards
The size of the Melbourne rally – School Strike for Climate – was inspiring – more people are realising there is no planet B!
Demand there be no new oil, coal or gas projects
Suggest govt 100% fund a just transition and job creation for fossil fuel workers
The Climate Council works with local governments to transition to renewables
Celebrate and accelerate clean energy councils. 30 councils on board now
It was great to hear that Kingston Council is doing amazing things:
solar panels on buildings like libraries and community centres
Upgraded street lights using LED
Environmental upgrade agreement financing and supporting local schools who resource smart solutions
Some schools environmental ambassadors with a dolphin program
We are a wealthy country and don’t have an excuse not to do what we can!
The Federal Government Needs to Show leadership
The recent Recycling Crisis exposed how we were exporting our horrors to neighbouring countries
Climate Emergency – some state and many local governments are declaring climate emergencies – they are not waiting for Federal Government to show leadership on this issue
The Climate Council do not pressure political parties or governments because there could be a political backlash – some local governments are ahead, others worried, but the Climate Council don’t push it because it will alienate supporters.
People don’t want empty rhetoric – Kingston Council launching a food waste program for organic waste
How important is it to write to local members of parliament to express concern and demand action on climate and strike?
Very important! But how do we get our politicians to focus on more than sustainability –
Write Speak Demonstrate
The focus shifting slowly to climate justice rather than just climate action
Just to race for solutions can disadvantage others – for example, the Victorian State Government has introduced subsidies for renters to team up with landlord for rooftop solar. But many renters can’t afford copayment for solar panels. The intention is good but may not be workable. Few renters have a longterm lease so may be reluctant to copayment.
The Circular Economy
Those who manufacture must think of end product – pressure on manufacturers to think of what will happen to waste or what happens to the product when it is waste eg. Single-use plastics.
Many industries demanding climate policy and calling out for leadership.
We may only have a small population but produce the highest emissions because of what we do!!
Adani mine not necessary for India – there are no poles or wires for electricity. India is heavily investing in solar!
Technology helps the Third World – satellite connections for communications
Everything we do here will affect Third World countries, or they’ll follow us – the other side of the world always does whether for good or bad!
Climate change does not respect borders – we can’t sit on our hands
How do we engage those who won’t read reports or care?
Look on the Climate Council website on how to have conversations with climate deniers! We must keep momentum going – need 107% to care and do.
Read the book On Fireby Naomi Klein – see page 135 – she advises it is not all up to one person to fix the problems of the world, just do what you can.
There is strength in transformation – millions are changing and doing – be part of it.
I’ve lived in Mordialloc for 35 years and like many living bayside I’m forever conscious of the fragility of our environment: erosion of cliffs and sand dunes, the need for the perpetual replacement of sand on some of the beaches, the close proximity of the water table and propensity to flood, importance of the wetlands for bird migration and propagation, history of the swamps and flooding in certain areas, the risk of pollution to Mordialloc Creek…
The glorious walks along Mordialloc Creek alone, or with Jillian, my current walking buddy, or walking the family dog, Josie with one of my daughters. You never know what or who you will encounter.
I love strolling through Attenborough Park showing visitors the Indigenous plants, the boats moored on Mordialloc Creek and then wandering up and down the pier checking what fish are biting – or not – whether it is a good day for sailing – before finishing the tour enjoying a cuppa in one of the many cafes in Mordialloc and Parkdale.
indigenous camping ground
Cormorant on boat
Memories of sitting on Doyles’ deck abound – sipping a cider or cup of tea, revelling in the happy noises of chatter and laughter, birds twittering, ducks quacking, boat engines chugging and the steady drone of cars powering to work or home.
To live in such a peaceful community a blessing, especially surrounded by so much natural beauty. However, peace, tranquillity and beauty do not ‘just happen’ in urban areas because for every park, waterway or wetland there are friends’ groups and volunteers working hard to preserve the natural environment, forever vigilant against threats and encroachment.
Mordialloc Beaumaris Conservation League Caring for 50 years!
The reason we have so much natural space and loveliness to enjoy in Kingston is that there are those within the community ever ready to defend the environment – even if that means public demonstrations, court challenges to the council and state government proposals and decisions, or campaigns of awareness that something of value is under threat.
One such group is the Mordialloc Beaumaris Conservation League and at the end of September, I attended a low-key celebration of their 50th Anniversary.
This community group of volunteers dedicate their time to protecting and promoting the wonderful coastline of the Bayside suburbs and also monitoring the environment of Mordialloc Creek.
A name that continually pops up in regard to the group is Mary Rimington AM, who with her husband and children and a handful of stalwarts have done an outstanding job over the years, ensuring the group not only continues but achieves many successes.
Mary has been the secretary of MBCL for 30 years and is the keeper of archives – being a local school librarian BC (before children) her training and attention to detail a wonderful asset.
Research and accurate record-keeping and a passion for the environment have helped Mary be an inveterate writer to the newspapers. Her published letters in the local paper and The Age always demonstrate knowledge and field experience. Likewise the numerous submissions to government bodies and enquiries.
There was a board display at the celebration but also bundles of leaflets and material on shelves, which were full of remarkably rich historical information. I’m grateful to another active member of the group, Nina Earl for this summary:
the first AGM in 1969 and documentation and outcomes of other meetings
campaigns against a Bay Gas Pipeline and later channel deepening to retain the natural coastline and Mordialloc Creek
Copies of submissions, letters, maps, photographs, paintings
flyers on the long-running campaign for the Bay Trail,
three versions of brochures of Coast and Creek walks – the latest one used in local secondary colleges
the 2019 submission on the Mordialloc Freeway Environmental Effects Statement
the draft concept for the long-awaited Sandbelt Open Space Chain of Parks and Trails first proposed in 1984 and long supported by MBCL and still current.
The contrast between the booklets published previously and the latest one, more to do with cost and availability of technology than the information provided.
Although, there is no contest as to what booklet will appeal to young people and hopefully, encourage them to read and explore the local environment. The latest edition is stunning!
Here are selections from each to compare:
Mary’s son, Lew, the Treasurer for MBCL shared some firsthand memories of the various campaigns since his school days and how he and his siblings were often called in at short notice to be ‘in the picture’ if media showed interest in a campaign and a photographer turned up – his mother always media savvy!
The Hon. Clifford Hayes MLC Southern Metro and his Chief of Staff, Kelvin Thompson (an ex-MP) were invited guests and Clifford Hayes thanked the group, especially Mary and her family for their conservation work and keeping so many important and necessary campaigns in the public eye.
He promised to continue to advocate for the environment.
Mary spoke about some of the highs and lows of MBCL’s history – not every campaign was successful and some were more memorable than others. She commended the commitment and activism of Professor Michael Buxton and Peter Scullin who were unafraid of taking on the establishment and challenging the law.
I nominated Mary to be a co-speaker when I was asked to present at IWD 2016 because I was Kingston Citizen of the Year. When she was awarded the Kingston Citizen of the Year in 2017, I was thrilled her remarkable community service and devotion to all things environmental was recognised!
I have a deep respect for all that MBCL have achieved and know Mary is the devoted lynchpin of the group, even when some of the campaigns have been controversial or far from popular. I’ve lived in Mordialloc for 35 years and have seen the improvements to the foreshore, the Creek, the Wetlands – all areas championed by MBCL.
Other community groups have also been active for many years with a few prominent in the 80s and 90s when the council responded to their concerns and we are reaping the benefits today.
I became involved with some of the groups and in campaigns to rein in developers and retain the ‘village atmosphere’ so many Mordialloc residents value.
Campaigning to retain the integrity of the Green Wedge an ongoing battle debated every year for almost the last decade!
A climate catastrophe has been declared/recognised by many countries, at the same time Victoria has massive infrastructure projects and fast-paced housing developments, and in Mordialloc and surrounds we see evidence of this daily.
We need the diligence and courage of groups like MBCL to remind us of the value of our natural environment, of what we must conserve if we want to protect the habitat for countless flora and fauna facing extinction and to ensure our own health.
Infrastructure and housing important for a growing population but how we manage the necessary development important for the survival of the natural environment because our health and wellbeing depend on that too!
Groups like the Mordialloc Beaumaris Conservation League remind us to value the natural world and inspire us to action to convince legislators to protect and provide a vision of what is necessary for future generations.
My daughter, Anne bought the tiny tome No One Is Too Small To Make A Difference by Greta Thunberg and gave it to me to read yesterday. The book is only 68 pages and recently published by Penguin Random House, UK.
Tome is normally used for a large scholarly work and Greta’s first book is tiny in pages and size compared to many others but it is scholarly, comprising of her speeches to climate rallies, the UN, the World Economic Forum and the British Parliament – speeches in which she recites scientific data and reveals her extensive study into the implications of global warming.
If you want to read what she actually said rather than remember news bites, doctored quotes, memes and deliberately misleading information on social media or by grumpy adults in The Australian, or on talkback radio and Sky TV, this is a handy little book to buy. There are many details to spark the conversations we need to have…
The titles of the various ‘chapters’ are apt and leave the reader in no doubt of this sixteen-year-old Swedish climate activist’s determination to get her message across to everyone from students, average citizens, politicians, national leaders, activists – in fact, anyone who will listen.
Several factual statements and emotional pleas are repeated in every or most speech in a down-to-earth, some may say pedantic manner. Greta is unashamedly proud of having Asperger’s which she considers ‘a gift’ enabling her to ‘see the climate crisis in black and white.’
What Better Primary Source On Greta Than Greta’s Own Words!
On page 24, a Facebook Post by Greta on 2 February 2019, entitled ‘I’m Too Young to Do This’, she addresses the rumours and misconceptions circulating, and sadly the ‘enormous amounts of hate’ generated by her courageous stance on what she considers a climate catastrophe and unhealthy future for herself and following generations.
She clarifies and explains her journey of enlightenment and subsequent politicisation of the ‘climate crisis,’ and her desire to motivate those with power to do something about this crisis and at the same time awaken the rest of the world’s population to the fear young people have for the future.
When Greta addresses the European Parliament in Strasbourg 16 April 2019 in Cathedral Thinking, she tells them ‘I am sixteen years old. I come from Sweden. And I want you to panic.’
She admits to repeating the words, recognises the criticism but advises, ‘when your house is on fire and you want to keep your house from burning to the ground then that does require some level of panic.’
This speech perhaps the most pertinent and poignant of them all because it came a day after Notre-Dame burned in Paris. Greta recognised that ‘some buildings are more than just buildings. But Notre Dame will be rebuilt.’
Not so our fragile home … Earth…
‘Around the year 2030, 10 years, 259 days and 10 hours away from now, we will be in a position where we will set off an irreversible chain reaction beyond human control that will most likely lead to the end of our civilization as we know it. That is, unless in that time permanent and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society have taken place, including a reduction of our CO2 emissions by at least 50 per cent… these are just calculations, estimations, meaning that the point of no return may occur a bit sooner or later than that…
These predictions are backed up by scientific facts, concluded by all nations through the IPCC.
Nearly every major scientific body around the world unreservedly supports the work and findings of the IPCC.
We are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction and the extinction rate is up to 10,000 times faster than what is considered normal, with up to 200 species becoming extinct every single day.
Erosion of fertile topsoil.
Deforestation of our great forests,
Toxic air pollution.
Loss of insects and wildlife.
The acidification of our oceans.
These are all disastrous trends being accelerated by a way of life that we, here in our financially fortunate part of the world, see as our right to simply carry on.
But hardly anyone knows about these catastrophes or understands that they are just the first few symptoms of climate ecological breakdown…
… they have not been told by the right people and in the right way.
Our house is falling apart.
Our leaders need to start acting accordingly.’
What Are Our So-Called Leaders Doing To Avert Catastrophe?
Greta challenges them to stop flying around the world, ‘chatting about how the market will solve everything with clever, small solutions to specific, isolated problems.’
Stop trying to buy and build out of the crisis ‘created by buying and building things.’
Why ‘hold three emergency Brexit summits and no emergency summit regarding the breakdown of the climate and ecosystems’?
She can’t understand why countries are still arguing about ‘phasing out coal in fifteen or eleven years’ or ‘celebrating that one single nation, like Ireland, may soon divest from fossil fuels.’
Why do they ‘celebrate that Norway has decided to stop drilling for oil outside the scenic resort of Lofoten Islands, but will continue to drill for oil everywhere else, for decades’?
Greta is aware that scientists have been warning governments for years about global warming and inaction or poor decisions have created this climate catastrophe.
There Is No Polite Way To deliver an Unpopular Message!
The ongoing climate and ecological crisis must make up the headlines in the media – and if school strikes and extinction rebellion demonstrations are what it takes then that is what people must do.
Greta begs world leaders to stop arguing about taxes and squabbles like Brexit and start cooperating to work out what we are going to do to address climate change. And ‘the bigger your carbon footprint, the bigger your moral duty.’
At the recent ‘school strike for climate change’ in Melbourne, unprecedented numbers – 150,000 plus – stopped the city and young students were joined by thousands of adults: representatives of churches, unions, community groups, and political parties all demanding action because like Greta, they see this is a make or break time for Mother Earth
Unite behind the science!
Greta advises we just ‘Make the best available science the heart of politics and democracy.’
She recognises that politicians fear to be unpopular with voters and that many voters are ignorant or refuse to accept the reality of the climate crisis, so ‘it will take a far-reaching vision.
‘It will take courage. It will take a fierce determination to act now, to lay the foundations when we may not know all the details about how to shape the ceiling’ of this house of ours which is falling apart, ‘In other words, it will take cathedral thinking.’
She finishes her address to the European Parliament with,
‘it’s okay if you refuse to listen to me. I am after all just a sixteen-year-old schoolgirl from Sweden. But you cannot ignore the scientists, or the science, or the millions of schoolchildren who are school-striking for their right to a future.
I beg you, please do not fail in this.’
A Strange World Indeed!
Greta dedicated an award at the Goldene Kamera Film and TV Awards, Berlin 30 March 2019, to people fighting to protect the Hambach Forest and to activists everywhere who fight to keep fossil fuels in the ground.
She hammers home how strange the world is when the ‘united science tells us that we are about eleven years away from setting off an irreversible chain reaction, way beyond human control, that will probably be the end of civilization as we know it.’
Politicians don’t act because of the cost yet spend trillions subsidizing fossil fuels and ‘a football game or a film gala gets more media attention than the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced.’!
Greta begged celebrities to use their influence and voice to raise awareness about the global crisis and suggests those that don’t are worried action ‘would inflict on their right to fly around the world visiting their favourite restaurants, beaches and yoga retreats.’
The well-known proverb advises ‘Good things come in small packages’ – this can definitely apply to Greta and her book. She is unafraid to speak from her heart and face whatever criticism is thrown at her and when invited to speak at forums most of us will never be invited to (especially not the bigheaded bigots like Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt), she speaks with courage, clarity and does not falter.
‘You’re Acting Like Spoiled, Irresponsible Children‘ is her address to the European Economic and Social Committee ‘Civil Society for rEUnaissance in Brussels, 21 February 2019.
‘We are school striking because we have done our homework… There is simply not enough time to wait for us to grow up and become the ones in charge… We know that most politicians don’t want to talk to us. Good, we don’t want to talk to them either. We want them to talk to the scientists instead. Listen to them, because we are just repeating what they are saying and have been saying for decades.
We want you to follow the Paris Agreement and the IPCC reports… unite behind the science, that is our demand…
… we need new politics, we need new economics where everything is based on a rapidly declining and extremely limited remaining carbon budget…
… we need a whole new way of thinking. The political system you have created is all about competition. You cheat when you can because all that matters is to win, to get power…
… we must stop competing with each other, we need to cooperate and work together and to share the resources of the planet in a fair way.
We need to start living wihtin the planetary boundaries, focus on equity and take a few steps back for the sake of all living species.
We need to protect the biosphere, the air, the oceans, the soil, the forests.
This may sound very naive, but if you have done your homework then you know that we don’t have any other choice…
You can’t just sit around waiting for hope to come – you’re acting like spoiled, irresponsible children… hope is something you have to earn.
In 1988, author Kurt Vonnegut wrote a letter of advice to people living on Earth 100 years in the future. It has been summarised and is doing the rounds of Facebook, probably due to Greta and her supporters reminding us that the time for talking, procrastinating, denial of the seriousness and downright ignorance and stupidity is well and truly over!
We Need More Like Greta
I have been an environmental activist for years and often use my writing abilities to raise awareness that there is no Planet B!! I taught both my daughters to care for the environment and my first books of poetry (Small Talk, 1994 and More Small Talk,1995) were written for children, including poems on subjects I hoped would initiate family discussions about the environment, pollution, littering, caring for wildlife, our oceans…
In the 1990s, the terminology used was the Greenhouse Effectand many businesses were asked to participate in the ‘Greenhouse Challenge’, Australia’s National greenhouse gas emissions reduction strategy. A goodwill pact between Australian industry and the Commonwealth government to reduce gas emissions through voluntary industry action was supported by responsible businesses.
Throughout the world, there were programs to plant trees, save forests and a heightened awareness of the importance of trees, especially rainforests that provide the oxygen which life on Earth needs to survive.
Greta reminds us that not enough was done, governments changed, many haven’t honoured their commitments, some had no intention of making a commitment…
We now have a climate catastrophe looming…
Let’s start listening and adding our voice to Greta’s – she deserves our admiration and support. Read her book and be inspired to act.
It’s lovely to have a book signed by an author and although I couldn’t get to the book launch because of another launch, a friend kindly picked up a copy of Ros Collins’ latest book, Rosa by Hybrid Publishers.
The blurb announces the memories of Rosa are presented ‘with a deliberate overlay of lies and licence.’ The boldness of this statement, a little confronting, especially sincethe book is labelled Memoir – defined in the dictionary as a narrative or biography written from personal experience.
However, as a teacher of Life Story writing, I’ve lost count of how many times class discussions have debated the concept of truth in relation to the reliability and perspective of our memories, coupled with the attendant fear of causing hurt to someone still alive or even tarnishing the memory of someone deceased.
A memoir is considered ‘Creative Non-fiction’ and who is to say the emphasis is not on the word creative, which can be interpreted as ‘having the quality of something imaginatively created’ or ‘containing misleading inventions designed to falsify or conceal the facts’!
… memoirs depend on memory and, despite being the subject of philosophical investigation going back as far as Plato and of plentiful scientific research since the mid-nineteenth century, memory remains an elusive topic. How does it work? Can our fondest memories of childhood and loved ones really be reduced to molecular activity in the neurons of the brain? Will medical science one day be capable of eliminating the traumatizing memories that can paralyze us, and implanting happier memories in their place? Are memories the cause of the biographical continuity that bolsters our belief in personal identity? And how accurate are memories even among the healthiest of us? Does it make sense to base our present-day attitudes and emotions on recollections of our past experiences?
Robert Atwan, Creative Nonfiction, Issue #55, The Memoir Issue
In her introduction, Ros uses softer words to explain how Rosa differs from a previous book about her life, it is ‘much more personal… freely written’ and she admits to ‘taking liberties with the truth’.
There is still a lot of family history included in Rosa – she revisits Solly’s Girl (2015), a book that was as ‘accurate as my memory would allow’ and written as a companion piece to her now-deceased husband’s Alva’s Boy (2008). An acclaimed writer, Alan Collins wrote short stories and books about his Bondi childhood.
Ros Collins writes to entertain as well as inform and her conversational style with well-researched detail has produced wonderful stories revealing scenes of Anglo-Australian-Jewish life probably unfamiliar to many readers, and which I found fascinating.
‘Memoir with a little fiction, or fiction with a little history? It’s hard to say, Memories with licence.’
Although of a different generation, there were historical references, organisations and events I recognised. They triggered memories, especially involvement with the labour movement and the Australian Labor Party and various campaigns in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.
The divisiveness of the Vietnam War, the election of the Whitlam Government and the opening up of educational opportunities for older women, which Rosa took advantage of. ‘The Palestinian Debate’ which still causes angst and the trade union campaigns to improve conditions for Victorian teachers that raised the ire of Premier Henry Bolte.
Rosa ticked several boxes in the list of why I read books: for enjoyment, to be immersed in a different world, to learn something new, to encourage me to seek more information and to reflect on the human condition.
Ros is a woman of many accomplishments with several great achievements as a qualified librarian, yet, there is no pretentiousness when she explains her journey to becoming a director of a Jewish community library at fifty-seven and her vision of a national Australian-Jewish library.
With dedication, commitment, and tenacity she created the successful ‘Write Your Story’ program whereby the eclectic members of the Jewish community can access funds and help, and write their memoir.
‘Most memoirs -so far, more than 140 have been published, the largest such series in the world – are related to the Holocaust; eventually, as generations pass away, the stories will become more Australian, less European.’ (p122)
Her involvement with the community library for thirteen years followed by twelve years cataloguing the Yiddish library:
‘She brings the boxes of shabby books home to catalogue… A little pamphlet, held together with rusty staples; cheap yellowed paper, crumbling to pieces; no cover; a grey, grainy author’s picture.
… a first-hand account of how his village was destroyed during the Holocaust – most of the Jewish community died, locked up in the synagogue and then set on fire – he hid in a barn.’
Ros is reduced to tears translating the story for her husband – such is the power and importance of recording and sharing stories.
‘I couldn’t even find the village in the atlas, it’s been erased by some thoughtless publisher. It’s Yiddish, only a few people will ever find out what happened; there’s just my catalogue entry to provide a link.’
Her husband responds, ‘Libraries are important. This is your contribution.’ (p124)
Ros has catalogued and encouraged the recording and publication of so many stories of the Jewish diaspora and so it is fitting and fortunate, she decided to share her own life story and reflections – albeit with several references to her husband’s story and books. She has added a creative flair to her memories.
The deep love and respect Ros has for her parents, husband Alan, her sons and several close friends mentioned in Rosa shines like a beacon. There is no malice in any of her memories but there is a theme of regret.
Ros repeats several times how she wished Alan had been more open and honest about his feelings – not for her but the damage done in his childhood and the guilt he carried because his mother died in childbirth. Ros also regrets not having a closer relationship with her own mother.
‘Themissing mother. Rosa had always been aware, but when she first read his stories she’d never put it all together in her mind, never ‘joined the dots’, done the whole ‘lit-crit’ exercise. Perhaps it would have led them to deep and meaningful discussion and enriched their relationship if they’d talked about his emotions, but then, she reflects, he’d only have turned it into a quip, slid away from the subject with a bit of banter.(p156)
We learn about their unconventional courtship in London and Rosa’s decision to migrate to Australia as a ‘ten pound Pom’, their determination to build a home – physically a house and financially a business but also emotionally with children – three sons, plus later, a teenager, ‘the Boy’, a fostered child described but not named.
‘The six-year-old and the five-year-old took the view that they had now acquired an older brother, but for the three-year-old, the Boy represented an heroic Superman figure; their relationship became very special and the rift, when it came, was all the more painful.’ (p89)
A family disagreement and period of estrangement always difficult to write about, the temptation to omit or embellish to justify an action. In Rosa, it is deftly handled although Ros did give herself a ‘memory with licence…’
The use of dialogue to good effect, the attention to detail and use of senses to describe food, flowers and situations – techniques writers keep in their toolbox – Ros uses all of them to produce a good read.
Italics for non-English words and terms but also for emphasis and reflections in her voice. There is a flitting backwards and forwards to weave all the family stories and people together along with their place in history without rupturing the fabric of the overall story, which is why I believe others writing their life story could use Rosa as a template.
Our memories don’t all come in a linear or chronological fashion and from my experience in writing class piecing together short stories is a natural way of collating memories and weaving the threads together.
Ros is a proud secular Jew yet is determined her grandchildren will know the family history but does not want them to be weighed down by the Holocaust.
Throughout the book, the workings of family, worship, differences in synagogues, sects, customs and the politics of ‘those of Jewish persuasion‘ Alan’s wry remembrance of the phrase often used in the past, are explained and placed in historical as well as an Australian context. The knowledge and explanation of beliefs and practices, I found invaluable.
‘For many non-Jews, the Shoah, the Holocaust, is just another part of the war: Hitler had plans for something called the ‘The Third Reich’, and, by the way, he also intended to exterminate all of Europe’s Jews.
For Jews, the Holocaust is the war and Israel is our miracle: In every generation from Pharaoh to Hitler they have tried to destroy us; never again!’
Remembering is a solemn duty, as is recording and researching. Jewish literature wrestles with stories of survival, heroism and of course the complexities of the Middle East. Museums and memoirs multiply. Al, fifth-generation Australian and Rosa, second-generation English and ‘more British than the British’ do not exactly fit the norm for Melbourne Jewry, which is home to one of the largest communities of Holocaust survivors in the world. She thinks: We’re a perfect example of how deeply embedded the history is in our psyches even though neither of us was directly involved. (p117)
Ros relates a speech husband, Alan made at a Shoah commemoration event at Melbourne’s Holocaust Museum where he painted a picture of 1930s Sydney and his father:
‘a devout xenophobe with a particular focus on Jewish refugees who told him; ‘not to mix with them’, ‘Jew-hating out-of-work Australian labourers’ and ‘well-meaning policemen who called me Ikey.’
The older audience members nodded sadly in remembrance. (p118)
The more we share our stories and make a habit of listening to others the more tolerant society we will become – I hope!
Ros explained Alan finished his talk, given over 30 years ago at the Holocaust Museum thus:
So I write about what I know which is what it is like growing up and living and dying in this country where thank God, patriotism and zealotry are negligible and when a letter arrives with OHMS on the envelope it doesn’t contain an imperative to pack your bags. (p73)
Ros reflects in 2018 that she ‘doesn’t quite share his belief in the fundamental goodness of Australia, and long ago she cast off her allegiance to England…(p73)
Therefore, a book like Rosa that ‘flings open the windows and doors‘ and invites us to learn about a world of cultural habits and rituals often misrepresented, misunderstood, or unknown is one to grab for the bookshelf.
In the final chapter, aptly titled Rose Garden, Ros discusses the Jewish section of a cemetery and thoughts sparked by physicist/musician/celebrity Brian Cox’s remarks on television …
…belief in some form of afterlife ‘feels right’ or more precisely, the alternative, that after death we are nothing but a bag of chemicals from which ‘nothing has left, yet what is left is not longer me’ somehow ‘feels wrong’…
The central question is, can you build a time machine? The answer is yes, you can go into the future… Going back in time, or returning to the present, would be slightly trickier, however…(p183)
Rosa harks back to childhood and a fascination with Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and repeats a conversation she had with a grandson.
‘Where will you go when you die, Grandma?’
‘Well I’m not absolutely sure because no one comes back after they die, but I think I shall go on a journey.’
‘A long one?’
‘What will you take with you?’
‘I think I can take my memory. Clever people now think it might be possible to travel through time – backwards and forwards.’
‘Oh, I’m sure you can Grandma, I once read a story like that.’
‘So did I, darling! (p185)
Many of us can identify with this conversation, fear of or concern about dying common.
The conundrums, worries and questions of life wax and wane as we live and age, but writers continually reflect on the significance to the big picture, as well as the importance of those near and dear. Who do we love and how much do we matter to them and they to us?
It doesn’t matter what your background, race or religion as we near the end of our life most of us have failing health, increased vulnerability, and wonder how and in what manner we will die – and then what?
Rosa explores the distant and not so distant past, the present, and voices curiosity about the future. Ros has written a wonderful legacy and future descendants will understand their family’s Jewish history, current festivals and rituals, even if they choose to rationalise like she often did: The significance lies in the fact that we are together around the table, never mind the calendar.
Ros Collins was born in 1938 and after supporting her husband’s writing endeavours began to write short stories and now has two books to her credit – an inspiration indeed!
There is no greater thrill for a teacher of creative writing than to see the joy on a student’s face when they hold in their hands, the book they have written.
When that student has put years of effort into making the dream a reality and overcome health problems, the moment even sweeter.
Yesterday, I met up with some past students of my Life Stories & Legacies class that ran from February 2014 – December 2018, at Godfrey Street Community House in Bentleigh. We gathered in Sandringham to celebrate with Edna Gaffney the publication of her memoir, Chibby From Brandy Creek.
The Life Stories class at Godfrey Street, one of the most cohesive, supportive and friendliest classes in my 20 plus years of teaching, which has included four community houses. Several of the students still meet monthly and email or phone each other regularly.
Edna is the second to publish a memoir, another student will have one out for Christmas and another perhaps in the New Year. A great bunch of writers dedicated to their purpose of leaving a legacy for family and friends. They have all led amazing lives spanning decades.
Edna was in her mid-eighties when she came to my class with a determination to write a book about her mother, family life in Gippsland between the wars, and also her own life as a nurse, particularly, as one of the first nurses to be trained at Cabrini Hospital to care for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.
In her Dedication, Edna wrote:
These efforts to record memories, I dedicate to my family and future generations. I wanted to describe my early life living in Gippsland, rural Victoria, and to honour my mother. Our family experienced a lifestyle and events different to many others and to the expectations of people today.
Miracles can occur in most families, maybe not suddenly, but over time, and I consider the eventual reunion of my siblings after the death of our mother, a miracle. Six siblings were adopted during 1943-44 and the family split up, yet we eventually reunited as adults and became a family once again. I am writing down some details of our early life for those siblings who have no memories of our natural mother.
I also record my own experiences of family and career. Change of attitude, much-needed patience and endurance to cope and care for others, are some of the qualities I learned in my working and family life – becoming a parent a profound change. My chosen profession of Nursing has altered dramatically since I began Mothercraft Nursing at the Berry Street Babies’ Home in 1947.
A Powerful Story Shared
When Edna enrolled in 2014, like many older students, she had no computer skills and in fact, no computer. However, after absorbing what it means to be a writer in the modern world, Edna enrolled in computer classes at the Community House and bought a laptop.
I don’t think she’d mind me saying that her success in writing this book was not replicated in the computer class! Wisely, she concentrated on the writing and saved money and time by allowing her daughters and me help with typing. I have no idea what happened to the laptop except it was often threatened and may indeed have been ‘chucked out the window’.
Edna’s daughter, Jane-Maree arranged the launch yesterday and was a driving force in the final stages of the project as her mother’s health deteriorated. We were determined the book would be published before Edna’s 90th birthday on July 2, 2019, and made the deadline.
However, the actual launch delayed while Edna settled into a nursing home – a disruptive, often devastating, and certainly time-consuming challenge for everyone concerned.
Fortunately, Edna likes her new home and Jane-Maree said, ‘they were great’ providing the comfortable space for the celebration.
The Journey To Publication
Over the years, I published five of the nine anthologies for the Mordialloc Writer’s Group. Along the way I threw myself into lifelong learning, grappling with InDesign, attending workshops on desktop and digital publishing, reading books, online articles, trawling websites and information from email lists, and watching webinars to keep up with the rapid changes in the writing and publishing industry.
It is a privilege to share those skills with writing students and to be trusted with their precious words when they decide to publish. I know there are some disastrous self-publishing efforts and looking back at my early efforts, improvements can certainly be made, but I have become a small press publisher by accident and will continue to learn on the job.
Software and hardware capabilities and printing options have radically changed in a few short years. The cost, which has a big impact on choice has changed too – you get a bigger, better bang for your buck nowadays!
The aim of most writers is to be published – not necessarily a novel, memoir, or poetry book, but perhaps simply a short story or poem that begged to be written, or a slice of family history or an anecdote so memorable, it must be committed to print. (I prefer printed books.)
Some students come to class with a definite project in mind. They have a dream to publish a book with a target audience of friends and family.
Not everyone aims to have a book in Readings or become rich and famous with a bestseller or win a prize.
Not everyone wants to monetize (how I hate this buzz word) their talent or creativity.
Most want to write and publish for the joy and satisfaction of telling a story/stories and being able to share their writing with others who will read and appreciate their words. They desire to write or would feel strange not writing, perhaps love being a wordsmith.
When you believe in yourself and writing, being published is a realistic achievable dream.
Edna had a powerful story to tell and I gladly helped with advice and editing. My talented daughter, Mary Jane designed the cover, as she has done for several book ventures. (A reluctant book cover designer, she doesn’t refuse to help her mum.)
The class gave Edna feedback and encouragement and through this collective effort, a beautiful and readable book was offered free of charge yesterday with an option to donate to Berry Street Babies Home. (most people did!)
When you read Edna’s book you understand her strong commitment to Berry Street, where she trained as a Mothercraft Nurse, but also the deeply emotional link because of family circumstances.
Books for Purpose Not Profit
This is the third book I’ve produced whereby the writer has donated all or most of the profit because of their commitment to a cause or appreciation of events or people. There was no profit involved with Mordialloc Writers’ anthologies either, with any money from sales going towards the publication of the next book.
When Mordialloc Writers’ Group folded in 2018, I donated group funds to Mordialloc Beach Primary School to create a scholarship and encourage creative writing. The Principal, Sue Leighton-Janse suggested the money provide ongoing writing awards for Junior, Middle and Senior school, in the name of MWG. I only hope this happens.
You can read about Julie Wentworth: A Life Sharedhere. Julie, a teacher of Yoga, mentor and spiritual guide, donated the sale of her books to an orphanage in Africa caring for children with HIV.
Mary Jane and I had the privilege of working with Peter Hocking, who wrote about his recovery from a stroke and sold books to support The Stroke Foundation.
I’m sure writing and publishing is often a labour of love, and if articles discussing the state of publishing in Australia are to be believed, poetry books, even traditionally published, seldom make a profit with publishing houses using the sales from more popular books to counter-balance the low-profit margin in some literary genres.
Another book I worked on this year was a huge labour of love for a woman who wanted to celebrate her 70th birthday by publishing travel diaries kept by her parents on their first overseas trip in the 1970s.
Ruth inherited the handwritten exercise books, 500 slides and meticulously detailed itinerary notes and letters home. What to do with this material so that her brothers and sisters, her children, nieces and nephews, grandchildren will enjoy the old school and very personal travelogue?
She had a friend type the 55,000 words, paid to digitise then print the slides, and commissioned a nephew to draw maps of the route her parents travelled through continents and several countries, to introduce the three separate parts of their trip.
Ruth only printed 25 of this A4 landscape book, which I edited and published. Muriel and Len’s observations were side by side and Mary Jane chose 100 of the best photographs. Mary Jane created Ruth’s vision for the cover using Muriel and Len’s passport photos, the best close-up photographs Ruth possessed.
Not every book needs a launch or a large audience. Often writers can cover their costs and break-even. Family members may contribute or if written for a target audience (sporting/hobby club, regional or historical relevance) writers may make a small profit by self-publishing.
Writers keep control and have important input to the content, cover and cost of their book every step of the way from conception to birth if they self-publish.
It’s an exciting and worthwhile journey – not always smooth – but as John Denver sings in one of my favourite songs, ‘some days are diamonds, some days are stone,‘ and yesterday for Edna, her family and friends was a diamond day.
Well done Edna and thank you for allowing me to be a part of your dream!