NAIDOC Week 2018 – Community Conversations

National Aboriginal and Islander Days of Celebration (originally it was National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee, but let’s spread the joy) has begun.

Tonight Youngest Daughter and I attend the regional dinner dance with awards, friends, food and community. And dancing. My walking stick and I will be up to boogie as best we can. It has become YD and my tradition to attend.

There is also a march today. I can’t do marches anymore but I am with everyone in spirit. Next week there are family days, weaving classes, flag raisings, gatherings and more. I’ll be at the Cranbourne Botanic Gardens next Wednesday July 11th. I’ll add the photo. Pop over and join in. This event, called Koolin-ik ba kirrup-buluk, is a truly reconcilative event, with cultural activities for all ages. There’s a whole week of celebrating but this is my favourite.

see you there x


Hills’ Fair Share Festival 1

With all the trouble in the world, it can be difficult to maintain our focus on the good things in life. Youngest Daughter has taken the attitude that since the world will end in a year or two, she may as well do whatever she likes until then. A melodramatic teen, perhaps. A common perception, maybe. What I do know is the perpetuation of misery and promotion of fear by politicians and media, is poisoning our children’s perception of their future.

We have federal, state and local governments who are promoting safety, taking a stance against family violence. The cognitive dissonance here is a government claiming anti violence who are the perpetrators of violence against the families being interred on Manus and Nauru. How can they live with themselves? How can we?

I face this darkness and dishonesty by focusing on what I can do. I focus on sustainability and strengthening our communities. I focus on being honest (sometimes too bluntly) and doing my part for a sustainable future, despite the dismal picture being painted by our ‘leaders’.

I am keen to follow the lead of Transition Newcastle who held a Fair Share Festival last year. A festival where community come together to explore re-thinking, re-sharing, re-using, re-purposing and re-hoping our lives. Tiny homes, food sharing, community energy, wicking beds, re-fashion, repair cafes, the list of ways in which we can share hope for the future is endless.

I’m taking a stand for hope.

The Cockatoo Share Store: Community Conversations

As a number of my friends and acquaintances know, I have long wanted to set up a Share Store. This is a social enterprise that is self-sustaining and accesses under-utilised resources within the community.

For example, now that I am down-sizing, I have a large slow cooker, large cast iron frypan, a variety of baking pans, dog crates, spade, shovel, pitch fork and other items that I either no longer use or use infrequently enough that they are just taking up space.

What if I, and everyone else with languishing items, donated these things to a library where people can pay a joining fee and borrow items as needed? When I need my spade, fork and wheelbarrow, I can borrow them for the weekend. When I don’t need them, which is most of the time, others can.

There are numerous tool libraries set up around the world, in fact there has even been software developed for registering items and their hire and return. Tool Libraries are predominantly for tools for gardening and DIY. There are many other resources that can be shared and borrowed, hence the name The Share Store.

The Brunswick Tool Library is one example for automotive, renovating and gardening tools.

Research into the development and value of tool sharing (G. Kool, UNSW July 2003) shows just how long tool sharing has been going on in Australia and evaluating the possibility of tool sharing libraries.

Shareable gives the instructions needed. Local Tools shows us how to manage a tool library. “Local Tools make it easy to setup and manage rental shops, tool libraries, as well as, lending libraries for tools, kitchen goods, sporting goods, or just about anything.  You can manage inventory and members using a web-based system.  Create community, save time, and help provide access to the things people need.”

An annual fee pays for borrowing rights along with access to the web portal for borrowing. The fees assist ongoing costs, such as, electrical items that have to be tagged and checked each year, plus rent, maintenance and upkeep. A collaboration with the local Mens’ Shed would be in order to repair tools. Our Mens’ Shed sells repaired items at the local market. The Share Store could combine to sell donated items that cannot be hired out.

I’m pretty keen. Who want’s to play?

Child Protection: Who are we protecting? – Community Conversation

I have been a foster carer for over fourteen years. In that time I have given much thought to the system we have for protecting our children.

I began fostering because I desperately wanted to care for children and could not have my own. Apparently I said to my ex, we foster together or I foster alone. I’ve been on my own with the kids now for ten years. Says it all really.

I wanted to be of help to families who were unable to stay together. I realised it would be difficult and as I had been a youth worker and housing worker, I had some idea of how difficult. What I didn’t know people have written books about.

Fostering has been the most challenging and affirming thing I have done in my life. I am done now. I simply cannot continue in a system where children are treated as possessions and parents have to measure up to an invisible standard. All parents know about the invisible standards, those we don’t know we’ve crossed until we’ve crossed them. All parents feel at some time that they don’t make the grade, they don’t know what to do and they are not going to make it. As a carer, add to that dealing with a government department, a community-based foster agency, the natural birth parents, access and a child traumatised by removal (at least) and you need to be a self-assured, self-confident, self-certain human being.

Human beings just aren’t like that. There are accusations and investigations, there are accreditations and ongoing training. There is dealing day in and out with a child who is most likely exhibiting traumatised behaviour. There is never being considered a professional in the care of that child. There is financial reimbursement that somehow never makes up the cost of having said child not to mention the toll physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually.

I did say that it was also the most affirming thing I have done too, didn’t I? It has been. I can raise children. I raise strong happy children. When the conditions are right, I can foster natural parents’ relationships with those children and include them in my family. I have done really well in getting fostered children through school, which is not common, and have them complete successfully. I have gone onto have adult relationships with those children. I have done well.

It just about broke me, in every way. The thing I question here though is why do we do it? I have worked in family support and community development most of my working life. I have seen this from more than one side. I have seen parents, whose children have been removed for whatever infraction, be allocated family support and with that support meet all the obligations and hoops the government demands and get their children back! Most parents however do not receive family support to assist them through the terrible process of proving they are adequate parents (and let’s face it most of us are just adequate) and become demoralised and defeated. They give up. I don’t blame them. There are a myriad complexities that got them into the situation in the first place. There is double that to get them out.

I agree that if a child is in danger (like Youngest Daughter who was failing to thrive with her addict mother) they need to be removed to a place of safety. However why is the natural parent not allocated a worker to assist them? How does someone already struggling, navigate the tangled web of the courts? Would our children be better off staying with their family with appropriate support to ensure their health and wellbeing? Would this help develop resilient children?

I was not removed from my adoptive family. They were violent and found pedophiles for everyone. I did tell someone when I was seven and got branded a liar. It was a nightmare growing up with them but you know what? I survived it. I more than survived it. Despite it all I am resilient and determined to have my life be as I choose. Yes, it would have been wonderful to have a support worker calling my parents to account and working alongside them to do better. How much better could life have been? No-one came and I had to rescue myself. And I did.

The investment required to support parents and travel with them on their journey to be a family again is worthwhile making. No matter how bad it was at home, most children would rather be there. So, why don’t we do that? Why don’t we become the villages our children need?

Cockatoo Community Food

cockatoos conversing

Cockatoo is part of the Dandenong Ranges in Melbourne and located in Cardinia Shire. The small towns that are part of the Hills have a tendency to suffer low levels of community infrastructure exacerbated by poor transport and high social isolation. Food insecurity is an issue in these towns with poor opportunity to access resources available to Pakenham and other Shire residents.

Emerald Community House developed a program they call Community Dining. Different to the Community Kitchen model, Community Dining has an universal platform that allows collaboration between businesses, community organisation and local residents. Open to everyone, the program asks that individuals contribute their time, fresh produce or a few dollars as their situation allows.

Statistically, residents in Hills area experience a high degree of disadvantage (social isolation and incidents of family violence, drug or alcohol abuse or mental health concerns). Community-minded residents are concerned to reach out to vulnerable and disadvantaged families who cannot access services in Pakenham, mainly due to finance and transport issues.

The only emergency relief centre, Cardinia Combined Churches Caring(4Cs), in Cardinia Shire is in Pakenham. They are feeding above 900 families in Cardinia Shire a week. There is poor public transport between the Hills and Pakenham. Families are rarely able to access the services available in the larger residential areas of the Shire.

Cockatoo Neighbourhood House is supporting locals through a Community Dining program (inspired by Emerald Community House’s Dig In Cafe) and food co-operative (as a buying group of the South East Food Hub). The Mentoring Activity funded by Communities for Children in Cockatoo already utilises a shared meal with families and mentors as part of the program. The shared meal has helped create a feeling of Community amongst the families. The Community Dining experience has been an absolute delight with opportunity for families new to the area to meet locals and locals to meet locals!

Cockatoo Neighbourhood House is keen to expand Community Dining and include the many musicians and artists in the area. We’ll be singing for our supper. Other groups, such as the Hills’ Community Gardens and the Hills’ Men Shed are hopefully watching the development of the shared meal and food co-op with interest. It would be great to have their involvement.

This level of support and disparate groups willing to collaborate on a project is unprecedented and inspirational. The level of co-operation has inspired 4Cs to consider out posting a food store in the Hills area which will assist vulnerable and disadvantaged families considerably. We need a free permanent space to set up the free food store and volunteers to staff it (4Cs will train the volunteers). Lots more to do.

The possible community development model for Community Food is expandable. There are many potential links and developmental aspects, e.g. seed banks and Guerilla Gardening. I look forward to what might come.

Tree-change for the better?

In conversation with a co-worker today we noted that our move to small country towns had netted us some really good friendships. We moved, with our families, to different towns in the same Shire. The towns themselves are very different. Mine is a bush town and hers more a farming community. Both of us have experienced very different levels of inclusion than when we lived in suburbia.

Is this just our experience? Does it say more about us as newcomers? Is it a general experience for people moving into small towns? Has it anything to do with our Shire? I don’t know the answer to these questions but, as always, I am curious.

My town is in the Dandenong Ranges of Melbourne and it really it a bush town. Summer poses its own risks of bush fire but for the most people live here because hearing the birds calling throughout the day and the wildlife that lives around us and the trees that are in every yard, is our choice. In the back corner of my block (and it is the once traditional 1/4 acre) is a group of ten gum trees. I think of it as my mini forest. Now I am well aware that eucalypts go up like candles when fire comes through. Facing facts though, I have no hope of beating back fires so figure I may as well enjoy my trees. My hopeful theory is that fire may leap to the trees and leave my house alone. I said hopeful.

Anyway, we moved here 6 1/2 years ago although it does seem longer. At first because I was working off the mountain, it seemed quite lonely. While my children were at school, I didn’t know any of the parents. We did the usual round of sporting activities and I gradually became a more familiar face. Even with being unfamiliar, people were friendly and would smile and nod hello long before they knew who we were. The mail here is collected from the post office (it is a very small town) which gives everyone a chance to pick up mail and get to visit the shops.

It took awhile for me to get involved in anything here. Mainly because my full time work left me too tired to add in anything else. Last year I changed jobs and came to work in the Shire in which I lived. I now travel 20 minutes through the trees to get to work without any traffic. Bliss. More than that, my new job didn’t ebb my creativity and it began to flow back into my life and demand attention. More than that, my work involves community development and I have been able to focus some of that up here in the hills.

It’s interesting to live in the area in which you work or work in the area in which you live. I love it. It is such a blessing to have an insight into the towns and people for whom you are intending to make a difference and to know some of the people who are leaders in the communities you frequent.

So, is it the towns that are friendlier or is it life arrangements that allow access? My co-worker’s new living situation gave them much more space to run and a happier place to be. Maybe our tree-changes are working because we were ready for it. Maybe small towns have more to offer than a lot of people realise.

One thing is for sure, I am very glad we are here.

Community Conversations

Community Conversations

While I am a Storyteller, I have been a Community Development Worker for as long or longer. Nothing gives me more excitement or satisfaction than weaving stories of disparate groups together into the stronger fabric of Community. That’s Community with a capital C.

Aboriginal community use Community as a way of describing the interconnectedness and interdependence of people. Non-Aboriginal community use the word to generally describe groups other than their own, often not recognising their own participation in Community. It is an interesting distinction. For me, Community has a capital C. Within Community, that winding of spirit, heart and mind, can be numerous smaller communities. All of them link and require connectedness to survive.

In my region, we have real concerns with food security. It is astonishing to me that in a world that over produces, access to fresh produce is minimised for monopoly of profit. I live in a bush town, surrounded by farming community. Most of the farmers are tied into contracts that do not allow them to offer their produce outside those contracts. That way madness lies.

So, we are starting our own Community Food Project and coming together to look after ourselves. It’s quite clear that that governments simply couldn’t care less, nor do big producers or organisations that seek profit above Community. We will do it for ourselves as must so many others. We are starting our own Community Dining program. This is shared meal once a month where everyone contributes, either their time, money or fresh produce. It is a great opportunity to meet a broad range of people from your local community.

This will be coupled with a food co-op. I am very keen that each buyer contributes an extra dollar to our one and only emergency relief centre (for the whole region!) to increase their capacity to feed the 900 families per week they cater for in this flourishing, farming region. Crazy, isn’t it? The co-op buying group will allow us to access local producers through a food hub.

We are also linking with the local community gardening group and I am particularly looking forward to a bit of Gorilla Gardening (opportunistic gardening in public and private spaces), in fact I might get started on that this weekend. This will be enhanced by the courses offered by the Neighbourhood House, the gardening group and links to local businesses.

Ah, that feels better already and we are only just getting started.

(c) CLHHarper 5 June 2014