Jo Murray is connecting her community

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Jo Murray welcoming people to the Surf Coast Repair Cafe                        photo by Charlotte Bowra

I met Jo through my old friend Sue Guinness. Jo and Sue got together about 20 years ago and since then, I’ve followed their personal journeys with interest.  Both left jobs in Melbourne, embarked on a sea-change and are very active in their local community at Fairhaven on Victoria’s Surf Coast.

Living by the sea has created opportunities for my environmentally conscious friends to be involved in conservation initiatives. Jo cultivates an enormous vegetable patch, is a member of the Community Garden and volunteers at the Tip Shop. With Sue’s support, she recently started a Repair Café.  I spoke with Jo about why she focuses on building awareness and practical initiatives in her community.

I love the outdoors. I was born in Launceston and spent the first nine years there and was lucky enough to have all of my grandparents in Launceston. We had, and still have, a block of land 18 miles out of Launceston that my grandparents bought.  It is a very tranquil, peaceful place on a river. We used to go there a lot on weekends. When we moved to Melbourne, I used to go there every Christmas and school holidays. I still go there to this day at least once or twice a year. I love the fact it’s a simple cottage and there’s not a lot to do; you just slow down, read and relax and spend time with family.

I had no idea what I wanted to do when I left school. People were choosing to be nurses and teachers, or lawyers and doctors. We were all really sporty and someone said, ‘I’m going to do Physical Education’ and I thought, That’s a good idea. I taught for eight years and always organised all the sporting events and teams. Then I started organising the interschool sports and camps and found what I really enjoyed was organising events. I decided to do a Graduate Diploma in Business at Deakin University in Sport Management. I studied for two years with the aim of leaving teaching and getting into the event management industry.

Through my work, I learnt the value of volunteers. My first job after teaching was with a national sporting organisation. Then I joined a sports management company that ran events and managed athletes. I ended up at the Grand Prix and was there for the first six formula one events. That’s where I learnt how sport depends so much on volunteers. If all the sporting events had to pay people do to all the jobs that needed to be done, they wouldn’t exist.

I have always had great role models. Dad always volunteered at golf and school fairs, my grandmother was very involved in her bowls club and my mum’s parents were founding members of the National Trust in Tasmania. At school, I coached and umpired hockey and continued this at club level for many years. I also joined committees at my tennis club. These days, my sport volunteering is focussed around golf and local events.

I think building community is really important. A couple of our Repair Café volunteers are new to the area and they see this as a way of meeting people. When you see someone down the street who has repaired something for you, that creates connections. That’s the whole reason I joined the Community Garden about six and a half years ago. From the minute they had a stand at the local market, I wanted to be involved. I didn’t want a plot, because we have a huge garden at home. I wanted to get involved because it is a great way of connecting people and building community.

 Movements like Repair Cafes and Community Gardens have relied on people seeing the ideas and saying, ‘Let’s start these up in our own community.’ We can’t go on filling up landfill and digging more resources out of the ground. I think the best way to change that thinking is to bring national projects like Community Gardens, Plastic Free July or Repair Cafes to a local level. With something like the plastic bag free moment, it’s not something the shire can say ‘We want to make the shire plastic bag free,’ the whole community has to get on board. It’s about people going out to the rest of the community and saying, ‘We’d like to do this, what do you think?’ and getting other people involved. It’s got to be from the grass roots.

The Repair Café is about sharing skills and empowering people. These days, people don’t know how to fix things. Our hedge trimmer broke down. It only cost $79 and it was three years old, so even if I could have found somewhere to have it repaired, it would not have been worth the expense. We ended up taking it to the Melbourne Repair Café (Inner West) in Yarraville where we met this lovely volunteer, James. He unscrewed the plastic casing, straightened the cord out and jiggled a couple of levers, plugged it into the power and it worked. He got me to put it back together again so next time it stops working, I’ll be confident to repair it myself.

It’s about leading by example and educating others. My next thing is to focus on advocating for sustainable actions, starting small via our Community Garden with about 100 members. If we can raise awareness on one action each month, just focus on one thing and get that working, then work on another and then another, hopefully we can bring about permanent changes. Once others see how easy it is, then hopefully they will start making some of the changes too.

Visit Surf Coast Repair Café for more information.

© Matilda Bowra 2017

Arabella Douglass is illuminating Australian history

 

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Arabella Douglass at Centennial Park in Sydney                       Photo by Jeff McAllister

One of the projects I am working on is Stories of Indigenous Engineering for non-profit organisation Engineers Without Borders (EWB).

The project has facilitated fascinating conversations with Aboriginal people and cast light on the need to listen to Indigenous perspectives in our quest for a more sustainable and inclusive future.

One of the most passionate people I have spoken with is Arabella Douglass who started her career as a Senior Development and Environmental lawyer, and is now a Government Advisor, Strategic Consultant and EWB Board Member. During my discussion with Arabella, she challenged common miss-conceptions about Australian history and invited us to celebrate our ancient heritage.  I loved her forthright style, big picture thinking and unbridled enthusiasm to collaboratively find a better way forward.

I am a Minyunbal woman from Fingal Head. My country straddles South East Queensland and Far North New South Wales. I was brought up as part of a collection of children and that taught me a different perspective about genuine happiness. Growing up, I was part of two other families. One had eight children and the other had six. They were like brothers and sisters to me. I learned happiness is not an individualistic kind of notion; that if your siblings are happy, there’s more happiness in the household. I think that’s a very clear distinction between how Indigenous people understand their sense of happiness, how they operate, and how non-Indigenous people operate.

I believe it’s important to be connected to things bigger than yourself. It’s humbling.  If narcissism and individualism are so fantastic, extremely wealthy people would be very, very happy and they’re not. Lots of volunteers have a sense of drive and purpose and fulfillment that’s far greater than a financial reward. If you can be of service, it does something for you. There’s something about the giving which is fundamental to Indigenous values.

My main role model growing up was my great-grandmother, Jane Currie. She was an extraordinary woman, I was lucky to know her. She engaged with the missionaries, but didn’t just retreat into agreeing, she found a way to balance it. She used to say, “The Earth is my mother and God is my father.” She spoke three Aboriginal languages and learnt to speak English, her fourth language, by reading the Bible. I could never achieve what she achieved; keeping her family together, keeping her language and her cultural underpinnings intact, as well as managing the complexity of brutal missionizing.

When I went to school, I wasn’t told about the magnificence of Aboriginal culture.  People think there was nothing here before Captain Cook arrived. In fact, we were successful at living for 60,000 years. There were 400 nations co-existing without exploitation. They didn’t harm or hurt each other. You know why? Because fundamentally it’s about Indigenous values. Every nation has enough. Every little place has enough water, enough food and enough space for you to exist. The world is amazing. It provides everything you need wherever you are.

How unfortunate it is that people are stuck with truly believing that Indigenous people didn’t participate? When I was growing up, I learned about Burke and Wills. I thought they must have been the first people to cross the continent. I was shocked to realize a few years later what a joke that was.  Indigenous people were guiding most of the expeditions. They also guided most of the land use and where the resources were for white people. White people didn’t discover anything. They were shown something in a gracious attempt to say, “This is how we live,” like “What do you bring? What can we bring, how can we cooperate?”

I come from a culture that is complex, highly sophisticated and intelligent. They had structures. They had nations, boundaries, order, law systems, water and food systems. They had everything you could want. It wasn’t a vagueness. They had their own languages, and their own trading routes across the continent. Young Indigenous students should have that confidence to know that science and engineering is in your blood. You come from a very lush cultural historical base that has managed problems with astoundingly creative, excellent solutions that sustained human populations.

I’ve yet to meet an architect or an engineer who has told me anything about an Indigenous engineering feat in this continent. That needs to change. We need to reposition the history of 60,000 years and understand how people used land in a cooperative way. We need to embrace our history so that people talk about Indigenous brilliance with the same affection they talk about Ancient Rome and Greece and the Aztec nations. We have a historical, vibrant, powerful history of engineering here. If we utilize the traditional engineering practices of this continent and bring it alive and combine historical and modern components, you’re going to get creativity and innovation, especially in relation to sustainability.

A film interview with Arabella Douglass will be added to Engineers Without Borders Stories of Indigenous Engineering webpage when the next round of stories is published shortly.

© Matilda Bowra 2017

Cassie Duncan is giving us food for thought

 

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Cassie Duncan with her son Luca                                                                                                                       Photo by Libby Gott

Growing up on a farm in Northern Victoria fostered a close connection with the natural world and showed me how food ends up on our plates. Since my childhood, the way we grow, distribute and purchase food has changed dramatically. Now we live in a world of choice and convenience, but at what cost?  

While the established environmental organisations focus on issues such as climate change and renewable energy, Sustainable Table, a non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting a more humane, environmentally friendly food system, has taken a different approach .

Last month I had the pleasure of sharing a cup of tea with Sustainable Table Co-founder and General Manager, Cassie Duncan, and learning why she is passionate about empowering consumers to support healthy, sustainable food production.

I was blessed to have part of my childhood in the country.  I grew up in a single parent household and so when Mum was working, I used to spend holidays with her parents who live in Yarrawonga on the Murray River. I made friends, including my best friend who I met when we were five years old. Her family really embraced me and her grandfather ran a farm so we’d spend time on the farm, going around on motorbikes and doing things you just wouldn’t experience as a city kid. We’d take our bikes out to the bush and pick mushrooms and as long as we were home by tea time, it would be ok. That side of my childhood really informed my interests later in life.

During year 9 at Methodist Ladies College, I spent a term on a remote farm called Marshmead which was hugely life changing. Enjoying nature was something Marshmead introduced me to. I really loved the sense of peace I got out in the bush. I adored being in nature and loved every minute of it. From that point on, I felt this deep sense of connection with the earth and wanted to do something connected to that in my own life.

Connecting how I choose to eat with the impact I have on the environment was a really empowering moment in my life.  Prior to that, I was focused on having shorter showers and switching to green energy, which are all really important, but food is something I make decisions about three or four times a day. Each time it’s an opportunity to consider how I’m impacting the environment and how I’m supporting our community. That, for me, is the power of food. It’s not a chore, it’s a joy. I think most of us find joy in food, and to attach that with how we choose to care for the world I think is a very positive message.

Everyone has to eat and how we choose to eat has the power to change the world. We get to choose where we spend our money every single day and that’s a very powerful vote. But making ethical decisions can be very complex and confusing. We realised if we can do all the hard yards and simplify that for the masses, then maybe more people would jump on board.

We need to educate people about the true cost of their food choices. I remember chatting to Sylvia, who runs Bass Coast Farm in Gippsland, and she was saying she had watched 34 dairy farmers close in her region in the last 20 years. She said, “People don’t realise what that does to our communities. Who is running our CFAs? Who is filling our footy teams?” So we might corporatise farms and people are still getting food, but at what cost?

You have to believe we are all good at heart, but I think there is a real disconnect in the way people behave. You have animal lovers who donate to the RSPCA monthly, but eat meat three times a day from God knows where. They haven’t connected their sense of care and love for their pets with their sense of care and love for the animals that they consume so we are trying to bring that to light. That’s why we are currently in the midst of our Give a Fork! Campaign. We need a national food campaign that gets people talking and discussing the impacts our food choices have on the environment, our health, on animals and on farmers. We would love to see the Give a Fork! campaign grow to be the sort of national voice for food system issues in a way that Movember is for men’s health issues.

Developing connections is really important to me. When it comes to food shopping, that’s been a big influencing factor. It’s not just the sustainability aspect of shopping at a farmers’ market, it’s the fact I get to have conversations with the people who grow my food. I think that’s how we should be relating to our food and how we are born to connect with people and communities. Sometimes in cities we are lacking that. For me, I’ve been able to create that sense of community through how I purchase food and that’s incredibly empowering.

Visit Give a Fork! or Sustainable Table for more information.

© Matilda Bowra 2016