Quirky questions and burning curiosity, why science is great for kids. By Kate Burke

Kate Burke, in 2002 finishing her Geology Degree.
Kate Burke, in 2002 finishing her Geology Degree.

As a kid growing up in the leafy, benign suburbs of Canberra, there was time to dream. Sure, I was supposed to be training as a child prodigy pianist, but when I wasn’t wandering the Brutalist halls of the Canberra School of Music, I was doing what every kid does – reading books, imagining, wondering.

Why can’t I fly? Why is Rick Astley on Video Hits… again? Why don’t they make houses out of Kit Kats?

Kids are full of curiosity, dreams and quirky questions. Maintaining this curiosity is one of life’s great challenges.

We are born to dream, to be curious, and to ask questions about the world around us. But how can we keep that spark of curiosity burning?

Somewhere amidst the musical chaos of my childhood, my parents took me to a small building in Ainslie. Exhibits were scattered around the space, staffed by volunteers, and I spent the next hour playing with unusual toys.

I remember a ball staying up in the air, kept there by a steady jet of air from a silver tube – it wobbled, it bounced, but it stayed. This was Questacon, Australia’s first interactive science exhibition, and it gave me a new sense of wonder – how does it work?

Questacon showed me that science and wonder go hand in hand.

As I grew older, the sense of wonder morphed and shifted, but wouldn’t go away.

Questacon - Science on the Move, in Bega August 12 to 19. Artwork by Scott Baker at Bega Valley Shire Library Service.
Questacon – Science on the Move, in Bega August 12 to 19. Artwork by Scott Baker at Bega Valley Shire Library Service.

As a teenager, I’d hit the road with my friends and explore the caves around Canberra. We’d explore the dark mystery of these subterranean spaces, their stalactites glistening in the torchlight.

Dreaming in these caves led to curiosity – why are these beautiful structures here? Is there a system to this, or is it all down to chance?

Thankfully, you can study cave science, I did a degree in Geology, and fell in love with volcanoes, lava bombs, and cave-riddled karst country.

These days I explore how communities can use science to make decisions about social, environmental and economic issues.

Questacon is now a grand, multi-storey complex, and one of Canberra’s most popular tourist attractions. It also runs a traveling exhibition called ‘Science on the Move’, which is coming to the Bega Commemorative Civic Centre from August 12 to 19 during Science Week.

Kids can explore science in a fun, hands-on environment, asking questions like ‘how does a periscope work?’ and ‘what is a thongaphone?’

Science can help us to keep our curiosity burning for a lifetime.

Kate Burke is a sought after vocalist and musician based in Candelo and is completing her Masters in Science Communication at the Australian National University.

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Postcard 3 from Timor Leste – Balibo and Ego Lemos. By Tim Holt

I wake before 6am to the sounds of the Sisters and the congregation singing during early morning prayers. The beauty of their voices and harmonies is mesmerising, an absolute joy to experience…


The day dawns overcast, hot & sticky. The temperature hovers around 34 degrees during the day dipping to just 24 overnight. So I have no complaint about the cold shower on offer, it provides much-needed relief.

Breakfast is just after seven (corn flakes, egg, bread rolls, sliced cheese, jam and those delicious sweet little local bananas) and as we gather with the Sisters and the young acolytes something special is brewing.

Could be the Bega Valley, the hills of Timor Leste
Could be the Bega Valley, the hills of Timor Leste

One of the Sisters has a guitar and they launch into a joyful song. It is the birthday of one of the young trainees and she is moved to tears by the singing, a gift of flowers and a small present. The realisation that this young woman has grown up in poverty, that this little birthday celebration is one that she has probably never experienced before, is very moving. As she stands we all file by to greet and hug her, the tears are rolling down my cheeks.

Tonight Dave has arranged for us to meet up with Ego Lemos, permaculturist, singer, songwriter of renown in Timor Leste. If you’ve seen the 2009 film Balibo you’ve heard his haunting song of the same name, or perhaps you were in the audience in the Candelo Town Hall in 2012 when Ego performed there.

This morning though, Balibo itself beckons.

There are four of us in the Toyota for the journey – Jose, Dave, Augus, and me.

The 130 kilometres is about a four-hour drive from Dili mostly along the coast towards the border with Indonesian West Timor.

We take to the chaotic early morning Dili traffic fueling up at one of the local service stations. Diesel is around 79 cents a litre. That I think equates to about $1 Aus. There’s a steady stream of motor scooters lined up at the petrol bowsers, out on the roads it often seems there are more motor scooters than people in Dili.

Young people and scooters, a familiar site in Timor Leste
Young people and scooters, a familiar sight in Timor Leste

What is so striking here in Dili and across Timor is the youth. Everywhere you see the vibrancy of young people, children, young families. Imagine a country where 42% of the population is under 15 years, 62% under 25, more than 90% under 55! You ask, why so young? Where are the older people?

You ask, why so young? Where are the older people?

Well there’s the life expectancy of 65 years for men, 69 for women. Then there’s the Indonesian occupation from 1975-1999, during which time the lives of up to a quarter or more of the population were lost.

Timor Leste is one humongous lump of rock, and there is no shortage of the stuff. Rocks are used in just about every construction, for house footings, roadside drainage, and retaining walls, even the pots that Jose makes.

On this the northern coast of the island the steep hills rise rapidly to the mountainous interior. Those steep hillsides are much denuded and eroded, the soils seemingly very poor. No doubt firewood collection for cooking has decimated much of that vegetation. Along the roadsides are bundles of crisscrosses dried sticks of firewood waiting for collection and sale in Dili or other towns.

We pass several salt farms along the coast, small household farms that produce salt using traditional methods. A series of ponds allows the seawater to evaporate, the salt brine is collected and dried using firewood and boilers. The salt is then bagged and sold by the roadside.

We stop at a roadside stall at Tibar for water, then Loes for coffee. Rich black coffee from one of the roadside kiosks.

Next stop is Balibo.

Just out of Loes, Jose stops to pick up one of the students he has been encouraging, so now we are five.

It’s early afternoon when we arrive at Balibo, just ten kilometres from the border with Indonesian West Timor, we pull up on the road leading up to the Fort.

I have mixed emotions as we walk up the driveway towards the entrance. The Fort is some four hundred years old, and it is the site the Balibo Five were filming from when the Indonesian forces landed in Balibo.

The Fort and surrounds have been transformed into a restaurant and tourist destination with accommodation.

We order lunch – pumpkin soup at five dollars U.S a bowl for Dave and myself, Nasi Goreng for Jose, Augus and Nicolaij at ten U.S dollars per serve. Jose is not impressed. And with good reason. These are not prices the average Timorese can afford. Wages here typically three to five dollars a day. Certainly there are higher wages for government and corporate workers but that is not the norm.

Jose sees the Fort as part of Timor Leste’s history, a place for all Timorese and not a place exclusively for tourists and wealthy locals.

The 400 year old Fort, steeped in history but beware of the bill at lunch.
The 400-year-old Fort, steeped in history but beware of the bill at lunch.

From the Fort, we wander down the hill to Balibo House and Museum where we meet Michele Rankin.

I’m humbled by the commitment of people like Michele and those from the Balibo House Trust. They are truly inspiring people. Michele has her two daughters visiting from Brisbane during the school holidays.

Balibo House was the last refuge of the five Australian-based journalists, Greg Shackleton, Gary Cunningham, Tony Stewart, Malcolm Rennie and Brian Peters who were murdered by Indonesian troops in 1975. Fellow newsman Roger East was murdered seven weeks later as he investigated the deaths of his five colleagues.

Balibo House Trust was established by the Victorian Government in October 2002, it has since been handed back to to the people of the Balibo district for use as a community learning centre.

As we prepare to leave Balibo there is one site I don’t have the stomach to visit.

Amongst the Timorese it is known as the ‘Kissing House’.

Heather from the Balibo House Trust explains to us that it was the place where the bodies of the Balibo Five were dragged to and burnt after they were shot.

Heather says she has heard two explanations about the origins of the name ‘Kissing House’ – both equally brutal and point to the depraved actions of the Indonesian forces over many years.

The souls who have been murdered here still move in this space and perhaps guide the good work that now takes place in their memory.

The mission of the Balibo House Trust includes:

  • Promoting early childhood education through the Balibo Five Kindergarten.
  • Developing skills through the Balibo Community Learning Centre.
  • Creating employment and income through tourism at the historic Balibo Fort and Balibo Fort Hotel.
  • Fostering awareness of the relationships between Australia, Timor-Leste, and Indonesia.
  • Maintaining a permanent memorial to the five journalists murdered at Balibo in 1975 and to the Balibo people murdered during the Indonesian occupation of Timor-Leste.

From Balibo back to the border town of Batugade is about a 40-minute drive and we decide to take a closer look at the border crossing into Indonesian controlled West Timor.

The border crossing at Batugade is busy with trucks, buses, SUV’s, motorbikes and even the TNI – Indonesian Special Forces, who are taking advantage of the shops selling drinks and food on the Timor side.

The Australian Embassy in Dili
The Australian Embassy in Dili

After a short break at the border, it’s time for the long drive back to Dili for our much-anticipated meeting with Ego Lemos.

Apart from a few sections, the roads back to Dili are pretty good.

The late afternoon is hot and despite this being the dry season, storm clouds have been building. As we near Liquica the storm breaks, a fierce torrential downpour makes the winding sections of road more treacherous.

Back in Dili, Dave and I have time for a quick change of clothes and another application of DEET. The Mosquitos here carry malaria and dengue fever, so the daily ritual of the DEET spray is an essential precaution.

For us, long shirts, pants, and footwear, particularly in the evening guarantees the nasties have little-exposed flesh to attack. But they’re sneaky little buggers. Back home in Bega, I’m used to a tiger moth buzzing sound as a warning, but not here, these critters attack in silence. Thankfully the spray seems to work.

It is now after 7.30pm but it’s a fairly short drive to Ego’s home in the Comoro district of Dili, where we have been invited to share a meal with his family.

What an evening it is – food, wine, conversation, and song. The evening meal of traditional dishes is delicious. A soup of local corn and meat, rice, steamed greens and spicy dried small fish as an entree. And don’t forget the chili!

The evening meal of traditional dishes is delicious. A soup of local corn and meat, rice, steamed greens and spicy dried small fish as an entree. And don’t forget the chili!

With food, wine, and song, the conversation turns to the possibility of pulling together a Timorese choir to come to the Bega Valley and beyond in 2020.

Bringing a choir from Timor Leste to Australia is not new for Ego Lemos.

2012 saw the debut of Koro Loriko, a Timor-Leste choir formed by Ego Lemos and Victorian based arts advocate group – The Boite.

Singers from all over Timor-Leste worked with the Melbourne Millennium Chorus, a ten week rehearsal period culminated with a grand performance, in the Melbourne Town Hall.

Ego also tells us about a school permaculture camp he’s leading in Maubisse towards the end of next year.

It is to be five days of workshops for around two thousand local students. The conversation suggests that perhaps there could be a choir workshop as well, with the choir that’s formed coming together with community singers from Melbourne and the Bega Valley for a tour of Australia. Perhaps in 2020!

Dave and Ego also get talking about Ego’s appearance at the Cobargo Folk Festival next year.

Ego Lemos is an inspirational singer, song writer, and performer, perhaps best described as the Paul Kelly of Timor Leste. He talks of plans to spend two months in Australia around the time of the 2018 Cobargo Folk Festival – exciting plans indeed.

It’s getting late, Jose takes a call from the Sisters at Fatuhada who are wondering when he will return us to the convent!

Time though for a few more songs with Egos’ 72-year-old mum on the harmonica, and some conversation about permaculture.

A dedicated permaculturist, Ego founded the country’s first permaculture centre, Permatil.

He also founded a highly successful sustainable agriculture network, HASATIL, both of which still flourish today.

At the beginning of this year, Permatil signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government to take over the schools garden program.

Inspired by Australian’s Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, permaculture is now part of the school curriculum and a compulsory subject in all schools nationwide! A remarkable achievement and another bond to Australia.

With plans for next year and the formation of a choir still bubbling, it’s time to head for home.

For now, it’s back to Fatuhada, my head swimming with Timorese songs and the friendships formed with these wonderful people.

Words and photos by Tim Holt

Catch up on Postcard 1 and Postcard 2, thanks to About Regional Members – Kelly Murray, Shane O’Leary, Olwen Morris, and Oh’Allmhurain Films for supporting local story telling.

About Regional Memberships are open now to individuals and families, community groups, and businesses.

Saying goodbye to Ursula, by Melissa Pouliot

The theme of National Missing Persons Week in 2017 is youth.

When Ursula Dianne Barwick went missing 30 years ago she was just 17.

Three out of five missing person reports recorded by police relate to a young person under the age of 18.

Those in the age bracket of 13 to 17 years account for 50% of all missing person reports – almost 20,000 young people each year.

And while our first thought is for the missing person themselves, this year there is a special focus on the family and friends left behind.

This community understands that impact better than most through the work of Tathra’s Melissa Pouliot and her books, writing inspired by and as Melissa would say ‘guided’ by her missing cousin Ursula.

The unresolved grief, thoughts that torment, feelings of helplessness – Melissa has given a voice to the families and friends through her own powerful story.

That continues now.

Despite what you might think, a very small percentage of missing person cases in Australia are stranger abductions.

Young people go missing for a number of reasons including:

  • Family and social conflict
  • Being the victim of crime
  • Communication issues
  • Mental health problems
  • Drug and alcohol abuse as well as escaping from other abuse and neglect.

Going missing can be seen by young people as a way of resolving tension or conflict at home or within friendship groups.

The sad thing is when our young people go missing it becomes almost impossible to connect them to the support that might really help them and keep them part of our community. On top of that, they are exposed to a new range of pressures and challenges that can twist their lives further.

Going missing is not a solution to mental health problems or tough situations. There are people here to help with whatever you are wrestling with – care and warmth to help you through.

Your local GP is a good place to start or Lifeline on 13 11 14.

With Missing Persons Week to start on Sunday, a new chapter has emerged in Melissa and Ursula’s story.

Melissa gave this speech this afternoon in Canberra at the launch of her latest book ‘Found’.

You are not forgotten Ursula.


Saying goodbye to Ursula, by Melissa Pouliot


Melissa and Ursula. Melissa was 15 when her 17-year-old cousin went missing.
Melissa and Ursula. Melissa was 15 when her 17-year-old cousin went missing.

Words have real power. Words can wound, words can heal. And in my case, words can find people.

In 2013 I put a whole bunch of words together in a crime fiction novel I named Write About Me. After I finished all my made up words I wrote some real words about my cousin, Ursula Dianne Barwick, who went missing in 1987 when she was 17 and I was 15.

After reading all my words, one of my best friends wrote to me and said:

“Just finished your book! Fantastic job you should be so proud. I feel like giving you a big hug after reading the author’s note. Love and hugs to you.”

And my best friend from high school wrote: “Give up your day job now. I have 20 pages left and I don’t want the book to end.”

Those words, among many others, spurred me on to keep writing and to keep searching for the truth about Ursula.

Four years and four more books later, around half a million words, and I am staggered by how much words have changed the course of my life.

Finding Ursula was a team effort, driven by two dedicated detectives from Kings Cross – Detective Sergeant Kurt Hayward and Detective Senior Constable Amy Scott.

I had a small but strong support network every step of the way, encouraging me to be brave in my pursuit of the truth. 

Initially thinking it was too late to solve the mystery of her disappearance, my quest started as a way to honour her memory. To show her, no matter where she was, that I had not forgotten about her, I had not stopped missing her, I had not stopped searching for her. 

An amazing groundswell of support followed, and it soon became clear that Ursula wanted to be found.

Last week I tried to say goodbye to Ursula, who, nearly thirty years after she went missing, is FOUND. Her lifetime was 17 years, two months and thirteen days.

I stood with my family, some of Ursula’s school friends, the people who worked so hard over the past three years to find her and the people who have supported me along the way. 

Ursula’s Mum, my Aunty Cheree, wasn’t with us, although I like to think her and Ursula were reunited when Cheree died in 2004.

To be completely honest, I am at sea as to how to say my final goodbye, as the long journey of her death is not over yet. 

Melissa Pouloit's new novel 'Found' was launched in Canberra by the Australian Federal Police on July 27 2017
Melissa Pouloit’s new novel ‘Found’ was launched in Canberra by the Australian Federal Police on July 27 2017.

We are still trying to join the dots that connect Ursula and the fictional character of Jessica Pearce, who she created for her new friends in Sydney that were with her when she died on the Hume Highway at Tarcutta on October 27, 1987.

The circumstances surrounding her death are now in the hands of the NSW Coroner and I look forward to having clearer answers to the questions we cannot answer at this time. Maybe then I will be ready to say my goodbye.

I am unable to gather the words to describe my grief at discovering that Ursula died in a car accident, only a short time after she went missing in October 1987.

Those words float around out of reach, moving backwards and forwards through all the years we have been waiting for her to come home.

Words refused to settle into neat sentences during that first horrible, painful, devastating year.

Then they raced around in circles for the 29 years that followed, all those years when we held onto hope she would come home to us.

But she couldn’t. Because she was long gone.

I haven’t fallen into a crumpled heap onto the floor to sob my broken heart out. My stomach doesn’t twist in pain.

I still wake up each day with fresh hope for a new day, and my life is moving forward at its usual rapid pace.

Instead of the raw volcano of emotion that I expected to go with the news that Ursula is dead, I carry around a dull ache across my shoulders, behind my eyes, in my right leg and in my lower back. My grief moves and shifts around, quietly, reminding me every now and then that she is really gone.

There are other signs of my grief. I forget things. I fade away in the middle of an important conversation. I lose concentration while riding down a steep, rocky hill and nearly end up in a pile of trauma at the bottom.

Every person who knew Ursula, both those who grew up with her, those who were close to her, and those who only said a casual hello to her in the school yard or up the street, all remember the same things. Ursula was always laughing, always smiling, always having fun.

Her legacy, the thing that will inspire others for many years to come, is that it is never too late to find your missing person.

“Ursh, I love you and always will. I will never stop missing you, and I will always remember your bright blue eyes, soft blonde hair and lovely loud laugh.

 Let the good times last forever. Dance all night and shake the paint off the walls.

 Forever yours,

Lissy x”

Yes, words certainly do have power. They can wound, yet they can heal. And as I have shown, words can find people.

Words by Melissa Pouliot

A memorial for Ursula Dianne Barwick was held at Emu Plains Cemetery on Wednesday, July 19, 2017.

Melissa will launch National Missing Persons Week in the Bega Valley on July 31, at the Bega Valley Commemorative Civic Centre at 10:30am, coinciding with the national launch in Brisbane.

Her local launch for ‘Found’ will take place at Dulcie Cottage in Merimbula on Thursday, August 3 at 6pm.

Melissa is working on her sixth novel and will continue to dedicate her energy to raise awareness for missing people and child safety through her roles as a missing persons advocate and Day for Daniel Ambassador.

Postcard 2 from Timor Leste, touch down in Dili. By Tim Holt

Dili Harbour, beauty lined with plastic water bottles.
Dili Harbour, beauty lined with plastic water bottles.

The Air North flight from Darwin to Dili can take 76 passengers and it’s a full house. Two Australian school groups and their teachers, all bubbling with excitement for the adventure that lies ahead.

One group is bearing gifts of ukuleles, fourteen in all. I imagine a Timorese ukulele orchestra in the making.

We land in Dili a little after 7am, having flown over the south coast and Natabora but overcast skies have shrouded our view until we descend below the clouds.

The passage through check in and customs is slow but neither the grey skies or the form filling-in can dull the anticipation.

The morning in this city of 265,000 people is warm and sticky but not as warm as the welcome Dave and I receive from Jose Da Costa, his partner Lucy and two beautiful daughters, two and six years old, and Augus – he is to be our traveling companion for the week ahead. The eldest girl, Moira steps forward and presents us with personalised Timor Leste Tais.

It is a beautiful and touching little ceremony for both of us and Jose is unable to shield us from the warmth, respect, and love he displays. Dave and Jose go back to 2008 when Jose was employed by the Bega Valley Advocates for Timor Leste, their friendship is warm and they fall into easy conversation about family and life in the five years since Dave was last here.

Our transport is Jose’s Toyota Land Cruiser wagon. Dave made all these arrangements with Jose several months ago. Over the next eight days, we will spend many hours over some fairly challenging roads, the white Toyota proving a worthy beast.

From the airport, we drive thru Dili to Jose’s home in the Comoro Suco overlooking Tasitolu. It is my first glimpse of Dili, and I am absorbed by the sights, sounds, and smells.

The traffic is chaotic; motor scooters are the main transport – there’s a dad with a small child on his lap, mum holding a bub to her breast as they weave thru the morning traffic of buses, cars, SUV’s, 4WD’s, numerous state vehicles known as ‘Kareta Estadio’, trucks, water tankers, and the ubiquitous yellow Dili taxi.

Jose De Costa
Jose Da Costa

The atmosphere is humid and thick, the acrid smell of wood smoke from roadside stalls and homes is all pervasive.

The grandeur of embassies, government buildings, and modern shopping malls is mixed with Portuguese architecture, humble abodes, roadside stalls and markets made of rusting tin.

Dili, as is the case in much of the country, is a city in transformation. Construction everywhere. Businesses, many of which are Chinese, selling everything from hardware to electronics and all that plastic crap that is endemic around the world.

The roadside litter takes me by surprise, plastic water bottles, and bags everywhere. Not just by the road but around shops and market stalls, along the beachfront, in drains and waterways.

As I am to discover Dili has little or no reticulated drinking water, or sewerage system for that matter. Grey water runs in roadside drains. Shops and market stalls sell water all over the island. From city to village – plastic water bottles are endemic.

On the way to Jose’s home, we stop at a bakery for fresh bread rolls. Tasitolu is about 8 kms from the centre of Dili.

Tasitolu is the site of three saline lakes. It is described as a protected area – a designated Wetland of National Significance for its ecological, historic and cultural significance. (See video above)

However, this is the dry season on the north side of the island. And Dili is dry. Very, very dry.

We cross a vast dry flat mud, salt pan beside a shallow lake, the edges littered with plastic and garbage.

There are homes built around the edges, I wonder what happens in the wet season. The homes are of concrete block construction. On a raised footing of stone and cement and mostly tin roofs. The disparity of wealth is starkly obvious.

Jose and his family live on the rising land overlooking Tasitolu. The home is still under construction with an upper level yet to be completed.

His is a household of at least 16 people – his family plus perhaps ten or more young men and women he is supporting with accommodation, food, and fees while they study. They come from his home village of Oecusse, a Timorese enclave in Indonesian West Timor and elsewhere.

One of his enterprises is making stone and cement pots which provide income and work for his extended family.

Our first meal in Dili – breakfast including bread roll, egg, sliced cheese, and coffee.

These cement and pebble pots support Jose and his extended family. Pebbles a plenty in Timor Leste.
These cement and pebble pots support Jose and his extended family. Pebbles a plenty in Timor Leste.

The coffee is from roasted Timorese beans. The ground coffee is simply put in a jug, pot, or thermos with hot water and sugar. Much sugar! Cloyingly sweet to my taste. But the coffee is good. I make a mental note to avoid the sugar wherever possible.

The hospitality in these few short hours has been almost overwhelming. It is to become the enduring and endearing feature of our stay here.

Our home during our time in Dili is Fatuhada, the Carmelite Convent near the centre of the city.

We arrive to a welcome from several of the sisters and another breakfast. Tea, bread rolls, sliced cheese, and jam, with bottled water. My plan for losing a kilo or two while here is looking doubtful. Lunch and dinner with the sisters that day is further confirmation.

It is now after 10 am Dili time and both Dave and myself are in need of rest. It’s been more than 24 hours since either of us have had real sleep, there’s some time for a nap and wash before lunch with the sisters at 12.30.

Lunch is more substantial than breakfast, rice, steamed greens, salad, noodles with chicken, bananas, and apples. The bananas are small, from the palms within the convent’s garden – sweet and delicious, fresh and still on the bunch. They are a feature of most meals at Fatuhada.

There are about 19 sisters and acolytes gathered for lunch. They are warm and friendly, and I feel very welcomed. Several have been to the Bega Valley as guests of the Bega Valley Advocates for Timor Leste and they are excited to see us and talk face to face of the wonderful contribution the advocates have made and the enduring friendship formed with the Bega Valley.

Jose and Augus return at 2 and we head off a trip to along the coast of Dili Harbour. First to Cape Fatucama at the eastern end of the Harbour, where in 1988 Indonesia’s former president Suharto built a statue of Christ. But because it was built by the dictator it was not popular with the Timorese. The Cristo Rei (Christ the King), was a failed attempt by Indonesia to dissuade East Timor from demanding independence.

On the western point of the harbour there stands a giant statue of the late Pontiff, Pope John Paul ll.

When dozens of East Timorese students defied Indonesian security forces and rioted in front of Pope John Paul II in October 1989, Indonesia’s brutal rule was highlighted to the world for the first time in years.

Jose Da Costa, his partner Lucy and their eldest daughter Moira, named after Moira Collins, pictured here with husband Jim. Both founding members of the Bega Valley Advocates for Timor Leste. This photo hangs on Jose and Lucy's wall.
Jose Da Costa, his partner Lucy and their eldest daughter Moira, named after Moira Collins, pictured here with husband Jim. Both founding members of the Bega Valley Advocates for Timor Leste. This photo hangs on Jose and Lucy’s wall.

Twenty years on the statue of the late Pontiff was erected as a symbol of renewed hope for the people of Timor Leste. The Pope’s face looks towards Dili’s western outskirts where the riot took place.

There is some confusion in articles I have read from that time.

One refers to the statue as being a six-metre high bronze statue, another describes it as a ten-metre concrete construction. Either way, it is massively impressive.

There is also some contradiction around the 1989 riot during the mass held by Pope John Paul II, as to whether rioters were angry at the Pope for calling for an end to the violence and reconciliation with Indonesia or whether they were inspired by the Pope’s message. Whatever the true motivation for the riot, the Pope’s visit focused world attention on the Indonesians and East Timor and is seen by many Timorese as galvanising a determination for independence.

Our afternoon is spent in Comoro with Lorenzo and his family, friends of Jose and Augus. Timorese coffee, strong and black, conversation shared about family, life in Dili, study, work and survival.

I’m learning that everyone has a mobile phone, they are as common as the plastic water bottles. The fixed line and telecommunications network was destroyed by the Indonesians in 1999. Though somewhat reinstated since, mainly in Dili, mobiles have taken over. By 2015 94% of the population could access mobile and internet services. And they do. Coverage seems to be 4G with at least three providers, Timor Telecom, Telstra, and Vietnamese provider Viettel.

Dave Crowden with Jose at his home, Dave wearing a traditional Tais.
Dave Crowden with Jose at his home, Dave wearing a traditional Tais.

Timor Leste’s young population is perhaps also driving the mobile take-up. This is a country of 1.2 million people, where 50% of the population is under 25 and 40% under 15.

Over coffee, we talk of Chinese business and investment in roads and power. It is a contentious issue for many Timorese.

We take our leave with a warm farewell, bundle into the Toyota for the drive back to Fatuhada for the evening meal with the sisters – rice, chicken, spicy steamed greens, spinach, a side dish of deliciously hot salty chili, a cup of tea and of course bottled water.

What a day it has been. Nearly forty hours with just snatches of shut-eye on the three flights that brought us here, and a nap this morning before lunch. Sleep beckons with visions of generosity, joyous smiles, and the contradiction of poverty and wealth, but above all those faces that break into gorgeous smiles.

More to come…

Click HERE to catch up on Postcard 1.

Words and pictures by Tim Holt.

*Tim Holt retired as Mornings Presenter at ABC South East NSW in December 2015 after a three-decade radio career.

Thanks to About Regional Member Robyn Amair and her contribution to local story telling.


Eurobodalla Citizens Jury – $100,000, 86 recommendations. Worthwhile?

Is Council spending your money on the right things? If not, what should it change?

That was the question put to the Eurobodalla Citizens Jury, a group of 28 randomly selected residents.

Starting in June 2016, the Citizens Jury reported back to Council in December making a wide range of recommendations from business development to land use to the role of the arts in the community, including:

  • Ensure that the potential for a performing arts base is considered in the redevelopment of the MacKay Park precinct.
  • Investigate revenue opportunities through use of waste facilities to generate income and or energy source, e.g. incorporating methane collection; recycling of plastics into a viable resource.
  • Continue and further develop collaboration with Aboriginal people and use of traditional land care techniques.
  •  Council recognise that the Jury supports the consistent application of the LEP and other environmental strategies and plans, such that green belts and riparian zones are protected.

The Citizens Jury project cost around $100 000 but was it worth it?

Yes, but it was not without its problems, according to Moruya juror Kate Raymond.

“The Citizens Jury was definitely worthwhile, it gave us all a good sense of what Council did and what kind of decisions had to be made every day,” Kate says.

However, the Jury struggled with the complexity of the task and was heavily reliant on Council staff to provide them with information.

“We came to realise that the question was just too broad, and we really couldn’t answer it,” Kate explains.

“How are we supposed to know if Council is spending enough money on roads, rates, and rubbish? What do we have to measure it against?

“We were briefed, but we only got Council’s perspective, and they said, ‘We’re doing the best we can with the money we have’. We had to take their word for it,” Kate says.

The Jury members also struggled to achieve consensus on issues.

“Even if some of us thought Council was spending too much on something, we’d never be able to reach consensus on it because it’s a group of 28 people with different priorities,” Kate says.

“For instance, some people wanted much more paving and guttering in the Shire but others disagreed because they thought it was less important for a rural shire. That’s just one example!”

It’s a point Deputy Mayor Anthony Mayne isn’t surprised to hear.

“By definition, a jury is a group of people who consider information and then reach a binding decision about it,” Cr Mayne says.

“Although the Jury deeply engaged with the issues presented to them, they weren’t expected to come to a unanimous agreement about them.

“To call it a ‘Jury’ does little to advance or promote the positive benefits of this project,” he says

Kate Raymond also believes the jury struggled to understand the role of Council.

“There were some jurors with quite extreme views about what Council does [views that] were simply outside what we were meant to be talking about,” she says

“I think the New Democracy Foundation (the Jury facilitators) did a really good job though.”

“Overall, I still think it was worthwhile,” Kate says.

Critic of the Citizens Jury project, Paul Bradstreet, took a keen interest in the process and observed a couple of Jury meetings.

Paul represents the Eurobodalla Ratepayers Association (ERA).

Not a juror himself, he argues that the Jury wasn’t able to consider new ideas for the Shire.

“The Shire needs new ideas, but Council remains stuck in the same old patterns because it’s easier than dealing with new things,” he says.

According to Paul, citizens with innovative ideas were directed to make a submission to the Jury, but the Jury couldn’t consider them.

“For instance, the Eurobodalla Ratepayers Association had ideas that we wanted to put to Council, especially following the [Council] elections in September,” Paul says.

“The ERA had a couple of councilors elected on our platform issues, so we know our ideas are relevant, but we weren’t being given a chance to express them.

“The Citizens Jury was set up as a public relations, rubber stamping exercise, where Council gets to hear that they’re doing a great job,”  Paul says.

Eurobodalla Shire Council says that new ideas and submissions from the public were included in the Jury project.

A Council spokesperson says, there were 39 submissions from the community, and the Jury considered all of them carefully.

“Although the Jury project was primarily set up to look at how Council currently spends its money, it did consider new ideas, for instance, a community ‘think tank’ activity to run as part of Local Government Week and investigating a mobile library service,” the spokesperson explains.

Kate Raymond agrees that the Jury considered new ideas, but was somewhat ambivalent about Council’s response,

“For instance, our report recommended (p.9) having an agricultural officer in Council, to supercharge the outcomes from the Rural Lands Strategy,” Kate says.

Council’s response was, ‘We will look into this’ and if there is grant funding available (p.32) they’ve told us they will investigate options.

“Does this mean Council is actively looking for grant funding for this position? What does investigating options mean? That’s unclear,” Kate says.

Council’s spokesperson says the Citizens Jury worked well and achieved the goal of providing feedback on how Council spends its money.

The jury made 86 recommendations, 76 of which align with the Draft Delivery Program 2017-21 and the Operational Plan 2017-18. These two documents inform upcoming Council spending in the immediate future,” the spokesperson says.

“We [Council] also realised that there’s quite a lot of confusion in the community about the three tiers of government (local, state and federal) and their respective roles. So we’re working at getting some information about this out there.”

Eurobodalla Deputy Mayor, Anthony Mayne. Source: Facebook
Eurobodalla Deputy Mayor, Anthony Mayne. Source: Facebook

The Deputy Mayor believes it was a worthwhile process.

“In the modern world of social media, to see 28 people deeply engaged and enquiring of any number of issues over a sustained period of time is to be applauded,” Cr Mayne says.

“These were volunteers, paid a small allowance to give up seven nights and many hours of reading over several months to listen, wonder, seek, exchange, explore and debate a variety of matters before finally presenting their outcomes to the Councillors”.

So, will the Eurobodalla see another Citizens Jury?

“Council has developed a Community Engagement Framework and the Citizens Jury will remain something we can use when appropriate,” Council’s spokesperson explains.

“The jurors provided significant amounts of their own time and Council is appreciative of that.”

Words by Fiona Whitelaw, Moruya

*Fiona contacted a number of other jurors for this article but Kate Raymond was the only one to take up the opportunity.

*Featured videos produced by Eurobodalla Shire Council before and during the Jury process.

Breastfeeding welcome here, Eurobodalla group supporting mums and bubs

Michelle Mitchell by Toby Whitelaw
Michelle Mitchell, by Toby Whitelaw

When it comes to feeding a newborn baby we’ve all heard the expression ‘breast is best’ however for some parents, breastfeeding brings unexpected challenges.

That’s where the Eurobodalla Breastfeeding Group (EBG) comes in. EBG’s leader, Michelle Mitchell, would like to see every parent receive the support they need.

“Sometimes there are problems with milk supply or difficulty ‘latching’ (where the baby struggles to attach to the breast), but there can be other problems too.”

The Eurobodalla Breastfeeding Group (EBG) is a subgroup of the Australian Breastfeeding Association.

Members can attend monthly meetings in Moruya where parents can share their experiences while their little ones play. There’s also a 24-hour helpline (1800 686 268) run by the Australian Breastfeeding Association.

“We know how hard it can be when it’s the middle of the night and you’re struggling with a hungry baby, or maybe you’re in pain,” Michelle says.

“And sometimes people just need some reassurance that everything is OK.”

Parents can also hire a hospital grade double breast pump through EBG with help to get it up and running, but well before that breastfeeding classes are held regularly which aim to get expectant parents started confidently, through good real world advice and support.

According to the Commonwealth Department of Health, breastfeeding provides babies with the best start in life and is a key contributor to infant health. Australia’s infant feeding guidelines recommend exclusive breastfeeding of infants

Australia’s infant feeding guidelines recommend exclusive breastfeeding of infants for the first six months of life when solid foods are introduced and then continued breastfeeding until the age of 12 months and beyond if both mother and infant wish.

The Department says that evidence shows breastfed babies are less likely to suffer from digestive and respiratory illnesses, middle ear infection, type 1 diabetes and childhood leukemia.

They say that breastfeeding also benefits mothers through faster recovery from childbirth; reducing the risks of breast and ovarian cancers in later life, and reduced maternal depression.

“Breastfeeding is the most natural, normal way to feed a child, and although most women start off breastfeeding their baby, less than half of them are still doing it at 4 months,” Michelle Mitchell says.

“There are lots of reasons women can find it hard to keep breastfeeding.

“Sometimes women encounter stigma –  they feel like they’re getting funny looks for breastfeeding their baby, especially in public. That can make it harder to keep going,” she says.

Eurobodalla Breastfeeding Group's famous teepee, by Toby Whitelaw
Eurobodalla Breastfeeding Group’s famous teepee, by Toby Whitelaw

And so as well as giving personal support to breastfeeding parents the Eurobodalla Breastfeeding Group works hard to normalise breastfeeding in the community, consulting with Eurobodalla Shire Council on creating ‘breastfeeding friendly’ public spaces, and working with local businesses to display ‘Breastfeeding Welcome Here’ stickers.

The EBG provides breastfeeding facilities at lots of local events, (keep an eye out for their cool teepee) and there’s always someone willing to chat.

To make contact, start at the Eurobodalla Breastfeeding Group Facebook page or email – abaeurobodalla@gmail.com

Groups also exist in the Bega Valley and Snowy Monaro.

And if you are a local business and you’d like a ‘Breastfeeding Welcome Here’ sticker, get in touch!

Words by Moruya Mum, Fiona Whitelaw.

A Bega Valley perspective on Mardi Gras 2017 – “Tiers and tiers of people encouraging and celebrating all those marching for just being themselves.”

Claire and Neroli - love makes a family
Neroli and Claire, who have shared their Mardi Gras with About Regional

Mardi Gras in Sydney is the biggest celebration of diversity for everyone who identifies as part of the LGBQTI community, so that’s not just people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, questioning, transgender or intersex but for families,  friends, children, faith groups, banks, surf life-saving clubs, mental health groups etc. etc.   

Regional groups were strongly represented, we marched alongside a strong contingent from the Bega Valley, Eurobodalla and Shoalhaven among others. We should have a Bega Valley float next year!

We are a pretty normal family, juggle work/home life, evenings full of angst about screen time, we are not activists, only parents who felt galvanised into action when ‘the plebiscite’ seemed likely to become part of Australian’s history around same-sex marriage. 

It occurred to us that if the plebiscite was to go ahead a whole new accepted level of bullying and name calling would be legitimised by the plebiscite process.  So, when Rainbow Families asked for representation in Canberra we went and our son bravely stood up on national TV to ask why all Australians should get to vote on what his family can and cannot do.

Rainbow Families take to Oxford Street
Rainbow Families take to Oxford Street

We went to Mardi Gras last weekend to celebrate our family with other families – gay and heterosexual, young and old, across all cultures and backgrounds, and to give our son the opportunity to see diversity in action and experience being part of that high velocity/full on celebration.

It’s incredibly affirming to see tiers and tiers of people encouraging and celebrating all those marching for just being themselves. 

It was humbling to hear the stories of those who marched in the early years and risked imprisonment and violence to pave the way for what is now much more of an open genuine public celebration. 

It should be noted though that there were still people marching in disguise, they were concerned for their family relationships and careers if they were ‘found out’. 

The Rainbow Families float had two groups, nearly 200 adults with their children, front and back of an enormous heart with ‘Love Makes a Family’  in huge white letters. 

It was great to see the excitement and hear the cheers of the crowd when the kids high-fived and danced the whole route from Hyde Park to the Entertainment Quarter.  Members in our float had travelled from outside Sydney to be part of it just like us, another family from the Bega Valley was there in the Marriage Equality float, regional and rural Australians were represented widely (sometimes covertly).    

Colourful tutus with a clear message
Colourful tutus with a clear message

Thank you, Rainbow Families for being such great advocates and providers of support to us and other families in NSW. 

It was a festival of delight, joy, and of course some wild and wonderful outfits, but the message was the same from all those marching and the crowds watching – difference should not mean inequality, we might not look the same or have the same family structure as our neighbours but we should be equal in each other’s eyes.

Words and pictures by Claire and Neroli, Tathra NSW.

The power of a simple homemade meal By Leah Milston

Leah Milston @ Mystery Bay By David Wallace
Leah Milston @ Mystery Bay By David Wallace

Years ago when my children were small and I was very depressed, a friend arrived on my doorstep with a homemade meal.

I had gone from an energetic high to a motionless low.

I always managed to look after my children but everything took so much effort and time.

My friend was concerned about me, she had a sense I wasn’t well in the way friends know. She had no idea of or experience with what I was going through but thought a home cooked meal would be useful.

She was so right.

The fact she offered no advice and was honest about not knowing what I was going through, was such a relief from the well-meaning but ill-informed advice that I had been receiving from other people.

She made me feel so cared for – and what a relief to know that I could feed my family that night without worrying about what I was going to cook.

It’s a gesture that touched me and one I have tried to pass on; seeing someone in need and trying to think of something practical to do for them.

It can be just sitting with a person, folding laundry, bringing in firewood, taking children to school, feeding a pet, or going to the shops.

We don’t need to understand fully what someone is going through in order to help them.

When someone is ill it can be hard to know what sort of assistance is needed and even hard for the person who is unwell to know. So if you want to help – start with the simple stuff.

For me, when I was sick I felt I was so isolated, so alone, like no one understood.

When I received that home cooked meal all of a sudden I was not forgotten or alone, I was given strength to get through another day, a day closer to wellness.

During Mental Health Month there is much emphasis on what the individual can do to maintain their own mental health.

The importance of diet, plenty of exercise, being connected to the community, positive ways of thinking, coping with a stressful life by using meditation, mindfulness, cognitive behaviour therapy – all are seen as important parts to promoting mental health.

I am adding something new, an idea from author and philosopher Shannon L Alder:

“When the “I” is replaced by “We” illness becomes wellness.”

We all have the potential to make such a difference in someone’s life, and all it can take is a small gesture like a delivered homemade meal…or writing an article and sharing your experience.

Don’t be afraid to be the ‘we’ Shannon Alder talks about.


About Leah…

Leah Milston was diagnosed as being Bipolar over 40 years ago.

She says she spent the first 16 years living in denial, the next 16 she describes as ‘reluctant’ but for the last 9 years Leah has embraced the way she is wired.

So much so Leah is now a voluntary speaker for Beyondblue and was previously a voluntary rural ambassador for Black Dog Institute (2007-2010) and regularly writes articles and speaks on radio about mental health issues.

She is also a representative on the Eurobodalla Health Services Community Representative Committee.

Since 2005  Leah has been the owner, manager and personality behind Milston’s Past and Present in Mogo. The shop has enough order and enough chaos and quirkiness (just like it’s owner) to make it a  wonderful place to browse.

Marriage equality, lets get it done – now! By Iain Dawson

Iain Dawson
Iain Dawson

I had just started working in my dream job, not long after settling in Sydney, back from the traditional post uni overseas trip, backpacking in Europe.

The dream job being a gallery manager for one of the eastern suburbs most ‘social’ art galleries.

Up until then, I had navigated the treacherous path of being a full-time waiter, I felt that I was truly moving in the right direction career wise – finally!

While grabbing an afternoon coffee at the place of my most recent past employment, I was surprised to see my replacement on the coffee machine was possibly the best-looking guy I’d seen.

Beautiful dark hair pulled back in a man bun, his beard impressive – a decade before either were fashionable. That’s him I thought, with the conviction of anyone who has fallen victim to love at first sight.

This is back in a time before social media, before mass use of mobile phones even, otherwise I would have been posting updates on my Instagram immediately – I had met the man I was going to spend my life with.

All it took now was to convince him to feel mutually inclined.

Me loitering until knock off over eight flat whites and then a few games of pool cinched the deal – that was 16 years ago.

I am not going to pretend it’s been all beer and skittles, there’s been ups and a few downs, thankfully he possess the patience of a saint when it comes to me, though I hope I’ve spiced up his life a little in return.

Over the past sixteen years, we’ve been to the weddings of his two sisters, the second wedding of my twin brother, the births of numerous nieces and nephews, godchildren and countless friend weddings. All are relationships we’ve watched blossom, like our own over time and settle into normal family life as we fast approach our mid-forties.

In taking their vows, all these husbands and wives have been gracious enough to add their own caveats to the statement that all celebrants must declare since the 2004 change to the Marriage Act.

A change that didn’t seem to require the sort of plebiscite that is now seen as so important when considering changes to the Marriage Act.

John Howard’s change in 2004 defined marriage as ‘a union between a man and woman only’.

I am incredulous that Australia still judges my relationship with the man I love, ‘to the exclusion of all others’ as less than equal to my peers, friends and family.

We are a secular country. No religion owns marriage.

The law needs to change and it needs to change quickly, decisively and without the possibility of harming young LGBTIQ people.

Until then, my relationship is not seen as being equal to all the marriages my partner and I have witnessed and celebrated in our two decades together.

For those not yet convinced; put yourself in that equitation and see how it feels, what it says to your soul.

It’s beyond obvious that around 80% of Australians want our leaders to change the Marriage Act.

The majority of my countrymen see my relationship as equal; that gives me and the LGBTIQ community strength and hope.

The support for marriage equality is not disputed by either the Prime Minister or the Opposition Leader, yet we find ourselves with a $200 million plebiscite to decide the issue.

We live in a democracy that elects its representatives to lead and make hard decisions on behalf of their constituents.

Why is it that this particular moral/social issue needs any more than that?

Add to that the suggestion that this wasteful and potentially harmful popularity contest will not be binding and still be subject to a vote in parliament, is just insulting to LGBTIQ people and the wider Australian population.

My concern is not for me or the man I love, but for the kids who grow up feeling ashamed of who they are while we still debate this issue.

Living regionally, those differences can be more pronounced, more isolating and potentially more harmful.

I’d like the teenager me, who grew up here on the South Coast of NSW, to feel as accepted and valued as I do, as a member of this amazing community now.

Marriage equality – let’s get it done in parliament now!

Iain Dawson runs the Facebook page Bega Valley for Marriage Equality 

-Iain Dawson, Curator, Bega Valley Regional Art Gallery

Ian appreciates the role the arts can play in country communities and in the lives of individuals. His enthusiasm has delivered a new audience to the gallery and local art in general.

As an MC or facilitator at a live event his disarming approach invites people to take an interest and engage where perhaps they wouldn’t before. I’ve had great fun working with Ian and as someone coming into this community from outside, he has helped be better understand it and connect with it.