Soil collected from sixty-five war memorials across South East New South Wales will be featured in a new state memorial honouring First World War veterans and their hometowns.
The Office of Veterans Affairs is overseeing the program, which is collecting soil from almost 1,700 WW1 enlistment locations for an art installation in what will be known as the Hall of Service at the revamped Hyde Park memorial in the centre of Sydney.
Narooma is one of 15 Eurobodalla locations identified for the program, and one of the first local spots where soil has been collected. NSW Governor, His Excellency the Honourable David Hurley who visited the Shire this week was the one to do the honours.
Other South East locations include:
When complete, memorial visitors will be able to learn about each location via their personal digital devices.
The information presented will include details on the soil collection, the names of enlistees who gave that location as their home address, and maps showing the local area and its surrounding memorials and schools.
The simple soil collection program forms part of a $40 million enhancement of the memorial marking the centenary of World War 1.
Works are on track for opening on Remembrance Day 2018, which will bring to life the original 1930’s vision for the space and include a second water feature and new educational areas.
NSW Governor, David Hurley told About Regional, war memorials like this are a reminder of the strength of service and sacrifice for current day service women and men and of the history they are a part of.
His Excellency believes the new Hall of Service will be stunning and emotional…
This story was made with the assistance of About Regional members Wendy and Pete Gorton, Amanda Dalziel, Phil Martin, and Olwen Morris – thank you for supporting local story telling.
We empower children and youth to think big and dream wide as they participate in our exceptional yearly choral programs incorporating Taiko, Dance and visual art.
We offer children the rare and valuable opportunity to connect with artists of the highest calibre – composers, musicians, choreographers and visual artists to co-create outstanding works for performance that celebrate the rich culture of this region to standing ovations!
We provide a unique chance for young people in remote and regional communities to share their creative selves in an environment that celebrates capacity. Like our rivers in flood – our creative capacity is powerful, breathtaking and immense.
Participating children come from schools at Brewarrina, Bogan, Nyngan, Bourke, Cobar, Coonamble, Gulargambone, Dubbo, Gilgandra Narromine, Trangie, Walgett, Lightning Ridge, Collarenabri, Warrumbungle, Coonabarabran, Dunedoo, Baradine, Warren, Wellington, Tamworth, Orange, and beyond!
This delivery of drums from the other side of the Great Dividing Range has been funded by a Government grant and will add to a small pool of instruments that are currently being shipped from school to school for rehearsals and performance.
Luke and Chris beam as they detail the process they have gone through over the last eight months to fill the order.
Both explain that taiko making is a family business in Japan passed down through generations over hundreds of years.
Standing in their Tathra workshop, with the smell of eucalyptus turps and tongue oil thick in the air, I sense that both men have approached this traditional craft with the same respect and reverence as a young Japanese apprentice.
“These skills are kept closely within families,” Chris says.
“Finding out how to do this is not easy or straight forward.”
Both dream of being able to visit a taiko workshop in Japan one day.
A range of materials have been used to fill the Moorambilla order, including red deer hides from Western Australia and cow hides from Tasmania.
Raw hides that are soaked in water overnight are the preference so that the unique markings and colouring of the animal are visible on the surface of each taiko.
“The drum is a hide stretched over a metal ring, ropes put tension on the hide, you can change the pitch with different tension on the rope,” Luke explains.
The timber used in the body of the drum adds its own characteristic.
“The thickness and the way the timber has been worked and shaped results in a different tone or pitch as well,” Luke says.
“And we have looked for Australian timber that is close in density and performance to traditional Japanese timbers,” he says.
Plantation Paulownia from Coffs Harbour and West Australian Jarrah have gone through the workshop and a rare sample of Red Cedar from Brogo.
“Brogo Woodworks at Tanja, a friend of ours, had a piece of cedar that was sitting in his workshop covered in dust and rat shit for twenty-five years, he generously sold it to us,” Luke smiles.
Outside of Japan is anyone else making taiko drums?
Chris believes other performance groups are making their own.
“But not on this scale or with this professional finish and quality,” he rightly boasts.
The craftsmanship and materials are reflected in the price, drums range between $1100 and $1800, plus up to $35 for a pair of Japanese drumsticks known as ‘bachi’.
Taiko Drum Works at Tathra is here to stay beyond Moorambilla, Luke and Chris have worked hard to understand this art form in every way and have developed their own systems and work flows – know how they keep close to their chest like an old Japanese master.
This story was made with the support of About Regional members, Cathy Griff, Julie Klugman, Nigel Catchlove, and Maria Linkenbagh. Thank you!
High school students from Cooma have combined with a locally based, online fashion house in a colourful approach to tackling family violence.
The idea of a workplace ‘Colourathon’ is being trialed at Birdsnest in Cooma, with female students from Monaro High School preparing to launch the idea nationally in November.
New ‘Colourathon for Corporates’ kits come packed with everything a business will need to host their own event, broadening the community response to family violence.
Artistic change maker, Big hART is leading the collaboration under the banner of ‘Project O‘.
“Project O is a national program we run with young women aged 12 to 15, assisting them to build new skills and capacity and to learn how to be change makers,” says Genevieve Dugard, Project O National Director.
Project O started in the ‘family violence hotspot’ of North West Tasmania and has since been rolled out to Cooma, Roebourne WA, and Canberra.
“A colourathon is a colouring-in arts marathon,” Genevieve explains.
“An arts endurance event, where every hour of colouring-in is sponsored and raises money for trauma therapy services for young children fleeing violence and needing crises care.”
A colourathon at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra on November 30 will help launch the corporates kits being developed at Birdsnest by the twenty young women from Monaro High School.
“They roll out a play based therapy program in women’s shelters,” Genevieve says.
“The average age of a child fleeing violence is two and a half years old, through the fundraising we provide training in play based therapy which helps children who can’t talk or express their feelings like adults.”
The add on to Big hART’s Project O initiative for the Monaro girls is the opportunity to be mentored by the innovators and entrepreneurs that make up Birdsnest – winner of the ‘Best Online Customer Service Award’ at the Online Retail Industry Awards in 2015 and 2016 and BRW Australia’s 8th ‘Best Place to Work’ for companies with 100 employees or less in 2015.
Former IBM e-business consultant, Jane Cay is ‘head bird’.
“It’s such a great opportunity for them to realise that they can create change even when they are young and at school,” Jane says.
Students have been embedded in Jane’s company for a ten week period, mentored by staff in event management, product development, publicity, design, logistics, and a range of other business skills.
“It’s a massive company and it’s amazing that we are able to have workshops here,” says Brooke, one of the Project O students.
‘We are so lucky that we have this experience, to meet all of the staff and learn new things from them,” Brooke’s friend Georgia adds.
Both students say they have also been surprised to learn about the issue of family violence.
“It does happen in Cooma, I didn’t think it would happen in Cooma, it’s been a shock to me,” Georgia says.
“I hope this [The Colourathon] will show people that it is happening and it needs to stop,” Brooke says.
“Hopefully we raise money to help them [children] get through it and find more support through play based therapy,” Georgia adds.
Aside from the benefit to the community through programs like Project O and the Colourathon, Jane Cay believes it makes good business sense for corporates to get involved.
“People need to come to work feeling nurtured, and they need to look after themselves in order to be of service to anyone – whether that’s in the workplace or to their families,” Jane says.
“If the family environment is not a safe and nurturing place it’s very difficult to then come into a work place without that very basic foundation that humans need to operate.”
Thanks to About Regional members, Jeanette Westmore, Claire Blewett, Fay Deveril, and Fiona Cullen for supporting local story telling.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
News this week that Aboriginal people reached Australia at least 65,000 years ago won’t come as a surprise to those who saw Mallacoota based writer Bruce Pascoe speak in Moruya last April.
Research out of new excavations of a rock shelter at the base of the Arnhem Land escarpment in the Northern Territory has pushed back estimates of human arrival on the Australian continent.
The shelter, known as Madjebeben has been described as the earliest evidence of humans in Australia.
Chris Clarkson from the University of Queensland told ABC Science that the new date would have a big impact on our understanding of when humans left Africa and moved through South- East Asia.
One of the artifacts unearthed is the world’s oldest known ground-edge axe head, one made by grinding rather than flaking. The full story has been published in the journal Nature.
Bruce Pascoe spoke of such evidence to a captivated audience during his lecture at Southeast Harvest at Moruya Showground in April 2017.
Bruce is a man of Bunarong and Yuin heritage, and the author of the acclaimed book, “Dark Emu“. Based on the diaries of early European settlers, in the book Bruce makes the case that Australia’s original inhabitants designed and constructed sophisticated irrigation systems and cultivated vast areas of land.
He dispels the idea that Aboriginal people were simple hunters and gatherers before European settlement and points to evidence of a civilisation that can legitimately be described as pioneers of agriculture, architecture, and engineering.
The ‘Festival of Daring Possibilities’ at the Funhouse in Bega has asked people to think big and solicited ideas that lead to new solutions and attitudes.
In stimulating the discussion, Funhouse founder, Cayce Hill said, “It’s the people not like us that make us grow.”
Cayce urging her audience of 30 people or more to inspire each other with their differences and unique perspectives.
“We’ve stopped telling the story of who we are and why, our identity gets weaker,” Cayce said.
The Festival was held as part of first birthday celebrations for the Funhouse, which over the last 12 months has become a hub for a range of artistic, sporting, social, and youth interests.
This old video shop come ‘community centre’ is itself a result of the big picture thinking the ‘Festival of Daring Possibilities’ looks to encourage.
“I started this place looking for a community, creating a space where not only I felt comfortable but also a place that welcomes and values strangers,” Cayce said.
Bega Valley Shire Councillor, Jo Dodds was also one of those planting seeds in the discussion.
“I love that random encounter and the challenge of finding common ground,” she said.
“We need to help the people in our community who are scared or afraid of difference.”
Offering an indigenous insight was Djiringanj and Ngarigo women, Tamika Townsend, who grew up in the Bega Valley but now works in Canberra across Aboriginal employment initiatives and more broadly – reconciliation.
“What if we could just start again?” Tamika pondered.
“What if the Djiringanj culture was more visible in this community?”
With family adding weight to Tamika’s message, Aunty Colleen Dixon spoke with strength to a captivated room about her experience growing up in Bega.
She spoke of not feeling welcome in town and an ever present racist attitude across every aspect of life.
“I was the eldest, and I remember walking along the river at Jellet one night with my brothers and sisters and bullets flying over our head, I just told them to get down,” Aunty Colleen said.
“There is a lot of trauma in this community,” Tamika said.
“Our history is very recent, there are people still traumatised.”
When asked to answer the question – What if? Aunty Colleen responded, “What if we had a cultural centre?”
The Djiringanj Elder suggesting such a space would bring all cultures together and create opportunities for connection and understanding, and build pride and purpose in her people.
Two more nights of discussion will roll out as part of the Festival of Daring Possibilities at the Funhouse – August 18 and September 15.
With a dinner of curry and spices infused in the air last Saturday night, festival goers were asked to add ideas to a wall of what if’s?
Click on each photo for a bigger view, and feel free to add your own ‘What if?’ in the comments box below…
Thanks to About Regional members Phil Martin, Gabrielle Powell, and Deborah Dixon for empowering local stories.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“At Mnemosyne, we have had many discussions about the term – feminism,” organiser Jodie Stewart explains.
“We have all had difficulties defining who we are in relation to a movement that has produced so many definitions of womanhood. We continue to search, to probe and to speculate.”
Perhaps I am not alone in the push and pull of Feminism?
Mnemosyne was the Greek goddess of memory and mother of the Muses, who were the goddesses of inspiration in literature, science and the arts. The story of Mnemosyne and her Muses centres on the skill and storytelling of oral cultures and the power of memory.
Those behind Mnemosyne the group/journal describe themselves as, “A feminist collective made up of PhD candidates, undergraduate students, creative writers, poets, musicians, filmmakers, historians, and librarians.”
“Our aim is to help raise the voices of women on the South Coast of New South Wales and to amplify them through the publication of the Mnemosyne: South Coast Women’s Journal,” the group’s website says.
To date, their writings have lived in the digital world, but the group is working towards a print edition of their ‘muses’.
Member, Noe Lumby says, “Our journal will reveal the stories, opinions, research and creative work of all south coast women.”
For any men still reading this, you are invited and welcome to Mnemosyne’s July 26 forum in Bega.
“Mnemosyne hopes to foster a chorus of voices and men’s voices are an important part of this discussion,” Ms Stewart says.
“We have invited a young local man to be a part of our panel, Tas Fitzer, who stood as a candidate in last year’s local government elections.
“A range of experiences and insights are an important part of an open forum on contemporary feminism. All are welcome and we encourage everyone to come along,” Ms Stewart says.
Other panelists include Dr Annie Werner, Indigo Walker, and Lorna Findlay, with the discussion chaired by Ms Stewart, who is a PhD candidate and tutor at the University of Wollongong (UOW), Bega.
Dr Annie Werner is head tutor in the Faculty of Arts at the Bega campus of UOW. Her current research addresses the sexual and social challenges of living in a non-reconstructed post-breast-cancer body.
Indigo Walker is the founder of local business Topsy-turvy Intimates which makes underwear out of recycled materials. Indigo also represents the new generation of feminists and women’s social justice advocates.
Lorna Findlay is a feminist historian who studied law in Melbourne in the 1980s and then worked in the field of domestic violence.
Lorna’s research interest lies in the development of second and third wave feminism. She hopes to investigate the similarities and shared beliefs that remain and whether feminism has lost its political voice.
In speaking to About Regional, the forum’s chair is expecting some interesting discussion influenced by the forum’s rural setting.
“Like the rest of the country, there is still much work to be done here in South East NSW,” Ms Stewart says.
“At a practical level we need more women in leadership positions in our community and more women making decisions that affect other women.
“Women are also under-represented in higher paying jobs and over-represented in underpaying jobs,” she says.
“This has a significant impact on social justice outcomes for women in our community.”
While acknowledging the influence a female Mayor and a female General Manager of Council will have in the Bega Valley, Ms Stewart believes challenges still exist.
“It’s an important step forward and an important part of social and cultural change, but there remains a significant barrier in terms of social attitudes and pervasive gendered expectations,” Ms Stewart explains.
“Women are still funneled disproportionally into ‘caring roles’ both inside and outside of the workforce because these roles are still seen as inherently female,” she says.
Sexism and the equality issues that forged the feminist movement decades ago are still relevant now in the Bega Valley according to Ms Stewart.
“Sexism is the elephant in the room,” she believes.
“Sexism is institutionalised and is part of the everyday experience of being a woman, compounded when you are Indigenous, a woman of colour, if you are part of the LGBTQI community or a woman with a disability.
“In our community, it is still advantageous to be a white male,” Ms Stewart.
There is much of what Jodie Stewart talks about that I don’t understand or can relate to, I am one of those white males after all which no doubt blinds my judgment.
There is clear evidence though from those walking in different shoes that something needs to change, which gets my attention and opens my mind.
The ‘Feminism in the 21st Century’ Forum is on Wednesday, July 26 at the University of Wollongong, Bega from 5pm-7pm – a local opportunity to be part of a bigger discussion that is being led at a national and international level by writers and commentators like Clementine Fordand Jane Caro.
Light refreshments will be provided and entry is by gold coin donation, all funds raised will go towards the publication of Mnemosyne’s first hardcopy edition.