Eurobodalla protesters move in on Member for Gilmore

The Eurobodalla wing of the Refugee Action Collective held a protest today at the office of local MP Ann Sudmalis.

The action was lead by Moruya’s Bernie Richards who has almost 20 years experience with the Australian Federal Police and the Department of Immigration, including time as a Senior Investigator with the People Smuggling Strike Team.

“I used to go to Christmas Island, Broome, Port Hedland etc to do an initial analysis of people arriving by boat to see where they had originated from and whether they had any claims for protection,” Ms Richards says.

“I’ve interviewed hundreds of refugees who made it to Australia by boat when investigating people smuggling organisations.”

Posted by Refugee Action Collective Eurobodalla on Tuesday, 22 August 2017

 

The death earlier this month of thirty-one year Hamed Shamshiripour near Lorengau on Manus Island prompted today’s protest action.

“This is the latest in a long line of tragedies in the offshore detention regime for which the Australian Government must be held responsible,” Ms Richards says.

“Many of Hamed’s friends on Manus and in Australia, including myself,  appealed to authorities for treatment for his serious mental health problems. That treatment was not provided.”

The Guardian Australia published a letter on August 9 from the chief medical officer of Australian Border Force,  Dr John Brayley, who twelve months earlier had indicated his awareness and interest in Mr Shamshiripour’s deteriorating mental health.

Questions remain around the Iranian refugee’s death, self-harm and foul play are both being suggested.

After four years in detention on Manus what doesn’t seem to be in dispute is Mr Shamshiripour’s mental state.

ABC journalist Eric Tlozek, who says he knew Mr Shamshiripour wrote, “He [Mr Shamshiripour] became increasingly isolated and desperate. I last glimpsed him alive when I drove through the centre of Lorengau town last month.”

“Then, last week I watched his body being loaded onto an aeroplane. He was leaving Manus Island, but not the way anyone wanted,” Mr Tlozek wrote.

The Guardian reports of, “Shamshiripour’s chaotic presentation, erratic and unpredictable behaviour, and unstable state…the subject of repeated entreaties from health professionals during his time on Manus.”

Ms Richards says even people within the local Manusian community knew that Mr Shamshiripour needed mental health attention and had also appealed to authorities.

“I was personally sent photos of his body. As an ex-police officer, there are indications that Hamed’s death may not have been suicide and this really needs to be investigated independently, Ms Richards says.

“I ‘spoke’ to Hamed quite a few times on Facebook Messenger when he was healthy and not suffering from mental health issues. Once his situation deteriorate and he became more unwell, it became more difficult to connect with him.”

Hamed Shamshiripour who was found dead on Manus Island earlier this month after four years in detention. Source: The Guardian Australia.
Hamed Shamshiripour who was found dead on Manus Island earlier this month after four years in detention. Source: The Guardian Australia.

Those gathered outside the Nowra office of the Liberal Member for Gilmore today feel Australia is responsible for Mr Shamshiripour’s death and argue that the Turnbull Government has a duty of care that is being ignored or forgotten.

Tension seems especially high on Manus at the moment as the Australian Government moves to close the detention centre by the end of October. It seems the future of many of the 803 refugees housed there remains unclear, a deal with the Trump administration to settle detainees in America still unresolved.

Refugee Action Collective Eurobodalla believes the publication of the fruity Trump-Turnbull phone conversation suggests that safety and refuge for the 1,200 people on Manus Island and Nauru is false hope.

“Refugees are being placed in a more dangerous and untenable situation,” Ms Richards suggests.

“Further tragedy is inevitable unless the Australian government pursues a humanitarian policy and brings those on Manus and Nauru to Australia.”

Today’s group of 20 – 30 protesters tried to speak with Ms Sudmalis but were told she was out of the office on other business.

“Sadly we have found that our local member is just not listening or doing the work that she should, despite at least two years of trying to engage with her,” Ms Richards says.

“At her last village stop in Moruya,  Ms Sudmalis expressed shock that there were children still in detention, despite us repeatedly flagging this as an important issue.

“We have provided factual information to her on more than one occasion, but she ignores any approaches we make,” Ms Richrads says.

As at June 30, the Department of Immigration reported 42 children in the Regional Processing Centre on Nauru.

Refugee Action Collective Eurobodalla suggests close to 130 other kids are living in the community on Nauru.

“That’s lives left without proper health care, education, or safety, and Ann Sudmalis as our local member of parliament presides over that,” Ms Richards says.

About Regional spoke with and emailed the office of Ann Sudmalis for comment on Monday ahead of today’s protest, no response has been received.

The group says it will also be presenting its concerns to the Labor candidate for Gilmore, Fiona Phillips, and Mike Kelly, the sitting Labor member for the neighbouring seat of Eden-Monaro.

Refugee Action Collective Eurobodalla protesting today outside of the Member for Gilmore's office. Source: RAC Eurobodalla Facebook
Refugee Action Collective Eurobodalla protesting today outside of the Member for Gilmore’s office. Source: RAC Eurobodalla Facebook

“Both the Liberal – National Government and the Labor Party continue to peddle the misconception that they have stopped the boats and that mandatory detention has resulted in deterring people and stopping people smugglers,” Ms Richards says.

“Those detained on Manus and Nauru are in effect the human hostages of this approach, losing their lives and their human rights as a result of such a deeply warped policy.

“Australia has had a successful past of settling refugees. We can seek to solve problems, draw on our past successes and just evacuate them before there are more deaths or injuries,” Ms Richards pleads.

The Refugee Action Collective has raised over $17,000 in the Eurobodalla to date for emergency legal and medical responses on Manus.

“Regional people have big hearts,” Ms Richards says.

“We see the value of mateship, of a fair go, and how we are actually connected, by virtue of our Government’s actions, and our tax payer money being spent on locking up people and breaking human rights.”

Thanks to About Regional members – Cathy Griff, Patrick and Meagan O’Halloran, Kym Mogridge, and Rosemary Lord for supporting local news and stories.

 

 

Podcast 17 – Gabrielle Powell and the People of the Sun

Gabrielle Powell is one of those familiar faces around Bega, but she has just had an experience that took her way beyond her Pedan Street base.

For almost 11 years Gabrielle has been the manager of the town’s Women’s Resource Centre.

With long service leave in her sails, Gabrielle took off for Malawi in South East Africa, a country of 18 million people bordered by Zambia, Tanzania, and Mozambique.

There are no banana lounges or pina coladas with this getaway, Gabrielle was there for two months as a mentor to an artist’s co-operative.

A basket maker herself, Gabrielle had to put her art on the back seat, it was her management, admin, and leadership skills that were put to work with ‘People of the Sun’.

I got talking to Gabrielle about this experience of a lifetime just a few days after she returned…

or listen and subscribe via Audioboom, bitesz.com, or Apple Podcasts/iTunes.

Thank you to the About Regional members that made this podcast possible – investing in local stories.

People like Julie Rutherford Real Estate at Bermagui, the Bega Valley Regional Learning Centre at Merimbula, Deborah Dixon, Robyn Amair, and Patrick Reubinson.

Photos used in the slideshow from Gabrielle Powell and People of the Sun.

Thanks for listening.
Ian

Hall of Service to take soil from 65 South East locations

NSW Governor, David Hurley collects a sample of soil with members of Narooma RSL sub-branch looking on. By Ian Campbell
NSW Governor, David Hurley collects a sample of soil with members of Narooma RSL sub-branch looking on. By Ian Campbell

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.

An artists impression of what the Hall of Service will look like when complete in 2018. Source: anzacmemorial.nsw.gov.au
An artists impression of what the Hall of Service will look like when complete in 2018. Source: anzacmemorial.nsw.gov.au

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:

Adaminaby

Batemans Bay

Bega

Bergalia

Bermagui

Berridale

Bibbenluke

Bimbaya

Bodalla

Bombala

Bredbo

Broadwater

Burragate

Candelo

Cathcart

Central Tilba

Cobargo

Colinton

Conjola

Cooma

Craigie

Dalgety

Delegate

Dignams Creek

Eden

Eurobodalla

Jerangle

Jindabyne

Jervis Bay

Jingera

Kameruka

Kanoona

Kiandra

Maharatta

Merimbula

Michelago

Milton

Monaro

Moruya

Myalla

Narooma

Nelligen

Nerrigundah

Nethercote

Nimmitabel

Numeralla

Pambulla

Quaama

Rock Flat

Rockton

Rocky Hall

Roasedale

South Pambula

South Wolumla

Stony Creek

Tathra

Tilba Tilba

Tomakin

Towamba

Ulladulla

Wagonga

Wolumla

Woodlands

Wyndham

Yatte Yattah

Linda Hurley chats to Narooma school kids about life in Government House. By Ian Campbell.
Linda Hurley chats to Narooma school kids about life in Government House. By Ian Campbell.

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.

Tathra made taiko drums head west to the beat of Japanese tradition

Luke Hamilton and Chris Korvin - Taiko Drums Works. By Ian Campbell
Luke Hamilton and Chris Korvin – Taiko Drum Works. Photo: Ian Campbell

Twenty-four Japanese drums hand crafted in the salty air of Tathra are being delivered to Western New South Wales today.

“We often stop work to watch whales breach and blow their spray,” Luke Hamilton says.

Luke and Chris Korvin are both drummers with the Bega Valley based Stonewave Taiko but have branched out to create their own taiko making business.

Taiko Drum Works was born out of Stonewave’s need for more authentic instruments to practice and perform on.

“Stonewave started playing on tyres wrapped in duct tape because we didn’t have any drums to play on,” Luke says.

Vertical slats are cut to the right angle and glued, forming the body of the drum. By Ian Campbell
Vertical slats are cut to the correct angle and glued, forming the body of the drum. Photo: Ian Campbell

Taiko is Japanese for drum, performances date back to the sixth century, where they were used as part of Japanese festivals and rituals – which is still the case today.

“Every little town has a taiko group,” Chris explains.

The drums also have a history of being taken into war and used to communicate announcements and motivate soldiers.

“David Hewitt, the leader of Stonewave had one made by a master, and he said – you can take this drum a part and have a look at it. So we did,” Chris says.

“We copied one drum and David played it and gave us the thumbs up and said keep going.”

Tape holds the timber slats in place while the glue sets, sanding and shaping will follow. By Ian Campbell
Tape holds the timber slats in place while the glue sets, sanding, and shaping will follow. Photo: Ian Campbell

Chris and Luke have been getting together twice a week to make more drums, outside of that Chris is a dentist and Luke works in Waste Services at Bega Valley Shire Council.

“I’ve been a model builder since I was eight, so I have good fine motor skills,” Chris says.

Luke describes himself more as a tinkerer, which perhaps undersells his skills.

“My main interest has been in metal work and forging and making knives,” Luke says.

Taiko in the drying room after being oiled. By Ian Campbell
Taiko in the drying room after being oiled. Photo:Ian Campbell

In recent months the pair’s taiko making has become more than a hobby that simply supplies Stonewave.

“We’ve been working on an order for 24 drums for a community group called Moorambilla Voices in Western NSW, our drums are spreading across the country which is really exciting,” Luke says.

“They are being split up initially to go to three different schools as part of the MAXed OUT group.”

For 12 years Moorambilla has been building ‘musical and cultural excellence’ from their home base in Tamworth.

The group’s vision is a cracker:

Moorambilla Voices celebrates life’s incredible possibilities.

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!

The MAXed OUT Company is geared towards high schoolers with a focus on taiko.

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.

Raw hides are used so that the markings on the animal shine through. By Ian Campbell
Raw hides are used so that the markings of the animal shine through. Photo: Ian Campbell

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.

Getting ready to lace up the taiko. By Ian Campbell
Getting ready to lace up the taiko. Photo: Ian Campbell

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.

Stonewave Taiko by Ben Marden
Stonewave Taiko in action. Photo: Ben Marden from Stonewave.com

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.

The finished product, ready for Moorambilla. By Ian Campbell
The finished product, ready for Moorambilla. Photo: Ian Campbell

 

This story was made with the support of About Regional members, Cathy Griff, Julie Klugman, Nigel Catchlove, and Maria Linkenbagh. Thank you!

 

Spring is supposedly just around the corner, actually it’s here! By Kathleen McCann

Kathleen McCann
Kathleen McCann – About Regional permaculture guru. By Ian Campbell

Are you set to get into spring and all that it entails – making your garden ready for the next few months of warming conditions? In some gardens on the south coast, plants (as well as animals and birds!) have already begun their explosion of flowers, perfume, and accelerated growth.

What to do?

Well, hopefully you’ve survived the challenge of a very dry winter. Some of the crops I planted were very slow to grow, but since the last good drop of rain a few weeks ago, my garden has started to pump again. I have broccoli, parsley, three types of lettuce and mizuna really taking off, keeping me in greens.

A little slow to start at first, the peas have finally come in and the broadbeans are also flowering and fruiting fast.

Broadbeans have really responded to our recent rain. By Kathleen McCann
Broadbeans have really responded to our recent rain. By Kathleen McCann

But I’m contemplating what to do to get my beds ready for even more food.

I’ve got some horses that have moved in next door and my chickens are making an excellent pile of poo for me too. So it’s out in the paddock with a couple of big buckets and a shovel for the horse manure then I am raking up the chicken debris under the roost to help my garden along.

Usually, I would put both manures through my composting system – which I did throughout winter – but I am also going to put it straight onto the beds and lightly dig them in. This will give the micro-life in the beds a real boost, plus I am going to add some potash and dolomite and to top it off a healthy dose of mulch.

Choose your mulches wisely, if you are buying from a produce store make sure you enquire where the bales have come from. Organically grown or chemical free is the best to get – or slash your own if you can – as long as seed heads have not appeared, most grasses are good for mulching. I am lashing out and have bought a couple of organic sugar cane bales.

A mini hot house to protect fragile seedlings from cold late winter nights, with lady bird watching on. By Kathleen McCann
A mini hot house to protect fragile seedlings from cold late winter nights, with lady bird watching on. By Kathleen McCann

But rice straw, lucerne (horse food grade), wheat and oat straw work well too. Lucerne has more goodies in it because it is a nitrogen fixing plant. I steer away from pea straw as I have heard that it is sprayed with herbicide to make it easier for baling. It’s good to always check.

I’m making up seed trays out of old styrofoam vege boxes (free at the back of most supermarkets – goes straight to landfill otherwise).

My soil mix for planting seeds is two parts old sawdust, one part old manure, one part compost.

I’ve already got tomatoes going and springing into life! I placed a couple of old glass louvres on top to make a simple greenhouse – keeping the moisture and warmth in. As the weather warms overnight I will take the glass off.

Next to go in the boxes with be all my summer lovers – zucchini, cucumber, more lettuce, and maybe some extra different heritage tomatoes. I plant beans, corn, carrot and beetroot straight into the soil.

This year I am also experimenting with more subtropical plants – two types of sweet potato, ginger, turmeric and choko.

My garden - in need of a spring tidy up. By Kathleen McCann
My garden – in need of a spring tidy up. By Kathleen McCann

I did plant some yacon one year, but it doesn’t agree with my belly! (A bit like Jerusalem artichoke). I’ve also planted more tamarillo and passionfruit as my older plants are on their way out now after 4 years of growth – both plants usually only last 5 years.

So get out there and get started!

Fruit trees have already started flowering, the soil is receptive for more planting after the good rain we’ve had so it’s an ideal time to get into it!

Happy playing and planting,

Kathleen

Words and pictures by Kathleen McCann – permaculturist, artist, good chick and number 1 worker at Luscious Landscapes.

Marriage equality – have you got the energy for this? South East locals hope you do.

'Love Makes a Family' as seen at the 2016 Sydney Mardi Gras
‘Love Makes a Family’ as seen at the 2017 Sydney Mardi Gras. Source: C and N

The disappointment around the postal plebiscite on marriage equality is real and bitter for many, but it seems it is the only course of action available to bury this boring issue once and for all.

Boring because for so long the vast majority of Australian’s have understood that ‘Love is Love’ yet the months/years of political scratching around has disillusioned and disengaged the community.

There are those challenging this process in the High Court of Australia, describing it as unlawful; the full bench of the court will decide  on September 5 and 6.

The wheels of the Australian Bureau of Statistics, who will run this show, will continue to spin regradless – getting ready for the survey which is due to start just a week after the High Court decision.

While those in our community at the sharp end of this cheer on the High Court challenge, in the back of their mind they are also laying the ground work for the campaign ahead – mobilising as many people as possible to vote ‘yes’ in this non-compulsory process.

Bega Valley LGBTIQ advocate, Tas Fitzer says it took him a couple of days of reflection to work out the way ahead.

“I really understand the temptation for supporters of marriage equality to say ‘I am not voting, I am boycotting this process’, because it’s not a process we’d like to legitimise,” Tas says.

“We are giving a platform to debate that is going to be harmful to children of same sex couples, for young LGBTIQ people, and for people struggling with their identity.

“We don’t want to be here but we are here, this is something we have to deal with and the best way to deal with it is to take it head on,” he reasons.

Tas Fitzer. Source: Facebook
Tas Fitzer. Source: Facebook

Tas says he’ll be voting ‘yes’ and will be actively campaigning for others to do the same.

“Disagree with the process – absolutely, disagree with how it’s being done – absolutely, but let’s accept the fact we are here and make the most of it,” Tas says.

C and N are women who live on the Sapphire Coast and have been together for over two decades, they have a teenage son and are active members of a range of community and sporting organisations.

They have asked me not to use their names, mindful of the impact any publicity might have on their boy.

“For the first time in a very long time, I feel different and vulnerable, and that I have to somehow show evidence of how healthy, normal, and loving my relationship is with both my partner and son,” C says.

“How I live my life day to day and how I parent our child is under the microscope for those who don’t know us.

“And, I’m embarrassed for Australia – friends, colleagues, clients, people I know, across the age span, those with faith and those without, really don’t understand what the problem is, there is this sense of – really, we are still talking about marriage equality?,” C says.

Reflecting on the weeks ahead C and N believe there will be a relatively small but vocal group of people who will feel the postie poll gives them permission to voice their bigotry, to judge, attack, and say dreadful, hurtful, untrue and damaging things about the LGBTIQ community.

If it goes ahead, the result of the poll will be known on November 15 but it will be parliamentarians that ultimately decide if the Mariage Act can include same sex couples.

Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull has said he’ll be encouraging a ‘yes’ vote and if ‘yes’ wins his Liberal MP’s will be free to vote according to their conscience.

ABC South East reported this week that Anne Sudmalis, the Liberal Member for Gilmore which covers the northern end of the Eurobodalla, won’t reveal her personal view on same sex marriage.

The ABC said that Ms Sudmalis would stand up for what her electorate decides.

A survey on the issue conducted by Ms Sudmalis in October 2015 pointed to 62 percent approval for marriage equality in Gilmore, 36 percent were opposed, while the rest undecided – the ABC reported.

Colourful tutus with a clear message
Colourful Bega Valley tutus with a clear message at the 2017 Sydney Mardi Gras. Source: C and N

Labor’s Mike Kelly, the Federal Member for the neighbouring seat of Eden – Monaro told About Regional, “The fastest and cheapest way to deliver marriage equality is through a free vote in the Parliament, not a $122 million survey.”

“If we are going to be forced to take part in this farce then I think the best thing we can do is send the Turnbull Government a message they can’t ignore – vote yes for marriage equality,” Dr Kelly says.

Dr Kelly is urging eligible voters to enroll or update their details with the Australian Electoral Commission before August 24 so that they can take part in the marriage law survey.

The former Army colonel is hopeful the campaign ahead will be respectful and tolerant.

“I plead with everyone in our community to exercise the utmost civility and join with me in urging that we all refrain from engaging in misinformation or hurtful comments,” Dr Kelly says.

Twenty-one-year old Tas Fitzer is of a similar mindset.

“The mental health of some of our young LGBTIQ people is of real concern to me,” he says.

“That’s why I have decided to get out there and campaign for a ‘yes’ vote so that they can see there are people out there to support them.”

Click play to hear more from Tas…

 

Speaking with C and N in fading light this afternoon, both fear some in the community who would vote ‘yes’ are now unmotivated to take part given the level of discussion the issue has had over an extended period of time.

“Many people honestly don’t understand what the fuss is about and are exhausted by this debate,” N says.

“Because same sex marriage seems a no brainer to them, I’d implore people to realise that unfortunately for some Australians the idea is frightening and abhorrent.

“Giving free reign to people to say whatever they like, to judge us simply for not living our lives like them is scary, scary for us now and for the next generations,” N explains.

Both are hopeful people will push past the grubby, lengthy politics of the issue and find the energy and motivation to say ‘yes’.

Writing for About Regional almost 12 months ago on this issue, Iain Dawson the convener of Bega Valley for Marriage Equality asked people to walk in his shoes…

“John Howard’s change [to the Marriage Act] 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.

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

“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,” Iain wrote.

Whatever happens in the High Court on September 5 and 6 this issue will remain unresolved, work still needs to be done to finish this, energy needs to be mustered.

As a heterosexual father of three, with friends and family seeking equality that I take for granted, I will find that energy, despite the shit sandwich we are being served, I ask you to do the same.

Thanks to About Regional members – Tim HoltAmanda StroudDeborah Dixon, and Nastasia Campanella for supporting local story telling.

Declaration: Tas Fitzer is a part-time Electorate Officer for Mike Kelly and former Country Labor candidate.

 

Eurobodalla, Bega Valley and Monaro firefighters at work in Canadian wildfires

Garry Cooper. By Ian Campbell
Garry Cooper. By Ian Campbell

Fire fighters from South East NSW are about to step into the heat of the Canadian wildfire season, with British Columbia ravaged by more than 3,300 fires since early July.

As the third wave of NSW fire fighters prepares to leave tomorrow (Wednesday) the situation on the ground in Kamloops, about four hours bus drive east of Vancouver is deteriorating.

The latest overview talks of active fire growing significantly, very high fire dangers to continue, communities under very thick smoke, and worsening fuel and fire measures over the next week

Bega’s Garry Cooper will see it first hand.

Garry spends his working week overseeing fire mitigation and hazard management for Far South Coast Rural Fire Service, covering the Eurobodalla and Bega Valley.

However, he will finish this particular working week with his boots on the ground in Canada as part of a 100 strong deployment made up of personnel from the NSW RFS, NSW Forestry Corporation, National Parks and Wildlife Service, and ACT RFS.

Kamloops wildfire, August 2017. By Kim Anderson of iNFOnews.ca
Kamloops wildfire, August 2017. By Kim Anderson of iNFOnews.ca

“Up to 1.2 million hectares has been alight and they have called on other countries for assistance,” Garry says.

Two earlier contingents from NSW are already on the ground, including Tracey Anderson and Simon May from Malua Bay RFS, and David Philp from Brogo.

Garry will arrive in the earlier hours of Thursday morning Bega time with Patrick Waddell from Bermagui Brigade, Jason Snell from Dalmeny – Kianga, and Ben Winter from Berridale.

This third six-week deployment marks a shift in the Australian contribution so far, with ‘arduous personnel’ requested by Canadian authorities.

“Key incident management staff have been helping out in planning, operations, and logistics but now they [Canadians] need fire fighters on the ground, Remote Area Firefighters like Patrick, Jason and Ben to support ongoing operations,” Garry explains.

Temperatures have been around or above 40 degrees Celsius right through summer, according to Garry, and over night humidity in the low twenties.

“Unprecedented weather conditions,” Garry says.

The remains of mobile homes destroyed by wildfire are seen at a trailer park in Boston Flats, B.C., on July 9 2017. By Darryl Dyck, Canadian Press.
The remains of mobile homes destroyed by wildfire at a trailer park in Boston Flats B.C. on July 9, 2017. By Darryl Dyck, Canadian Press.

Canadian media has declared it a ‘Summer of Fire‘ with thousands forced to flee their homes at different times over the last month – up to 45,000 at the peak of the emergency,  an estimated $230 million in fire fighting costs, and dozens of homes and trailers lost.

While hot, smokey, dirty conditions are nothing new to the Aussies on the ground, they will be working with and in a different landscape and environment.

“It’s extremely steep terrain, very close to the Rocky Mountains,” Garry says.

“And I am guessing a lot of their forests are pine and red woods – all that conifer type timber, very different to what we are used to fighting.”

Local RFS boss, Superintendent John Cullen says he supports Garry and local volunteers being called up to serve overseas.

“Garry is respected throughout the state and that’s why he’s been picked,” he explains.

John says he is happy to see the effort and commitment of local volunteers like Tracey Anderson, Simon May, David Philp, Patrick Waddell, and Jason Snell being recognised with these higher duties.

“We are very proud of them, going over and representing this area,” he says.

“The experience they will gain out of this will be healthy for our organisation nationally and locally,” John believes.

And there’s a debt to repay, part of the fraternity of fire fighting John says.

A helicopter dumps a load of water on a grass fire in British Columbia. By Adam Proskiw of iNFOnews.ca
A helicopter dumps a load of water on a grass fire in British Columbia. By Adam Proskiw of iNFOnews.ca

“In a time of need, everyone steps up.”

“We’ve had firefighters from this area of Canada over here working with NSW RFS during serious fires,” John says.

Garry has been an RFS volunteer since he was 17 years old, following a family tradition. From there it built into a career with Far South Coast RFS based at Bega Fire Control.

He says this opportunity to help on the other side of the world is overwhelming.

“The Service puts out an Expression of Interest every year to all members of staff and volunteers to go on an Overseas Deployment Register,” Garry explains.

“That register is there in case a request comes through for supporting fire fighting operations in other countries.”

By the time Garry and his comrades return to the Far South Coast the region will be in the early days of its bush fire season.

“The introduction of very large air water tankers here in the last couple of years is something that is day-to-day business for the Canadians and the Americans, so there is scope for us to learn more.”

“The more we do this and communicate with other countries, the more versatile we become for our communities at home,” Garry says.

Made with the assistance of About Regional Members, Jo Riley-Fitzer, Nancy Blindell, Phil Martin, Wendy Gorton, and Julie Rutherford Real Estate Bermagui – thanks for supporting local story telling.

Colouring for change in Cooma, lead by local teens

Has anyone seen the orange pencil? By Ian Campbell
Has anyone seen the orange pencil? By Ian Campbell

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.”

Jane Cay, 'big bird' at Birdsnest and Genevieve Dugard, Project O National Director. By Ian Campbell
Jane Cay, ‘big bird’ at Birdsnest and Genevieve Dugard, Project O National Director. By Ian Campbell

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.

The Project O crew are hoping businesses will buy a kit as a team building or social responsibility exercise while raising money for the Australian Childhood Foundation.

“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.

 

 

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.

Calling candidates for Snowy Monaro Regional Council

Dean Lynch, Administrator of Snowy Monaro Regional Council
Dean Lynch, Administrator of Snowy Monaro Regional Council. Source: SMRC

The wheels of democracy are starting to spin again across the High Country with nominations now open for candidates at the September 9 Local Council Election.

Eleven councilors will sit in the chamber of the merged Snowy Monaro Regional Council, which has been run for the past 15 months by former Cooma Mayor, Dean Lynch.

In his role as Administrator, Mr Lynch called on the advice and input of Local Representative Committees covering the former shires of Snowy River, Cooma-Monaro, and Bombala.

Ultimately though final decisions fell to Mr Lynch, an arrangement put in place by the NSW Government and one many have described as undemocratic.

Mr Lynch, who says he won’t be standing on September 9 says he understands the criticism but has enjoyed the opportunity despite feeling burnt out.

He says the whole merger process has got people thinking more about local government and perhaps has inspired some locals to stand for election.

“I think there’s going to be a lot of new faces,” Mr Lynch says.

Nominations opened on Monday and will close at Midday on Wednesday, August 9 through the Electoral Commission on NSW.

In the lead-up, Snowy Monaro Regional Council held candidate info sessions in Jindabyne, Berridale, Cooma, and Bombala.

Leanne Atkinson sat on Snowy River Shire Council between 1999 and 2003 and has stood as a Labor candidate for the NSW Parliament in the seat of Bega a number of times since, she says it can feel like a ‘leap of faith’ when you first put your name forward for election.

“You really aren’t sure what you are doing at the beginning,” Ms Atkinson told About Regional.

“You need to get the message out about yourself and what differentiates you from other people.”

Ms Atkinson says she went into her first campaign with issues she felt connected to and could speak on.

“I was a young mum, and was very aware of the constraints there were for families in the area and what services were available for them,” she says.

“That was how I went into that first campaign, looking at services for families, for young people, ” she says.

Ms Atkinson says she never considered standing for council until a couple of people suggested it to her.

“I said I can’t see myself doing this, there are all those people sitting around that table, all that procedure, I couldn’t do that.

“The funny thing is that once you are elected you realise that you absolutely can be at that table,” Ms Atkinson says.

And once you are elected what is the job of a new councilor on Snowy Monaro Regional Council?

Ms Atkinson believes the role goes beyond the popular catchphrase of ‘roads, rubbish, and rates’.

“There are a lot of demands on Council, and the role a Councilor is to have a strategic view, to set the tone, and to set the direction,” she says.

“It’s really important to engage effectively with the community.”

Election Day is Sept 9. Source: AEC
Election Day is Sept 9. Source: AEC

The merger process, taking three council areas into one has left smaller communities concerned that they will be over looked by the big new entity shaped by the Baird – Berejiklian Government.

Leanne Atkinson believes it’s incumbent on the eleven new councilors to think beyond their own home town.

“Don’t focus just on the big towns, there are little communities where those people matter and are just as important as the people in the bigger towns,” she says.

“You have to be aware that you are there for the whole community.”

But there is some strategic advice from this Labor stalwart for smaller centres keen to see one of their own elected.

“I have a view that the amalgamations shouldn’t have been forced, but the fact is it’s amalgamated,” Ms Atkinson says.

“The community needs people who are going to move the shire forward in it’s new form.

“Maybe some smaller communities should get together and ask, who is the one person who could represent us well?” she says.

Find a candidate and get the community behind them seems to be the advice.

“I lived in Berridale for a while, and if it was me in a community like that, I’d be pulling people together and saying, okay we want representation on this council, who can we advocate for and increase our chances of getting someone elected,” Ms Atkinson suggests.

Reflecting on her council time, Ms Atkinson says it was one of the best experiences of her life, she is keen to see a diverse range of candidates stand for election on September 9.

“There were lots of little things that I would look at and think, we can do better than that.”

“If you are willing to work you’d be surprised at how much you can achieve,” Ms Atkinson says.

Thanks to About Regional Members, Simon Marnie, Alison Oakley, Linda Albertson, and Kiah Wilderness Tours for supporting local story telling.