Bega Valley Meals on Wheels takes part in international celebration

Volunteers Pancho Horne, Sue Ranyard, Orna Marks, Jeanette McCann, Sue Middleton and Julie Hennessey. Photo: Supplied
Volunteers Pancho Horne, Sue Ranyard, Orna Marks, Jeanette McCann, Sue Middleton and Julie Hennessey. Photo: Supplied

The significant contribution volunteers make to Bega Valley Meals on Wheels will be celebrated this
Tuesday, December 5 – International Volunteers Day.

The day was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1985, and gives organisations like Bega Valley Meals on Wheels an opportunity to raise awareness of the contribution volunteers make to the life and economy of the local area.

David Atkins, Manager, Bega Valley Meals on Wheels says, “Tuesday’s celebration in Bega will be part of a worldwide network of events all geared towards saluting and thanking volunteers.”

“There is also an opportunity for people who might be interested in volunteering to find out more about it.”

Bega Valley Meals on Wheels relies on around 150 volunteer hours each week, with 200 extraordinary people from across the shire covering a range of roles.

“These people are the lifeblood of our organisation and are the reason we are able to provide an affordable, caring service to people in need across our community,” Mr Atkins says.

“Meals on Wheels is famous for food, but that knock on the door means so much more to the people opening the door and the people making the delivery.”

Volunteers Howard and Mei Hill of Eden and Len and Anne Slater of Wolumla. Photo: Supplied.
Volunteers Howard and Mei Hill of Eden and Len and Anne Slater of Wolumla. Photo: Supplied.

For over 60 years, Meals on Wheels has built a sense of community and resilience through the simple act of a delivered meal.

Better health and nutrition is the obvious benefit, but Bega Valley Meals on Meals volunteers also check on safety and well-being. A greater sense of social cohesiveness flows, reducing isolation and supporting independence and choice.

“While acknowledging the work of our current volunteers, we need new people to step forward and help,” Mr Atkins says.

“The commitment is manageable, shared, and flexible and comes with ongoing support and training, but most of all it comes with a huge sense of pride.”

The community is invited to join the celebration of International Volunteers Day at Toussaint’s Café, at the Bega Valley Meals on Wheels Centre on Bega Street, Bega. A BBQ lunch will be served from 12pm, on Tuesday December 5, everyone is welcome.

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The Zen Warrior Princess lives on in friends and family and a 1992 Pulsar

Brogo's Olivia Forge, ready to take to the road with Kelsey Clark in their 92 Pulsar. Photo: Ian Campbell
Brogo’s Olivia Forge, ready to take to the road with Kelsey Clark in their 92 Pulsar. Photo: Ian Campbell

A group of friends from the Bega Valley have just set out on an outback rally adventure with the memory of another looming large over their odyssey.

“Originally I’d signed up with my friend and colleague from Local Land Services Liz Clark,” Brogo’s local Olivia Forge says.

“Not long after we’d signed up for the rally she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and ended up having six or seven months of treatment.

Liz Clark in the environment she loved and cared for. Photo: Facebook
Liz Clark in the environment she loved and cared for. Photo: Facebook

“She was always working towards this rally, this was the thing that was keeping her going, but the myeloma was just too aggressive and she died in August,” Olivia says.

“One of Liz’s last requests was that I continue on the rally but take her daughter Kelsey instead.”

The Mystery Box Challenge is for cars that are at least 25 years old cars. Every day of this 5-day trek is a mystery, with the 150 teams taking part only given the route to their daily destination with breakfast.

The map will take Oliva and Kelsey in a loop that starts and finishes in Dubbo in western New South Wales – the k’s and camping spots in between are unknown.

“We have a very fine 1992 Nissan Pulsar, no air conditioning, no power steering,” Olivia says.

Each of the 150 teams has raised a minimum of $3,000 for the Cancer Council to take part, Olivia and Kelsey have so far doubled that. Their tally currently sits at $6,236 but is growing every day as people hear their story.

Today (November 25) is day one, with the ladies from “Team Zen Warrior Princess” given directions that cover the 495km from Dubbo to Tipla.

“While Liz was going through her treatment we all ended up calling her the Zen Warrior Princess,” Olivia says.

“Sometimes she was feeling relaxed and Zen about the whole thing and other times she felt like a real warrior, like she was going to kick cancers arse, and other times she felt like a princess and was in floods of tears.”

The Zen Warrior Princess painted on the roof of the car, painted by local vet Cassie McDonald. Photo: Ian Campbell
The Zen Warrior Princess painted on the roof of the car, painted by local vet Cassie McDonald. Photo: Ian Campbell

The pair’s Pulsar has also been transformed into a homage to Liz and painted with all the things she loved – native plants, native orchids, dogs, and owls, with the roof emblazoned with a caricature of their warrior spirit.

Local vet, Cassie McDonald helped paint the car, “She is the most amazing artist,” Olivia says.

“And the car belonged to a Bega local, he loved it but he was going to the United States, he wants to buy it back when he gets home, I am not sure he’s going to be able to once we’ve finished with it.”

Team Zen Warrior Princess is grateful for the sponsorship of local businesses – Inspirations Paint provided all the paint for the car, Specialised Automotive fitted a bash plate, fixed the radiator and gave the car a safety check, and Beaurepaires chipped in with new tyres.

“It’s been fantastic,” Olivia smiles.

Traveling alongside the Pulsar across the 2,500km of the rally is a red Toyota Celica with Brogo’s Sue-Anne Nicol and her daughter Darcie at the wheel.

“I did the Mystery Box Challenge last year with Sue-Anne and it was amazing,” Olivia says.

“It’s like a huge family, everyone is so supportive, a lot of people are doing the rally because they’ve lost someone or because they’ve had cancer themselves.”

Sue-Anne and Darcie are known as “Seriously? Seriously!” and have so far raised $7,069.

“And you are expected to break down because the cars are crap,” Olivia smirks.

“So there are people along the way to help get you back on the road and keep going.”

Aside from the physical, geographical, and mechanical challenges ahead, the trip will be an emotional one for Olivia and Kelsey as they remember their friend and mum who died just a handful of months ago.

“Having this project has been really good for me, I just hope what we are doing gives some relief to the grief Liz’s family feels,” Olivia says.

You can follow the progress of both local cars over the coming week and donate via the Zen Warrior Princess Facebook page.

Kelsey, Darcie, Olivia, and Sue-Anne ready to tackle day 1 of the Mystery Box Challenge. Photo: Facebook
Kelsey, Darcie, Olivia, and Sue-Anne ready to tackle day 1 of the Mystery Box Challenge. Photo: Facebook

*About Regional content is supported by the contributions of members, including Kiah Wilderness Tours, Sprout Cafe and Local Produce Eden, Kym Mogridge, Danielle Humphries, Pam Murray, Alexandra Mayers, Jo Saccomani, Rosemary Lord, Amanda Stroud, and Olwen Morris. Thank you!

Dual sex sea creatures swamp Far South Coast beaches

Bluebottles at North Durras. Photo: Christa White Facebook
Bluebottles at North Durras. Photo: Christa White Facebook

Locals and visitors have been returning beaches along the Eurobodalla and Bega Valley coastline, the chill of winter replaced with the temptation of a swim under big, bright, blue skies.

But that springtime enthusiasm has been tempered on some beaches with the mass arrival of familiar but alien looking creatures – Bluebottles.

Not one creature but many, these duel sex visitors to Far South Coast beaches are a collegiate group each with a job to do before being blown ashore.

“I love bluebottles, they’re awesome,” says Kerryn Wood, Manager of the Sapphire Coast Marine Discovery Centre in Eden.

“They’re actually a colony of several animals, all with specialised functions – feeding, catching prey, and reproduction.

“Fascinating!” Kerryn says.

A tangle of Bluebottles. Photo: Colin Eacott Facebook
A tangle of Bluebottles. Photo: Colin Eacott Facebook

According to the Australian Museum, the Bluebottle is a colony of four kinds of highly modified individuals known as zooids, and come from the same family of life that includes coral and sea anemones.

“The zooids are dependent on one another for survival.

“The float (pneumatophore) is a single individual and supports the rest of the colony.

“The tentacles (dactylozooids) are polyps concerned with the detection and capture of food and convey their prey to the digestive polyps (gastrozooids).

“Reproduction is carried out by the gonozooids, another type of polyp,” The Museum says.

Generally speaking, northerly winds bring Bluebottles onto local beaches.

“There have also been some pretty big seas lately,” Ms Wood says.

The beauty of Bluebotlles. Photo: Jackie Saunders Facebook
The beauty of Bluebotlles. Photo: Jackie Saunders Facebook

The Bluebottles famous float can grow to over 15cm, it’s job is to sail the colony across the ocean surface capturing the breeze with its aerodynamic shape. A degree of muscular contraction in its crest gives the Bluebottle a sense and skill similar to a holidaying windsurfer.

Local surfboat crews training for January’s George Bass Surfboat Marathon are reporting large “schools” of Bluebottles bobbing about at sea.

“The float may project either to the left or to the right; the left-handed forms sail to the right of the wind and vice versa,” The Australian Museum explains.

“Thus, if the sailing angle of one form leads to its stranding on the shore, the others sailing to the opposite side of the wind may escape.”

A neat survival trick that maintains the population even when Far South Coast beaches are blanketed in dried and popping specimens.

Food and reproduction drive life and Bluebottles have some impressive tools to call on.

Their stinging tentacles drift downwind for up to one metre capturing food in their wake, responding swiftly to the presence of food, they twist and tangle prey, and “become all mouth” to digest their meal.

A range of enzymes are deployed to break down proteins, carbs, and fats across a menu of small crustaceans and surface plankton.

Reproduction is another impressive Bluebottle trick that helps it’s species survive on the high-seas.

Bluebottles are hermaphrodites, they carry female and male parts.

“Awesome, I love that so many marine creatures are hermaphrodites,” Ms Wood says.

“And sometimes they’ll wash up on the beach with a variety of other really beautiful ‘blue’ animals like Glacus atlanticus or the Blue Sea Dragon – also hermaphrodites.

“The Glaucus atlanticus actually eat blue bottles and ‘steal’ their poison, making them even more poisonous!” Ms Wood says.

The Glaucus atlanticus, AKA Blue Dragon, eats Bluebottles. Photo: Commons Wikki
The Glaucus atlanticus, AKA Blue Dragon, eats Bluebottles. Photo: Commons Wikki

All this is very interesting but from a human perspective, avoiding the stingers and knowing what to do if stung is front of mind during a day at the beach.

Andrew Edmunds from the Far South Coast Surf Lifesaving Association says northeasterly winds and swells in particular bring Bluebottles on to beaches between Batemans Bay and Eden.

“Avoiding north-east facing beaches in those conditions might help families dodge Bluebottles,” Mr Edmunds says.

“The best treatment for a sting is hot water, a shower as hot as you can without burning does the trick.

“And if hot water isn’t available ice is a good alternative in relieving the pain after you have washed the tentacles away,” Mr Edmunds advises.

“Swimming at a patrolled beach this summer will ensure that first aid is close at hand from lifesavers.”

And be aware beachcombers, as thousands of Bluebottles lay shipwrecked on local beaches the toxic mixture they use to immobilise and digest their prey is still active and can sting you, however the contractions that trap their marine victims becomes inactive.

Bluebottles are awesome, the sting they can inject into a day at the beach instinctively demands our respect, but so to should their survival skills.

*Become a member of About Regional and support local news and stories, thank you to the Bega Valley Regional Learning Centre, Linda Albertson, Julia Stiles, Ali Oakley, Rosemary Lord, and Simon Marnie.

*Large elements of this article originally appeared on Riot ACT.

Tourism showcase highlights local landmarks to global travel agents

Overseas travel agents dining at Fat Tony's Tathra. Photo: Gang Gang Tours
Overseas travel agents dining at Fat Tony’s Tathra. Photo: Gang Gang Tours

Foreign travel agents have just experienced a free Eurobodalla and Bega Valley holiday – all in the name of research for their customers back home.

Not a bad gig!

NSW Tourism Minister, Adam Marshall says, “We want to ensure that international travel agents are well informed about Australia’s number one state for tourism.”

“Helping put money into local pockets and boosting local economies,” Mr Marshall says.

Called familiarisation tours within the tourism trade or “famils”, three parties of 31 agents from America, the United Kingdom, Italy, and France have just sampled, South Coast Sea Planes, Montague Island Discovery Tours, Ngaran Ngaran Cultural Tours, Bodalla Dairy Shed, Drift Eden, and Tathra Beach House Apartments – among a host of other local attractions.

“These groups are specialist travel salespeople who will now understand our region better, this experience will help them sell our region,” says Anthony Osborne, Executive Officer of Sapphire Coast Tourism.

The three local famils hosted by Destination Southern NSW were part of a group of six tours that sprung from a trade event on the Gold Coast run by Tourism Australia, and follow on from famils to the Snowy Mountains in May and June with 26 participants.

Sea kayaking with Region X at Batemans Bay. Photo: Kerrie-Anne Benton
Sea kayaking with Region X at Batemans Bay. Photo: Josh Waterson 

“Two of the groups travelled to the South Coast from Sydney, the other from Canberra,” Mr Osborne says.

Eurobodalla Tourism Marketing Coordinator, Kerrie-Anne Benton, says the agents loved their South Coast experience.

“Nature, nature, and more nature, that’s why the Sapphire and Eurobodalla Coasts were selected for these familiarisations,” Ms Benton says.

“And with flights into and out of Canberra and Singapore now, a gateway for travel has emerged connecting our region to the world.”

The Jindabyne based, Gang Gang Tours acted as chaperones on two of the three local tours.

“I had eight lovely ladies from the USA, front-line travel agents who will take this experience home,” says Gang Gang owner, Janine Becker.

“Out of the eight, seven hadn’t been to Australia before,” Ms Becker says.

“One of the agents told me people are wanting to get off the tourist trail, which is our region’s big selling point.”

Happy travellers at Glass House Rocks Narooma. Photo: Gang Gang Tours
Happy travellers at Glass House Rocks Narooma. Photo: Gang Gang Tours

Aside from teaching them about us, these opportunities also serve as a learning experience for local tourism bosses and operators.

“It was interesting to hear about travel patterns in other countries,” Ms Becker says.

“Workers in the U.S only get two paid weeks of leave a year, which means the average holiday runs seven to ten days.

“European countries tend to get four weeks paid leave, so they have longer holidays and have a great opportunity to travel to regional areas overseas,” she says.

Ms Becker doesn’t think the international market will be the biggest part of the Gang Gang business model, but she is keen to grow its influence.

“This experience will help us target our marketing better,” Ms Becker says.

The other point that emerged was that in most cases, international markets travel outside Australia’s peak periods and in some cases in the heart of our off-peak season.

In the year ending June 2016, the Eurobodalla welcomed 28,000 international visitors – 20% from the U.K, 15% Germany, and 11% from the U.S.A

Kerrie-Anne Benton thinks it makes business sense to target overseas holidaymakers.

“Australia is a finite market whereas there is massive potential for international travel growth,” she says.

“Canberra has opened up new opportunities for the South Coast and we need to encourage more tourism businesses to be international ready and have options ready for travellers.”

Captain Sponge Bob at Pambula talking oysters. Photo: Gang Gang Tours
Talking oysters at Pambula with Captain Sponge’s  Magical Oyster Tours: Photo: Gang Gang Tours

Further south in the Bega Valley, Anthony Osborne is nodding.

“Australia continues to see growth in international visits while the domestic market is static, it’s a no-brainer for us to focus some resources on building this market, and we have extra funding this year from Bega Valley Shire Council to tackle that challenge,” Mr Osborne says.

“We need to develop more experiences around our unique selling points. Nature and the coast are the number one reasons international travellers come to Australia and we have that in spades.”

*About Regional content is made with the backing of members, people, and businesses supporting local storytelling. Thank you – Sprout Cafe and Local Produce in Eden, Shan Watts, Robyn Amair, Gabrielle Powell, and Phil Martin.

*Author is part-time media officer for Bega Valley Shire Council

Eurobodalla and Bega Valley locals say “Stop Adani”

Eurobodalla locals gather on Congo Beach near Moruya. Photo: supplied
Eurobodalla locals gather on Congo Beach near Moruya. Photo: supplied

South East locals have been part of national protest action against the Adani coal mine proposed for North Queensland.

Protesters turned out in forty-five locations from Adelaide to Bondi to Bunbury over the weekend.

Locally, Eurobodalla 350 estimates around 250 people attended their protest at Congo Beach on Saturday, holding placards to spell out #STOP ADANI.

“We demand the federal government halt Adani’s enormous proposed coal mine,” spokesperson Allan Rees says.

In Bega, a colourful group marched through town on Friday and gathered in Littleton Gardens.

Organiser Sue Andrew sees the Adani mine as a litmus paper issue for a globe preparing for a climate change future.

“I feel now more than ever we have to unite to stand up against the fossil fuel industries and other extractive industries if we are serious about addressing climate change,” Ms Andrew says.

The Indian based Adani is seeking a billion dollar government loan to build a railway line linking its proposed Carmichael coal mine in the Galilee Basin to the Abbot Point coal port on the Great Barrier Reef.

Once complete, Carmichael would be Australia’s largest coal mine, with six open-cut pits and up to five underground mines, with a lifespan of between 25 and 60 years.

Queensland Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told the ABC the project will bring new jobs to communities like Rockhampton, Towsnville, Charters Towers, Mackay, and Claremont.

“You only have to travel to regional Queensland to understand what this project means to thousands of families out there that will be employed through this project,” she told the ABC

The Queensland Premier is also confident environmental concerns have been heard.

“At the end of the day we have the toughest environmental conditions attached to that mine,” she said.

Allan Rees says those that gathered at Congo on Saturday are angry that taxpayer dollars might be used to subsidise something “so destructive”.

“Adani’s mine may be far away, but the Eurobodalla can’t escape the climate change caused by burning that coal,” Mr Rees says.

“Australia has enormous reserves of coal which we must keep in the ground if we are to halt climate change.

“Climate change is here and is harming our agriculture and fishing.

“Beekeepers tell us how gum trees are blossoming at the wrong time, orchardists have lost trees from extreme heat, graziers and fishing people tell us how the climate is changing and harming their livelihoods,” Mr Rees says.

Bega locals march thorugh town with their marine puppets. Photo: Ian Campbell
Bega locals march through town with their marine puppets. Photo: Ian Campbell

Local fears also extend to the future of the Great Barrier Reef itself if the mine goes ahead with Bega protesters carrying a series of handmade marine creatures along Carp Street and into the town’s civic space.

“We know the Great Barrier Reef is highly endangered already and any further development or shipping would only increase the destruction of this incredible ecosystem,” Sue Andrew believes.

The exact number of jobs the $22 billion Adani investment will create is disputed, Adani claims 10,000 however the Land Court of Queensland has put the number at closer to 2,600.

That same court deemed the development could go ahead but added a number of new environmental safeguards.

While accepting new jobs are important for regional communities Allan Rees suggests the jobs created by the mine are floored and points to new jobs in greener industries.

“We have to support communities which currently rely on coal to have new industries to employ people,” he says.

“State and federal governments must develop programs to change to wind and solar, batteries and hydro, as well as energy efficiency.

“Australia has to give up coal mining and change to a renewable energy economy,” Mr Rees says.

“We should be retrofitting homes and businesses with insulation and using better designs for new buildings.”

Debate has been renewed on the back of a Four Corners investigation that aired last week on ABC TV.

“Adani has been exposed on the ABC’s Four Corners program as damaging people’s health, the livelihoods of farmers and fishing people and the environment in India,” Mr Rees says.

“Adani is using foreign tax havens and has a corporate structure that would allow them to minimise tax paid in Australia.

“The former Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said that it was almost beyond belief that the Australian Government would look to provide concessional loans and other taxpayer support to facilitate Adani Group’s coal mining project,” he says.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull sees huge potential in the mine going forward – should it be built.

“It will generate, over the course of its life, an enormous amount in taxes and in royalties, revenues for state and federal ­governments,” he told The Australian back in April.

Adani has suggested it will break ground on the mine site before the end of this month with the first coal produced in early 2020.

The billion dollar loan from the Federal Government’s National Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) remains undetermined.

However, News Limited has reported comments by Adani chairman Gautam Adani saying, “The project will be funded by internal accruals, NAIF and foreign banks.”

Bega’s Sue Andrew is positive people power will prevail.

“There is so much opposition. It is not viable; economically, ethically, or environmentally,” she says.

It is really a no-brainer, why not spend the proposed billion dollars from NAIF on building renewable energy infrastructure and thousands of sustainable jobs and show our commitment to our children’s future?”

Those behind the Eurobodalla and Bega Valley protests are committed to further action.

 

About Regional content is supported by the contributions of members. Thank you to Julie Klugman, Cathy Griff, Kate Liston-Mills, Shane O’Leary, Jenny Anderson, and Julie Rutherford Real Estate Bermagui.

Merimbula twins to stage ‘Oprah the Opera’ in San Francisco

David and Geoff Willis, natural showmen.
David and Geoff Willis, natural showmen.

Twin brothers from Merimbula have crafted a musical about one of the best-known and most influential women in the world, but its just one of a number of productions launching in 2018 for the Willis boys.

Oprah the Opera‘ will open in San Francisco during the second half of 2018 and charts the life of America media proprietor, talk show host, actress, producer, philanthropist – Oprah Winfrey.

Geoff and David Willis have been making music together for decades.

Their partnership with New Zealand performer Kathy Blain won the 1978 Grand Final of Bert Newton’s ‘New Faces’ TV talent show.

The decision to write a musical about Oprah came over a cup of coffee, buoyed by completing their first musical “The Great Houdini’ six years ago.

“Oprah is a one-woman show with a band and gospel choir,” David says.

The brother’s work is a true collaboration, Geoff writes the music and lyrics, David writes the script.

“She [Oprah] has opened up her life in a huge way, from abuse as a child to the most successful woman in America,” David says.

“There is so much there, a lot of comedy, a lot of heartaches, it’s a really entertaining show and people really love it when they’ve read the script.”

Click play to hear the full conversation with Geoff and David Willis…

 

Initial planning for the show is underway now, including casting.

Starting out in 1000 seat theatres in San Fransico, David and Geoff are creative consultants to musical director Gregory Cole and will relocate to the U.S closer to showtime.

“We’re excited because it will be an all-black cast and it will be a gospel choir of 50 or 60,” Geoff explains.

“There aren’t a lot of shows that are written for African Americans [cast members].”

The twins aren’t sure if the lady herself knows about the show yet, they have only been able to get as close to Oprah as her personal assistant, but she will be receiving an invite to opening night in July/August next year.

Oprah the Opera, opens in July/August 2018. Source: http://www.oprahtheopera.com/
Oprah the Opera, opens in July/August 2018. Source: http://www.oprahtheopera.com/

Both David and Geoff are natural showmen and play a range of musical instruments as well as sing. They are well known for pulling a crowd whether it’s on one of their regular cruise ship tours of the Pacific or Atlantic or in the many concert halls that dot the hills around their hometown of Merimbula.

Their signature tune ‘Me and My Shadow’ is always a hit.

“Being twins, we understand each other very well,” Geoff says.

In shaping their music the pair will often work apart in order to challenge their creativity.

“When we wrote ‘The Great Houdini‘, I actually went to the Gold Coast and spent a few years there,” David says.

“We thought it was a good idea to be away from each other, but it’s amazing how things tied up.

“He [Geoff] would write a song and we wouldn’t discuss it, I would write the script, and the words in the song and the script tied in,” David smiles.

“It’s a twin thing!”

The Great Houdini was the first musical the pair worked on – 16 years in the making, hard work that is now paying off.

“It’s a huge show to put on, we have just met with producers in New York and London, and we are looking at staging that later next year,” Geoff says.

The Great Houdini, talks are underway with producers in New York and London. Source: http://www.thegreathoudinimusical.com/
The Great Houdini, talks are underway with producers in New York and London. Source: http://www.thegreathoudinimusical.com/

The pair became mesmerised by the legend of the great magician as 10-year-olds after seeing ‘Houdini’ the movie starring Tony Curtis, twenty years later they felt compelled to write a musical about their idol.

“Dave wrote the script over a 16 year period, and I wrote 60 musical pieces for the show,” Geoff says.

“It had to be perfect,” he says.

The story starts in modern day New York at a Houdini exhibition and works backwards.

“Dave describes it really well as – music, magic and mystery,” Geoff says.

In trying to explain why it is that two Merimbula creatives have stage shows launching a million miles from home, David and Geoff believe there is a sense of confidence missing from the Australian entertainment industry.

“There is a bit of frustration that we are not being accepted by Australian producers,” David says.

“We’ve been to producers in Australia about our shows, and [the impression we’ve been given is that] if it is a success overseas they would probably say, we’ll do it here,” he says.

There is one success closer to home the Willis boys can crow about, and one their Bega Valley fan base can travel to easily.

Billie and the Dinosaurs‘ launched in Sydney last week to sell out shows at the Australian Museum.

Next April the production steps up a notch and will take to the stage in Canberra at Llewellyn Hall featuring the Canberra Youth Orchestra.

It’s a narrated children’s story in the style of ‘Peter and the Wolf’.

David and Geoff have worked with well-known funny man, Tim Ferguson, of Doug Anthony All Stars fame.

David, Tim Ferguson and Geoff Willis, part of the creative team behind 'Billie and the Dinosaurs'. Source: Facebook
David, Tim Ferguson and Geoff Willis, part of the creative team behind ‘Billie and the Dinosaurs’. Source: Facebook

“Tim is the writer and has worked very hard on the script and he is the narrator, he is a lovely person to work with,” Geoff says.

“The Melbourne and Sydney Symphony Orchestras are also interested.”

Geoff has composed all 27 orchestral pieces, while David has prepared all the educational material for the production.

The show tells the story of a 10-year-old girl called Billie who makes friends with real live Australian dinosaurs and together they defeat school bullies.

Despite their growing success far from the shores of Merimbula Lake, both men seem to relish and value their stage work at home.

“We live in a beautiful town, and we are very much appreciated by the people here,” David says.

“I was the conductor of the Sapphire Coast Concert Band and Geoff was the conductor of the Big Band and we only gave that up at the end of last year because of these other projects.

“And of course recently we did a show with Frankie J Holden and Michelle Pettigrove, which was a huge success and raised money for raked seating in the new Twyford Theatre.

“We are happy being here, we love living here,” David says.

David and Geoff Willis and the Sapphire Coast Concert Band. Source: Facebook
David and Geoff Willis and the Sapphire Coast Big Band. Source: Facebook

About Regional, is a new place for the stories of South East NSW, made possible by the contributions of members, including – Sprout Cafe Eden, Kaye Johnston, Nigel Catchlove, Therese and Denis Wheatley – thank you!

Eddie Blewett and his community point to ‘The Power of One’

Eddie Blewett and his mums, Neroli Dickson and Claire Blewett. Photo: Ian Campbell
Eddie Blewett and his mums, Neroli Dickson and Claire Blewett. Photo: Ian Campbell

This time last week I was witness to the most amazing thing.

A fourteen year old boy went to Canberra and caught the ear of national media and the alternative government.

Last Tuesday’s ‘event’ on the lawn in front of Parliament House was born from Eddie Blewett’s experience 12 months prior.

Eddie and his two mums traveled from their home in Tathra to Canberra in September 2016 with other Rainbow Families lobbying against a plebiscite on same-sex marriage.

On that occasion the presence of Eddie and his mums Claire Blewett and Neroli Dickson shaped Question Time. Reporting for Fairfax, Matthew Knot wrote that, ‘Eddie stole Question Time”.

On his return last week, the issue hadn’t changed much and Eddie was keen to address that.

Six weeks ago, Eddie wrote to Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull hoping to help the PM campaign for a ‘Yes’ vote in the postal survey that has replaced the failed plebiscite.

The same correspondence was sent to Labor Leader, Bill Shorten, Deputy Labor Leader, Tanya Plibersek, and Eddie’s local MP, Mike Kelly – all pointing to September 12 as a possible meeting day.

Remembering the impact of Eddie’s visit almost 1 year before to the day, there was real warmth and a genuine interest from Ms Plibersek especially, who seemed equally hopeful that Eddie might meet with the PM.

Eddie’s friends (including my family) had agreed to meet at 10am on the grass in front of the big flag pole.

We were a diverse mix of country people, kids and adults, including a Vietnam vet, a school teacher, retired police officer, a Canberra Raiders fan, two Registered Nurses, a retired steel worker, and an arts administrator, to name a few.

All there to say, this issue is important to people beyond just ‘the gays in the village’.

The 'Yes' campaign kicks a goal at Parliament House. Photo: Ian Campbell
The ‘Yes’ campaign kicks a goal at Parliament House. Photo: Ian Campbell

The plan was to set – a picnic and a game of soccer, like any family might and see what happened.

The convoy that travelled with Eddie that day numbered around 20, not large in number but our aim was to help those with an ability to pull a crowd get a message out – vote YES.

Using the group’s Bega Valley soccer connections, a bundle of spring loaded corner posts and witches hats were borrowed to mark out a field.

A rainbow flag was gaffer taped to one of the fences attracting the interest of patrolling members of the Australian Federal Police, who made sure we knew it was a no-no but turned a blind eye with a wink of support.

Our soccer field looked great, as did the picnic rugs and assortment of nibbles and baked goods. Mind you no one was hungry – nerves suppressed any craving for one of the Anzac biscuits on offer.

Somethings about to happen, the crowd is building. Photo: Ian Campbell
Something’s about to happen, the crowd is building. Photo: Ian Campbell

Eleven o’clock arrived quickly. We had high hopes and a sense something great was about to happen, but we didn’t know what was going to happen at the same time.

Mr Shorten and Ms Plibersek had agreed to meet and we hoped the media might tag along – as overwhelming as that felt.

All involved were keen to protect Eddie from potential ugliness, the Canberra press pack comes with a reputation and Eddie had a taste of that last time round.

He was nervous but kept pushing though. Having a ball to kick with his mates was key and he knew he had something valuable and important to say.

We’d worked with Eddie on a statement to read to the media if they showed up, rather than being bamboozled by questions left and right.

The first sign of what was to come started to emerged from between the marble columns of Parliament House.

A cameraman from Fairfax was the first, a scout to make sure everything was ready for his media comrades.

A lectern was positioned with Parliament House and our soccer field in the background, and as if they appeared from the Aladdin’s lamp, the Opposition Leader and his Deputy were mingling at the edges of our picnic rugs.

Anzac biscuits were offered as the number of MP’s streaming down the path increased, cameramen and journalists manoeuvring around our morning tea.

Watch the Anzacs! Photo: Ian Campbell
Watch the Anzacs! Photo: Ian Campbell

It was hard to say and no one counted but our group ballooned to 50, 60 or 70 people.

Ms Plibersek spoke first, “We know that households across Australia will be receiving their survey papers in the coming days,” she said.

“And we are here to urge people to fill their papers in straight away.”

Bill Shorten was next, “Australia’s modern families come in all shapes and sizes, I think it’s long overdue for the law to catch up with the way in which millions of Australians are already constructing their lives,” he said.

“Today the survey goes out, about 600,000 of the 16 million surveys will be posted today.

“Tick the ‘Yes’ box and we can get this done before Christmas.”

Showtime! Bill Shorten introducing Eddie to the media. Photo: Ian Campbell
Showtime! Bill Shorten introducing Eddie to the media. Photo: Ian Campbell

Mr Shorten then introduced Eddie to the media pack.

Eddie had continued to tweak his statement over breakfast that morning, the nicely typed one pager replaced by his own hand written thoughts.

With many of those assembled blubbering quietly (Ms Plibersek included) – Eddie nailed it.

“People who know my family, know that there is nothing wrong with us.

“We play soccer in the winter and volunteer for the surf club in the summer,” he said.

“I have two parents, they love me and they love each other, all couples and all families deserve the same respect and value.”

#Tathra's Eddie Blewett talks to the media pack at Parliament House, Canberra with Bill Shorten MP Mike Kelly MP, and Tanya Plibersek, asking #Australia to get this done and say YES for Rainbow Families.Ian

Posted by About Regional on Monday, 11 September 2017

 

More mingling and private discussion followed (the soccer game resumed) as well as one on one media interviews and photo requests.

Eddie, Neroli, and Claire handled it all with grace. The support of local media at home the day before helped with that – Fairfax, ABC South East, Power FM and 2EC, all recognised Eddie’s courage early and helped build confidence and momentum.

At about 12:30 we got our patch of grass back, mind you, we’d been sharing it from the very start with a large group of people wearing yellow and practicing Tai Chi. There must have been at least 50 of them highlighting the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in China (note to self, find out more one day).

At 1:30 Ms Plibersek said she would take Eddie’s message to the floor of parliament in a session that runs before Question Time known as ‘Ninety Second Member Statements’.

Buggered and hungry for shade (we’d come prepared for Canberra cold not sunshine) we moved inside for coffee ready for 1:30.

Having half undressed to pass through security we took our green seats in the public gallery of the House of Representatives just as Ms Plibersek rose to her feet…

Earlier today, the Leader of the Opposition and I met with three very special people. Eddie Blewett, and his mums Claire and Neroli – from Tathra, NSW.

I had hoped that since they were last here, about a year ago now, that the Parliament would have done its job and legislated for marriage equality.

Sadly, the Prime Minister has delivered a ridiculous $122 million postal survey instead.

None of us wanted it, but we’re determined to win it.

We’ve already seen the vitriol that Malcolm Turnbull’s postal survey is inflicting on LGBTI Australians, their families, and friends.

I know that the next few weeks are going to be tough for young people like Eddie, and for his mums.

But today we say, we stand with you. We’ve got your back.

Ballot papers will be arriving in people’s letterboxes over the coming days.

I urge people to fill out their ballots, and post them back as soon as possible.

I urge people to vote yes.

I’m voting yes, for families like Eddie, Claire, Neroli’s.

I’m voting yes for the person I’ve never met – a young person in a country town who might be struggling with their sexuality.

I’m voting yes because I want to live in country that supports equal rights for all its citizens.

I asked Eddie this morning if he had anything he’d like me say for him in the Parliament.

He said:

“Voting ‘yes’ takes nothing away from anyone, but voting ‘no’ will take something away from me and my mums.”

Thank you so much for coming to Parliament today.

Tanya Plibersek, Deputy Leader of the Opposition.

By that stage, media coverage was starting to appear – News Corp, SBS, the Huffington Post, the Canberra Times. 

On the way home, we heard about our day on ABC Radio’s PM program, and some of the group were home in time to flick between the various TV news bulletins between 6 and 7:30pm, most featuring Eddie.

Eddie chatting to SBS News with Neroli and Claire. Photo: Ian Campbell
Eddie chatting to SBS News with Neroli and Claire. Photo: Ian Campbell

A week on I am left appreciating the power people have when they speak up and share genuine experience. I think we all knew that to be the case as we travelled up the Brown that morning but it was terrific and reassuring to see it at work.

Eddie, Claire, and Neroli made this on going discussion real. Real for politicians who will ultimately decided the future of same-sex marriage, real for the media who are no doubt bored of covering this issue, and real for the 16 million ordinary Australian’s who are casting judgement.

What I also love is that country voices carried weight in the city that day, and perhaps our ‘countryness’ was part of our appeal – we represented a group of people who hadn’t been heard.

Most of all I love that my kids stood shoulder to shoulder with their friend Eddie. They saw the power of thoughtful, respectful debate.

“Dad if people can just see Eddie’s face when they fill in their ballot paper, then it’s been a successful day,” one of my boys said.

As an aside, there has been no acknowledgment from the PM to date, Eddie’s invitation to meet with him stands, this isn’t political for Eddie and his family – this is life.

Amazon suggests a ‘new type of farm’ for the Bega Valley

Teresa Carlson from Amazon and Liam O'Duibhir from 2pi with students from Lumen Christ Catholic College. Photo: AWS On Air
Teresa Carlson from Amazon and Liam O’Duibhir from 2pi with students from Lumen Christ Catholic College. Photo: AWS On Air

Young local tech heads have been recognised by one of the world’s biggest companies – Amazon.

The shout out from Teresa Carlson, Vice President of Amazon Web Services (AWS) came at a recent conference in Canberra and signals the start of a relationship between the 427 U.S billion dollar company and the Bega Valley.

Thirty-two IT students from Lumen Christi Catholic College at Pambula were in the audience to hear Ms Carlson suggest that the technology behind Amazon Web Services allowed a regional community like the Bega Valley to develop a ‘Silicon Valley’ element to the local economy.

“They [students] are so important, they are the most important aspect of what we all do day to day,” Ms Carlson said.

“Which is creating an environment for job creation, which at the same time creates economic development opportunities for local communities.”

Speaking directly to the busload from Pambula, Ms Carlson said she wanted them to get the skills and opportunities they needed to come and work for Amazon.

“Amazon paid for the bus to get the kids to Canberra, it was so fantastic,’ Liam O’Duibhir from 2pi Software says.

Amazon is now the worlds largest provider of ‘cloud computing’.

Bega based Liam explains that Amazon AWS allows big companies and agencies to manager high volumes of online traffic.

“Amazon started out selling books, in setting up the systems for that they become very good at what are called ‘server farms’ or ‘virtual data centres’,” he says.

“So if you get a spike in traffic you can have a thousand new virtual servers created in a couple of seconds, its elastic, it just expands as opposed to building your own physical stand-by servers ready to meet increased demand,” Liam says.

At the extreme end, the crash that happened around the 2016 Australian Census is a good example of the problem this technology helps avoid and manage.

Google, IBM, and Microsoft also operate in this space using similar technologies.

Liam and 2pi Software were in Canberra to share in the love from Amazon as part of their work with students at Lumen Christi.

The recognition came after a visit to the Bega Valley by Amazon in August, meeting with businesses and organisations like Bega Cheese, the University of Wollongong, Bega Valley Shire Council, and Federal MP Mike Kelly, exploring ways regional enterprise can take advantage of cloud computing.

“They didn’t assume we were dumber because we live in the country, they even came to the Into IT Code Night and met the kids,” Liam smiles.

The lifestyle and environment of the region is a key driver in the budding relationship between Amazon and the Bega Valley.

“Canberra based Amazon staff are already coming here to go fishing, they get it,” Liam says.

“But this isn’t a token affair, they see the Bega Valley as a showcase for what this technology can do for regional areas.

“Brian Senior,  from the AWS team in Canberra speaks strongly of their interest in exploring what can be done here, and if it is successful, replicating it in other parts of Australia, and potentially back in the US too.”

Time is now being invested working out how Amazon, 2pi, and local school students can build this Silicon Valley future in a landscape that has traditionally supported dairy and tourism.

Dairy has been the backbone of Bega Valley farming, Amazon is suggesting something new. Photo: Sapphire Coast Tourism
Dairy has been the backbone of Bega Valley farming, Amazon is suggesting something new. Photo: Sapphire Coast Tourism

One thousand local tech jobs in the Bega Valley by 2030 is the vision, which is supported by Into IT Sapphire Coast, a community based interest group supported by 2pi that holds weekly Coding Nights, Gamer Dev Jams, and Hackathons – as an outlet for local youth with a flair and passion for tech, computing and the creative arts.

“For the last seven years we’ve been building the skills and community needed to work in the Amazon AWS space locally,” Liam says.

Springing from the trip to Bega and conference in Canberra, more formal educational opportunities are now being investigated between TAFE, the University of Wollongong, and Amazon.

“These opportunities broaden the choices for our young people,” Liam says.

“This is not just about NAPLAN achieving students, in our industry its not always the person with first degree honours in computer science that drives it forward.

“It’s often the the guy or girl who failed their HSC who is so driven that nothing stops them,” Liam says.

Bega Valley based virtual server farms catering to global and local enterprises are the fruits of this growing relationship.

“We are looking to validate the rasion d’etre of Amazon, which is to free you from the tyranny of geography.”

“That’s a powerful message for regional Australia as a whole.”

Senior Amazon staff will visit the region again in October to take the discussion further.

“This a very good time in the Valley and we mustn’t let it stop,” Liam says

*About Regional membership supports local storytelling – thanks to The Bega Valley Regional Learning Centre, Wendy and Pete Gorton, Doug Reckord, and Linda Albertson.

 

 

 

Tathra’s Eddie Blewett returns to Canberra – we’ve got ya back Eddie!

Eddie Blewett and his mums, Neroli Dickson and Claire Blewett. Photo: Ian Campbell
Eddie Blewett and his mums, Neroli Dickson and Claire Blewett. Photo: Ian Campbell

In September 2016 Tathra’s Eddie Blewett stole Question Time in the Federal Parliament.

Eddie travelled to Canberra with his mums Claire Blewett and Neroli Dickson and other Rainbow Families asking MP’s to stop the plebiscite on same sex marriage and to have a free vote in Parliament.

Among the politicians they met was deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek, who took up Eddie’s cause with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in Question Time that day.

“He said to me and I quote, ‘Why should people who barely know us make an assumption on our families and vote on how we can live?” Plibersek said as Eddie and his mums watched in the public gallery above, as reported by Fairfax.

“Can the Prime Minister explain why Eddie should have to put up with a campaign by people who have never met him, telling him that there is something wrong with his family?,” Ms Plibersek said.

Twelve months on for Eddie and the issue is still unresolved and the hurt continues.

Eddie is returning to Canberra next week, hoping to meet with the Prime Minister.

Earlier last month, Eddie wrote to Malcolm Turnbull:

I am Eddie Blewett (14 years of age).

In answer to a question in Parliament on 13 September 2016 you referred to me by saying:

“We all welcome Eddie and his parents to the House today. We are pleased that he is here. Eddie will understand that everything we do here in this parliament is designed to ensure that Australia becomes an even better place for him to grow up in and realise his dreams.”

One of my dreams is to have my same-sex parents given the same recognition as other parents in Australia. I believe giving equal recognition to all families will make Australia a better place.

I shall be coming to Canberra with my family and others to help with the ‘Yes’ campaign.

During my visit, I should be grateful if I could meet with you and offer support for your own ‘Yes’ campaign, especially for country towns.

Eddie has given voice to the impact this ongoing debate has had on him and his family.

In Canberra, last year he spoke of being bullied around this debate, and a sense of fear and dread he lived with.

“People were saying stuff about my family – that it’s not normal, it’s not right,” Eddie told Fairfax.

Communities across South East NSW are invited to join Eddie when he returns to Canberra on Tuesday (September 12, 2017) hoping to meet with the PM.

Tayna Plibersek, Mike Kelly (Eddie’s local MP) and their colleagues will meet with Eddie, and perhaps kick the soccer ball. Families and people of all back grounds are also invited to join Eddie and his family and friends in Canberra.

Bring a picnic lunch to share on the lawns of Parliament House and your soccer boots if you are keen for a game.

We’ve Got Ya Back Eddie – Tuesday, September 12 @ 10:00, meet in front of Parliament House.

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.