‘What would you celebrate about community?’

People from Indigo and the Border gather in a Beechworth park in April 2015 to welcome refugees. Photo: Jamie Kronborg / Ovens and Murray Advertiser

BEECHWORTH’S Jane Fowler participates in many organisations, including Border Refugee and Asylum Seeker Support and the Film Society. In the third of a series of Kerferd Oration 2016 lead-in articles, she writes about what she believes her community can celebrate.

I’D like to celebrate the richness and diversity of genuinely good people who live in our community, and the willingness of these people to become involved in the many and varied groups and organisations that constitute a thriving community.

These groups provide endless opportunities for active involvement and input at committee level, for skills sharing, for political activism, for learning, and for pure enjoyment. Our lives are thus enormously enriched, and the benefits to our community are immeasurable.

I’d like to celebrate the numerous opportunities we have in this community for learning and enjoyment. People in my demographic have access to Indigo University of the Third Age (U3A), which provides both social and educational opportunities at a time of significant change in many people’s lives. And there are book groups, choirs, a dancing group, croquet, bowls…the list goes on.

I’d like to celebrate the many volunteers who selflessly give of their time and talents to enrich our organisations and the community in general. Examples that spring to mind are Quercus Beechworth, Arcade Opportunity Shop, Border Refugee and Asylum Seeker Support Group and Stanley Rural Community Incorporated. The clients of Beechworth Health Service and Indigo Shire also benefit greatly from volunteer input.

Finally and just as importantly I’d like to celebrate the instant support that emerges from all quarters for those in our community who find themselves in trouble due to illness, bereavement, accident or other crisis.

As an import from the city, I never cease to be astonished (and touched) by the care and support shown to those in need, particularly to those with no family support.

Where do you connect with your community?’

Maggy Tyrie (second from right) with her husband Ed Tyrie, Stanley’s Genevieve Milham and Sydney visitor Werner Baumann at a Stanley fundraiser in November 2015. Photo: Jamie Kronborg / Ovens and Murray Advertiser

STANLEY’S Maggy Tyrie has lived on three continents and admits that settling in to new places is never easy: cities and towns can be unfriendly.

But Stanley and Beechworth were altogether different for the former museum curator. Maggy relates how she connects with her community in the second of a series of lead-in questions for the Kerferd Oration 2016.

I WAS made so welcome in Stanley that I immediately felt comfortable with the people I met and fell in love with the place itself. I wanted to be a part of the community and to contribute in any way I could.

I became a volunteer at Quercus Bookshop. My museum curator experience led me to putting on some art exhibitions and pop-up shows. I took travelling exhibitions to schools, the prison, and to the general public. I have curated a number of exhibitions in the area, and helped curate one for the Kerferd Oration.

It was all so rewarding. I had a great time and I was meeting wonderful people who had stories to tell and experiences to relate, and who became my friends, widening my network. That’s so important in a community.

In Stanley we have a thriving social group and a choir, as well as the athenaeum, hall, church, cemetery and other committees and organisations: all local residents striving to provide companionship and to keep facilities in good working order.

That’s people caring about their community. It is noticed at Stanley’s licensed post office if an elderly resident has not picked up their mail: someone will check on them. More caring.

Stanley’s fight against the mining of water has brought out the best in most people. They stood for hours in Beechworth’s Camp Street kiosk selling raffle tickets, bought multiple tickets, made generous donations, attended meetings and money-raising events. They donated apples and chestnuts to give with the tickets. Most of the wine and produce for the harvest festival dinner in June was donated. People are showing that they care about an issue that affects their lives and livelihoods.

The history and the heritage-listed buildings in the region are also so special and they need to be preserved and utilised: they draw thousands of tourists to this area. Try getting a parking spot in Beechworth over Christmas or Easter.

We need to tell the stories of the people that have made this area great – not just Ned Kelly, but the diverse lives of many amazing, innovative people who have come and gone through the region. Imagine if we could somehow acquire the old Beechworth gaol. What an exciting venue to project a sound-and-light show against the walls to tell these stories. How about a silent movie (perhaps with music) about the gold rush days playing on the walls as you walk by? It’s a great way for children (and adults) to learn about our local history and how their forebears lived.

People today continue to be the lifeblood of this community, their diversity and knowledge enriches and invigorates all of us. We must embrace newcomers and assist them to settle in.

Whether you believe in global warming, or not, changing weather-patterns happen from time to time. Agriculture, viticulture and horticulture are vital to this region and we must face the challenges that the environment throws up.

Community, to me, is also about being connected to nature: being aware of the subtle changes in the growth of trees and plants, the seasonal temperature variations, the migratory habits of birds and insects, as well as watching for fires. We live close to the earth here. (I’m fairly short so I’m closer than most). Nature is part and parcel of living here and loving this place.

It is said that home is where the heart is. That may be so, but for me, my community is where my heart is.

‘How do you belong to your community?’

Beechworth Country Women’s Association members made poppies to commemorate the Anzac centenary in 2015. Photo: Jamie Kronborg / Ovens and Murray Advertiser

THE annual Kerferd oration will be delivered by author and social researcher Hugh Mackay in Beechworth on July 24.

In the first of a series of lead-in articles, oration chairman Ian McKinlay asks: ‘How do you belong to your community?’

I HAVE “belonged” to the Beechworth community in many ways over 40 years.

The first way has been as a resident of Indigo Shire. I lived in town but worked outside of the town which, looking back didn’t much make me “belong” to the community other than through connections made through church.

Being a parent of school-aged children and becoming involved in the Beechworth Primary School council set me on a path of community involvement that has been richly rewarding and personally developing.

So the second way I have belonged is through serving on community organisations – a range of committees from small to large and in community importance and financial status.

In my professional life, in more recent times, I have belonged as a community resource to those marginalised by society, particularly in the field of disability.

Community is a little like making compost – you need a diverse mix of materials, some catalysts, water and time to get healthy and nutrient rich compost. So I see myself belonging as one of many “community catalysts” – quietly working in the background to help community grow.

Being part of the Kerferd Oration committee is part of that catalytic work – bringing ideas and other ways of thinking into the community to help create a community that is active in deepening its sense of citizenry and the ongoing (re)creation of its sense of community.

I’m looking forward to hearing Hugh Mackay at this year’s oration because the “art of belonging” speaks to me about the parallels between the creative processes that not only develop great “works of art” but also develop great community – one that has character, value, compassion, space and time for all.