‘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.


2016 / Hugh Mackay AO

What does it mean to truly belong?

RENOWNED author and leading chronicler of Australia life Hugh Mackay will deliver the annual Kerferd Oration in Beechworth this year.

Hugh Mackay AO is a social researcher and the author of 16 books, including the 2013 bestseller, The Good Life, sub-titled What makes a life worth living? His latest book, The Art of Belonging, uses a mixture of social analysis and storytelling to explore the reasons why some communities thrive and others break down, and to explain how community engagement enriches us all.

Kerferd Oration Committee chair Ian McKinlay said today that the Oration theme was a natural follow up to the theme of last year’s oration, by Dr Simon Longstaff AO, which focused on ethics and the unseen or ‘invisible’ members of the community.

Hugh Mackay’s Oration is entitled The Art of Belonging, and is ‘close to my heart’.

“It’s about living in community in changing times … the challenge of maintaining a decent and inclusive community life,” he said. “It’s about how we live, not where we live.”

“How do we live with the social changes that threaten to fragment communities? In what ways can we minimise the impact of those changes? What techniques can we develop together for increasing our sense of belonging?

“The benefits, especially the mental health benefits, for individuals, as well as communities, in mastering the art of belonging are many and powerful: ‘You don’t really know who you are until you know where you belong’.”

Mr McKinlay said the Kerferd Oration Committee was ‘absolutely delighted’ to have Hugh Mackay deliver this year’s oration.

“He is well known for his insights into people and communities and what makes them work, and what might fracture them,” Mr McKinlay said.

“His oration will have broad appeal to anyone, particularly people in regional and rural areas, where we seem to feel the impacts of change more keenly than city-based communities.”

From 1979-2003 Hugh Mackay conducted a continuous program of social research, The Mackay Report, and he also wrote a weekly newspaper column for over 25 years. He is currently a patron of the Asylum Seekers Centre and holds two honorary professorships. Among other honorary appointments, he has been deputy chairman of the Australia Council, chairman of trustees of Sydney Grammar School, and the inaugural chairman of the ACT government’s Community Inclusion Board.

In recognition of his pioneering work in social research, Hugh has been elected a Fellow of the Australian Psychological Society and awarded honorary doctorates by Charles Sturt, Macquarie, NSW and Western Sydney universities. He was appointed an Officer in the Order of Australia in 2015.

The Kerferd Oration, now in its 14th year, will be held at the George Kerferd Hotel, Mayday Hills, Beechworth, at 11am on Sunday 24 July. It is a free community event and doors open at 10.15am. The Oration is sponsored by Indigo Shire Council, Quercus Beechworth, WAW and La Trobe University.


Simon Longstaff seeds a fresh democracy

DSCN2701THE Ethics Centre’s Simon Longstaff this morning delivered to a packed 450-plus audience in the north eastern Victorian town of Beechworth a provocative and powerful 2015 Kerferd Oration about Australia’s ‘invisible people’.

Dr Longstaff drew on the ‘fireside chat’ broadcasts made by Australian politician and later statesman Robert Menzies in the midst of World War II to argue for a fresh contract between people and government – in which government should act for the people, not in political self-interest.

He said that government in Australia, regardless of political colour, had come to keep from the public eye:

  • The ‘hidden’:  those whom the powerful see but will not show;
  • The ‘ignored’: those whom the powerful see but will not recognise; and
  • The ‘unseen’: those whom the powerful look at but cannot see.

Dr Longstaff also said that government in recent decades had watered down the ‘constabulary’ role of the public service.

“…The public service must look for and see every citizen in an equal light – irrespective of who they are or where they live,” he said.

“There can be no ‘dark corners’ or ‘zones of irrelevance’ – no citizen should ever be ignored simply because they are not thought to ‘count’ for much in the calculation of party politics.”


2015 Kerferd Oration PDF
by Dr Simon Longstaff AO
Executive Director
The Ethics Centre, Sydney

Image: Ovens & Murray Advertiser / Jamie Kronborg

Kerferd Oration 2015 honours ‘the champion of Beechworth’

DSCN2603AUSTRALIAN ethicist Simon Longstaff on Sunday will seek to extend the legacy of a colonial-era businessman known as “the champion of Beechworth” when he delivers the annual Kerferd Oration and challenges the Indigo community to recognise its “invisible people”.

The oration – now in its thirteenth year – is named for George Briscoe Kerferd (1831-1889), a Liverpool-born immigrant to the goldfields, a wine merchant and brewer who went on to become a Beechworth borough alderman, Victorian premier and, later, a Supreme Court judge.

Oration committee chairman Michael Evans – pictured with founder Joan Simms in the heart of Beechworth on Monday – said he believed that significant elements of Kerferd’s ‘gift’ were manifest in the oration series.

“In his day one of his nicknames was ‘the champion of Beechworth’ and he had a vision of the town as a thriving ‘city on the hill’,” Mr Evans said.

“He worked with others to bring to Beechworth some of the institutions that kept the town alive after gold.

“His vision was that they would serve a thriving town rather than be the economic mainstay of the town, but it’s worked out quite well for Beechworth.

“The other thing about Kerferd is that he was a businessman and a very active citizen, and the Kerferd orations, through Joan’s design and evolution, have always had this element about being a ‘good citizenship’ and justice and ethics.”

Kerferd was actively involved after he came to Beechworth in 1854 in the establishment of the Beechworth Public Library and Athenaeum, the Burke Museum and the Ovens District Hospital and Benevolent Asylum.

He was largely responsible for the design of Beechworth’s water storage, known as Lake Kerferd, and distribution system.

He was also instrumental in linking Beechworth to Melbourne by train – a line that now forms part of the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail.

Mr Evans said that Sunday’s oration at the George Kerferd Hotel at Mayday Hills was explicitly about ethics.

“We’re lucky enough to have Simon Longstaff here who can talk about ethics in plain language and challenge our thinking,” he said.

“It fits in with Kerferd’s legacy of being a good and active citizen, and keeping in mind the needs of people whom you might regard as invisible.”

Dr Longstaff, Sydney Ethics Centre executive director, will speak about “something worse than being forgotten – it is to be rendered ‘invisible’, unseen by the society in which you live”.

“There are those who are ‘invisible’ – either because they make us uncomfortable, or because their vote ‘doesn’t count’, or because they lack the economic presence to be recognised by a system that increasingly judges worth according to economic utility rather than intrinsic value,” Dr Longstaff said.

Kerferd Oration founder Joan Simms says that 10 descendants of George Briscoe Kerferd are expected to attend Sunday’s oration.

These will include descendants of three of George and Ann (Martindale) Kerferd’s children in three generations – great grandchildren, a great-great granddaughter and a great-great-great grandson.

“The message I get in talking with the family is that they’re so appreciative of the Beechworth community honouring their ancestor,” Ms Simms said.

The oration will be delivered at 11am at the George Kerferd Hotel at Mayday Hills in Beechworth.

This post is reprinted from the ‘Ovens and Murray Advertiser’, which is supporting the oration by publishing each question of the week.

Ethical question # 8: building community

DSCN2595‘If you could choose one thing to make this community better what would it be?’

BEECHWORTH Community Support co-ordinator and Beechworth Neighbourhood Centre kitchen co-ordinator Trish Mom (pictured) has answered the eighth – and final – Kerferd Oration lead-in question before Sunday’s 2015 presentation in Beechworth.

‘If you could choose one thing to make this community better what would it be? – that’s the challenge.

“I think I would choose encouraging the community as a whole to care more and to care about our community,” Ms Mom said.

“By that I mean caring for and supporting our local businesses and ensuring their success, and caring for local services – schools, post office, doctor, the health service and banks – because without those things small communities die.

“I also include BNC in that, and caring for our neighbours and keeping an eye on them in our town and in the street.

“Perhaps it’s going next door and borrowing something; it’s considered old school but it’s a great way to keep in touch.”

Ms Mom said that contemporary communications technology – while a “tool for living” – had a flip side. It could lead to disconnection.

“All of this technology – we’re communicating with people across the world but we’re not talking with our neighbour and asking how their day was, just caring about that person,” she said.

“Caring for community members in times of need, when they need that help, is also vitally important, and I guess we do a lot of that at BNC with the community food program, so people can access a meal for whatever reason.

“We also care through the ‘community sharing feast’ that we have once a month (at BNC), when we encourage people to come along and meet new people – it’s just about sharing.”

Ms Mom said caring about newcomers would also build a better community.

“We can make sure they’re welcomed and that their transition into our community is a positive one, wherever they’re from,” she said.

“Whether refugees, or tree changers, (when we welcome) that’s the word that gets out there – that ours is a good place to move to and we have a really good sense of community and we engage and connect with people who come here.

“Caring about the community in times of crises – in bushfires and other emergencies – that’s also important.

“Probably my key one is caring about how our kids learn to become good community members.

“If we don’t teach our kids how to become active in our community and engage, we’re just going to grow generations of people who sit at home and use electronic devices and become a ‘community of individuals’.

“I think it’s important that we make sure that they’re engaged in sporting groups, in clubs, school events.

“That for me is really important.”

Ms Mom said that – in the wake of the earlier oration lead-in questions – giving people a ‘fair go’ and caring about where your food comes from were significant hallmarks of community.

“The great turn out at the (Beechworth Urban Landcare) fair food forum (last week) means that people do really care about what’s happening in that field,” she said.

“Caring about the environment as well is important – maintaining such a special place that we have here.

“A lot of people in the past have worked really hard to maintain the integrity of Beechworth and its historical content and have ensured that what we have is around for a long time.”

The oration will be delivered at 11am at George Kerferd Hotel at Mayday Hills in Beechworth.

This post was reprinted from the ‘Ovens & Murray Advertiser’, which is supporting the oration.