Buttons and bread


Buttons are small daily objects that quietly connect things. They join things up, they hold us together. This blog features buttons as a way of reminding us of the little things that lie behind the actions we take to build strong communities.


The other part of this blog’s title represents the nourishment we get from participating in community life and that we can offer to others also. It is not the nourishment of the exotic, but the everyday sustenance of regular connections, ongoing work and play – bread rather than caviar.

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Reflecting and connecting


Back row: Judi, Stephen, David, Richard, Noel, Jacques, Susan H, Mary, Peter, EB, Susan B Front row: Bernie, John, Ivo and Helen

I’ve just got back from the second Social Developers Network gathering here in Adelaide, following on from the memorable weekend just two years ago that I wrote about here. I could almost repeat what I wrote at that time, for it was again an uplifting, creative and powerful event, with a bunch of lovely people, but this time was its own , and I will write a little about it in honour of its own special qualities.

We met again at the CWA headquarters, a lovely old building and pretty comfortable quarters for a weekend away (though harder for those with physical difficulties). Peter Willis was again instrumental in planning and running the weekend, and brought together many of those who attended. It was in some ways a reunion, as there were many of the same faces here this time as last. Peter’s commitment to social connection and working with others to make a good life and a better world is really marvellous. He, Ivo (who attended the first workshop a couple of years ago, and who is excellent value too), and I were the ‘planning group’ but I must say, I really feel that Peter and Ivo get most of the credit, as my illness meant that I was absent from much of the work at crucial times.

As previously, it was a meeting of elders for the most part, people who have contributed to community life and activism over many years. This in itself is amazing to be part of – that long history of commitment and action, and the wisdom and knowledge, understanding and perspective that come with time, were much in evidence. The format of the sessions was the same as last time – each person presenting on their own topic for a 90 minute slot – the topics were very varied and the sense of support and attention fantastic to experience.

We had a few people from interstate – John and Mary are on the board of SDN and have done amazing work in a broad range of areas over many years, Jacques came again from Melbourne – he is part of Borderlands Cooperative which publishes New Community, the community development journal, among other things. Bernie came from Melbourne too – a dynamo and friend of Peter, and Judi (who also has a long connection with SDN, and is a lovely woman) came down from Queensland, which was fantastic. The Adelaide folk included David, Peter, Susan B, Susan H, Richard, Ivo and me from last time, and Stephen, Noel and Helen who came for the first time. We had a few folk who have an education background – Bernie spoke passionately about teachers as advocates for students and his hope that this can become a recognised part of school life, Noel spoke about the powerful role of principals in schools and explored ideas around the concept of ‘need’. Peter has a long history in education too, but he spoke really movingly about living joyously and in connection with others as his physical health deteriorates somewhat. We all had a few laughs about mythopoeic ideation (not quite sure if I have that right even now!). Susan H and Helen also spoke about health and disability issues – they are both strong and powerful women, humourous and feisty and this is an area where their own experience will count for a lot. Stephen also spoke with great commitment about working with older people and his reflections on the importance of relationship, agency, meaning and purpose for people who live in nursing homes (where depression is currently far too prevalent) – it was amazing to hear about his work, which will hopefully have a big impact over time. John and Mary spoke about restorative practice as an alternative to more punitive approaches in the justice area but in other arenas also – again, themes of relationship, honesty and connection came through this presentation. John also spoke about secular volunteers in hospital taking on roles that religious chaplains might do, but for people who are not religious. Judi spoke about a terrific program in primary schools in Queensland that she has been part of to make life easier for people of different cultures, called “Getting to know one another – it’s a two way street” – again, relationship building and connection to build peace and reduce fear. Richard also spoke about fear and the ways it can limit us individually and as societies. He also made space for us to connect to the environment around us, and to reflect and ground ourselves, which was fantastic for us all. David gave us an update on his work with Aboriginal communities in the APY lands, and the film he has made with Carol his wife about her creative work with women who have been in domestic violence or who have experienced other traumas. Jacques has a very deep and broad perspective on things and such a principled way of living. He spoke about the importance of relating and connecting, not just with each other, but with the non-human world also. Ivo spoke about communication and the work he does with people from the perspective that ‘everything is communication’ (more relating and connecting). He also contributed a lot to the smooth running of the weekend and was a fantastic asset to the whole event. Susan B spoke about her experiences after WW2 as a refugee and then coming to Australia. She is a dynamo! I did a presentation about creativity and beauty in ordinary life.

We had fantastic food and enjoyable times over meals together too, and great contact with the CWA staff too.

It was a wonderful experience to be part of and I am grateful to have the opportunity to be there. I will continue to reflect on all that took place, and the connections that I made with amazing people.

Here are a few more photos…



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Magic sticks

Last night I went to the annual fundraiser for the Graham F Smith Peace Trust, along with most of the other Trustees of the Suzanne Elliott Charitable Trust. We also went to an event put on by them a few weeks ago at the Norwood Town Hall, featuring performances of various sorts by secondary school students on themes of peace, social justice and environmental sustainability. Both events were terrific and highlighted how important it is to take action and do things to create a better world.

Last night, the guest speaker for the event was an artist based in Victoria, Bill Kelly. He has been creating art for many years, and has pursued themes relating to peace, nonviolence and anti-war activities during that time. It was moving and inspiring to hear him speak. One thing he said that struck a chord with me was when he spoke about his pencil not as a ‘pencil’ but as a ‘magic stick’ with which we can make new things that have not been there before and contribute to change in the world. This brought back the work of Sarah Sentilles, whom I wrote about here earlier in the year, and her thoughts about art as a way to start to think about broader social change. For many of us who are not ‘artists’, we can still use our creativity in our lives and work, to make changes in our communities or families, or in the relationships we have with anyone really. We are ourselves little magic sticks perhaps…

Anyway, the Graham Smith Peace Trust is a fantastic organisation that in its own specific way is contributing to creative and innovative change in the world. It was a treat to be among such good people, doing positive and life-enhancing things. As part of the evening, they announced their major award for this year, a $10000 grant, which went to the team making a documentary film about Bill Kelly (the speaker for the night). A great way to acknowledge a lifetime of work on his part and to assist the film makers in their work on this project. Their was also an art auction, a raffle, some funny prizes, some great entertainment, a lovely meal and great company.

Here are some pics…


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Food for Freedom

Yesterday we had a small event at the community garden in Hackham West that is managed by CHO, to thank those involved in the past year with the Food for Freedom program. This is a service that has run for around 3 years overall, but like many great community initiatives, we have run out of funding for it to continue at present. Twice a week, in collaboration with the homelessness and domestic violence services in the south, the team cooked and delivered fresh meals to people in emergency accommodation, often in motels with no cooking facilities. This meant cooking, sometimes, more than 100 meals per night and then delivering these meals. It was a feat of organisation and showed great support for people in difficult situations – often women and children moving away from domestic violence, but other forms of homelessness and difficulty also. We held a celebration of the work that has been done and the commitment shown by a fab team of community members who have contributed their labour freely, and by the coordinator, who was paid (though not for as many hours as she put in). It was a lovely event, and great to see those who attended. We also had a food event at the same time – Food Embassy, a local food not for profit business, ran a workshop cooking Asian-style food with ingredients that can be grown in home gardens – cold rolls and Chinese pancakes. Delicious! It was a small way to show gratitude for the work and commitment people have shown – how often is social change (eg supporting women to leave domestic violence) underpinned by the unpaid efforts of committed people who just do the work, day after day??

Food for Freedom

L-r: Kat (coordinator), Rosita, Shayne, Vienna, Kim, EB and Gail, some of the volunteers at Food for Freedom in 2018…

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In praise of libraries

As  my health improves it has been great to catch up a bit with things that have been going on around the place while I have been out of action. One thing was World Mental Health Day, which happened on 10 October. I am sure there were heaps of activities that happened on that day all over the place, but I want to concentrate on the contribution of the Mental Health Library, staffed by my good pal Kathy and her colleagues Ros, Karen, Nikki and June (who have appeared briefly in these pages before) , who spend some of their time at the library at Glenside – which has long been home to a range of mental health services in SA. So, along with the sausage sizzle, yoga, tai chi, an appearance of Betty the therapy dog, and music (a band), the library had a stall with give away plants in little pots, chocolate frogs, aromatherapy (featuring lavender), colouring in pages, ideas for things to do on a ‘mental health day’ and books to give away on that theme. They were thrilled that everything went – and that those attending connected well with their stall.

I am struck by the importance of libraries as kinds of neutral spaces – places where people are not pathologised or separated off from others. I love Kathy’s attitude that everyone, everyone, has a right to access information and the assistance that libraries can provide – staff and workers certainly, but also ‘clients’ or ‘patients’ or just ‘the general public’ too. They can potentially be and often are places of peace and welcome for people who feel ostracised in the general run of things. It is so important that these kinds of spaces exist and it’s a shame that they are so rare. So, a big thanks to the library team for providing this welcoming, accepting and open approach, not just on World Mental Health Day, but every day.

Here are a few pics that Kathy Sent through of the day…

Library Betty the therapy dog

Betty the therapy dog

Library Nikki and June with Betty

June, Nikki and Betty the dog

Library staff at WMHD

Ros, Nikki, Karen and June – taken by Kathy so she isn’t in it!

Library table at WMHD

The library stall – note Everyone Welcome!

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To be held

Last week was the first time for ages I haven’t done a post. This was because I was in hospital for heaven’s sake, with a grim little infection (meningococcal meningitis)  that really flattened me. I had been laid low at home for the whole week before going into hospital on Thursday, where I received excellent treatment and the right antibiotics. By Saturday I was feeling much better and would love to have done a post, but didn’t have the computer.

I had my friend bring me in some poetry books to hospital, as I felt sure I would find something there that would help me amid the hurly burly of the hospital world and the unfamiliarity of being unwell. I found the following poem, which I had never read before, by a Canadian poet Alden Nowlan (1933 – 83), which really moved me and soothed me. The language is a bit ‘of it’s time’, but read over that…

He Sits Down on the Floor of a School for the Retarded

I sit down on the floor of a school for the retarded,
a writer of magazine articles accompanying a band
that was met at the door by a child in a man’s body
who asked them, “Are you the surprise they promised us?”

It’s Ryan’s Fancy, Dermot on guitar,
Fergus on banjo, Denis on penny-whistle.
In the eyes of this audience, they’re everybody
who has ever appeared on TV. I’ve been telling lies
to a boy who cried because his favourite detective
hadn’t come with us; I said he had sent his love
and, no, I didn’t think he’d mind if I signed his name
to a scrap of paper: when the boy took it, he said,
“Nobody will ever get this away from me,”
in the voice, more hopeless than defiant,
of one accustomed to finding that his hiding places
have been discovered, used to having objects snatched
out of his hands. Weeks from now I’ll send him
another autograph, this one genuine
in the sense of having been signed by somebody
on the same payroll as the star.
Then I’ll feel less ashamed. Now everyone is singing,
“Old MacDonald had a farm,” and I don’t know what to do

about the young woman (I call her a woman
because she’s twenty-five at least, but think of her
as a little girl, she plays that part so well,
having known no other), about the young woman who
sits down beside me and, as if it were the most natural
thing in the world, rests her head on my shoulder.

It’s nine o’clock in the morning, not an hour for music.
And, at the best of times, I’m uncomfortable
in situations where I’m ignorant
of the accepted etiquette: it’s one thing
to jump a fence, quite another thing to blunder
into one in the dark. I look around me
for a teacher to whom to smile out my distress.
They’re all busy elsewhere. “Hold me,” she whispers. “Hold me.”

I put my arm around her. “Hold me tighter.”
I do, and she snuggles closer. I half-expect
someone in authority to grab her
or me; I can imagine this being remembered
for ever as the time the sex-crazed writer
publicly fondled the poor retarded girl.
“Hold me,” she says again. What does it matter
what anybody thinks? I put my other arm around her,
rest my chin in her hair, thinking of children
real children, and of how they say it, “Hold me,”
and of a patient in a geriatric ward
I once heard crying out to his mother, dead
for half a century, “I’m frightened! Hold me!”
and of a boy-soldier screaming it on the beach
at Dieppe, of Nelson in Hardy’s arms,
of Frieda gripping Lawrence’s ankle
until he sailed off in his Ship of Death.

It’s what we all want, in the end,
to be held, merely to be held,
to be kissed (not necessarily with the lips,
for every touching is a kind of kiss).

She hugs me now, this retarded woman, and I hug her.
We are brother and sister, father and daughter,
mother and son, husband and wife.
We are lovers. We are two human beings
huddled together for a little while by the fire
in the Ice Age, two hundred thousand years ago.

Alden Nowlan

Reading this put me into another headspace, where it was much easier to cope with all the noise and uncertainty and weirdness of hospital wards, and with my own emotional state (up and down). Remembering that we all just want ‘to be held’ – and that I did and had felt ‘held’ – by my dear ones, especially those who were flying around me like fairies through the whole time before and during hospital, by my doctor, who was fantastic, by the hospital staff (especially during the time in Emergency) who were so focussed on getting me well, and by my friends – was very consoling.

Now I am at home again and into recovery mode, and thankfully feeling heaps better.

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Last weekend, the Suzanne Elliott Trust (of which I am a trustee) held our inaugural gathering of people and groups that we have funded over the past couple of years since the Trust’s inception. It was a wonderful event – very inspiring to hear the stories of folk who are quietly and unassumingly making a difference to their part of the world. We held the day at Gallery Yampu at Port Adelaide, a gorgeous spot looking over the Port River at Birkenhead. Suzanne lived at the Port and had a connection with GY (apart from having her farewell ceremonies there – see link above), so there was a strong hint of her presence. The celebratory, party like atmosphere was also very Suzanne.

I really enjoyed the mingling – people getting to know each other a little and finding out about each other’s projects. I loved hearing people’s stories too – the mental health project (organising a big camp next year), the wildlife sanctuary with the aim of building a big round bird aviary so that injured native birds can get their strength up without having to turn when they reach an ‘end’, the women from Davenport, near Port Augusta, who have an art project – it was a thrill that they came so far for the day, and to see their art, Di from Melbourne (another thrill), who is an old friend of Suzanne’s, who is paying for the education of the children of a family in Cambodia whom her daughter got to know a while back, the Seeds of Affinity group (who have appeared here before) and who aid women who have been in prison (a very inspiring group), Food for Freedom, who make meals for families in emergency accommodation, particularly those who have left domestic violence, CHO (which runs Food for Freedom and which has appeared in these pages many times), Lesley Walker a fantastic supporter and advocate for refugees, Trish Campbell, whose daughter (who is blind) is on an exchange in France, Sue who runs a radio program on Peace for Radio Adelaide, the Brownhill Creek association who are protecting that area, the family who went to a disability conference interstate and there are probably more that I can’t think of right now – plus of course others who couldn’t make it on the day. And not to forget the wonderful welcome to country from Yellaka, a youth group for Aboriginal kids down at the Port – it was really moving. They are another great group.

It was a lovely event in a beautiful place, with great food and wonderful people. What a thrill… Hopefully the following photos will give a bit of a flavour of the day.

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Suburban surprise

During the week I went to a part of Happy Valley that I haven’t been to before to see a client. To get there I went along a road I usually turn off when travelling between Noarlunga and Aberfoyle Park – a route I have taken for thirty years and more. This time I went straight ahead into a part of the suburb that is unfamiliar to me and which has been built up over the years I have been working in the south – the houses are pretty new. To get to the chap’s house, I passed this very interesting park; more a grove of youngish gum trees, and decided to have a quick walk there after seeing my person.

I walked through the trees and discovered a little lake, hidden away, so peaceful and beautiful. What a treasure for that community. It has a magical atmosphere, made more so by the birds breeding in springtime. I saw yet more ducks and ducklings, plus a beautiful murray magpie nest, inhabited by parents and I guess babies (of course I couldn’t see inside). Two adults flew back and forth to the nest, alternating sitting on it and possibly bringing back food for the nestlings. It was a few minutes of peace and restoration for me in the midst of a busy day (don’t forget to click on the pics to enlarge them).

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