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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Sun (indirectly)

I’ve been noticing the light lately, and thinking about the big old sun shining up there every day. It has such a massive impact on everything of course, and at the same time it’s not really possible to look at it directly for most of the day, so seeing how it lights things  up is one of the best ways to ‘picture’ it. Even last night, when I didn’t have a camera on me, its reflections and refractions lit up a billowy evening cloud like gigantic fairy floss. Here are some of the shots I have taken, hints through light and shadow of our big star.

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Highlights from a walking tour

I have been walking with Maxine these past few weeks when in Auburn. We have had a ‘project’ to travel the length of the Riesling Trail on foot from Auburn to Clare. It has been done over quite a few days, so not arduous, but a good achievement nonetheless, and so interesting to see familiar landscapes from a different angle and at a slower pace. It is a beautiful place. What was the old railway line is full of hints from times past, as well as signage and sculptures placed more recently. I do love to think of the trains chugging up the valley though – it would have been a gorgeous trip! I took heaps of pics along the way – here is a (rather large…) selection.


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Blow it open

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by Seamus Heaney

And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park and capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.

I read this poem for the first time this week – coming upon it by chance when I opened Paul Kelly’s anthology (Love is Strong as Death) at random, and have been thinking about it ever since. The way that life itself can knock you out of a tight spot you have got yourself into with its beauty and strangeness. The way birds with their flight and dinosaurian antecedents and feathery weirdness take us to another place. The way we hanker to rise above the humdrum, and then, suddenly, around the next corner, we are for a moment above it all. And the way poetry also does this very thing – opens us, buffets us, lets us rise from the dull grind. Perhaps it is another sort of bird on another sort of lake around some other sort of corner by another sort of flaggy shore.



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It has been a cold week – and away from the moderating effect of the sea especially so. In Auburn the frosts have been fierce and the air crisp and sharp. I took some pictures of the beauty and strangeness of it. Ice on the grass, melting ice on the clothesline, chooks scrabbling around on icy ground. I loved to see the melt come as the sun’s beams reached different parts of the paddock and garden. The lid of the peg container slowly thawing, icicles one side, smooth metal past the line of melt. There are even slight variations in how the little ice particles pattern the leaves depending on how late in the morning it is – you might notice this in the pics below. Winter has definitely come.

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I went to the anti-racism (Black Lives Matter) rally in Adelaide today, a bit late but there (and thanks to Kathy for letting me know it was on). There was a terrific turn out, and it was a really good thing to do. It was a bit weird to be in a big group of people (first time for months) and lots of folk wore face masks. I was right down the back (the price you pay for being late) so had some chance of (sort of!) ‘social distancing’, but really, it was all in together. A great opportunity to acknowledge the abuse of Aboriginal people, particularly in the justice system, and to be with others making a stand. There is so much to be done long term to ensure that indigenous people are respected and have power in this society and control over their lives, and rallies don’t make those changes, but it is good to be with others and to stand for something important. At a time when so many places around the world are enraged about racism, it is good to focus on our own situation. I went in on the tram and heard people talking in support of what was happening. There were some Aboriginal people on the tram – one older guy going to his first ever rally he said, and a woman too. I thought of Aboriginal people I know – their spiritedness and guts, the hard lives, and felt that I wanted to (mentally anyway) stand beside them somehow by being there. It is so important to find ways to connect in these times, to bridge gaps and build understanding, to show up. We have such a shitty black/white history here. Somehow it’s good to acknowledge that and make a wee bit of space for some better things to come.


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Crossing the creek

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Looking south from the bridge – the reeds and the trees, no water to be seen

The Wakefield River winds through Auburn, cutting the town in two. There are two bridges – a road bridge and a foot bridge – as well as a ford, to cross from one side of town to the other. A new bridge was built in 1971 on the site of the old, narrower one. This meant a few months where the ford was the only way for cars to cross from one side to the other. We used to go to Saddleworth to see nana and our aunt, uncle and cousins – and the non-existent bridge meant going the long way around.

I was in grade 7 in 1971, my last year at primary school. I spent a lot of time with our neighbour across the road, Tess, who was a year younger than me. During school holidays and after school we would ‘hang around’, go for walks, do projects of one kind or another, mess around with other kids in the street.

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Portion of a school photo taken in 1969, showing Tess (front row, second from right, with the tie), and me (back row, far right, with the side parting and straight hair).

In the September school holidays that year we went for a walk across the other side of the creek from where we lived, and by the time we wanted to cross back we were quite close to the site of the new bridge, as yet unfinished, and a long way from the ford where we had crossed in the first place. It had been a fairly wet winter and there was water in the creek (which is not always the case), but we decided that we would not go back the way we’d come but cross where the building work was being done – we’d use a long stick to see how deep the water was before taking each next step – and venture across.

Of course things didn’t go according to plan. We got part way across, but the water was getting deeper and at a certain point when we lowered the stick it just kept going down and us after it. It was all a bit dramatic – our clothes wet and our shoes (which we had taken off before the crossing) – Tess’s floated away down stream, lost altogether. We tried to get them back – we thought we saw one shoe in the reeds a bit further down stream, but it turned out to be a dead chook! We were a bit worried about getting told off – especially Tess, as her mum was a bit stricter than ours, but I wasn’t confident either. I was also acutely aware of the fact that I was having my first ever period at the time. The sanitary surfboard I was wearing got wet along with everything else. The weird ‘adult’ uncomfortableness. My self-consciousness (I wouldn’t have dreamt of saying anything to Tess about it), plus being cold and wet.

We got across in the end, and walked back towards home, hoping for some way to avoid trouble with our parents – but of course the first person we saw was mum, driving somewhere in the mini. She picked us up and helped smooth the waters with Tess’s mother. I had to go across later to offer to buy Tess a new pair of socks (offer declined!). And there would have been a change of clothes, and warmth and for me more self-consciousness about the period!

I think of these things often when I go across the bridge now. There is mostly not much water in it these days, and it is much more overgrown there now, but there are still reeds, and probably still the odd dead chook, and possibly a decayed child’s shoe somewhere or another. The plaque on the bridge acknowledges the Highways Department and the date. This post is a reminder of a couple of little lives that were being led at the same time…

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Lorraine Lee

Lorraine Lee 8

There is a huge Lorraine Lee rose bush blooming outside my bedroom window here in Auburn. This particular rose bush has been there for decades, and never gets pruned, but still it flourishes, providing colour and scent for much of the year – particularly in the winter months. We got it, dad tells me, by default. A local man, Eddie Baum, ordered it from the shop not long after dad opened. Dad duly got the rose in, but forgot to write who had asked for it when he put it in the ‘Wanted Book’. Eddie obviously forgot for some time that he had ordered it also, and by the time he got around to asking for it, dad had given up and taken it home to plant at our place. It’s probably not planted in an ideal place – a bit shady – but it has still done really well.

Turns out that Lorraine Lee is an Australian rose, developed in 1924 a by a prolific rose breeder, Alister Clark. Lorraine was a cousin of Clark’s niece Jessie, and had spent  time in the UK during WW1, working in the Women’s Land Army and doing other war related work. She was visiting the Clark family back in Australia when Alister asked her to choose one of his unnamed new seedlings, which was duly named after her. It turned out to be Alister’s best known rose (though he also developed some other well known varieties such as Black Boy and Nancy Hayward).

Of course there is nothing extraordinary about all this, just a great old rose bush, but I love the tiny stories that link up with it. Dad and Eddie; Alister C, Jessie and Lorraine. All of us live our lives in such ordinary ways, everyday interactions ending up making everything happen; and the roses bloom too, pouring out their beauty, even on wintry days. It’s all glorious.

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Auntie Joan’s 100th birthday

Today, 17 May, would have been my Auntie Joan’s 100th birthday. She was dad’s older sister, and she died 3 years ago, just before her 97th birthday. She was married to Uncle Leo for over 70 years – they were very devoted, and she found it hard when Uncle died.

My sister Jane and I used to stay with Aunt and Uncle in Adelaide for a week or so during some school holidays. Auntie Joan’s daughter, my cousin Marlene, was quite a bit older than we were, and married with little kids herself, so it was always exciting to see them too. I remember sleeping in the spare room at Elizabeth Street and hearing different sounds (more traffic for one) at night. They had a big vase of pampas grass in the lounge room and some very speccy frosted glass drinking glasses to drink from. Auntie Joan also had a box of old high heeled shoes that we used to dress up in. Very smart they were too. We went to the Adelaide show with them once. (the fairy floss! The show bags!). The horrible taste of Adelaide water is also a strong memory! They had a huge walnut tree in their backyard. It was the time of the baby boom so there were neighbours with kids on both sides that we used to play with.

Later, when I was studying social work, I stayed with them full time for a couple of years before I lived independently. Slept in the same room, with my cousin Suzanne, who was also boarding there. More happy memories of those times, including having nana Becker staying there also, from time to time, not long before she died. Uncle Leo worked for the railways, and Auntie Joan kept the house. She was a great one for getting her hair done, and it was a simple, happy life that they lived. Auntie Joan had a fabulous display of African violets, and they both played tennis – uncle was a coach of juniors for years.

There are very few photos – or not that we have anyway – of dad’s family when they were young, but there are a couple of photos of Joan, Leo and dad taken possibly at Joan’s 90th birthday party, plus the only photo we have of dad’s whole family, and a snap that has appeared in the blog before of dad and Joan with their mum and the chooks… Happy birthday (and happy memories) Auntie Joan!!

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A mother’s story (more travels with Pam)

This week we have a story from Pam, who has featured here many times before (eg here and here). She has been back to Texas on a trip with her youngest son, to see her grandchildren and one of her other sons, who lives there. Hearing her story, and reading it, I was struck by the challenges of parenting. The difficulties that come with unresolved issues and misunderstandings that go way back and the courage it takes to sort things out. Pam’s guts in making the trip, and in dealing with lots of hard times all through the many years she has been a mother (including on this trip), are really something. That she has remained optimistic and capable and loving through it all is amazing. Thanks a lot Pam for all you have done for all your kids, and to you and any other mothers who might be reading this, Happy Mother’s Day for Sunday! Now, over to Pam:

Hi All, This is take 2 – I guess I’m trying to do series now, so watch out for episode 3 hopefully to be written in May 2025!  I need to tell you that I’ve been back to Texas. This time I took my son Jake and we went via Germany where we travelled around to lots of different places. I went to Sound of Music territory which was so nice and I saw the snow and that was brilliant. My son Jake, who is 15, is amazing. He organised all the flights, all the trains, everything. I just followed along.

When we got to Texas again there were issues with my older son. He didn’t let me have a voice. It is hard when there have been difficulties in the family over the years and some stories get cemented as the truth, when they may be not the whole truth or even not true at all. I think that happened in my relationship with Nathan – he blamed me for many things that happened when he was young, and it has never been sorted out. It’s complicated. It’s also hard of course when you are staying with a family with three little kids and money worries and all the rest, so there was plenty of tension. There were some big fights and misunderstandings between him and his partner Yvette, with me in the middle of it all. In the end I did manage to let him know my side of the story of his young days, and did talk about it all more fully than we had done before, so that did change things. The night after the big sort out, he walked in laid down next to me, put his arms around me and said mum I love you. He has never in all his life done that. It was hard for me back then (and now sometimes too) because I didn’t have the voice I believe I was meant to have. But I’ve worked out that maybe sometimes it’s not what you say but what you do that counts. The fact that I have hung in, and been to see him and kept reaching out (not to mention all the meals cooked and clothes washed etc when he was young) – and conveyed my ongoing care that way, also counts for a lot. So this time it was a totally different trip – some parts were so hard, some parts were so good. Nathan has three children now and the little boy in the photo from so many years ago the baby I named Chilli is so much like a little Mexican. He is pretty badly autistic – he can’t talk and there’s lots of things he can’t do but he loves his Nanna and I loved him as the other boys so all in all it was a really good trip. Again still learning lessons some hard, some easy. I’m not sure the purpose at my age of having to learn all these lessons but I thought I would just do you my follow-up story five years later.

I also want to tell you about how we seemed to be saved or protected from so many things on the trip. At one stage we were going to go on a cruise and if we had of done that we would’ve been on one of these cruise ships that have been a hotbed of the virus. The next thing is we went to Saint Antonio (in Texas) – the kids laugh at me when I say that because I can’t say it properly. We went a day early because of the fight I’d had at home with Nathan and Yvette. I was holding Chilli’s hand the whole time and I actually said to Nathan ‘if a bullet went through me and I was laying on top of Chilli to protect him would it go all the way through to him?’ Nathan said ‘no mum it would get stuck in your back’ and we just laughed it off, but the next day at the exact same time and same place where we were standing when I said that there was a mass shooting and nine people were dead. The next thing was when we were coming home the virus was already in America. Nathan came to the airport to see us off which he wasn’t going to do and he said mum please be careful the virus is going to be bad – we made it home just in time so we were protected in all of this and I am so grateful. Now to happier things please look at my pics and enjoy it thank you.

Pam and Jake

Pam and Jake looking a bit worried on the plane

Pam and Jake 2

Pam and a saint or something in Salzburg!

Pam and Jake 3

Gorgeous view – San Antonio in Texas

Pam and Jake 4

Pam and the grandies – Julian the baby, Noah, and Carson (Chilli)

Pam and Jake 5

Sleeping Chilli

Pam and Jake 6

In the bath – Noah and Julian

Pam and Jake 7

Julan and the hair do!

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Maxine’s last day

It’s a funny thing, getting older. One of the nicest things about it for me is knowing people for a long time. Living, or even just staying in Auburn since I was born, means that there are some locals that I have known for a very long time. One of the most important of these folk is Maxine, who has worked at our shop in Auburn in two stints for 25 years over the past 50+years!! We were both at primary school at the same time – she was in grade 7 when I was in grade 1, and I do remember her from then. She came into the girls toilets when I was on the loo as a little 5 year old. I didn’t know you had to shut the door to the toilet (we never did at home) and she laughed and told me what I should do. I was embarrassed as I recall!!

Well, Maxine retired from the shop just before Easter this year and I went up on her last day, as I couldn’t bear to miss it! She started work at the time of her 15th birthday in October 1968, working for mum and dad. She wasn’t so much older than we were at the time, so it was like having an older friend there, and over the years we had many happy times together. In those early days there were particular jobs to do – weighing and bagging potatoes and sugar, cutting up long rolls of fritz into shorter lengths, wrapping the sanitary towels in brown paper (can you believe it!!??), with initials in small letters in the corner to indicate what they were (eg SM for Super Modess and RM for Regular Modess). I can picture Maxine’s neat writing in my mind’s eye as I write this. We had little treats along the way. Very early on I think there must have been a broken packet of cashew nuts, which we loved and ate. From then on, for 50+ years now, she has given the family cashews for Christmas.

Max’s first stint at the shop was 10 years, and she left to have her family and do some other things. The birthday celebrations and Christmas gifts and following up with her children and us all continued on , and when mum and dad retired in 2005, Richard asked her if she would like to come back. She has put in 15 years since then and has been a real mainstay at the shop – so supportive of Richard, so reliable and hard working and loyal, and also so kind and good natured with everyone – the customers and the staff. She has helped train dozens of young folk who have worked at the shop over the years in after school jobs, some of whom have gone on to be on the regular staff. She has gone out of her way to assist people who have come in. She has been and is a treasure!!! I have very special memories of Maxine at the time of mum’s illness and death – her kindness and constancy during that time will always stay with me.

It was fab to be at the shop on Maxine’s last day – in fact I was her last customer. We’ve been missing her since of course – it doesn’t seem quite the same without her but of course life goes on and hopefully a long and happy retirement beckons for this very special family friend.

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