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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Ducklings and nasturtiums (spring)

It has been a gorgeous day today – clear blue sky, mild sunny weather, the smells of spring (wisteria blossoming, jasmine) and its colours (pansies in pots, marigolds, nasturtiums). There are babies being born too – notably for me this week a sighting of a brood of ducklings in the parklands when I was in the city for an event. Walking along beside a man-made waterway, there was a family gathered together on a little bridge across said streamlet. I wonder how they will live, these urban birds, surrounded by the sounds of cars and the commonness of concrete. I hope they find ways to express their duck-ness amid the built up world, alongside their city pals, the magpies and sparrows.

Here are some random shots, taken this week (including the ducks) (and the nasturtiums)…




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In praise of the Old Tan Cat

A sad post today, recording the death of dad’s cat, always known as the Old Tan Cat, or Tan for short. She was ancient, and had been packing up health wise for some time, so it is no surprise, but sad sad sad anyway. She came to us when mum was still alive (she was an adult then, so not sure how old she really is). When she was ill, Tan was a great companion and solace for her too, sitting on her lap or curled up on the bed beside her. Since mum’s death, dad has definitely become her champion, and in turn she has been very loyal and faithful to him – following him around, and gazing at him adoringly while stretched out across him. He said that she would even sit underneath his walker if he went outside for a bit of sun.

Pets have a way of getting right into our hearts – certainly they provide us with daily ways to express our love and care. Dad has been cossetting the cat for years, and particularly in the past 6 or 12 months, as she has been getting more frail. We took her to the vet in March, thinking that it might be the end then. She detested the trip up in the cat box, and was furious and spitting, hissing at the vet – a sign that she wasn’t as bad as we had thought perhaps (apparently tortoiseshell cats are renowned for being temperamental – the vet staff called her a ‘naughty torty’). They gave her some anti-inflammatory tablets, which helped her a lot – she was positively skittish for a while, and we had an extra 6 months with her. Dad fed her all her favourite things – he even had me cook some food for her last weekend, to see if that would tempt her, and he made her a little cat box lined with old shirts and holy singlets to keep warm and dry in winter. He was pretty firm with her too though – he didn’t let her sleep on his bed, and after a while, she just never went to his room. She would come inside on cold nights though. I loved seeing them together and will be very sad myself not to have her about. I have done posts about her before and her death yesterday links a little with one of these. Dad went for a walk late yesterday afternoon, not long before sunset. He gave the cat a pat on the way out – she was sitting in the driveway. It seems she followed him out to the road as she had done many times before, and by the time dad got back to her, she had died. Thankfully she didn’t seem to have been in too much pain – if she had been, we would have taken her to the vet – and lived her normal life, just slowly, right to the last.

I will go up there today and stay for the weekend and she will be buried near the other cats down by the lilac tree.


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I was in Auburn again today, and this afternoon went with dad for a little drive, just a few k’s down the road to Undalya. This is a tiny town, hamlet perhaps would be a better word, which has a few houses, an ex-tennis court (the gates are there), a cemetery, an old bridge, the river (Wakefield – it flows through Auburn too), a former school and almost nothing else. These little towns, past their prime, languishing, often beautiful in their own way, are all over the place in South Australia. Remnants of a time when getting from A to B was more time-consuming, and the need for settlements with a few amenities and a store made such places viable for a time. I’ve been through Undalya hundreds of times of course, but the actual township, if you could call it that, is west of the main road, nestled around the old bridge and the old road, which was bypassed a year or two before I was born. Dad and I went this back way today, and I was so struck by how lovely it is. It was late in the afternoon, and the sun was in precisely the wrong place for photos, but made for really beautiful light. The hills behind the town are wearing their winter green, and the creek running through it has water. Masterman’s dairy cows feed contentedly over the way, and all is serene. We went up the back road a way to the cemetery. The Catholic Church that was attached to it was demolished, again just before my time. I think its bell went to the Methodists in Auburn, and stones from it have been reused in housing also.

I seem to be in the midst of a theme of transience in this blog, and with it a sense that life itself as it passes leaves us with hints of itself, passing glances, things seen from the corner of the eye, but which dissolve into nothing if you try to clutch them. Today I felt this again in this little hint of a town, notions of time and lives lived quietly and unassumingly by the river, now and in the past.

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Father’s Day today so thinking of dad and the many happy times I have had with him. He is slowing down, and gradually moving towards the end, so it is good to appreciate the time I spend with him now. We went for a walk today, up and down the street, prunus trees blossoming, and between showers.


It is impossible to convey the entirety of relationships, especially with important people. I think the poets do it best, like Ted Kooser whose father poem I have written about before, as I have the prunus trees. And since the whole thing is impossible, it’s best to make do with the hint of a photograph, a moment in time, one foot ready to land, red cap like a furled flag almost ready to fly.


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Footy in the suburbs

It’s coming up for footy finals the length and breadth of the land. I am a fairly cursory follower – I try to always know enough to be able to talk about what’s going on, but I don’t go to games as a rule or watch much more than highlights. As a kid we used to go to Auburn matches every week, and we loved it. Now Auburn doesn’t have a side, sadly. Or netball, which the girls (including me) played at the same time.

This year I have been visiting local grounds – sometimes empty, sometimes while games are on – and have been really interested in their community-mindedness and vitality. They seem to be places where social norms and issues are present – girls teams are springing up, there are indications on some grounds of anti-violence attitudes, and they are places where people go to mix and mingle – in ‘tribes’, but at least it’s happening… They are also places of great commitment – all those who run them, coach teams, make food, support teams, maintain facilities, play in teams, etc etc. Create them in the first place even. They are also places where people get a bit acknowledged – there are little plaques everywhere for and about someone. Almost always the men, but hopefully that will change now that women are actually playing the game, not just supporting +++ and washing the shirts etc.

Yesterday I called in to Prospect Oval late in the game between North and Port – dad is a life long North follower so I of course supported them for him – there was quite a crowd, with North trailing at the last change. It was quite exciting, as they pulled off a 4 point victory in the end. Earlier in the week I called in briefly to the South Adelaide ground, where a much more local event was taking place – a mini-carnival between sides of the smaller primary schools down south, the schools which are too small to have regular teams. This gave the kids a chance to play and to compete – some for the first time. I got there right at the end of the day – but it was obviously a great success, with shields, presentations and all the rest. It was put on by People Matters Hackham West – a great little community group – and a fab initiative. I also saw a women’s/girls game at Goodwood, visited the Glenelg Oval when there was no match on at all, and went to Christies Beach Oval for the CHO fundraiser earlier in the year. I have walked around Auburn Oval a few times too – no photos of that, but maybe I will take one and add to this post later…

It’s hard to take good photos of Ovals – they are big, and people look swamped or invisible in them, but here are a few anyway.


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Moonlight between the roof planks


The mantlepiece – with mostly hidden picture of Lorna

On Friday at work I got an email from the fabulous Peter Willis, who has appeared in these posts before and is a valued friend and supporter of me and this blog. He sent a link to a post on Brainpickings – that very interesting and uplifting website written by a woman called Maria Popova – featuring Jeanette Winterson and some thoughts from a talk she did about art, storytelling, poetry, the inner life and such like. This email came at the perfect time – the end of a hectic and frazzling week, with too much to do, lots of pain for the people I see and pain for myself too in not being able to work out ways to make much difference. While I didn’t have a lot of time to take in all that Peter wrote or Maria P either or Jeanette W, it hooked in my mind and has stayed with me since then.

I rarely write directly about work – the stories I hear there are mostly not my stories to tell, and of course I am bound by confidentiality. But I work full time and have done so for years, so work is very important to me and takes up a lot of my time. It, and the people I work with, influence me a great deal. In light of Peter’s email, and JW’s talk, and Maria Popova’s work on Brainpickings, and the power of stories, lives lived, poetry and the subtle influences we have on each other that ripple on and on and on, I am going to try to write a little about one person I worked with and how she stays with me, years after she has died. She is an example for me of the idea expressed in a poem by a Japanese woman writing originally around 1000 years ago…

Although the wind
blows terribly here,
the moonlight also leaks
between the roof planks
of this ruined house.

(Izumi Shikibu, translated from Japanese by Jane Hirschfeld and Mariko Aratani)

I first met Lorna (I will call her), in the 1990’s – she had come to SA from interstate and was homeless and staying at a shelter. I assisted in getting her housed in a Housing Trust place (you could do that remarkably easily back then), and continued to have contact with her for a long time afterwards. While she had had a life filled with trauma, she was a real goer – interested in many things, quirky, artistic, and a bit obsessive. She collected things – cd’s, dvd’s, ornaments (gnomes and fairies were specialities). She bought herself an electric organ and would play it for hours. She had a couple of cats and a very eclectic garden. She would paint picture after picture – brightly coloured and quite gorgeous (see an example below). She went to TAFE – studying various things and taking a shopping trolley filled with papers with her each time. Whenever I went to see her she would have a weak orange cordial made ready for me in the fridge and she always had quirky phrases to send me on my way with – “may all your troubles be little ones” and “don’t do anything I wouldn’t enjoy”. She was lonely I would say, but never bored.

One of Lorna’s pictures – in reality the colours are brighter than this, but the best I could do!

I found working with her challenging at times – she would be very revved up sometimes and I didn’t know what to do to help. She had mental health problems and I was not and indeed am not very well versed in that area. But I liked her a lot, and could encourage her because of that. I had many laughs with her, and many adventures in sorting out how to get her art into Rotary Art shows, what to do about the cats when they got sick and in one case died, where to plant various things, listening to her various current favourite artists (KD Lang was one, Jim Nabors another (he played Gomer Pyle on tv and was also a singer)), going to the chemist for her and looking over her latest acquisitions. She would give up smoking regularly, and use the savings to buy bigger items that she wanted. She saved enough for a new car at one stage (hard to believe, but she did). It was a Subaru, from the dealership just around the corner from me, and I think of her whenever I pass it. There were downs as well, which I won’t go into, and eventually she became ill with what turned out to be lung cancer. Her husband, whose memory she was very devoted to, had died in traumatic circumstances, and she had almost no contact with her kids or her family of origin for the time I knew her. When she became ill she asked me to get in touch with her brother. This was a weird request from my point of view as she hadn’t spoken with him for decades, but she rattled off an address and I think even a phone number, and although I had no expectation of being able to track him down, and in fact felt quite anxious about doing so, I did give it a go – and sure enough he was where she said he would be and was very responsive to the call and did make contact with her. It was very moving to me that she had kept his details in her mind for so long, had held him so firmly in her heart in a way, and I felt really pleased that I pulled my own finger out to find him even though I was unsure about whether I would and felt shy about even trying.

Eventually the one daughter she had some very occasional contact with turned up and persuaded her to go back with her to Victoria. I was very sad to see her go, and worried that it would all turn out badly, given that they had a pretty limited relationship at that time. She decided not to give up her place here with the Trust, in case she decided to come back, and her neighbour took on the job of looking after her remaining cat. I promised to ring her once a week to keep in touch. The last time I spoke with her was on one of these weekly calls – it was late on a Friday night, and I wanted to go home, but at the last minute made the call. She was in hospital at the time. It was just before Mother’s Day and she was worried about how it would go, and also feeling pressured to give up her Driver’s Licence. I remember telling her not to do anything she didn’t want to do.

On the Monday morning, I got a call from Lorna’s neighbour to let me know that her place had been broken into over the weekend. I rang to let her know, to be told that she had died the previous morning, on Mother’s Day. I saw her daughter when they came back to go through her place and finalise things here. They brought back her ashes, and we buried some of them underneath a rose bush that was just outside of the office where I worked – another place for me to think about her often. One thing I feel sorry about is that I didn’t tell her how much I would miss her – this is because I didn’t know I would. I think of her often – her passion for life, her enthusiasm, the way she kept going in the face of so much pain and difficulty. She died long before she might have – the impact of poverty that I see again and again, but she is definitely not forgotten. I took a photograph of her not just before she went to Victoria and it is on my mantlepiece, pictured above (you can’t see it specifically, but I can!). I think of her often, and especially when I say to people, as she regularly did to me, “don’t do anything I wouldn’t enjoy”!


Lorna would give me little gifts for Christmas or whatever – this is one of them that I have on the shelf at home.

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Warmth in winter

It’s been a mild winter till the past week or two. Today was really windy and wild, with squalls of rain interspersed with a cool sunny spells. With the grey skies and subdued colours in the landscape, it’s lovely to see the blooms of red hot pokers around warming things up. I have been looking out for the plants over the past couple of weeks.
Here are some pictures.

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