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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Safe Harbour

Some kinds of activism appeal to me more than others. Safe Harbour, a project which highlights the issues of refugees in Australia, and is pushing for the closure of Nauru and Manus Island refugee detention centres, is one of these for me. It takes the image of a boat, so demonised by politicians in Australia over the past 15 years, and puts it at the centre of what care for refugees is about – providing a safe harbour for those in need. The idea is that people make little boats and paint them. These are then taken and displayed, and yet more are made and painted. This is happening throughout the coming months, before the next federal election, so that the issues pertaining to refugees can be discussed at a low key level, while making something beautiful (or fun, or moving, or poignant). Information is available at the workshops, and further action can be taken. It is an opportunity for people to express their distress at what is happening, their compassion and hope for what could happen, and to talk about what can be done to move things in a more decent and  humane direction.

I say boats are made, but mostly, small balsa wood boats are painted by participants. Some slightly larger boats are being created using recycled core-flute, and one large boat has been made, in a week (!), from plywood and donated materials, as the central image for the project. This larger boat was made to look like a boat that has brought refugees to our shores – rickety and old, but is actually not. It is a marvel. There is a facebook page (Safe Harbour Australia) which will has more details of what is happening over the coming weeks, and here is a link to an interview on Radio Adelaide, with Mij Tanith, the key organiser of the project.

I went to the launch a few weeks ago, alongside St Xavier’s Cathedral, and to a boat decorating workshop at Whitmore Square last weekend (great fun). The boats look fantastic, individually and as a group. Here are some (heaps of!) photos from those events…


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This post was written in draft some time ago. It references an event at Sophia that I wrote about here, and is really a little tribute to someone I worked with who has now died. I tussle with writing about work (as indicated below), and am sure that my reticence and uncertainty about doing so prevented me from posting this at the time. However, more time has passed, and we have run another ACD group now; they are so positive and useful, that I thought I would put it out there. I don’t want to put up a post without pictures, so am including a couple of photos of the work of Andy Goldsworthy – fantastic Scottish artist of the natural world, whose work reminds me that everything and everyone will go, including the lovely D (but while we’re here life and the world is amazing, tender, vulnerable, beautiful, fragile, strong and all the rest).

I don’t write about work very often on this blog, partly because it’s hard to work out how to do so without breaking anyone’s confidences. However I have been thinking of someone I worked with in light of the session at Sophia last weekend. Mag spoke (and read part of a piece she had written) about her father, a determined, honest, clear-eyed man, who took charge of his life right to the end, and refused to end up where he didn’t want to be – dependent on others and ensconced in a medical system which tends to deny death. This isn’t always easy to achieve, and it is a wonderful thing that he managed it. For some people, preparing an Advance Care Directive can be helpful in taking some power over how our life might be if we become very ill or are near death.

In the past few months at work, we have run a series of sessions for people who want to write their ACD’s – this is the legal document that conveys to doctors and health workers our wishes in the event that we can’t actually tell them what we want. It has been terrific to do this – to talk about death, illness and painful possibilities and help people to think through what they would want in different  scenarios. One woman, D, came to the first of the three sessions, but went into hospital before the second one about three weeks later. She had not had time to write up what she wanted, and then there was the step of getting her substitute decision makers to sign the form and for it to be witnessed.

I was seeing D individually for other things and this gave us the chance to talk more about what her wishes actually were, and to go through various options for different situations. It was clear that her health was pretty bad, and she herself was really sick of being sick – she had had very painful and difficult conditions for many decades.

It would have been possible to get one of the social workers from the hospital to work with her when she went in, but she preferred us to keep going together, as she already knew me. I went into the hospital a few times, and helped write out her ACD. She then organised for her substitute decision makers to sign their part of the form. It was challenging to get a JP to witness the document – the hospital has very few staff members who are JP’s at present, and we couldn’t find anyone on the days I was there. I ended up going to the local library, who have JP’s on duty every day, and talking to the guy who was on at the time. He was a champion and said he had previously gone into the hospital to sign papers for/with someone, and would be happy to do that in this case. We organised for him to come in and the deed was done.

D said that she felt a great sense of relief at having her wishes written down, and that it strengthened her ability to say more clearly what she did not want as she went through the various stages of her illness. Shortly after she completed the document, she was transferred to the new Royal Adelaide Hospital, which she said was very swish… After more time in hospital she died. I don’t know how or even whether her directions on the ACD came into play, but I felt really pleased that we had done it all, and that she had a chance to say to her family and to health workers what her wishes were. She was a lovely person – very stoic and unassuming, warm and wise, and I will remember her. I feel sure she would want to encourage anyone reading this to work out what you want and make your wishes known. ACD kits can be found here if you want to get yours done! It’s worth it…



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Happy New Year

I am in Auburn again, and have been doing my daily walks around the town each day. This has had me thinking about the paths we take (that old metaphor of life as a journey), and how to spice things up in little ways. So for the New Year I thought I would send out a poem on this theme (a long time favourite of mine) and some photos to wish you surprises and unexpected pleasure in the coming year.

What If This Road

What if this road, that has held no surprises
these many years, decided not to go
home after all; what if it could turn
left or right with no more ado
than a kite-tail? What if its tarry skin
were like a long, supple bolt of cloth,
that is shaken and rolled out, and takes
a new shape from the contours beneath?
And if it chose to lay itself down
in a new way; around a blind corner,
across hills you must climb without knowing
what’s on the other side; who would not hanker
to be going, at all risks? Who wants to know
a story’s end, or where a road will go?

~ Sheenagh Pugh ~


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Year of the magpie

I have had a project this year of looking out for and photographing magpies. The aim has been at least one per week. This has been imperfectly achieved – some weeks many pics of maggies and others (not many), none. When in Auburn, strangely, it is not always easy to find them. I wonder if the ‘bigger bird’ niche is taken up by galahs here, as  magpies are much scarcer. I went looking this morning, and did come up with a murray magpie; not quite the same thing, but better than nothing! I have observed that they are very bold, bossy birds. Confident. Social. We have some that hang around the front lawns of the flats I live in – the woman downstairs has taken to leaving food for them and they love it, and call out for her and the food some days (its probably bad for them to be fed this way, but interesting to see them at close quarters). I have also seen quite a few young birds – they have grey feathers on their backs, rather than clearly black and white, which are the adult colours. I am very fond of them, and just love their song. Sometimes I hear a bird carolling late in the night – midnight or thereabouts – some riotous bird staying up late. Of course they are also very protective of their nests in spring and can swoop people who come too close. I remember being scared of this when I was a kid coming home from school. Obviously there were magpies in Auburn then! They were voted Australia’s favourite bird earlier this year – I was pleased, though some others felt it was an unimaginative choice, given how common they are. I have loved looking out for them, and think they are wonderful birds – more so after a year of looking and listening.

It is hard to take good pictures of birds – they fly away, or are too far away, or look away at the last moment, so the pics are a bit haphazard. But here they are…


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Sunset, full moon, solstice

Amid the hurly burly of life, especially at this time of year, it’s good to remember that we are just a tiny part of a very big universe. Today is a reminder of that, with the conjunction of a full moon and the summer solstice. It’s one of the few times of the year that the full moon and the sun are visible in the sky at the same time, and I was down at the beach watching for the moment. It was a beautiful evening; lovely to drift along by the sea as the light faded and then to see the moon like a balloon becoming visible over the eastern horizon. Somehow it helps to put daily dramas into perspective. It also feels like a link to friends in northern climes who are celebrating the return of the sun with the winter solstice – bonfires, candles, midwinter feasts.

Here are some photos from tonight…


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Alison Ashby

In response to last week’s post about Wittunga Botanical Gardens, Nicky (marvellous supporter of this blog and its producer) responded with a link to Alison Ashby, daughter of the original owner of the property and sister to Keith, who gave the place to the Botanical Gardens in 1965. Alison was a very accomplished flower painter, plant lover and conservationist. I had only a vague knowledge of her from the postcards of her work available at the Botanical Gardens shop, but it interested me that such a dynamic woman, with such a close connection to Wittunga and her own life-long commitment to plants would not be mentioned in the information about the Gardens. Could it be an undervaluing of the role of women playing a part in this? Anyway, I found the information about her fascinating (here is the link) and so I thought I would do a little post about her. Her dedication to plants and nature, and her generosity in donating her own property (Watiparinga) in Eden Hills to the National Trust in the 1950’s are inspiring. It is interesting that the family were Quakers – whose practical social justice orientation is well known.

Here are some pictures, from the internet, of Alison and her art…


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Weeping, drooping, prostrate and gorgeous

I went to Wittunga Botanical Garden today – first time I have been there for ages. It was originally a property – house and land – which was left to the state’s botanical gardens in the 1960’s – by the son of the original owner. He was a big gardener apparently, and was particularly interested in native gardens – unusual for that time. He also saw the links between Australian and South African plants, and the similarities of climate here in South Australia and South Africa. Consequently, the garden is full of proteas, leucodendrons, banksias, ericas, correas, hakeas, and on and on. It also has a couple of lakes, many birds, and is beautiful. I was particularly struck by the weeping forms of plants, and the elegance of drooping branches and prostrate forms too – this suggestion of, what, weakness, or limpness, in the naming of the plants belied by their actual beauty. I suspect sometimes that our own weaknesses are also beauties in disguise as well. Or at least that our beauty is made more so (somehow) by the inevitability of what we lack. But this might just be hopeful thinking on my part!
Here are some pics from the day (click to enlarge) …


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