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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It was dad’s birthday this week – he was 95. In 1923, Tutankhamen’s tomb was opened, Time magazine’s first issue was published, Hitler attempted a coup in Germany (the Beer Hall Putsch it is called), insulin was first used to treat diabetes (and its discoverers won the Nobel prize for medicine in that year too) – and WRB  was born in Mrs Wright’s nursing home, Saddleworth South Australia.

He has been a lovely dad, and I have really enjoyed getting to know him more in recent years. I went up to see him on the big day – we went out to lunch in Watervale – they have a new-ish cafe there, and it was delicious. I made the usual Blow Away sponge and we caught up with the rest of the family, either in the flesh or on the phone.

I took a couple of photos, but they are pretty bad (dad’s eyes are closed or he’s looking the wrong way or something. One of the dangers of taking pics without my glasses on!!) – so click on the link above for the pics taken a few years ago… and in the meantime, here are some other photographic links to events in 1923.

Another notable cultural event of the year was the release of that inimitable song ‘Yes, we have no bananas’! Here is the original version…(Click here)

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History of leaves

I have been to various Festival events this past week, and have been struck by the  various ways that ‘ordinary’ people, who don’t earn a living from artistic or creative activities, have played a big part in what’s been going on – as volunteers, helpers of various sorts, but as performers too.

At Writers’ Week, there are heaps of volunteers showing the way, staffing the book tent entrance and the Trees for Life people who have made the beautiful backdrops and welcome arches over the past few years. My cousin Heather is one of these Festival Volunteers at WW – she does it most years.

She was also one of the local people who was part of the Lost and Found Orchestra – ‘playing’ a plastic bag she tells me. Other folk – including Paul, who owns the flat below me – were also part of the performance, banging, flapping, stroking and whirling the various improvised instruments that were created out of stuff that would normally be thrown away – things like the aforementioned plastic bags plus lids, pipes, milk bottles, sticks and more. There were hundreds of ‘extras’ and I loved it – seeing so many people being part of a big show in front of lots of people.

Then later in the week I went to a stunning show at the Playhouse – a performance of Alice Oswald’s poem Memorial, which has been transformed into a theatre piece by a local company. Helen Morse performed the poem alongside a wonderful musical ensemble of players and singers in a small orchestra, some professional dancers, and 215 Adelaide folk, representing each of the people who died in Homer’s Illiad, and on whom this poem is based. They sang in unison, and performed various collective actions to moving and marvellous effect throughout the piece. A few folk I know, including Megan and Marg, were part of the show, and I know they have rehearsed the various songs and choruses for months. It was incredibly poignant to see the long lines of people moving across the stage in various ways – different ages, sizes, abilities and colours – representing the lost lives of so many ordinary folk in war and unnecessary death, made more striking by their actual ordinariness – it was as if I was seeing myself and my dad and his friends who died in war all up there. There is an image at the end of the poem (and the performance) of the dead being like leaves from so many trees blowing in the wind, and asking who could write a history of leaves:

Like leaves who could write a history of leaves
The wind blows their ghosts to the ground
And the spring breathes new leaf into the woods
Thousands of names thousands of leaves

The impossibility of grasping the reality of all these people, but the beauty of trying to. I found it just marvellous – and knowing some of the performers was part of that.

This links in a serendipitous way to another connection with Adelaide folk who are part of the Festival. On Monday I took a break from Writers’ Week to investigate the show 21: Memories of growing up. This is a video piece where the artist has interviewed lots of people of various ages and from heaps of different places about what they were doing when they were 21, and then videoed them listening back a few months later to what they said. Megan H and I went together. There were many different small video screens to look at, each of them playing a small group of interviews one after the other. We chose a screen at random, and ended up listening to three or four interviews with people who turned 21 in the 1990’s. The first one was particularly emotional – a lovely woman who had been in Italy when she was 21, and struggling with an eating disorder. She said in the piece that she eventually came to Australia and had obviously made many changes in her life. As we left to go after seeing a few more stories, one of the volunteers at the venue asked us how we had gone – and by chance it was this very woman. We spoke with her for a while (it was a thrill and she told us a bit more about how it came about that she was part of the show), and she told us that she was going to be part of the Memorial performance too, on the night I went as it turned out (Tuesday), as one of the 215, and with the task of carrying water to Helen Morse at one point in the show. And so I saw her there too.

The links and weaving together of all these local people in this big part of the Adelaide calendar, and me there too, as a regular punter, have made the whole week very special. The image of us all as leaves, just leaves, both insignificant and crucial has been with me for days now.

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Writers’ Week 2018 (the interviewer)


John Lyons, Peter Mares and Sarah Sentilles

It’s that time of year again, Writers’ Week, and I have been lapping it up these past couple of days. Beautiful weather, lovely setting, great organisation, fantastic people to listen to and their books to enjoy. I have highlighted in different years the plants, the writers (and more writers), the stimulation,  the friends and time. This year I have particularly noticed what a difference the interviewers make to the sessions. These various folk have read the books from all the people they are interviewing, thought of questions, developed ideas and threads of enquiry, and then have the skill to leave space for answers, not make it too much about themselves, and bring the audience into the equation too. It must be difficult at times, juggling all this, but mostly they do a great job.

Yesterday one of my highlights was the interview with John Lyons, who was a Middle East correspondent for a number of years based in Israel, and Sarah Sentilles, writer of a fascinating book that has featured here a few weeks ago. It was conducted by Peter Mares, who used to work for the ABC, and whose work is consistently thoughtful and insightful. He had obviously done his homework thoroughly and for me the interplay and parallels between both the writers, as brought out by Peter, was really stimulating and invigorating.

There are many ‘behind the scenes’ people who go to making WW the wonderful event that it is, and some of them (the aforementioned interviewers, or chairs) are actually right up front and ‘on’ the scene after all.

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In praise of the dull

I was challenged today about my description last week of sparrows as dull. I hereby apologise fully to those sparky little fliers. I only meant their colour, not their character. And of course, that brings up the possibility of me being ‘brown-ist’. I mean there are many glorious shades of brown (aren’t there??) and many lovely brown things…

but sparrows are not toucans, and comparatively speaking they are ((((dull)))).

This has had me thinking about dullness though – which is not necessarily a bad thing at all anyway. I have had many a dull Saturday night at home watching telly – and pulled up the next morning feeling refreshed and restored. Quiet, slightly boring times are often just the ticket. If there is a choice between dull and chaotic, I’ll choose the dull almost every time.

And sometimes dull is just an indication that we haven’t looked very closely. Dull landscapes are pretty amazing when you get close up to them. Supposedly dull people often prove to be fascinating when you really get to know them. Even ourselves, whom (if I am anything to go by) we can find pretty dull on a day-in day-out basis as we plod through the never-ending routines and chores of everyday life, have our intriguing elements and general wondrousness to the people who love us.

So, dull sounds like an insult to last week’s birds and lots of other things besides; but in the spirit of closer inspection, the ordinary, quotidian and commonplace are the stuff of most of our lives. They only require a bit of attention to shine out, for their magic to be seen.

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Sparrows as little gifts


Zoomed in (and thus a bit blurry) shot of a sparrow taken at Rotary Park on the night of CHO’s January dinner. Waiting for scraps from our fish and chips…

I have noticed sparrows this week, those unobtrusive, dull, everyday birds, which nonetheless have a sparkiness and strength to them that really shines through. Birds, including sparrows (and like other animals), are relentlessly themselves too – no self-consciousness. They are like little determined gifts in a day.

I’ve just ripped the house apart to find a poem by Louise Nicholas, a local poet, about a sparrow hopping around outdoor cafe tables. You know how they keep their eyes out for crumbs, a bit like seagulls at the beach waiting for leftover chips or bread. Here it is:

Bird at The Edge

Into the labyrinthine dip and curl
of our coffee-shop conversation –
your philandering husband, my aching feet,
the high price of housing, the low line of televangelism –

comes a sparrow
that hops at the edge of our despair
until it charms an opening, a parting of the waters,
then taking its fill of pear-and-ginger cake crumbs,

flies away
and returns with the gift of a single feather
as though to remind us that sometimes
what goes around comes around by the very next post

and that even the marketing crassness
of, “Buy Jesus, get Moses free!”
can shed a little lightness of being
on this otherwise deluded and doltish Sunday.

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Letter to self (from Pam)

I caught up with Pam on the phone recently. She wrote posts for this blog quite regularly in the early days, including some of the most viewed over the years such as Pam’s ode to the ghost gum and“Clay has a memory”. She moved back to WA a few years ago and is much happier in her life. Of course there are ups and downs, but being close to most of her kids, and in a place she loves, with friends around her, is a marvellous thing. I asked her to think about doing another post, and she sent me the following – a letter to herself that expresses this sense of her having found herself and being on her own side. What a grand thing. She also sent some photos of Bunbury I think it is, where she lives, which I’ve added below. It looks like a great place. Good on you Pam, and greetings from sunny South Australia! 

To my dear Pamela Naomi,

I wanted to write you a letter my dear friend. I have been there from the moment you were born. What an amazing baby you were – you did all the right things, such gorgeous little slanted eyes. Your childhood was a bit tough, but you made it through with such strength and determination; you didn’t always follow the right road, falling off occasionally. Your dream was to have babies which you achieved without any problems. Most have grown up now and have their own families. They have their complaints about you, such as not having Christmas tree presents (which is so not true!), but you did the best you could which in my opinion was good. You loved your kids and you were a great mum and I’m proud of you for that. Now you are 54 you are a strong, beautiful woman, contented and living in a place you always felt was Home. You are at peace with your life, what is and what was. You have searched for the person you were meant to be with most of your life, but you found her in yourself. She was there all the time. So, my dear Pamela, I will sign off now – remember I love you now and forever and I am so proud of you.

Love from

Pamela Naomi

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The hum of quiet action

I went to a birthday party last night – lovely evening and lots of nice people. I ended up speaking to quite a few folk I either didn’t know very well, or at all. One thing that came up a few times was the things people do to keep ‘the good life’ ticking over. By this I mean how much community association goes on, groups for enthusiasts, support for causes, sharing of produce, environmental action, working bees and on and on, outside of work, outside of much organisation and with no fanfare. It was very inspiring.

Here are a few of the things that were mentioned:

Wendy’s tree of avocados, big crop (and worth a lot this year if she sold them), are mostly going to be donated to a small school project supporting a venture in East Timor.

Hannah’s dress was made by From Found a small local business employing local women from refugee backgrounds and using pre-used and recycled fabric. Win win win everywhere you look – and the dress was lovely.

Sue does two days a week at her local council’s environmental project weeding out blackberries from creeks on one day and putting little red gums in tube stock the other day.

And then my favourite (as it links with a CHO theme of the moment), Jan, who decided, on the basis of initially no knowledge at all, to keep a beehive in the garden of the block of units she lives in. She took them on a while back and has 100000 she tells me, with two queens. They produced  (I can hardly believe this is what she said) a whopping 37 kg of honey from them last year. As she knew nothing when she started, she hooked up with the Beekeepers Society of SA, and got support from them – a mentor to help her learn, and regular meetings held monthly. I just love that people do these things. Jan took a punt, and got support from people who have an enthusiasm and want to share it and now there are happy bees and lots of honey where before, in her little corner of the world, there was none. These things are examples of making things happen – fragments of world alteration. The quiet hum of life in the ‘burbs is people doing things: no fuss, no accolades, just making life better.

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