ECH Residency – Day 4

Today is Friday and I am not going up to Emerald. I needed to go buy a whole bunch more fabric and get a few things organised befor the weekend. Saturday and Sunday are both going to be super busy! On Saturday the community is taking over the airwaves in a localised pirate radio protest to keep the old local radio station in community hands, everyone is dressing as pirates! Plus, I’m going to be interviewed on the airwaves about this project. Sunday is the day of the monthly local markets which are held at the hall where I have been working. I am going to have a little stall and do some ‘performance sewing’ and continue my conversations with locals about what being resilient means to them.
Awesome
^_^

Yesterday, which was day 4 of the residency was a busy day. I had lots of people come in and have a yarn with me.
It started with a visit from Graeme, who is on the Cockatoo Neighbourhood Centre committee and a long-time local to the region. Mary and Non joined us and the four of us had an hour long conversation about a wide range of issues affecting them on a local, state, national and global level. Graeme is the full time carer of his adult son who lives with a disability and needs constant care. I identified strongly with the challenges that Graeme faces as a sole carer as my older brother also lives with a disability and requires full time care. Currently my brother Guy lives with my parents, our long term plan as a family is that I will take over as his carer when my parent can no longer manage. Luckily for us we don’t live in a high-fire danger area and do not have to worry too much about what we would need to do if we had to evacuate the house on a high-risk day. Graeme does, and he told us that there is nowhere he and his son can really that he can go on a high-risk day; Frustratingly for him the nearby respite centres all close on high-risk days… So he got a car that they can sleep in.

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It’s stories like Graeme’s, or like the story Non shared about another young (25year old) local man who has taken on a carer role for his brother after he was in a serious accident, that really strike home how important it is for us to operate as communities that look after one-another. That is the kind of society that I want to live in at least – one where we can rely on each other for help. They also reminded us that it is not only women taking on carer roles and that men also struggle with the same challenges of isolation, inability to get work that allows them the flexibility they meet to meet their responsibilities and the worry of what will happen to their loved ones when they are no longer able to care for them.

Later in the afternoon Suzanne, the ECH cleaner came over to have a yarn. We talked about some craft projects she has done in the past and then Suzanne shared a deeply personal story about what resilience means to her and what has helped her to overcome the challenges she has faced in life. She told me that what has helped her to live with the effects of trauma was learning how to get a critical distance from what happened. Adding that ‘fear might be all you get – we have to learn to listen to our intuition more’. Whether its on a high-risk day when you have to decide whether to leave, or whether you are feeling uneasy about being alone in a dark ally or in a domestic situation, sometimes fear is a red flag that we must listen to in order to save ourselves.

While Suzanne and I were talking another lady came in, she is a local artist that works in leadlight and glass. She wanted to know a bit about my practice and my process, and whether I was getting paid and fining a way to make a living off my practice. She said that despite the fact she has been living off her own practice for over 30 years people (mostly men apparently) still treat her like she is a hobbyist – not a real artist. we talked about the unfortunate statistics around how much less women are represented by professional galleries, exhibited in solo shows and how much less money they get for their art. She told me not to listen to people’s bullshit and to keep going with my art – generous advice. She also talked about how much Emerald has changed since she when she was a child growing up here; about how lots of building that should have been heritage listed have disappeared and how the culture of the area has changed. She’s going to be there on Sunday for the markets and I look forward to talking some more and having a look at her work. Finally another lady who makes bags to sell at the markets walked through and had a quick chat – we mostly talked sewing techniques, I’ll see her again on Sunday too.

Meanwhile Lee, who visited me on Tuesday and whom I wrote about in my previous post shared this on her FB page which was nice of her.

2015/01/img_2577.png I am definitely going to make sure the possum ends up on the finished work – the leadbeater’s possum is the cutest!!

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From all the conversations I had today the two main points that stuck with are issues that I’ve been exploring in my work in community/ non-profit sector for several years:
1) How can we address the crucial difference between equal opportunity and equal outcomes – so that everyone in society, even if the are somewhat disadvantaged/margionalised (whether that is because of class, race, gender, beliefs or ability) are able to achieve the same outcomes as everyone else?
2) How do we move from the -I- to the -WE-. From an isolated collection of individuals to a globalised community without loosing our hard-won individuality and the things that make us unique at a local level?

Between all these chats I did manage to get some sewing done. I’ve based the design of this quilt off a piece my grandmother made which is in her book “Folk Art AppliquΓ© Quilts” (pictured below). I’ve been working for like a day and a half on the patchwork border and spent the afternoon trying to do the leaf border panels she has in her quilt but I failed miserably… I’ve got a bit of work to do before I can sew so many random curves together in such a way that they lie flat. Unfortunately her book isn’t very instructive when it comes to the finer details – Dawn was self taught and I get the feeling she just made things up as she went along.

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So for now this is where I’m at,

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I’m yet to build in the panels with the local animals/birds/plants that will bring this quilt together. I have a lot of work to do in the coming week!!

ECH Residency – Day 2

Today was a quiet drizelly day in emerald.

I spent the morning working quietly on my own, finishing the first panel of the Cockatoo kindergarden and then getting started on the second panel featuring Emerald Community House hall – here is a work in progress shot:

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In the afternoon there was a small workshop in the second space of the hall, 5 local ladies where in there making really beautiful mosaic pots (see image below). At afternoon tea time they came over and introduced themselves and we had a chat about my work. They really loved what I have finished so far and one of the ladies, Donna, happened to be on the people who originally came up with the idea of transforming the derelict kindergarden into a memorial/museum of Ash Wednesday! She has been on the committee driving the project for ten years and was of course a part of the protests that prevented the building from being demolished.

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Donna told me some of the history and details of the project and how it they finally managed to get support and funding to get it to happen. Having spent four years speaking to community leaders in disaster affected areas around the country the story she told me is a familiar one: Its a story of local people identifying a need or gap in their community and coming up with their own solution to address it – but then having to fight a long and drawn out battle to win political and monetary support to realise their ideas; Its a story of local women at the forefront of grassroots leadership – doing amazing, innovative things – but still having to struggle with how our society perceived women who show leadership (‘bossy’, ‘pushy’ and ‘a bit too in your face); Its a story about the struggle to get local emergency services to recognise the importance of community resilience building activities that address the phycological issues that arise from disaster events (but don’t have anything to do with ‘putting out the fires’). Its a story about how grassroots leaders adapt and learn to lead from behind (placing ‘important, white, men’ as the spokesmen for their ideas). The good news is that Donna spoke about how much things have changed, and that the Cockatoo kindergarden is now heritage listed and about to be rebuilt.

She also shared some snippets from different stories about the building, such as: During the fire while the 300 people were sheltering in the building there were three firemen on the roof protecting it, and that the building continued to act as a refuge after the fire, at least for one girl who used to break in there at night to get away from domestic issues in her family. She said she has a lot more photos to show me and that she will hopefully pop in to see me again.

Here is the finished panel of the cockatoo kindergarden building soon to be an Ash Wednesday memorial/museum. Complete with Dot standing on the roof protesting the proposed demolition of the building.

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