SUE JACKSON Therapist | Writer | Photographer | Activist

An avid blogger for the last fifteen years, I believe in the power of the word to change the world. I have participated in, and reported on, a range of protests during this period, including the successful East-West Link campaign and, more recently, our wonderful, home-grown Extinction Rebellion (XR). If you believe, like I do, that it is time for ordinary people to rise up in defence of the planet, I encourage you to explore this blog, share it with your networks, and – of course – take action.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Happy Australia Day?

What's wrong with this picture?

I can't believe it! My only excuse is that I made the flag late last night, when I was tired, and it was only when Peter pointed it out that I realised it was a British rather than an Australian one. But by then it was firmly planted in the chocolate cementing the meringues together, so it was irremovable. I'm just wondering who will be the first patriot at our family get-together this afternoon to notice.
But I guess many Indigenous Australians, who refer to today as Invasion Day, recalling the day when the Union Jack was first hoisted aloft to signify British occupation, might see my mistake as particularly apt. While I guess others among us, concerned that Australia is turning into the 51st state of America, will notice that all my meringue mountain needs is a few miniature marines and it could easily pass for a replica of the iconic Iwo Jima. Being Australian is confusing for lots of us at times.
One thing I do enjoy about Australia though is that, with a small population and increasing localisation, it can (sometimes) be easy to make yourself heard.
After the New Year's Eve's rubbish debacle in the nearby Edinburgh Gardens, I'm sure I was only one of many who contacted the local council. I suggested that they radically increase the number of rubbish receptacles when they know a big night is coming up. So I was delighted to see the difference when I dropped by the gardens this morning. Sure they were over-flowing, but trash bins were everywhere. And although the park was packed last night with party goers keen to see the superb fireworks, there was far less mess and it was more contained. Congratulations Yarra Council.

Edinburgh Gardens - not perfect, but much improved

I have a thing for bikes, so arriving at the City Square to check out Yarn Corner's contribution to the Australia Day celebrations, I was delighted to see this beauty.

Aussie Bike

Lindel, the woman whom I'd met a fortnight ago dismantling the beautiful bike stand covers outside the Fitzroy pool, was already at work. This time her granddaughter, LJ, from Newtown in Sydney 'where yarn bombers are everywhere' (according to LJ) was assisting her. It was LJ who first told her grandmother about yarn bombing...and the rest is history.

Lindel and LJ in action

 Helen, a young woman who arrived from Scotland last year, has found belonging to Yarn Corner a great way to meet people. There are her fellow craft enthusiasts of course, but also people on trams, who often ask if she is a yarn bomber when they notice her crocheting. And even though at past events Helen has merely assisted, this time she has her very own site.

Helen, where's your tartan?

It was great fun chatting and mingling with this unassuming but oh so creative bunch. It seems to me that with their sense of the absurd and fun, their community spirit and co-operation, these yarn bombers embody the best that Australia has to offer.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Blown Away by YARN BOMBERS

Stop, Lindel, stop!

She looked cheerful and friendly. But looks can be deceptive. Or that was my first thought yesterday, as I emerged from yoga class at the Fitzroy pool, to see a woman with scissors removing 'my' beautiful bike stand covers. Affronted on behalf of Santa's little helpers, the elves, whom I'd concluded had decorated the stands and the nearby trees on Christmas eve, I dashed over to enquire what she was up to.
Lindel explained that she is a member of Yarn Corner, one of the craft groups commissioned by Yarra Council to adorn the area. 'So it wasn't the elves after all,' I whinged. For some reason that made Lindel smile.
She went on to say that groups like hers are part of a world-wide movement of Yarn Bombers, whose art gallery is public spaces. You might already have noticed some of their offerings.
Our neighbourhood alone features sign posts with fuzzy multi-coloured jackets, metal fences doubling as notice boards for knitted requests like 'More Books', and my recent favourite - a bike in a woollen layette tethered to a telephone pole in Brunswick street. As Lindel spoke, I realised that even though I hadn't known who was responsible, I'd been amused and challenged and intrigued by the creations of Yarn Bombers for some time.
While it's easy to see what is in it for us, the public, I was curious to learn what the craftspeople, who rarely get any financial reward, get out of it.
Lindel suggested that some people simply want to get their art out there. Others love the social side - there's a reason why Yarn Corner describes itself as a 'stitch and bitch group'. And I was surprised to learn that the camaraderie is often very far-reaching, with the result that some of the bike stand covers were contributed by crafters in America.
There is definitely a lot of playfulness involved, and often a social action motif too, as evidenced in signs I've noticed near abandoned buildings and vacant lots advocating more housing for the homeless.
MJ, a crafter from another group, who met with Lindel while I was talking to her, made the interesting point that many people, who developed knitting and crocheting skills to clothe young families, seek an outlet for those talents once the kids have left home. For them it's often a matter of 'use it or lose it'.
Listening to these wise women, I (sort of) became reconciled to the morphing of the bike stands into their customary utilitarian grey. I suppose even Superman sometimes returns to dreary Clarke Kent.
Just before parting, I had a final thought. What about the issue of waste of all that gorgeous wool? I should have known the Yarn Bombers would have that base covered too. All the wool is carefully collected, washed and then taken to Lort Smith Animal Shelter where it is used as toys for the residents.

Lindel and MJ with a bag of goodies for Lort Smith Animal Shelter (foreground)

Yarn Bombers are increasingly in demand. Lindel's group's motto 'covering the town in yarn, one stitch at a time' doesn't sound such a stretch when you hear that this one group has gigs booked until almost Christmas time. Which is great for us.
So, if you live in Melbourne and want to be blown away by the creativity of your fellow Australians on the Australia Day weekend, check out the city square, where the Yarn Bombers will have adorned 24 trees in the colours of the rainbow. And remember to spare a thought for the hours of companionable work and generosity represented.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Heaven on Earth

Tony tying up his tomatoes

I've known Tony, who is a motor mechanic, forever. Years ago, when the kids were little and I could only afford wrecks, Tony kept me on the road. He saved me from many a scrape and panel beat others. He was quite simply my guardian angel.
So a few years ago on an early morning walk, I wasn't surprised to see him again. There he was, watering his plot, as well as others', at our local community garden. Why I was unsurprised was simple. Initially to distinguish it from the adjoining railway tracks and surrounding industrial wasteland, the community garden had been fenced. And that fence was adorned with enormous intricate plaster wings - surely the shingle of an angel. And that is what Tony proved to be, yet again, this morning.
Lately I've been feeling gloomy about my garden at home. The earth appears dead and the edible plants are sparse and starved-looking and look anything but edible.

My sad little basil

This morning when I walked by and saw him tending his luxuriant plot, I felt overwhelmed by inadequacy. And in a nano-second I found myself confessing my gardening woes to Tony through the garden's metal fence. He immediately took me under his wing and invited me inside.

Tony's basil, in front of his strawberry tunnel

Tony explained how, with his Italian background, gardening is in the blood. His ancestors carried the seeds of their local fig trees in their pants pockets and their grape vines in their jacket linings on the boat to Australia. Tony still calls the plants on his plot after the people who gave him the seeds; there are the 'Russian' tomatoes and Senora Falasquez peas. And, like his father before him, he knows instinctively how to produce bountiful crops. Take zucchini: You simply dig a hole, fill it with chicken or sheep manure, cover it with topsoil, in which you plant 3 zucchini seeds. The roots head straight downwards towards the manure and you end up with super-sized zucchini plants. All this ancient knowledge means that in a tiny space (4 metres by 5 metres) Tony has managed to create a truly celestial plot bursting with fruit and veggies.
As he talked about collecting just the perfect aged manure from friendly farmers, digging it in and turning it over regularly, daily plant watering and vigilant slug and snail inspections, I realised something. Gardening is no mere dalliance. It is committed life-long relationship, in fact one that often extends back over several life times.
I spent my childhood in suburban Reservoir, where our 'New Australian' neighbours grew vines and made wine and generously shared the bounty of their veggie patches with us, their Anglo neighbours. But no one in my family had the slightest personal experience of food growing. It's little wonder I have had to learn from the ground up.
I left Tony, with a capsicum and a huge bunch of basil under my arm, feeling much less self-critical. Such is the power of an angel.