SUE JACKSON Therapist/Writer/Photographer/Activist

Last year, as the unofficial blogger/photographer to the anti-East-West Link campaign, our battles were my blog's entire focus. But by Christmas, with the electoral win for people power and the dumping of the dud Tunnel, I was suddenly at a loss. What to write about now? Not sure yet. But there will be ongoing musings and images from this Australian life. So please leave a message. (No need to sign into an account. Simply comment as ‘anonymous’; then leave your name within the comment itself.)

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Rigoberta Menchu Tum: my 5 take-home messages

With Prof Fethi Mansouri, Deakin's UNESCO Chair

'If you took five ideas (from tonight) that stay with you and are useful for your life and your work, I would be very happy.' That was the concluding comment of Guatemala's Dr Rigoberta Menchu Tum at last night's UNESCO Chair Oration at Deakin University, where I attended with my Spanish class.
Five ideas! Usually if I take away one, or at most two, ideas that I can't wait to try out, I feel I've hit the jackpot. But Rigoberta was right. After the talk numerous ideas jostled my mind just like the numerous passengers jostled my body in the packed home-bound tram. But for this blog I'll be ruthless and restrict myself to my top 5 picks:
1. Rigoberta's presentation style was so different from the Western academic style we are used to. I have learned (from exposure to the Dalai Lama) that if I don't analyse what is being said too much, if I move out of my head, and try to listen with other parts of myself, as Rigoberta recommends, I am inevitably rewarded with a wonderful experience.
Although she is from Guatemala and he is from Tibet, there are many ways in which Rigoberta, whom I'd never heard speak before, reminds me of His Holiness. She and the Dalai Lama, whom she referenced, engage with the audience in a very similar way. Like him, what Rigoberta says is also deceptively simple. And despite their shared histories of tragic losses of loved ones and banishment from their homelands, both of them are full of smiles.
2. Rigoberta was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her activism on behalf of poor Indian peasant families, like the one into which she was born. The Quiche branch of the Mayan culture in which she was raised is fundamental to who she is in the world and she delights in tracing her origins far, far back. Colin Hunter, a Wurundjeri Elder, who gave a welcome to country partly in the Wurundjeri language at the meeting, clearly also treasures his own ancient tradition and culture.

Colin Hunter with his possum collar and gift of gum leaves for us

3. Rigoberta reminded us that nobody can solve problems alone. She believes we need to build webs of reciprocity, to stand together to oppose discrimination and other injustices wherever we live. Recently I was witness to groups of her fellow South American Indians doing just that on the streets of Buenos Aires:


4. Rigoberta makes an active choice not to talk about torture, the 'disappeared', murders or other abuses, as she is more than qualified to do. This is because she is determined to help build a 'new perspective of hope for young people: 'The most important think is to inject a dose of positivity. That is what I practice.'
5. I mentioned earlier that I attended the talk with my Spanish class. We tend to grab every opportunity to hear Spanish speakers in full flow. And the final idea that thrilled me on the tram is that I can actually understand more Spanish than I realised.

Rigoberta with her interpreter

As long as I am always in the company of a Guatemalan, articulating beautifully clearly as they do. And that person speaks lecturer-slyle, slowly enough for listeners to take notes. And her brief statements are punctuated by an interpreter filling in every word missed, Spanish will be an open book for me. That's definitely something to smile about. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Bikes vs Parks: Yarra Council Meeting


The flier in my letter box was compelling. 'Stop the Chop' inscribed over the image of a beautiful stand of trees in Rushall Reserve adorned the invitation to attend the Yarra Council meeting last night to protest the Council's plan to extend the shared-access path into the reserve. Despite the cold, I decided to go. After all the threat to the glorious trees in Royal Park was one of the motivators for my involvement in the protests against the dud East-West Link. And unlike Royal Park, Rushall Reserve is literally almost on my doorstep.
In advance of the meeting I decided to revisit the reserve yesterday afternoon. And it proved as beautiful and serene as I had remembered. The whole time I was there I saw only three other people and their dogs, and I could easily understand why many locals are prepared to fight to protect the status quo.

Enjoying an 'off-leash' walk in Rushall Reserve

Arriving at the Fitzroy Town Hall, whose council meeting had been moved to the main hall in anticipation of a large number of protestors, I was offered a 'I'm a Friend of Rushall Reserve' sticker to wear. As I had yet to hear from the other side of the debate, I took the sticker but didn't wear it. Glancing around the hall, I noticed that the opponents of the extension, many of whom were also displaying placards, seemed to outnumber the unadorned around 2:1.


With other business concluded, community members who wanted to address the councillors took to the floor, with supporters of the extension following opponents roughly in order.
Instantly I was shocked by the anti-bike fervour of the opponents. They suggested that if cyclists were allowed into the reserve, serenity would be destroyed, their dogs would have to be on leashes ('dogs and cyclists do not mix' 'I'm a dog owner and I pay a license. Cyclists don't pay a license.') Children would be at risk of injury. Allowing bicycles into Rushall Reserve would be no shared amenity 'but a bicycle track'. I heard complaints about how bicyclists ride on the footpaths, are rude, don't abide by road rules, and are essentially thoroughly nasty folk.
Of course bicyclists are a mixed bag, as are drivers, and walkers. But the more important and vexed question it seems to me is the environmental one. I can absolutely understand the desire of those who want to keep the reserve in its present pristine state. And yet...
Every morning for years I have walked along the shared pedestrian/bike path in Park Street. Particularly in recent years I have been delighted to wait at the St Georges road crossing where I am joined by a larger and larger flotilla of bikes waiting  to cross with me. I have taken this as evidence that the power of cars is waning and more and more people are living the environmental message. And in all that time I have never had an experience of a rude, dangerous rider.
Similarly I am lucky enough to live near the glorious Edinburgh Gardens, which houses a bike path, basketball courts, a table tennis table and a skateboard rink under its majestic elms. I have wheeled push chairs there, kicked balls, sat under the trees, played with hoola hoops, all unimpeded by the presence of cyclists sharing the same space. It's a delight to see so many people out and about, making the most of these beautiful urban gardens.
During the meeting it became clear that Yarra council is still undecided about what form the final plan might take. Perhaps only a small number of trees would have to be removed. And as the area was reclaimed in 1978 from a tip, it seems unlikely that there are ancient trees involved. It could respond well to replanting.
Surprising myself, I left the meeting reconciled to the notion that Rushall Reserve might need to change, as had been tabled way back in 2007. I concluded that there is truth to the statement of Chris Carpenter (Bicycle Network) that:
'A real friend of Rushall Reserve would want to share it with the community.'

I will be interested to hear how the vote went. Watch this space.