not school camp

One morning earlier this month Bean called me from work to tell me he was not supposed to be at work because his 5 day break was scheduled to start that day and they’d just forgotten to tell him!

I was irritated by the news because had we known earlier we could have gone to the WA Natural Learning Network camp that was due to begin the following day. Bean suggested we still go.

The camp was at Donnelly River, 720km from Geraldton.

“Yeah!” we thought, we can totally pack and drive there in one day. And you know what? We did it!

It was so very, very worth it. We made the decision at noon, by 3pm we’d eaten a decent lunch, packed the kombi and were driving toward Perth. We got to my Mum’s place in Perth at around 8.45pm and we stopped for the night. We left for Donnelly River the next morning and we got there around 1pm, a couple of hours before the rest of our group started arriving. We drove in rain the whole way from Geraldton to Perth and then from Perth to Donnelly River, but the rain stopped when we arrived at Donnelly and didn’t start again until we were leaving a couple of days later. Perfect!

As soon as we arrived we were mobbed by very friendly kangaroos and emus, all wanting to know if we had anything edible in our pockets.

After some time spent patting kangaroos & being gawked at by much more cautious emus we managed to get up the stairs and away from the wildlife, drop our stuff inside our cottage and go for a walk around the village.

Most of the rest of the group arrived that afternoon and evening, with a few arriving the following day too.

That night we had a shared meal at the old mill worker’s club which was fun, chaotic, LOUD and very fulfilling for the sprogs.

After dinner we visited our old friend who is the relief manager for the village and drank cups of tea around his fire while the sprogs played with his drum kit and drew pictures at the table. Quite late at night we trotted back to our cottage for a very, very cold night’s sleep.

The next day our group hired the flying fox for a few hours and the children all ran in and out of each other’s cottages, rode bikes along the street, fed the animals from brown paper bags full of food from the general store and bottle fed some orphaned lambs.

That second evening, which was to be our last, we asked the managers if they had a heater we could use in our cottage because our fire was not heating the space. The cottage next door, which our friends were staying in, was very warm where ours was cold and our fire had been going all day while they’d lit theirs just an hour or so before. The managers couldn’t find a heater and offered to move us to a different cottage as well as reimbursing us for the night and giving us two bottles of wine.

We accepted their offer to move, and gave the wine to our friends who had been sharing their wine and beer with Bean and sharing their warm loungeroom with all of us for the evening.

That night we all slept so well in our new cottage that we decided to request an extra night rather than a reimbursement for the previous night. Our request was granted so we spent the day hanging out with the group rather than packing and heading home.

The next day rain was forecast so we decided to pack early and head off once the rain set in.

The drive back to Perth was pretty scary. A storm had hit and trees were being uprooted in the paddocks next to the road, trees had fallen over the road, large road signs were ripped out with footings still intact and we passed a caravan that had been blown on its side while being towed in the other direction. We made it back to Perth in one piece though, where we had dinner with some old friends before heading back to my Mum’s place for the night.

For the return trip to Geraldton we took the new Indian Ocean Drive, a much nicer drive than the inland roads. The sprogs were so tired after the weekend they were happy to stop infrequently and Van Halen (the white kombi) didn’t miss a beat, sitting comfortably at 60mph on the open roads, so we made it home in good time.

It took me over a week to get to the bottom of mount washmore once we were home, but luckily the post camp high lasted just as long.

A brilliant spontaneous weekend. We’re looking forward to the next camp.

 

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Thank you all for your kind comments for my last post both on the blog and via email. I tried to respond to you all, however some of the emails were eaten in cyberspace as both I and my computer got used to the new mobile phone internet connection.

This camp came just after I wrote that post and vastly improved my state of mind.

posted by wildecrafted in education and have Comments (2)

on the road

I’m trying something SUPER geeky now and updating the blog from my mobile phone. We’re in Manjimup waiting for our lovely dog trainer to meet us with some BARF dog food, nutritional oil and a “bite lead” for Dave. We decided to take the long way to Albany so we could do one of her puppy classes this morning but class was canceled today 🙁 so we’ll come back next week :). We stopped at the bakery to grab some food. I’ve never tasted a worse spinach and ricotta sausage roll! At least there was no sign claiming they made “famous pies” like most country bakeries. They must know they don’t make decent food!

posted by wildecrafted in journal and have No Comments

Great Southern Land

We went to Albany last weekend and stayed with Bean’s folks. They’d returned from their caravan trip around Australia only a few days before we arrived. It was a long weekend and we hadn’t seen them for over 8 months so we decided to make a trip down to catch up & to get away from the city & suburbs.

The main reason for our trip though was that Bean had a couple of job interviews Saturday morning. Both were sparky jobs, he’s keen to do the last little bit of his apprenticeship and finally get his ticket. He was offered one of the jobs and he starts early April.

We’ll be living in Denmark, 50km from Albany. We’re both very excited to be leaving the suburbs for the bush (and therefore having to change the tagline of this blog from “adventures in suburban sustainability” 😉 ). Small town life surrounded by bush & close to the sea is much more appealing to us both than our current situation.

The weather there is very appealing too. While in Albany at the weekend I was not too hot, for the first time in months & without the aid of a fan or air conditioner. When we visited Denmark it rained. Sweet, fresh rain. I wasn’t designed to withstand Perth’s hot Summer, so I’m not sad to be leaving it behind me.

We’ve done a bit of research on the homeschooling community down there & have learned there is a fairly large number of families who homeschool, so we’ll be able to comfortably continue our natural learning journey with others. There are also a few families from the natural learning group we’re a part of here in Perth who will also be making a move to Denmark in the near future.

We’re currently looking for a house to rent, which is a tricky thing to do from a distance. If we don’t secure somewhere before Bean’s new job begins he’ll stay with his folks and keep looking then I’ll follow with the children when he finds a place.

We’re planning to sell or give away most of our furniture in Perth because the value of it compared to the amount of money it will cost to move it that distance makes it not worth moving. We’ll keep our big ticket items and then buy or scrounge what we can once we’re down there.

The logistics are big, and I’m looking forward to the actual moving part being over. Even that can’t squash my excitement though. This seachange has come about so easily, a series of events that have just fallen into place so perfectly. Nothing has ever worked so seamlessly in our 4.5 years together. This is meant to be happening right now, & I’m so glad we created the opportunity.

posted by wildecrafted in journal and have No Comments

Compassion Caravan according to Sally

The following is an article written by another woman who came on the trip to Leonora with us at the weekend.

My thoughts on the weekend.

By Sally Woodliff

We set out from Perth in a bus full of books and toys. 22 people from diverse backgrounds – a social worker, some university lecturers, an ex-detainee (now a business owner), students, teachers, tradies and children; a 3 year old and a chubby cheeked baby. We were on a “Santa Claus mission” to bring smiles and fun to the nearly 200 mothers, fathers and children in the Leonora detention centre. Our requests were few and seemingly reasonable; to visit with the people detained, to run some organised sporting activities with the children and to set up the donations in a way that would allow the parents the freedom to choose the toys, books and clothes most suitable for their families.

Instead we were treated as potential criminals. Extra police drove in from Kalgoorlie to watch us. Both federal and state security accompanied us as “facilitators”, but failed to facilitate anything beyond what we were able to sort for ourselves. At one stage, when the frustration got too great, I went for a walk around the block and was followed by a police van. They sat and watched me cry and then took my details. I can only assume that I have either been added to their list of potential trouble makers or was vetted for previous misdemeanours.  We were on a good will visit so we tried at all times to be pleasant and non confrontational, yet when we asked for copies of any policies so that we could comply with them we hit a blank wall. We asked what we needed to do to make contact possible. We were willing to fill out forms, hand over our working with children checks and provide references. We were simply told, “Nope, not going to happen.”

The centre itself looks like the sort of prison camp you would expect to see in a third world country. There is nothing but red dirt and dongas, surrounded by high block-out fences and guards standing to attention at intervals around the perimeter. We were separated by padlocked gates, a double fence, a 100 metre wide dry moat and a plethora of stony faced guards. They have made a deliberate barrier to stop the world seeing in and the detainees seeing out.

The people inside had heard we were coming and were very obviously excited. Children were hoisted up on shoulders in order to see over the compound walls and faces popped up over the fences. They were waving homemade signs, one reading “Welcome to Leonora Family Rejection Centre”. The children started up the communication by shouting “Hi!” and cheering. We responded with “Azadi!” (freedom!) and blew party whistles. We laid the toys outside the fence and an army of guards came and took them inside. We received no information on how the donations would be distributed or even if they would be. The detention centre manager responded to most requests with, “I don’t have to answer that.”

I felt as though I’d entered an alternate reality. I thought the police were meant to protect people’s legal and civil rights. The police were there to make sure that Serco, the private company operating the centre, would not be inconvenienced by our charity. I said to two policemen, “How can you stand it? Don’t you just want to bust them out and play a game of football?” One looked uncomfortable and the federal “facilitator” told him not to answer me. The other smirked and said he’d rather be at home playing football with his children (who I assume are not locked up in a prison camp). I worry about what it must do for the mental health of the personnel involved in the centre – it must require a lot of emotional suppression in order to deal with the reality they see. The line “I was only following orders” only works for so long.

What makes the police presence even more unbelievable was the fact that only that morning we had rung the police from the Kalgoorlie camping site to report a father who was threatening his young daughter with extreme violence. We reported that we had heard the father threaten to strangle her and “put one through the back of [her] head.” The police responded that it was not their business to deal with “how people parent their children” and that they could only do something after actual violence had occurred. It seems incredible then that they had travelled to Leonora on only the idea of we might do… I’m not actually sure what they thought we might do…. chant? Wave signs? Talk to people??

I have personal experience with grief and trauma. The outpouring of support I received after my partner died was nothing short of remarkable. Australians have a great capacity for compassion and understanding. When each day seemed to last a month and I struggled in a sea of pain I was supported by a professional counselling service and an incredible community who allowed me the time, space and freedom to recover equilibrium. These very traumatised families are being denied all of the things necessary to recover mental stability. They are in a highly stressful situation with no feelings of safety or assurance. They feel they might be sent home at any moment, to almost certain death. They are separated from normal life – they are prevented from cooking for their families, from having their own space and possessions and they have no access to the natural environment. They are watched at all times by guards who are used to dealing with criminals. The guards have no training in mental health, children’s welfare or social work. I wouldn’t allow some of these men into my classroom, yet in Leonora they have unrestricted access and power over the children and their parents. I can’t tell you how much this frightens me.

Our translator talked to me about his own experiences in detention. Six years on he battles daily with the mental, emotional and physical scars from the three years he spent in Australian detention centres. What occupies his mind now is not the time spent fleeing his home or the time in camps in other countries or what must have been a terrifying journey in a leaky boat. He is damaged from time spent in our country, under the “care” of our systems and governments. He asks “Why was I punished? I’m a good person?” Unfortunately his case is not unique. There is overwhelming medical evidence that there is a direct link between immigration detention and deteriorating mental health. Our translator said that he could see the signs of beginning mental illness in the faces of the people he met in the Leonora facility. Despite popular belief, on their own children don’t just “bounce back” from traumatic experiences. They need professional support and care to be able to deal with the past. Without support, and with the ongoing stress that they experience in these facilities, they are likely to develop mental illnesses that will be with them for the rest of their lives. That treating people with such severity is not only part of Australian policy, but is also now celebrated as an achievement, is unforgivable. It needs to stop.

The media are denied access to the centre. People who enter to visit are not allowed to take anything with them – not even a pencil to make notes. Visitors are not allowed to take anything out with them either, including handwritten notes from the detainees. The manager reported that all written communication had to go through an “official process”. This means that guards would write down who the letter was from and who it was addressed too. Detainees were also not given a receipt for their letters. We were unable to recieve a letter that we knew had been written for us. The reason given was the existing back-log of unsent mail that would have to be processed first. I find it hard to believe that facilitating contact with the outside world is a priority for centre staff.

Visitors must give 24 hours notice and have the name of the person they want to visit. They can be refused if the name is incorrectly spelled. They can also be denied entry on the discretion of the centre manager without a given reason. None of the official web pages contain the mailing address of the centre. Letters sent to “Leonora detention centre” are returned to sender. Effectively this means that the asylum seekers are denied any form of communication with the outside world. They have no voice.

This is occurring under a Labor government. From all the signs it only looks like it will get worse unless the public make a concerted effort to say this is not okay. The Liberal policy is potentially even more inhumane, with the proposed reintroduction of temporary protection visas and reopening of Nauru. Temporary protection visas keep families separated, place asylum seekers in a psychologically devastating state of uncertainty and deny them their fundamental rights such as the right to work and to take English classes. Currently this abuse is occurring on Australian soil with guards who are able to go home at night to their families. Who will staff an off shore detention centre? What will ensure the staff’s mental stability? And who will be there to monitor what happens? Out sourcing our processing facilities to countries who themselves are struggling to provide human rights for their own citizens can hardly ensure an improvement to conditions.

There are workable and humane solutions that maintain the dignity of refugees. We could pump the money that is currently going to Serco into services that everyone could use. We currently have a severe housing shortage in Australia for needy people. Imagine if the millions (billions?) of dollars going into detention centres went into housing, ESL education programs and mental health workers. Imagine what that would do to a town like Leonora. We are currently seeing an overwhelming waste of money, resources and human potential. Not to mention what it is doing to our international standing and our national image of Australians as fair and compassionate people. This situation needs to stop. I normally hate it when people compare situations to the Nazis but in this case the thinking is the same. Fundamentally good people are standing by while lives are destroyed by cruelty, pettiness and a careless disregard for the dignity and well-being of fellow human beings. Get informed. Get active. Please.

posted by wildecrafted in activism and have No Comments

Compassion Caravan (before)

This weekend we’re going on a bus trip with 20 odd people (yes, we’re all very odd :P) from the Refugee Rights Action Network. An 850km bus trip to Leonora and back (1700km round trip) to visit families of asylum seekers being held in detention.

For info on the purpose of the caravan, see here.

We’ve been on a convergence with RRAN before, in 2005, a much longer one. We went to the Baxter Immigration Detention Centre in Port Augusta, South Australia. In 2005 we didn’t have children though. Actually, in 2005 we weren’t in a relationship either, Liam did sit next to me on the way there though…

So, given that we’re not childless, single people anymore, there is a lot more for us to consider this time around, it’s not as simple as packing our clothes/tent/snacks & hoping for the best. We’ve got a 3 year old child & a baby to entertain in the confines of a bus, a bus that we’re sharing with another 15-20 people.

Babyman doesn’t require much in the way of entertaining yet, he’s not really very mobile & basically as long as he has free access to boobs, cuddles & regular clean nappies he’s pretty happy. The Bubble on the other hand, she’s 3 & VERY high energy. I’ve thought a lot about what things we can do with her on the bus to keep her occupied for the 20 (or more?!) hours we’ll be bussing for.

I’ve bought her some new story books, which she was about due for anyway, because new is often more captivating when it comes to story books for 3 year olds. Her favourite of the new story books is her copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle.

I’ve made her a craft kit. I don’t mean to blow my own trumpet but it is AWESOME (toot toot toot)!

I’ve got a clear plastic box with 8 compartments and filled them with:

1. cotton wool balls

2. wooden dolly pegs

3. foam monster shaped stickers

4. colourful plastic pony beads with large, toddler friendly size holes

5. rainbow coloured popsticks

6. different size & shape fabric off-cuts from my quilting stash (yes, there is paisley in there)

7. different size & colour pom poms

8. craft ribbon & goggly eyes

I’ve also got a bag filled with things that didn’t fit in the box:

Sticker sheets with stickers of many different sizes, shapes & colours; multicoloured pipe cleaners; craft glue; scissors; a colouring book; coloured pencils & sharpener; large size, natural (non coloured) popsticks; a large ball of grey yarn for threading beads & other general crafty applications; a pad of scrap paper that Liam made at work to use as a drawing pad.

I’ve deliberately excluded things like glitter & paint because they’re a little too messy for the bus.

Tonight, once The Bubble was in bed Liam made some playdough to include in the activity bag, I suggested he mix lavender essential oil into it, hopefully it’ll act as a calming activity if/when The Bubble needs calming. We have already made 8 batches of playdough in the thermomix last night to give to the children in detention at Leonora. Liam made the playdough & I kneaded the colours & some essential oils into the batches by hand while he got started on each new batch, true production line styles. We made a playdough rainbow…

Red with rose oil, orange with tangerine oil, yellow with lemon oil, green with lime oil, blue with ylang ylang oil, indigo with patchouli oil, violent with lavender oil.

On top of all that stuff for activities we’ve packed about half the clothes they own, we’ll probably not need them, but if we don’t have extra clothes they’ll no doubt be needed. Better to have them in the bag & be able to put them back in the cupboard unused when we get home, than to leave them in the cupboard & curse when we run out of clean, dry kids clothes.

We’ve got awesome snacks for the trip so there’ll be no roadhouse stodge for us. I went to the little organic place just up the road from our house to get enough food for snacks & meals. I’m sure we’ll be rolling off the bus when we get to Kalgoorlie tomorrow night after eating hazelnuts, almonds, cashews, brazil nuts, pistachios, dark chocolate covered cranberries, raw cacao nibs, goji berries, sultanas, roast veg salad, fresh fruit salad (kiwi fruit, red apple, banana, orange, pear), mushrooms, carrot sticks, celery sticks, spicy lentil dip, cold organic beef sausages, avocado, fresh honeycomb & popcorn!

I’ve also got a herbal first aid kit of sorts. I’m not feeling well & since I’d be taking herbs at home, I’ve decided to dispense myself some travel sized herbs. Tinctures of Echinacea, Olive Leaf & Golden Seal plus some essential oils, herbal lozenges for my sore throat & wholefood supplements (bee pollen, barley grass, spirulina etc.)

On that note, massive weekend begins in 8 hours, I need to rest now!

I’ll be taking notes & writing an update on the trip when we get home. Keep an eye on the RRAN website (www.rran.org) over the weekend for live updates.

posted by wildecrafted in activism and have Comments (2)