Stories, Questions, and Mysteries

Stories, Questions, and Mysteries

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Robertson a bright future vision.

Robertson a bright future vision.

What kind of Robertson? What kind do you want to live in? To die in? For your grandchildren?
         “This could be the start of something great” as the song says. It could be the start of a discussion or dialogue about our future, the future of the place we live in. But really is just part of a discussion many people in Robertson have a lot of the time.
So I’d like to put forward a piece of the future picture. Firstly, I know I’m just part of an ongoing discussion between locals more experienced than I am about the town. ( See last paragraph) So with some trepidation here goes.
I would like Robertson to be a community, a place where we include others and support one another. No not in some sickly sweet do gooder way, just an Aussie way of looking out for one another. I would like to end my days here, at home, not in a nursing home where I would not live longer; just die longer.
So often I have heard of “children”, adults who have to pack their parents away because they cannot be looked after here. But they could stay here with greater quality of life connected with relatives and friends if there were services to cater for them (us).
We would need smaller places to live. Preferably, this could be within walking, hobbling distance to the shops. Shops where we could get a coffee or a beer and shops where we could meet others, young and old.
What would need to happen to make Robbo such a place? Good medical services-we have these and the service here could specialize in the care of older souls and bodies. Students could come here to specialize in the care of the elderly. The elderly are a growing group, a larger proportion of the Australian population than ever before. So even commercially there is a growing market for services to the elderly.
The Robertson Doctor, currently gives us an enviable and affordable series of services and not just for our bodies, our minds, emotions and souls.
Carers will need care themselves and support and respite as part of the team looking after older people.
There would, probably, be a series of teams of differing mixes of skills for different people. That work needs coordination to provide the best mix of resources of the family and friends.
There would need be catering, cleaning, gardening, transport and purchasing services slightly different from those available now.
All this would mean jobs and meaningful work for younger people and older retired professionally trained careers. Those starting their work lives could start while living here, rather than in the isolation of a city.
I would need somewhere to walk, to swim, to exercise. And what a place we have for this.  How many people even in Australia have such wonderful places to stroll, walk and be nurtured by the scenery? For me the bush is a place to restore my spirit, my soul, to link with ever changing, growing nature. The Council is working on more and varied walks around and between villages. See Facebook: Tracks and Trails of Wingecarribee.
Probably in a smaller house I would not have my own workshop/shed. But I would still have a need to make things, to fix things for us and others. So a community shed would be great. Likewise a community garden where we cold grow some stuff and learn about gardening with others would be a treasure. I have often thought that Robertson could grow its own vegetables and fruit on our rich soil verges. After all we do not eat grass and you don’t have to mow potatoes.
An exciting challenge for all this is to think differently about the whole community and to be flexible so as to learn from successful examples, newer ways and to admit that we do not have all the answers.
These are sketchy ideas, part dream, part imagined wants and needs. However, I know I am not the only one to develop these dreams to grow, plant and nurture them and link them with others. Then there is the matter of sharing them with the Council to ensure future appropriate building regulations, block sizes and services.
So I throw out these ideas, these bits in the hope that others will pick up bits to form a mosaic, a common dream for our future.
As I write this over a coffee at Moonrakers three men are discussing ideas to improve our town, so the discussion goes on in all kinds of ways.
It’s Robertson; Smile and Wave.
Michael D. Breen       Thursday, 13 October 2016

Monday, 19 September 2016

Our Robertson Our Future.

Our Robertson our future.

Do you think much about Robertson? Where are we in the world now? What is our future? How can we ensure we get the kind of place we want to live, now and into the future?
These are a few thoughts about these matters, which are of concern to us whether we notice or care, or not.
         Robertson is made of differences, as different as rainforest and spuds. Or as different as the weather on a Robbo day. There are long timers, old timers, new comers and those who would like to lodge here.
         We sit in a framework, we are not a self-sufficient planet.
Many here may not even think about what kind of Robertson we want. Or what we will build for our children and those who come after us. Or even how we want to be now.
         We leave a lot to others to decide about us. We sit under three layers of Australian Government. Most of us are what could be called ‘semi-careless democrats’. “Shee’l be right” We leave it to others to decide things for us. Sometimes very important things. And then often regret that things have changed in a way we regret.
         But when something like the building of a gaol is suggested or a new village notice board we join together and rise up, take our destiny seriously.
         So who really decides for Robertson? How does this happen? Who cares?   
Most decisions we make in our homes about or lives and those we care about. Matters which affect the whole town like sewerage, roads, future planning, rubbish, land management, playing fields and paying for those services are decided by Wingecarribee Shire Council. That is our local government.  We elect, as in September 2016, Councillors who blend what we want with what other towns and areas want and argue out decisions. They also argue for what they selfishly want for themselves or their mates. Those decisions are also influenced by the values, prejudices and ideals of the Councillors and with the expert advice of the officers who serve the Council.
         The Council is required to talk to us about what we want. They need to report to the New South Wales government about how they have consulted us. That consultation is grassroots democracy or ‘deliberative democracy’.
         For us to get what we want in the town we need to speak up when asked and we need to elect as our representatives those who have our interests at heart. We need to have some ideas about what we want such as a swimming pool and most importantly we need to be flexible and mature enough to blend what we want individually with what others and other groups want.
         Lately Council, after a process of consulting and listing results came up with a “Vision for Robertson”. It is a to do list of jobs to make life tetter here. But a plan is only as good as the number of people who own it and want it to happen. At least in a democracy. Then who decides the priorities on the to do list?
         Many of the jobs will have champions, who put their ideas there in the first place. Sporting clubs will champion their wants and other groups will champion other wants.
         But some push causes they want because they believe their cause is good for everybody. ISIS is an example; albeit not a democratic one.
         Council or any government is most likely to hear from people well organized and most pushy. Democracy works with pressure groups.
         So in the case of the Vision for Robertson Council officers chose which jobs would be priorities and which would receive some start up money. If you listen to their efforts to include everyone in their decision-making you will see how reluctant we are to engage in planning, even when the plan affects us directly. So Australian, “She’ll be right”.
         The chosen project had its champions. A notice board telling about Robertson. At some level this is the psyche of Robertson saying “Look at us, take notice, stop and experience and buy from us”.
         The choice of that “to do” is a fine example of “how things happen around here”. Council tries to find out what we want. Some attend the meetings and processes the Council conducts, some do not. Most do not attend.  Council officers collate the results and decide; some are delighted some, are not.
The take home message from the example is that if we want some thing locally we need to work with Council to decide what will actually happen. It is not magic. Not overly complicated and not a conspiracy.
In a later post I will look at the kind of future Robertson might have and how to get it.

Michael D. Breen

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Plan for Robertson or Snow job in June?

The following invitation reached me by email.
You’re invited to attend the launch of the Robertson Village Action Plan Wingecarribee Shire Council in conjunction with the Robertson Community including Robertson Public School, invites you to attend the official launch of the Our Village Our Future Robertson Village Action Plan on Friday 17 June at 1.00pm at the Robertson Public School Library, 47-53 Hoddle Street, Robertson.

This was a strange event. From the invitation it looks like the launch of a plan for Robertson Village. Maybe I went to the wrong event.

To be fair a list of names of sections of a plan was flashed up on a screen. And some attendees seemed to have a copy of an action plan. I know not where they got them.

There were several attractive and heart warming elements of the event. The students performed wonderfully singing, reciting and playing instruments as well as offering a welcome to country. My review of the event is intended in no way as a criticism of the children. And had I been a parent I would have been immensely proud as many obviously were. 

Several speakers made the point about the fact that the students are the ones who will live with what we leave to them and that education is the major asset we can give these precious people.

That said, the major piece on the day was an advertisement and fervourino for some kind of Robertson information amenity. None of this made much sense to me, and since we were not permitted to ask questions I post mine here.

·      Why was a time when many working people of Robertson could not attend chosen for the launch of a plan, which would affect them?
·      Who appointed the committee to develop the Information facility?
·      How did the information facility gain priority among the other needs of the village?
·      What will be the benefit to the community as a whole? (There seems to be an unfounded presumption that the village is a commercial entity of some kind).
·      If there is need of a building why not use the CTC which is built and is supposedly for the Robertson community?
·      From the presentation some kind of architectural feature seems proposed. Granted the fact that most tourists and visitors now use smart phone and car applications, and will do even more so in the future, why build anything and not put the investment into an updated application as to what Robertson is and what people can do here?
·      When will there be a dedicated presentation of the plan for Robertson with the opportunity to discuss and dialogue about guidelines and plans, which will affect our lives?
·      Many people are understandably cynical about ‘community consultation’ and see it as a box Councils need to tick rather than an enactment of deliberative democracy.  How would this event have benefited them rather than reinforce their cynicism?
·      Many residents would consider responding to requests for input into a plan as a fruitless exercise. And since it is the dialogic process which best practice worldwide recommends why does the council not use best practice?
·      Many would see the major challenge for the future of Robertson as the inclusion of and retaining of older residents in their community a major priority. Instead sending them away to some other place isolated from those they know and love means dying longer rather than living longer. Where are the plans for incorporating these kinds of dwellings into the housing mix of the village? How is the future plan managing this matter?

These questions arise for me as a Robertson person and as the designer, manager and facilitator of 55 Strategic and Corporate Future Plans and for which my company received an award from the Planning Association of Australia for excellence in community consultation processes.

I sent the above to the shire for a response  or correction before I put it up on line. Nicholas O’Connor Group Manager Corporate and Community replied:
The launch of the Plan will signify the handing over of he Plan from Council (who facilitated its development) to the community for ownership and future management.
Overall the OVOF project in Robertson village has been a success for local village action planning and the partnership formed between the community organisations.
Working Group – Seed Funding Project – Community Information Board
The working group has been formed to plan and allocate the seed funding. The group is made up of representatives from the community with the design and construction of a Community Information Board being planned.
 This project will incorporate public art and provide information on the history of the village, local attractions, and walking tracks which will help to encourage tourists to explore the area. The project fits in some way into all of the objectives listed in the Plan and the overall community vision.
The Robertson Shed has taken the lead role in the management of the project and endorsement to release the seed funding to this organisation to commence this project has been given.
The budget for the project exceeds the seed funding allocated and grant applications and other plans to raise funds are being worked on by the group.

As you can see the reply goes nowhere near responding to the questions. It quotes from a planning document.  This is common practice these days. Questions or challenges are responded to with slabs of quotations from Strategic and Corporate documents without dealing with the matter at hand. You make up your own mind.

Michael D. Breen

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

The Lion my brother.

     It was New Years' Eve in Chaing Mai. Before meeting up with my brother and  his daughters' family at their house I stopped at Wat Jet Yod, "the temple of the seven peaks" to meditate. It is an ancient place with Indian features and an authenticity which is encouraging.  Hours later I could not find the iPod I use to time my meditation. I must have left it in the temple. So next morning I headed back to find the precious object. Unusually, the place was locked solid. There was no one to be seen but somehow I was led to believe that it would be opened at about 10.00 am.
        It was open but there was, not surprisingly no sign of the iPod. As you would know, these places do not have lost property offices. But I found my way to the house of the Abbott and asked as clearly as possible about the possibility of finding or someone else finding the iPod. No one in the house spoke English. I was redirected to the cell of Monk Johnny in another part of the campus.
       We soon discovered that he did not speak English either, but was eager to help me. With drawings and the use of an English Thai dictionary we interrogated the problem. From that moment forward I realized how valuable it was to have lost that piece of gear. Nor had I any inkling of where this contact would lead.
The following day I went to the Travel Police who courteously assisted me to register my loss and eventually collected insurance and replaced the item, which is still in use today.
       Johnny was fasciated that a ferang (foreigner) would have been meditating. I was fascinated to talk to a Theravada Buddhist about his meditation. Johnny's cell was like a half sized sauna with temperature to suit so our discussions needed a different venue. We chose the Vihara Stupa and mostly we meditated in silence. A bond develops between people who meditate together even if they never speak. But not being Asian and not having my Zen cushion, my zafu,  the Zen meditation cushion, and zabuton, the mat which goes under the cushion,  kneeling/sitting was more than unusually uncomfortable. We met several times for this exercise, and extended our contact into discussions of all kinds of things.
          Gradually I learned more about Johnny's life. He had come from a country village in Laos and joined the monastery in a nearby town. Thence to Vientiane where he studied Buddhism and gained a general education. One day in Vientiane a senior monk asked a group of young monks, "Who wants to go to Thailand" several volunteered, I think it was five; all of whom except Johnny have disrobed. So Johnny landed at Wat Jet Yod and eventually gained residence there. The Abbott noticed him and gradually gave him more and more responsible tasks and assignments. One one occasion a casual visitor made a large cash offering to the monastery via Johnny who passed it directly to the Abbott who acknowledged his integrity in neither pocketing the cash nor charging "a fee" for the transaction, which would not have been culturally unusual. By the time I met him he as studying psychology at Wat Jet Yod University for monks, where coincidentally I was teaching English.  He also learned, Japanese, Pali and Chinese as well as becoming fluent in Thai.
      So when there was to be a small retrospective ceremony for me to depart from the Jesuits  at the Jesuit Seven Fountains monastery I invited two guests, my blood brother Wallace and spiritual brother Johnny. This was the first encounter with Christianity for Johnny. David Townsend resident Jesuit conducted matters finely and afterwards the four of us walked around the grounds together. It was a significant landmark in my spiritual journey.
       Johnny and I continued to meet to talk for his English conversation and to meditate at Wat Jet Yod. Then one day I found he had gone to Vientiane. So when I next went to Thailand, to Issan, to teach English I went across the Friendship Bridge to Vientiane to see Johnny at his monastery there in 2014. His conditions were spartan and he slept in a tent on a veranda. Vientiane was hot and airless. The monastery seemed to lack heart and the spiritual/emotional warmth of the  place was in inverse ratio to the climate. Johnny was there to spend sufficient time to get his Laotian passport. Finally he got it and his papers to go to of all places, Australia.
        We have kept in contact via Facebook.  I have spent time in the last few days at the Watmai Buddhavongs Monastery at St Albans west of Melbourne where Johnny is a member of a community of three monks.  It is a gathering node for Thai and Laotian people in Victoria. Their hospitality has been wonderful. The New Year celebrations brought a large crowd of people who in turn brought traditional food and much  sticky rice. Very enjoyable. His teacher has now named him after the lion, he is Singha (you may know the title as a brand of beer) he is Venerable Singha Phuthirach teaching novices to meditate and teaching the community Buddhist ethics among other things. It is a delight for me that Singha  calls me his a brother.  I hope Australia will be good for him as I know he will be for Australia.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Another New Year so greetings to you.

Happy New Year or Sabadi bi mai (My transliteration of the Thai and Laos greeting)
I hope the coming year is a good one for you and that though it is impossible for it to be trouble free that your skills at managing trouble are a good match for what occurs in your life.
Currently I am having a few quiet days apart in Watmai Buddhavongs, Denton Avenue St Albans in Victoria with the Buddhist monks here. Their Buddhist tradition from Laos and Thailand is different from our Zen way, but we are all Buddhists, and interested in meditating. The local Laos community has been here in abundance the last two days for chanting, renewing commitments to their way and eating with the monks.
Almost by accident this morning I came across the Ted talk to which I attach a link:

At a time when many of us are considering how to feature the coming year I offer the above which I found academically sound, evidenced based and of the highest ideals for any mortal. I found it simple, warm and rewarding. I hope you get a chance to enjoy it.