Mycellium 2023 #5 Foraging

Foraging for mushrooms on the floor of a forest takes knowledge of the season, what is edible, intel about where to look and a mix of preparation and improvisation. Gathering something wild to bring home to your kitchen or to gobble and go on the run, nature’s generosity without a price tag.  I notice I do a fair bit of foraging in the forest of ideas, picking up bits and pieces here and there and consuming them with gratitude for landing at my feet. In reality, though I have actually done my own preparation, known where to be and when, and able to notice and pick and choose which ones are going to be nourishing and which ones might be poisonous or lead me down the wrong track.

I had a huge honour this week, receiving 86 new citizens as they took their pledge to Australia as they took their final step to become citizens.  I think all Australian born people should take a pledge when they reach voting age as part of the process to step into the rights and responsibilities of adulthood in front of their communities as well. We take so much for granted. On the stage in the Hopgood Theatre there were 20 countries represented.  I had two favourites, a little boy who was suited up resplendent with a bow tie to top off the outfit, who had clearly rehearsed and knew the lines of the pledge off by heart and from his small statue and with all the innocence of his childhood proudly and confidently, and loudly, recited the pledge. I picked up that wild moment to savour for later, when I get disappointed or worried about what it means to belong. I will draw on this memory to hold me. 

Billowing folds of yellow cotton, wrapped around his body and a name of the week giving away his national identity as Ghana. I love Ghana, was a treat too. I spent a short time there when I was working for the International Association of Public Participation. The women were not scared of colour or curves, the men holding each other’s hands and dancing with ease at the drop of a hat. There is a lot of joy in Ghana. One of my foraged moments from that trip was the underfed and enthusiastic chickens that roamed around the inside gates of their Parliament House. The low protein value of those eggs didn’t stop the chickens being their parliamentary selves. I often think of those hens when I am with my own who are well fed.

Amidst the ongoing backdrop of police reports, security checks, studying up rules and regulations of the Local Government Act, advising and supporting elected members, responding to my peers in other councils, juggling the inner and outer quandaries of Australia Day, and taking in the love of friends and family, as I prepare for another interesting week, foraging and finding gems to ground me isn’t that hard. There are so many acts of kindness and beauty all around me. Being able to laugh, be colourful, be proud and confident, is a warm set of advice from my foraging this week. Everything is connected and the fruits of the mycelium are there to be foraged.

Mycelium 2023 #4 : Reading Challenge

Strengthening the undergrowth starts by feeding the soil and helping the spores land in fertile soil. This week I had a glorious experience of being at the finale of the Mayor’s Summer Reading Challenge. This is a summer holidays activity where school age children are set a challenge. It was all set to start just after I was elected and I talked with the team leader delivering the program in my earliest days in the new role to see how the program could be taken to the next level.  As a result the number of books to be read to complete the challenge went up to seven books and an additional quest was added in for those who wanted to be extended a little bit more which was to visit all six libraries, and we added in some features about the books to be read such as something about First Nations and something about climate.  

Around 240 young readers signed up for the challenge and seventy were there for the Finale to receive their certificates from me and a free book. 34 of the readers completed the extra piece of visiting all six libraries. One Mum told me they did their “Great Race” in one day calculating distances between libraries, how much time they could spend at each location, and building a whole day out around the locations.  Enthusiastic staff commented on the high amount of engagement with readers coming in, parents sharing their old favourites from childhood and borrowing more books themselves.

When I arrived at the host library site, there were over a 100 children, adults and staff ready to celebrate their efforts. As 2pm arrived the room stilled to silence, there was no big announcement, no bell to say we were starting the room just fell respectfully into silence. Such a contrast to the experience I had on Tuesday night at the Council meeting where before I had started the meeting a person from the Gallery was yelling at me and then the meeting had to be adjourned because of public disturbance and an inability for the public to be quiet enough to hear proceedings. If you’ve been following along you will know there were around 20 police and security involved to clear the Council building. The stories are all in the media so you will find them there. But back to the quiet of the library. I am moved by this action of families and children getting ready to listen and to acknowledge their achievements.  Books and learning are the spores and libraries are central institution to democracy.

As the silence opened up the space, the librarian who led the project welcomed and thanked everyone for coming and introduced me as their Mayor. I got such a warm round of applause – it was very heartening. Then I sat on the stage, microphone in hand and gave them a big smile and started with Ninna Marni (how are you in Kaurna) and all the children replied back Marni Aii (we’re good). I thought I was going to burst with pride and joy  – a generation ago this would not have happened. In fact on that very site, the day I was there when we broke ground for the Seaford Ecumenical Mission to be built which is across the road from the library, we raised an Australian flag and I felt sick from what seemed like yet another act of colonialism on the unceded Kaurna Yerta. But here I was siting down and hearing these words back at me and I swelled with hope and courage to keep going on this path, these young ones taking leadership and showing so simply that they already know this, they are growing up with this knowledge.

After this simple greeting I told them what my favourite book was when I was a young reader (FYI – the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) and how books are places to go when we want to laugh, learn something, have our imaginations fed and to be opened up to new and different ideas and have our minds blown in imaginative worlds. I told them how next year their job is to recruit one more person each to the challenge so my arm will ache from having to sign so many certificates. I told them to give themselves a pat of the back for their good work and a big hug to remind them that they love learning through reading.  This is how we grow mycelium for hope, building on what works, what is fertile and what we already have in our midst.

The libraries of Onkaparinga announced on Friday my next adventure with them which is me going to do reading a story at each of the libraries with the toddler groups throughout the year. When I was campaigning to get elected this was an idea I came up with inspired to some extent by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. When he was a leader in the anti-apartheid movement he set about only talking to young people under 30 for some years as he felt the future was with them and so that change was always going to come from their efforts. I have taken that lesson and am starting small with the reading challenge and now story-time. I will be looking for more ways to connect with the young one as they step into their everyday leadership.

Out in the bush and forests of local government and across my Council I will be foraging for fruits that can be harvested to help us with our discernment and decision-making. I will be fostering the growth of mycelium down pathways of curiosity, equity and justice, and reminding myself that out of the decay and humus grows goodness.

My mum was a junior primary teacher and had a mantra: “The more you read, the more you grow, the more you grow the more you read, so read, read read.”  In this day and age with so much fake news, algorithms that grow destructive pathways and people find it hard to navigate what is real and what is fantasy, libraries as a source of truth are going to become even more important. They can be trusted spaces and places to help secure democracy. Get along to a library soon, send your love to a librarian you know they are the information guardians and technicians of our past, present and future. Share stories and be a storyteller, build mycelium for good.

Mycelium 2023 #3 Summer’s Day

Mary Oliver’s poem The Summer’s Day has been the mycelium of the past week, showing up in the undergrowth and popping up here and there.

The last line and what are you doing with your one wild and precious life, continues to offer up potential. Such an open-ended question, yet deeply determined by the paths already trod and curiously encoded with unlimited possibilities. (It was this line that haunted me when I was discerning whether to run for the public office of Mayor.)

Summer is here in my part of the world and the coastline is full of locals and visitors. There are scenes of happy intergenerational families, flushes of new loves, ancient friendships and teens trusted to be alone for the first time. Between sandcastles and jet skis, ice-creams and sunblock there is the stickiness and ephemeral qualities of a day at the beach. The wild and precious moments being made into memories. Like the poet I witness and wonder how these lives will unfold.  I do this with a little more curiosity and care this summer than I have done in the last. This summer I am the Mayor and that brings into view ways we might all be safe together, support our environment, build community, and trust, and be welcoming to the stranger and respect the custodians. I hold questions like: How are these values fostered in the wild and precious lives of those who arrive on any summer’s day?

There are slurs and taunts, some with great mirth attached to them and others more like orders from a five star general, being shouted into the blue sky between beach cricket matches and speeding cars putting little ones at risk. Hearing some of the language peppered with violent intent, worries me about how those voices are being fed in their undergrowth. I continue to be shocked by the unfiltered nature of many of the words I hear with no regard to the wild and precious lives of others. There is always an arrogance and sense of privilege that irks me, when I hear that kind of language and in that kind of voice in public places.

But nothing will move me from the beauty of the poem and then it shows up again in the celebration of a dear friends 50th anniversary of her profession as a religious sister. Along with two of her faith companions celebrating the same phenomena, they collectively chose this poem as one which has held and inspired their lives.   Invoking the words, they arrive with deep love into my heart – as celebration of all that has been, confirmation of what has been achieved, and an invitation to an open door into the future – blessed, without judgement and totally undefended and vulnerable to all possibilities.

I muse on the meanings and let the words roll around in my head and off my tongue as I recite it again and again after I leave the ritual (and generous celebratory High Tea).  I too don’t know what prayer is, but I do know when I see people gather and share their lives and I am in the presence of those who live their truth and find themselves in the elements, I am party to grace and goodness. I know when I feel the sun on me and take the hand of a child, I am being offered gifts and receiving them with deep gratitude. I see the grains of sand and can’t help but notice the joy they give when shovelled into little buckets that get upturned and created into magical and mysterious worlds.  On a summer’s day, like any day, there is a day to be honoured and respected for all that it brings to any of our wild and precious lives. It is a constant unfolding, like the grasshopper’s wings to open and shut and make a flight path of mycelium to take all that you have found and known, and questions that are emerging from one summer’s day into another and then another and then another.

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean –
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

from New and Selected Poems, 1992
Beacon Press, Boston, MA Copyright 1992 by Mary Oliver

2023 Mycelium #2 : Fuel for toadstools

Following a line of enquiry can lead you down a rabbit hole. You pick one thread and try to find its source and along the way you may well bump into other threads connecting and communicating with one another.

I have been reflecting on how this might be the way conspiracy theories take hold online. Here is what happened to me this week. A colleague sent a video, I did not trust its content and so went looking for its source. I found plenty of material to convince me it was fake news and also substantial evidence of it being used as an instrument to build followers and connections.  I doubt my correspondent had done the same, trusting instead the person they would have received it from. The place of trust seems to be central in building these pathways and even a moment of lapse and lack of vigilance can give you a ride into a foreign land that you do not and may not want to have, a passport for.

In my investigations I lost more confidence in the source, the deeper I went looking for the truth and or an explanation on why I might have been sent the video in the first place. Confidence in source material and knowing what and who to trust with news and information is fragile. Allied to this in a parallel path is information that is correct that is shared outside of process and without authority.  When these two threads come together, they have a nasty habit of reinforcing one another, even though the content is not connected.

The fuel for these is fear, guilt, shame. While I want to swat it away like annoying buzzing mosquitos, both fake news and leaking confidential information are toxins to the mycelium of democracy.  For generations now some of the largest media platforms from Murdoch to Zuckerberg, have been the playground of predators. These places are home to half and incomplete truths as well as to facts that are used to scare and maim.

I have been consistent in my use of social media as a place to cheer on who is doing well, to offer up positivity and play, to join and connect like minded and to find respite in humour and beauty. I am getting more and more disturbed by the platforms; the algorithms and the way information travels in these above and below ground networks. The fruits that appear on the surface, when eaten can be as harmful and dangerous as any inedible toadstool. They too bring hallucinations, delusions of grandeur, pain.

Cutting off supply has been my main technique over the years. I find these threads however are very deep, very strong and exceedingly complex. Over the years, my phone has been tapped by police (with my permission to find people who were making threats to me and my family), multiple attempts at discrediting me in public places, social media slagging and trolling, fake accounts being set up in my image is this year’s version. It is very annoying and distracting. It is also a sign I am probably at the edge, which is where I like to be, of changemaking. As a young Christian anti-racist activist in the 80s, I took the view that it was a blessing of the Holy Spirit, as a woman well into my crone years now, I still take it as a sign I must be doing something right. Even if it is AI or some mathematical algorithm at play, a human somewhere along the line has entered data.

And, if you do see something from me that doesn’t look right, check it out and take some action.

Let’s build mycelium for good and not fuel for toadstools. Seek out the truth, cut off supply, build trust and confidence by being trust worthy. Check yourself that you are not providing fodder for something nasty to pop up from underground.

Photo by Adrian Infernus on Unsplash

Welcome to 2023: Mycelium

Week 1

This year’s theme is mycelium.

Mycelium is incredible. It is the largest living organism on the planet. If there is life on other planets it is likely to be mycelium. Humans and fungi generate energy by consuming ingredients from ecossystems, instead of producing food, like plants do. Fascinatingly the genetic composition of mushrooms is actually more similar to humans than plants. If you want to dig into (pardon the pun) more about mycelium and their fruits – mushrooms there is plenty on line and this might be a useful place to start.

Mycelium is going to be my blog theme for 2023. I hope it will drive my thinking and reflections on what connects us all, how networks and ideas intersect, where the nutrients of community flow and branch out and perhaps too the way love travels and appears as fruit from the spores of hope, trust and faith. In the breakdown and subsequent creation of debri and consumption, transformation is possible and I may even argue inevitable.

I will be looking for things that pop up with strength through the concrete, for ideas that can travel underground and nourish an entire old growth forest, for thoughts that network me to new worlds, forbeing fuelled by decay as food.

At this threshold of one year to another, it is a time to acknowledge courage and protection, a time to bless and be blessed by those who have witnessed my arrival to this threshold. For all of you in my life who watch each threshold rising up like fruit from the mycelium, I give a deep and sincere bow of gratitude.

I start this year at a new frontier, knowing with confidence, in the networked life under my feet that holds me up, feeds me, follows me and takes me to new places.

This blessing is for you, dear reader, and for me too so we might bless each other, and on John O’Donohue’s instruction, also bless the space between us.

A Mycelium Blessing

May the mycelium in your life;

Connect you deeply across great expanses

Transmit love with all the power of an electrical storm

Harvest hope and bring forth new fruit.

May you be mycelium to others

Open up networks of care and compassion

Find ways to breakthrough and breakdown

Branch out to uncharted territory.

May you be your own mycelium

Flowing as your breathe in and out

Cultivating deep and wide your relationships

Being intentional about what brings you alive.

1 Jan 2023

Visibility and Invisibility 2022 #51

 I thought I would do a Camino at home over the next couple of weeks and walk the Willunga Basin Trail. I did do a couple of sections of it quite a while ago, but it is finished now, and I have been feeling the need to go on a long walk for a while. The gift of the breeze, the chatter of the birds, the buzzing of the bees as our native plants are flowering are great teachers.

I planned which days I was going to do what sections based on the time, capacity and difficulty required so that I would keep enthused and not be too daunted by the 130kms trip. The Guide encourages you to do the eleven sections as half day hikes.  I decided to do Sections 1 and 3 first and then on Day 3 Section 2 as it was going to be harder and I wanted to give myself plenty of time to go slow as the terrain looked pretty treacherous in parts and it was a level 4 hike, which means it is hard and you are likely to encounter parts that may not be well sign posted. Despite all that, I was prepared and felt that if I just took it slowly and started out early enough all will be well. The other two sections I had done had excellent signs so I felt confident I could follow then with my guidebook of the trail.

I invoked Julian of Norwich once or twice – all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.

I followed the guidebook as I had done the past two days, however the same quality of directions and sign posts didn’t seem to be there and after a slide down to an empty ravine and then what was close to a 90 degree climb up to the other side and no visible evidence of the white posts I expected to see, I walked another kilometre before realising that I was tempting fate if there were no visible signs. I decided the best thing to do was to go back the way I came, at least if I followed the fence line, I would know I was going back to the beginning of the section. So, I slid down the hill I had about 30minutes earlier climbed up and then began the ascent up the one I had previously slid down. I was taking it very slow and decided the safest way was to go up on my backside, clinging to the fence, and keeping clear of the barbed wire and using my faithful walking sticks to dig in when I could. I got about 250 metres up the hill, but at that point slid down 50 metres not being able to get a hold …. This happened three times each time not quite as far a slide, but still a slide and I wasn’t making any progress. At this point I decided to take the hint. I was in trouble and needed help.

As I made this decision my light day pack slid down the hill side with my water in it and map. Through some kindness from the universe my phone was in my hand. Without water I knew I had to act sooner rather than later, even though I had already been sitting there for about 20 minutes thinking through my situation.  The time had come to do something that was going to get me out of the situation I was in.

With some messaging apps and advice from two of my children I was confident my GPS location was as good as I could get it …. Fortunately, I was in range most of the time, even though I had only one bar … and decided it was time to call the SES. In the background my daughter was taking her son to the doctors as he had a secondary infection, and my son was organising himself and his wife and child to be catching a plane to come see us for Christmas.  A friend was delivering Christmas produce and was calling me to find out why I wasn’t home, and I calmly texted her back to tell her how to get in, not revealing my situation.

Through as series of calls both the SES and CFS got their crews together and made the trip to come and rescue me. Their first challenge was to find me and although I had given them the best advice I could they were having trouble and called me a few times before I saw three of them also sliding down a nearby hillside and waving my sticks and calling out, we all found each other. The other crew was well equipped and included a nurse who made sure I was actually alright and did the best part of first aid which was to offer me reassurance and congratulations for stopping and calling for help when I did.

While I was waiting on the hillside, I thought about what lessons were being offered to me in this moment and the clearest message was about asking for help. I had Bono’s voice in my head with the U2 song – Sometimes you can’t make it on your own.  Bono wrote the lyrics as a reflection on his father and while the whole song wasn’t calling me – the line that sometimes you can’t make it on your own was ringing true. My self-sufficiency over decades is real. One of my biggest challenges is to let other people help me. So, I got the lesson writ large. I don’t need to learn it again surely!

I am really sore and got a few bruises, but I came out of it all very lightly really. It could have been very serious if I’d broken a bone, or had to be airlifted out of a stony ravine with little space for a helicopter to find their way in. (I did momentarily toy with the idea of calling someone I know who would have been able to do that, and once he heard my tale from a mutual friend, he said I could have called him – a typically generous act of chivalry.)

The crews were excellent. I told them I was the mayor and so they entertained me with a list of things they’d like Council to do for them – making the most of the moment. I absolutely loved how my dignity was not compromised with their humour and steadfast skilfulness.  These men and women are all volunteers. One was making his way to Queensland before Christmas for a new posting in the armed forces, another was going on duty to one of our public hospital’s emergency departments, and I am sure others were needed at home or work for Christmas and childcare activities. They were all there helping me, gifting their time and talents so I too could get home safely.  A new piece of harness equipment was tested out on me, so I was pleased to have helped with a new drill! And tried and true ropes and knots did their work as I was carefully escorted side by side, front and back, out to the waiting units. When I did arrive at the top, I was shocked to see a police officer as well. I am still not sure why he was there. (I have my theories based on my recent election.) My daughter and sick bub were waiting for me too having been kept fully informed every step of the way. We were both impressed with the high quality of communications and care for her as well.

While asking for help was the number 1 lesson there are plenty more that can be applied from my hiking adventure. For instance:

  • If you think the road will be tough – don’t go alone
  • Always keep your phone charged – you never know when you will need it
  • If you tread where others have gone before you, the road might seem easier, but it may not be the safest path, you are not the same as those who have walked it before
  • Give thanks for all times you have volunteered because there is such a thing as volunteer karma
  • Stay still and stay calm and find a shady spot to enjoy the view while help is on its way
  • Sliding down a hill is a way to get to the bottom
  • Always tell someone where you are going
  • A sense of humour is always helpful
  • If you are in the rescue business, you are in the communications business – keep letting everyone who needs to know where you are up to
  • Search first, rescue second

I got home safe, and sound and it could have been a very different outcome. Thank you to the bees who kept dipping into the golden daisies, the tiny black hard coated beetles scurrying under the grasses, the peregrine falcon who swooped close to me probably wondering if I was carrion and kept flying, to all the thousands of flies who kept me company, the butterflies who flit around me and the kangaroos who bounded by, and the sheep whose bleating I could hear from across the valley.  Grateful for all the visible and invisible help around me and I sincerely promise to take the lessons of Section 2 into 2023 and ask for help more often and not wait until I am stuck between a rock and a hard place.

I now understand the meaning of a toe hold Approx: Latitude -35.32547 longitude 138.50618

Visibility and Invisibility 2022 #50

It’s that time of year again, when the carols eek their way out of radio stations, in lifts and shopping centres. This time of the year is so mixed for me now. Tim would have been 65 yesterday (17th December) and all week I have felt haunted by him. A couple I had never met telling me about their encounters with him and his profound impact on their lives that they married twenty plus years ago, another person letting me know he was the one who set them on a journey of learning which had put them into a career they now love, opening a book with handwritten notes of his in the margins. It all feels very close and very far away all at the same time. I had a flashback this week as well, having not had one for a couple of years, a very unsettling way to have trauma reappear, so uninvited and unwelcome.

I listened to a David Whyte talk and he spent a lot of time on breathing and touched on death, he even used the word interstitial – a key word from Tim’s diagnosis. So, haunted, is how I feel writing this. There is anguish and torment in how I find myself this day. I am also really happy noticing myself smiling and laughing more than I have for a very long time. New beginnings and new challenges are like puzzles to unravel and unlock. Some of these beginnings are wrapped up in people, others in systems and still more in the place where people and systems play together.

This is a time of mixed emotions. I am more open to hearing his name than I have been, and I didn’t fall apart with any of the encounters this week. Although I was a little wobbly after one of them. I have been able to draw on Surrender from Bono and have just started Michelle Obama’s latest book The Light We Carry. She is an almighty communicator and formidable guide. I am deeply grateful for these two sojourners. I also listened to David Whyte’s latest lecture – who unbelievably – spent quite a bit talking about breathing. (For those who are new to this blog, you may not know my husband died 5 years ago from a lung disease which had his lungs not expelling all the carbon dioxide on each breath increasing toxicity. His prognosis was originally 18 months, and he went onto live almost ten years after diagnosis, which was its own kind of miracle.) I am taking all this instruction as a sign of ending and beginnings vying for space in my head and heart, a kind of arm wrestle is going on as they do their own in and exhalations.

Taking a breath and taking time over this exchange, between ourselves and the planet, is universal and inclusive. My own breathing has been quite disrupted of late with COVID and now a lingering cough that must be treated twice daily so I don’t find myself in territory that might bring on more asthma. Without breath in the body the body is still moving, blood flowing, hair growing. With breath in the body, we are visibly alive to others, and it is the sign of life we all look for in a sleeping baby or a person resting into their last moments. I am finding myself taking a lot of deep breaths as the residue of the virus is hanging around. I think this may also be part of the trigger about feeling haunted.

I’m ready for some rest. The election is over, my onboarding is in full swing, I’ve had my first Council meeting in the mayor’s seat, I have begun making a contribution to decisions for the future, getting to know staff and elected members is underway, and I am feeling my way through conversations and connections with systems relevance.

We all carry both our light, fears, memories and pockets of darkness, and I find this blog a way to make those experiences find their way from invisibility to visibility. The lesson for me this week is the ghosts in your head are the ones that need to be exorcised and fly about in times when they can tell you are taking a big step forward. They want one last hurrah just to make sure you are up for it, knowing they won’t be taking up much real estate in your life as it grows and expands beyond them.

The line from Whyte’s Sweet Darkness rings true, and sometimes it takes just one line of poetry inhaled, to get fresh oxygen into the lungs.

“Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet confinement of your aloneness to learn anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you.

In Ireland, a sacred pool after a walk through the hazel wood, David Whyte’s shadow hovering and lingering. This photo reminds me we are all in conversation with the elements. July 2013

Visibility and Invisibility 2022 #49

I was hacked this past week – more than once – on my social media first and then an email from Medibank let me know that some of my personal data has been released to the dark web. Needless to say, I then had to spend time changing passwords, updating data and working out who needed to know and what other measures I needed to take.  For the past few months, the amount of attention I have been receiving by the tools of hackers and criminals has increased. It started first with hateful messaging and then escalated to more sophisticated applications of AI tools and a barrage of uninvited follows and invitations, and now in what I hope is the crescendo, being part of one of Australia’s largest ever cyber breaches. Another frontier to manage as I begin a new public role.

Distract and disrupt techniques are being actively deployed and while I am alert to them, I am finding it all a bit tedious. To counter act both my feelings around these behaviours and their intent to be extractive, I am turning to be inspired by other behaviours to keep my focus on who I am trying to be in this world. 

I’ve drawn inspiration this week from Lizzo in accepting an iconic People’s Choice award, by inviting activists to share the stage with her and be made visible to a much wider audience. I ‘ve also drawn inspiration from the Coralus community. The end of year review call was a cornucopia and narrative of transformation, moving from being individual centric to community-led across the year. The third inspiration has been the community of leaders at the City of Onkaparinga, which I have the honour to now be in a leading governance role as Mayor. They have shown me in the past couple of weeks their high level of functioning in some dark times from COVID to a significant executive leadership mess.  There is a very impressive and visible high levels of consciousness operating. I knew it was in good shape, but it has exceeded my expectations.  The activists of Be Love under the guidance of Bernice A King (the youngest daughter of MLK and Coretta Scott King) is a rich source of encouragement, practical advice for transformative leadership and reaches into that influential community of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. The election of Rev Warnock this week drew me back into that space, one which has held me more than once when I have felt exhausted and wondered if I could go on. In Obama’s speech this week to the good folk there, he talked about being tired and why we can’t get tired we have to go on and he located this Georgian generation in a lineage of others who kept going like John Lewis. Great instruction. That’s the gig – to keep going, keep mobilising, keep activating, keep voting. (My local booster shot for this was with the showing of Brazen Hussies movie last week.)

It is easy to fall into the trap of tedium – to be dragged down by the distractions and disruptions – they are designed to wear you out, to have you give up.  It is OK to pause and have a rest, take a moment for even doing that you are valuing the gift you are and refuelling for the generative work ahead and celebrating and honouring what you have done. I am looking forward to a break coming up soon after all the energy expended during the campaign and now in getting onboarded and the inevitable forming, norming, storming and reforming …. before we get to the transforming stage of our contribution as an elected body.

The antidote to the dark web and the behaviours of those who choose to make that their virtual home, is light and love. This is the call. Collaboration, partnerships and tools to rewire and create generative and transformational next steps, is the response. First council meeting this week and I plan to be wearing something bright and joyful. I am already under attack on a few fronts there and as I am learning the beautiful constraints of the Local Government Act testing some assumptions, working out what is and isn’t negotiable and discovering where people’s level of consciousness is – all very instructive as I step into leadership in this new way and bring all of myself with me.

December sunrise over Sellicks Beach

Visibility and Invisibility 2022 #48

I’m listening to Bono’s memoir Surrender and loving it. I am finding myself thinking about what was going on in my life when he is talking about recording a song, writing a poem, being on tour, becoming a parent, getting married, being in that force of nature and brotherhood that is the band U2. I wasn’t expecting his story to have so much resonance with mine and all the reasons I have loved the band for so long are being revisited.

U2 was often on the turntable, or CD player in the house and car being one of THE bands forming the soundtrack of my child raising years. The poetic and the romantic expressions of universal themes always seem to find me.

The sound and this brotherhood – the Zen master of the guitar The Edge, the sparse intense intimacy of Adam on bass, the relentless demand of Larry on drums and the ache and urging of Bono – I am grateful for the music and the leadership they have shown in and out of the studio. 

The ability for sound to hold meaning and to be held by that meaning over and over again is like a universal prayer. It is the form and function of call and response that refuses to budge, and I am never released. The voice, the vocation, the call, the response and the consequent spiralling, like the nautilus swimming through an ocean, this pilgrim is moving into new waters. 

I learnt recently a nautilus has an extremely rare ability to withstand being brought to the surface from its deep natural habitat without suffering any apparent damage from the experience, able to withstand the incredible changes in pressure. I am drawing inspiration from this ancient mollusc as I come into the new role of Mayor. There has been a change in pressure as I am washed onto another shore, I am hanging onto the nautilus to hold me and remembering the rhythm and the tides, like the music of U2 keeping me afloat in an ocean of sounds and calls demanding a response.

Listening to the book also has me listening to some old U2 tracks like Pride, Desire, Streets with no name, With or Without You, and remembering, with great love, old conversations. Grief is sneaky and Bono’s voice has been its midwife this week amidst all the new learning, new pressures and new opportunities emerging.

There have been some disturbing moments this week with the ongoing 16 days of activism gendered violence and noticing how that violence shows up. Got to watch Brazen Hussies again this week in a community setting and in conversation with strangers. I was very unsettled by how far we have come and how far we still have to come. And the soundtrack of that doco was full of chants and the familiar voice of Helen Reddy. In the course of the week, I watched a bully use all his tools to try and intimidate a young woman, she drew on the wisdom and advice of others and easily found her voice and resisted. I celebrated her. I heard myself into speech about some moments in the election campaign where violence turned up. I am still working on myself to replace thoughts of violence rooted in judgements, to be replaced with thoughts and acts of empathy. I have plenty of opportunities to practice!

These thoughts, private and invisible, are invitations to transformation. My reluctance to embrace these invitations has been visible here and there this week. The lyrics of With or Without You have been swirling around in my head to accompany these thoughts. Bono wrote the lyrics as a tussle with himself, a bit like the idea that we take ourselves wherever we go whether we like it or not, and how we sometimes have to wait for parts of ourselves to catch up with other parts.

And you give, and you give, as you give yourself away is an invisible earworm making another spiral in the nautilus. When I do an exegesis on the line and listen again to the track, I discover the music, emptied of lyrics for almost half of the track, is the response to the call.  The spaces between the notes, the combination of sounds and instruments, the complexity of the mix, making a sonic ocean for the lyrics to land on the shore. Another U2 lesson to take with me into my internal and invisible places of resistance, resilience and surrender.

See the stone set in your eyes
See the thorn twist in your side
I’ll wait for you
Sleight of hand and twist of fate
On a bed of nails, she makes me wait
And I wait without you

With or without you
With or without you

Through the storm, we reach the shore
You give it all but I want more
And I’m waiting for you

With or without you
With or without you, ah, ah
I can’t live
With or without you

And you give yourself away
And you give yourself away
And you give
And you give
And you give yourself away

My hands are tied
My body bruised, she got me with
Nothing to win and
Nothing left to lose

And you give yourself away
And you give yourself away
And you give
And you give
And you give yourself away

With or without you
With or without you, oh
I can’t live
With or without you
Oh, oh
Oh, oh

With or without you
With or without you, oh
I can’t live
With or without you

With or without you

Songwriters: Adam Clayton / Dave Evans / Larry Mullen / Paul David Hewson

With Or Without You lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

Visibility and Invisibility 2022 #47

It was so fitting that my first official speech as Mayor, was for the opening of a space to commemorate women impacted by domestic violence. A space for reflection, to keep vigil, for rest and for healing and hope. As I looked out into the crowd gathered there were many familiar faces, as well as a new generation stepping into their leadership and old and new collaborators. I have deep roots in this work, as an ally and a friend, both personally and professionally and now as a civic leader another platform to bring this scourge out of the shadows into the light.

I can remember a time where a man could get prosecuted for throwing a punch in a front bar or at the footy but not at home in the bedroom or kitchen. Violence against women and children is the way I have often explained the feminist principle of the personal is political.  By making visible what does happen to one in four women in their homes in the public space, we begin to make possible a future where it is no longer acceptable and the shame women feel is diluted.

Language is critical too – femicide – it is a hate crime mostly undertaken by those known to their victims as past or current intimate partners. It is the most extreme version of gendered violence. One of the useful proxy indicators is how these perpetrators treat the pets. I am wondering already in my new role about how to bring these two pieces of data together to make the place safer. 

The City of Onkaparinga are partners in a the local version of the UN’s sixteen days of activism against gendered violence . There will be a men’s march today inviting men to walk in solidarity and play their part in ending the violence.  I am thrilled the local men’s football association are taking the lead in the march. Acts of solidarity need to be visible and men need to find spaces and support where they are safe too. Increased surveillance, lighting, laws and re-training are helpful but will never be enough. While there are a proven litany of actions institutions and individuals can take with effect, this is a systems problem and the root is patriarchy and colonisation.

The women of Iran and their allies are an inspiration and acts of solidarity we can extend as ripples around the world do make a difference. We can often see systemic oppression more clearly elsewhere than we can close to home. We too are ripples and the new Spirit of Woman space at Seaford is a potent statement of solidarity, hope and healing.

Education, justice and equity are the foundations of a culture of peace and we need to get to the root causes. There is a direct correlation for me too with climate and racial justice. These too need to come out of the board room, council chamber, shareholders meeting and into public spaces for debate, deliberation and action.

As I start to go about my new role as Mayor of South Australia’s largest municipality I am going to be carrying with me two Jacqui’s – one who was murdered by her ex-husband, an employee of the domestic violence service I used to chair, and another Jacqui whose tragic end is the reason we have a butterfly garden in Hackham West. (I have written about these women before.)

I am going to be carrying with me the knowledge from the Joseph Galtung on how to build a culture of peace that I first learnt when doing my Masters degree. I am going to carry with me endless examples of non-violence I have studied from John Dear to Greta Thunberg. I am going to carry with me the yearning I hear in the Uluru Statement from the Heart. I am going to carrying with me the best questions I can muster and ask them at times where their answer might open up or enable something new to emerge. I hope I will be able to bring visibility and make a contribution to decreasing violence and making more places safer for us all.  

A beautiful moment when champion Helen Oxenham OAM had the smoking and ochre painting brought to her by Naomi Hicks and Maureen.