2023 Mycelium #13 Friendship

Friendship is founded in the deep, the moments you open a little wider to bring a bit more of your self and sincerity to the world, openings that give you insight about yourself as much as anything. I am part of a group that has been meeting regularly for more than thirty years to reflect on our lives and each conversation is an invitation to expose and reveal something hidden. I never seem to know what that will be, in the safety and security of these friendships. Tears are common, laughter deep, and patient insightful questions are keys to the disclosure door.

There are lifetimes in many sentences, and it is here the mycelium of our entwined and familiar histories that sometimes words get in the way or what might be waiting to be discovered and revealed. I find myself often hearing myself into speech through echoing another’s experience ringing true for my own.

In a celebration of our lives yesterday the poignancy and place of grief and the always expanding universe founded on love and growing in love, were twins. It was that ancient philosopher Aristotle who said a friend holds the mirror up to us, and to Shakespeare who had Hamlet telling players their job was to hold the mirror up to nature  to show virtue her feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure. Friendships are playful and in deep friendship you can bring a little pressure, jest and show with compassion and care what might be needed at that moment. It is a truly a great gift to receive a friend and to be a friend. This kind of mycelium is fed by kindness and love.

Seeping deep into the undergrowth, to find the love language Gary Chapman shared with the world, is part of nurturing friendship – words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, spending quality and physical touch.  When we gathered this week, it was to celebrate a milestone of one of our number and as I travelled away from our time together, I realised we had done all five ways made visible by Chapman. We spent time affirming, brought food and gifts, a few had prepared a ritual, we lingered over hours in a long feast, we made time for hugs and anointing with perfumed oils. It was a very sensory experience … as it always is.  More mycelium is built and the fruits of yesterday will continue to be consumed over time.

What spoke to me yesterday was the ever expanding nature of love and how deep and wide it is. A hall filled with hundreds of people to say farewell and give gratitude for a life of service connected intersecting communities this week. Last night I watched rooms of people in NSW gather to receive the news they had help make for a new government to be elected. This morning I heard from my sibling about a trail of discovery he is being carried on through the connections of the past, present and future. All these seemingly random relationships are not that at all, but rather expressions of friendships that find their way to link together, and if we are open to the surprise, if we are hopeful, if we are curious, and look in the mirror, we will be rewarded.

The reward of self-discovery and insight is nourishing food for the next piece of mycelium to be in love and service to the next. I remain in awe about how this all works to connect us up to each other to ideas, to our future.  In a week where the IPCC has made it crystal clear this is a moment that must be grasped for our species survival, I am more hopeful than ever we will grasp the moment, because we are all connected and that is all we have to remember to keep taking the steps we need to take to the future. Imagine if we could see each other as friends what might be unlocked? Huge thank you to the sojourners and friends in my life, you help me to love.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

2023 Mycelium #12 Of Grief and Joy

Grief is so sneaky it can pop up when you are unprepared and like a chameleon might even reveal itself once you have befriended it dressed as anxiety or pain. News of a great tragedy can unlock conversations of friendship, memories of joy and deep anger of unfinished business. I’ve learnt over the years not to try and push grief away. There have been times when I have been in awe of the number of tears a human body can create and still be upright, and times when only the most hilarious and ridiculous joke could relieve pain and times when all that has seemed completely impossible had become a distant and fading image in a photo album.

Grief catches me off guard. I can be like a kamikaze fly ending up in a spider’s web, drawn in by an invisible invitation that catches me while I am buzzing around minding my own business. Before I know it I am entangled and only by being still, I have any hope of getting out of the sticky fibre. I discovered recently webs are made of protein, no wonder they are so tough, so strong.

In the underground world of grief we are connected through our collective and shared stories of ones we might love and have lost, places that are changing, climate impacts and the grief of losing a part of ourselves, growing older, someone we love moving away.  I grieve for youth not mis-spent.

The mycelium of grief has connected a whole lot of friends, stories and past experiences this week with the sudden and tragic death of an activist leader I knew well. Unexpected and devastating. The news has rocked at least two generations of feminists. It has taken me back to my deepest values of friendship and care. I have sent quite a few messages to check in on others around me, regardless of whether they knew her or not.

Being alive and loving is a part of the grief equation I know well. Trying to make sense of the why, the how, and the when, I understand a lot less. There are always questions, unfinished business; I don’t like those at all and they sneak up on me too pretending to be part of the grief experience, but they aren’t, they are actually thieves cashing in on the purity of sadness and taking advantage of vulnerability.

I don’t think there is a cure or a prophylactic for grief, but maybe there is an antidote? Hearing the sounds of little people laughing is always joyful, hearing glorious sounds of nature, wonderful musicians, seeing anything of beauty, listening to a poem, seeing a tree laden with fruit, noticing the waves rolling in as the sun sets … splendid affordable medicine.

I’m setting an intention to stumble into joy.  Ada Limon, poet laureate for the US this year, wrote this lovely poem about watching a groundhog. She said she felt envious watching the creature eat her tomatoes with such confidence about being safe and becoming satisfied.  The spasm of joy that escapes is a gentle contrast to the demands of requests for commentary on matters of the world. Nature and music for me, continuously offer up moments, to revel in a gasp of delight; mycelium for the soul, and healing, post a tangle, in a web of grief. After all, like the groundhog in this poem, I think we are all doing what we can to survive.

Give me this

I thought it was the neighbor’s cat back
to clean the clock of the fledgling robins low
in their nest stuck in the dense hedge by the house
but what came was much stranger, a liquidity
moving all muscle and bristle. A groundhog
slippery and waddle thieving my tomatoes still
green in the morning’s shade. I watched her
munch and stand on her haunches taking such
pleasure in the watery bites. Why am I not allowed
delight? A stranger writes to request my thoughts
on suffering. Barbed wire pulled out of the mouth,
as if demanding that I kneel to the trap of coiled
spikes used in warfare and fencing. Instead,
I watch the groundhog closer and a sound escapes
me, a small spasm of joy I did not imagine
when I woke. She is a funny creature and earnest,
and she is doing what she can to survive.

Copyright © 2020 by Ada Limón. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 16, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

In memory of a much loved unionist, activist, feminist – Michelle Hogan

In April 2022 I posted this photo and short reflection below for Michelle in memory of her mother Dorothy. I sang at Dorothy’s funeral and retold a story Dorothy shared with me of their children singing in the car on long trips. I will be remembering her and John as well when we farewell Michelle this week.

Daisy chains weren’t a part of my childhood, although there were attempts at making dandelion ones with zero success. This photo however is of polycalymma stuartii, the poached egg daisy. It is an Australian daisy found on sand plains and dunefields. This clump was at the Arid Botanical Gardens in Pt Augusta Barngarla country and taken in 2014. Every time I visit that location I think of a fierce warrior of feminism and her relationship with her God and her faith. Dorothy’s ashes are scattered there and she loved the desert. Lovely to unlock this memory of her with today’s prompt. In electrical and electronic engineering, a daisy chain is a wiring scheme in which multiple devices are wired together in sequence or in a ring and I think Dorothy did that too – she brought people together in all kinds of sequences that were novel and created many rings around her. I am sure she is still missed by those who loved her and the way she wired her ideas together! Vale Dorothy.

2023 Mycelium #11 Egg and Spoon

Saw an egg and spoon race on Friday for the first time in decades. Six and seven year olds lined up in rows and stood eagerly behind a line waiting for their turn to grab a wooden spoon and coloured wooden egg to take their turn when it arrived from the person in front of them to run about 15 metres, turn around and run back to tag their team mate in the relay. I thought, here are all the lessons in life! Taking a turn, persistence and tenacity, holding out in front of you something that sometimes is quite elusive, matching speed, focus and balance, picking up what you are doing when you go off the rails and get back on to it and keeping going, putting your fragile activity down for the next person to pick up and have a go, cheering your team mates on.  I don’t think I had ever noticed before all the lessons in this activity which seems to have been invented in England in the 1890s.(I was reminded of the ancient Aesop fable message from the hare and the tortoise – slow and steady wins the race.)

Gamification of life’s lessons has come a long way over the past century, but one thing seemed consistent and that is you need to keep going, you mostly can pick up where you left off and it really helps if you are in a team, where everyone gets a turn. I was listening to a friend, as we sat on the grass in front of Stage 2 in our annual pilgrimage to WOMADelaide as she relayed a story about her niece being asked, by her parents to find a team sport to experience all the lessons that being in a team will provide. They explored smaller team options like being a doubles partner in tennis through to soccer and netball. There are plenty of ways of being in a team though – dance, debating, in an orchestra or band, and of course my favourite being in a choir.

This week of the year, always promises, and rarely fails to be my happiest week of the year, International Women’s Day, SouthStart and Womadelaide.  For IWD I got to spend it sitting between the Crown Solicitor and the Chancellor of the University of South Australia on the lawns of Government House. Our host was her usual generous and wise self, the welcome from Rosemary Wanganeen was warm and deep, the speaker Sam Moyston AO, gave me goosebumps and inspiration to keep going for another year and the questions from my peers to the speakers were insightful and future focussed. This was surely an egg and spoon event and around every table were smiles and cheers of encouragement, delight at one another’s successes. At my table Australia’s only female fighter pilot took my heart and I thanked her personally for all the times she is literally the only person in the room with an egg.

SouthStart had its usual intoxicating mix of ideas and frustrations. The team that helps hold me in that space and my co-founders at Collab4Good continued with our inculturation of what impact and collaboration really is through voice, soccer, painting, conversation and debate. It was a lot of fun too!  A day at a winery offered up more lessons especially from five young women who are co-CEOs at AIME – a global mentoring and leadership. Eggs in plentiful supply and all the spoons they need from a structured, intentional and imaginative community. And of course Womadelaide – teamwork from disciplines and cultures worldwide, where the evidence of eggs falling off spoons appears in long lines to the toilets and sold out and probably overselling of tickets.  Despite some of these features it is hard for me not to be in awe of the talents and tenacity of others to pull off this event year after year through rains, dust, pandemics and economic troubles.

In the mycelium to deliver these events to me are thousands of others I am eternally grateful; I just turn up. I get to see the wealth of experience, the harvest of effort from having to get up time and time again and bring momentum to a goal and to cheer on the race and the arrive at a destination. All the lessons though don’t come at the end, they come in the doing, in the travelling along the way to get there, to test how to steady yourself and focus, to accept and keep moving when you drop along the way and failure is instruction about what’s not working and to have a go at another way.

2023 Mycelium #10 Joining the dots

Joining the dots is the above ground equivalent of mycelium at work, then there is the potential of going deeper and the warp and the weft of weaving starts to become visible.

It has been that kind of a week, a dot here and there and then a pattern starts to emerge. It is not always one you want to see. I became curious about where the word pattern came from and discovered its origins in the word patron. According to the Oxford languages, via Google:

Middle English patron ‘something serving as a model’, from Old French. The change in sense is from the idea of a patron giving an example to be copied. Metathesis in the second syllable occurred in the 16th century. By 1700 patron ceased to be used of things, and the two forms became differentiated in sense.

The pattern was perhaps the origins of an algorithm. Maybe the early dots to join and be followed as desired by the patron setting stepping stones out in front for followers?

The algorithms at play following me and trying to entice me, as Mayor, to respond on platforms, are plentiful this week. The use of the tag function to connect me to stories, places or to coax me into conversations are not always dots I will be joining. This practice is designed to co-opt at best, but shame and/or blame is high on the agenda. As we all know the algorithms thrive and grow and were designed by their patron for the market where the currency is hate.  Like patrons before in other dot joining platforms like the tabloids of the UK, hate and fear are big sellers.

The challenge is to work out how to counteract, ignore, help people to fact check, suggest alternative views, offer hope, love, safety. Some of the opposites of fear are acceptance, tolerance, endurance, peace, calmness, tranquillity, confidence, assurance, boldness.  Conjuring up these dots and infusing them into the mycelium seems to require that old adage of eternal vigilance. It is so easy to lapse from the practice of hope and fall down the proverbial rabbit hole into fear. I notice my own wobbly voice and find a deep breath helps get back on track. I also notice the need for beauty, rest and good humour as excellent antidotes.  The negativity and mean-ness and the desire to fuel hate is very real, and while I know it is not personal, it does wear me down sometimes.

It is very unpleasant to be accused of grooming, when reading stories to children in the library. And this is nothing, compared to those who were part of last week’s Pride March being accused of so much worse and being denigrated foully on line.

Patronage of hate and fear is what we enable and encourage, when we get caught up in online rants, scoll and read the seeds of terror embedded in the nasty posts. Resist.

This is how it begins, we need to be watchful, prepared and ready. It is not just to balance these assaults with goodness, it is also necessary to create the safe places, new systems and have an abundance of joy to draw from a deep well of love.

Keeping the tank topped up and making sure I am not running on empty is my best strategy. Find the joy coloured dots and join them together. Before we know it our patronage of joy will create patterns of hope as the mycelium for justice and equity bear fruit.

2023 Mycelium #9 Trees and a Forest

The magpie warbling outside my window waking me up this morning is such a comfort. The familiarity of the song holds me in place and time. Magpies remind me of my Dad, father energy. There are doves in the tree across the road holding a conversation and developing tactics to deal with the miner birds. I live on a suburban street about half a kilometre from a beach, but the seabirds don’t come by at all. Everyone seems to know their place and their territory. Very good instruction for the human world! All the lessons for us are in nature.

We had quite a discussion this week in Council about the tree canopy and it got me thinking about life underground too. (How all the trees connect up is well documented and perhaps Peter Wohlleben’s book The Hidden Life of Trees is a good place to start, if you are new to this kind of thinking. As he writes “a tree can only be as strong as  the forest that surrounds it.”  This is an interconnectivity that brings strength, not just life.  We too need each other and help each other be strong and lively. Communities are a human version of a forest.

One of the communities that has sustained me over the past five years is Coralus (formerly SheEO) and this morning I am reflecting on how this community has built a canopy for me, nourished me by growing strong trees I too could draw nutrients from and rely on to keep growing, when I needed a rest or to hibernate for a while. Some of the life of the community is hidden, the impact can’t be  measured, but I can see the forest, I can see tall trees, I can see green shoots and I can see a canopy where there wasn’t one before. There is a forest, an ecosystem of female founders and funders who have found new ways together, having mindsets with an arc of potential and enough, globally connected and pivoting on shared values, hope and love. There is a spirit of what it means to be landed in the story of past generations, the wonder of what kind of ancestors we might want to be, deep respect of ancient wisdom of Aboriginal peoples from all lands and the power of the collective and business to transform, unlock, unleash, amplify and accelerate each other’s potential for the common good.

I have missed this community over the past six months as I have been busy with my own canopy building in my place, and it is good to be back in their company this week end. Women and non-binary folks have come from all over the country and some from other parts of the world. It feels like a harvest, it feels like a hug, it feels like I might have forgotten canopies get built by planting trees, letting the nutrients find their way to each other, communication under the earth bubbles up through the branches and the leaves …. where eventually the magpie finds its home to wake me in the morning.

I am going to hang on to the thought of the canopy above and the conversations below and give thanks for all the nourishment I receive from the human version of trees, and trees, that keep nourishing me. I honestly can’t by without any of them.  Please be trees so we can be canopy and forests for one another.

 “The trees in a forest care for each other, sometimes even going so far as to nourish the stump of a felled tree for centuries after it was cut down by feeding it sugars and other nutrients, and so keeping it alive. Only some stumps are thus nourished. Perhaps they are the parents of the trees that make up the forest of today.” Peter Wohlleben

You can find this tree here

2023 Mycelium #8 Resilience and democracy

Fifty one Mayor’s gathered at the Local Government Association on Friday and Saturday, coming from all points of the compass around South Australia. Men and women who had been elected as community leaders to preside over decisions impacting on their community, some with years of experience in local government, and about 25% of them we like me first-time Mayors and about 20% of that group, also like me, elected to the role without ever being a councillor before.

I was inspired by the Mayors who have been leading in the Riverland through the flood and who all were first time Mayors. Daily interaction with the public through the media, State members of Parliament, minister and the Premier, and tourists coming through their towns and building not just levies, but conversations and bridges for collaboration to support their people, economies and environment. The rising waters uniting them all day in and day out.  Amongst the group women like Mayor Simone Bailey, who has done almost 50 media interviews before her 100 days as a Mayor, Mayor Ella Winnall who found new friends and allies in unexpected places. Their candid and compassionate reflections, encouraged and inspired me and everyone else in the room. Dealing with natural disasters was a theme of many new and re-elected Mayors, early in their terms. For some it was bushfires … ironically, it was the 40th anniversary of the Ash Wednesday bushfires so that wasn’t far from many people’s minds or memories. Those fires changed our State forever.

I’d been given a spot to reflect on working with conflict and building resilience in the context of community and while that might seem a little pretentious having only been officially declared on 22 November 2022, our council had faced a community protest that required our second meeting to be adjourned on 17 January 2023. (There is plenty in the press and a quick google will catch you up on this if you are new to this blog.)

I didn’t say everything I would have liked to, or could have said, and do feel there is a core of a quite a good TED talk emerging. The kernel is around trust, the sanctity of our democratic processes, citizen engagement and social media algorithms.

How do we work with others who we don’t agree with, don’t trust, or in some way radically different to us?  Many of the mayors shared challenges in their chambers with councillors, but that was not my focus. Elected bodies, including local government councillors, will always have to deal with community groups who disagree with them or who protest against decisions, intimidate and challenge decision-making along the way. Some of those behaviours will be civil and organised, others will be disruptive, and some others may be more terrorist, anarchic, well-organised and well fuelled by resources and radicalised online and mobilised with social media tools and techniques.  We are well equipped to do with the civil and organised and ill equipped and don’t fully understand the radicalised, with potential for violence.

The very first Council meeting I presided over, began with a minutes silence in solidarity for police officers in Queensland lured to their death by what has now been called Australia’s first Christian terrorist attack. With three former serving police officers in the chamber I preside over, it was an appropriate action to begin in this way. I also wanted to draw a line early in the piece and set the seeds for what I believe is the relationship between all the incidents I had personally experienced in the election campaign, and expected to play out into the term …. I am not gleefully prophetic, however it is all coming to pass.

I wanted to not just warn my fellow Mayors, but rather offer up some ways of building resilience and also not to take the organising of the disruptors as isolated incidents, but further evidence of the polarisation that is happening in our country. Collaborating with the enemy, standing up to dictators, inoculating yourself and your communities is part of the gig of being a Mayor. Safety will always have primacy and that includes psychological safety. Building resilience is part of leadership, and needs to be embedded in systems, policies and processes – it is not the work of programs or reports.

Without trust in our democratic systems we undermine and provide fodder for the toadstools to pop up. The recent mismanagement of lodging of administrative forms, meaning some elected members have been stood down while this is being investigated, is fuelling those who don’t trust our systems. While each incident is an individual error, it shows the vulnerabilities of the system and feeds conspiracy theorists. I am angry that administrative errors as tiny as this put so much at risk.

The next thread in the needle is algorithms. I waved around Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Maria Reesa’s book How to Stand up to a Dictator to all the Mayors and asked them to read it. I want them to understand and learn about the relationship between social media platforms, fake news, breeding grounds for radicalisation. I also encouraged them to read Algorithms of Oppression. We need to be building good, hope, optimism and citizenship in our online discourse and presence.  I gave an example of one of the failed candidates in my mayoral campaign trying to divide the community with nationalistic jingoism, or as Samuel Johnson said in 1775: Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. Another failed mayoral candidate on the same ballot as me, was in the District Court on Friday being advised by the magistrate to come back in a month with the paperwork required to back up his claims that the election was out of order and the vote was “illegal”. Interestingly both of these candidates have mycelium leading to Senator Alex Antic, and who has distanced himself from those protesting against local councils.

I asked my fellow mayors to consider the time might have come for compulsory elections in local government. And in local government elections, you don’t need to be a citizen, you could have just arrived at an address into your place and been there for a month before the elections and registered to vote. This is also a dreadful anomaly and puts the democracy of local government at risk. In our capital city there are students who arrived and were registered in time to vote, with little or no relationship to our country or place they are living. This has all the hallmarks of elections being able to be hijacked by external entities. In the case of the City of Adelaide there are implications, yet to be fully tested and scheduled to be before the courts that may implicate a foreign government.

We must be vigilant and ready to adjust and strengthen our processes and institutions. We need robust engagement processes to support participation, online portals will not do it. We need to build and rebuild trust.  The 2023 Edeleman Trust Barometer is out and shows Australia is on a dangerous path as high socio-economic divisions grow.  Business is more trusted that government and seen as more ethical and competent than any tier of government,  Business has stepped in to fill the void of lack of government action over many years – and we have seen this in the leadership offered by corporate Australia in the vacuums around climate action, Uluru Statement from the Heart, sustainability.

A recipe for restoration and in my view transformation is for governments and businesses to work together to build consensus and collaborate on policies and standards that co-creates a more just, thriving, safe and secure future.  With huge numbers of SMEs in our communities and our sphere of government, I think to build more resilience we need to work more effectively with our local economies and build more resilience there – surely this is one of the key lessons from COVID – we can’t leave people behind, we need to equip them to make the transformations to the new economy and new energy environments, we need to step whole heartedly into our leadership – be bold and irresistible to  attract and create the conditions for collaboration – in our communities, between each other – that’s my theory of change for resilience and managing conflict. I also have my mayoral companions to draw on and a playlist to remind me that singing and dancing is essential for my own resilience!

We cannot avoid others whom we find challenging, so we need to focus simply on deciding, given these challenges, what we ourselves will do next. – Adam Kahane, Collaborating with the Enemy.

What are you going to do next?

CIty of Adelaide, Lord Mayor, Jane Lomax-Smith captured me in full flight 18 Feb 2023 on her instagram account.

2023 Mycelium #7 Familiarity

I’ve been looking up the origins of the proverb “familiarity breeds contempt” and trying to get into the undergrowth of where this comes from. Thanks to the never-ending mycelium threads that have built information online, I have discovered the phrase was first seen in English in the 1300s in one of the Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. It is in the Tale of Melibee and digging into that tale it is a story of a wife insisting and eventually convincing her husband to forgive his enemies and not go to war for the brutal slaying of their daughter and her own beating. It is quite a tale of advocacy, discernment, gender politics, pacifism and justice. It is not a tale that is highly regarded by scholars and nor was very popular in its time.  Further digging, the phrase was attributed to a citizen of Rome who began life as a Syrian slave and live about 50 BCE. His name is known as Publilius Syrus. Other well-known phrases are attributed to him such as ignorance is bliss, honour among thieves, necessity knows no law.

Following a line of thought is a reminder to me of the way our brain works just like mycelium, wandering and picking up fuel along the way before fruit is born. I went looking for the meaning of familiarity breeds contempt on a hunch it might provide me with some guidance, to a whole series of events, completely unconnected that I was involved with during the week. They were all very different – a presentation, a mediation, a public announcement, a menu choice.

I am constantly reminding people that every time we do something we are doing it for the first time. We are never the same person as we were the last time, we might have done the same thing. I first discovered this truth in re-reading books as a young person, as I grew older I found new meaning in exactly the same words as I had previously read, as I was not the same person as I was the last time I had read the same book.  New phrases stood out to me, I understood the characters because I had more life experience to draw on, I even saw words I hadn’t seen the first time round, because my vocabulary had improved. It taught me to go back to texts often and be curious about what I might find. It also helped me discover the value and harm of holding assumptions.

We will miss the small, subtle, nuanced changes when we dive in as if we “know it all”. I have done that to my own failing many, many times and it is perhaps why “familiarity breeds contempt” is a phrase I to describe my own behaviour from time to time – a bit like being my own valet – there is nowhere to hide when you are being stripped down to bare truths. I have had deep bruising and still hold much scar tissue from not testing assumptions, suspending judgement, keeping expectations low or making excuses because of the familiar. A good lesson to be reminded of this week in all the quirky and unexpected ways that I might take things for granted.  So, while I was seeing this is situations and people around me this week it is reminding me of the Jungian concept of projection. “Although our conscious minds are avoiding our own flaws, they still want to deal with them on a deeper level, so we magnify those flaws in others.”  I’ve had a gift this week, to be a little less judgemental and take wise counsel from the wife in the Tale of Melibee, to hold back on the counsel to war, and look for ways to pacify my internal chat and avoid a spill over into a contemptuous tempest. I am enjoying find the mycelium threads and taking a moment to notice what feeds them, how they have the potential for both nourishment and poison and everything in between – after all a food source for one creature can be poisonous to another and that does not have anything to do with the integrity of the either the food source or the fruit.

Mycelium 2023 #6 Fruit

The red carpet was rolled out, the photo booth set up with the mandatory backdrop of promotional logos, drinks and nibbles ready to be poured and consumed and behind the scenes hundreds and hundreds of hours of voluntary contribution of time, talents and skills were deployed to deliver the opening of the Fleurieu Film Festival on an unseasonal cool February evening. The full moon rose and clouds moved around until she found her way over the vines of McLaren Vale. A fully formed wow, the appropriate response from people like me turning up to take in the harvest of others labours.

These moments remind me of the depth of the mycelium needed to pull off such an event. Greeted on the red carpet by a friend and colleague I worked with last century who retired and became a film maker, followed by a big hug from the man who would at the beginning of the program give an acknowledgement of country, he being from another part of the Fleurieu and a First Nations man from outside Kaurna and then a pouring of bubbles from grapes I have passed in their vineyards, long before they left the vine. I was with a dear friend who connected with sojourners I had reacquainted with recently through the local government election, and whose offspring lives a couple of doors down from my brother and sister-in-law’s house where I had spent the night before.

This litany of one off connections are the map of the mycelium made visible on the surface. I am finding being out and about in different settings in my role as Mayor, this is happening to me over and over. I am being constantly reminded of pathways and relationships I have had, revisiting or making new, are connected and however random it might appear, in reality there is nothing random. These connections have been fertilised by shared journeys, values, beliefs, and the courtesy of hospitality. Hospitality that act of being welcoming and friendly to all who come your way.

Earlier in the day a very well-known leader in local government thanked me for showing her all kinds of ways to lead and I had no idea! She told one of my new colleagues how much she had learnt from me. I was astonished as we hadn’t really worked closely on any common project, more like moving in each other’s circles from time to time. Her kindness was a beautiful act of acknowledgement of what she saw above the ground and her ability to know what was under the surface, between us. This is a kind of hospitality too, a way of noticing, a way of welcoming, a way of building and strengthening threads.

Mycelium finds and breaks down food sources, collects nutrients and water in order to create the mushroom – fruit of the mycelium. This process requires a lot of hosting too, transforming waste, gathering energy in optimal environmental conditions. All the connections and relationships made visible at the Fleurieu Film Festival were in the most perfect conditions for fruit to burst forth, and in my neon orange jacket, vintage print dress, on the stage to open the Festival I was happy to be one of the fruits and all the energy that had pushed up from generations of interconnected threads. To hear my name and applause when being welcomed on to the stage was a bonus.

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.