Tag Archives: Banyule Youth Services

31. Luke Nelson

30 Oct

31 Luke Nelson

He has the voice of a radio announcer, and the passion of an advocate. His name is Luke Nelson and he has been a Banyule resident for the majority of his life.  Indeed, I interview him for this piece at his home in Watsonia, a home once belonging to his Grandpa Jim and which he now shares with an able-bodied friend through the Independence Australia (formerly HRSS) Homeshare Program. His family have known his neighbours for fifty years.

Listening to him talk, I am filled with a mixed sense of pride and awe at how much he has achieved since we attended the same primary school in Greensborough. He attended Loyola for a term before moving to a special school and day service for five years to complete his education. Despite medical advice that Luke would be a vegetable all his life, these days Luke regularly speaks at a variety of disability organisations, and conferences (most recently at the University of Melbourne), at times consulting on disability projects such DisabilityCare (previously the National Disability Insurance Scheme). He is also involved with reference groups and public speaking – a short time ago he conducted disability awareness training for the local fire brigade.  Currently he has a website and business cards in development advertising his own business, Luke Out Loud. The business will encompass public speaking, an access blog, and motivational videos, but his main pursuit will be working as a consultant on disability projects.

Luke’s career as a public/motivational speaker proceeds very organically. It is a word of mouth job, which is sometimes really quiet, and at other times busy. He began by cold calling disability organisations to introduce himself. Now he has reached a level where a lot of the time people ring him. The remuneration he receives for his work is quite variable, at times he volunteers, other times he is paid or compensated for his travel through taxi vouchers. Though it’s not about the money for Luke, he insists he is merely giving back to the sector which has given him so much ‘every time I go and talk to people, or do something on the disability field… the sector has given me tools and every time I give something back to people who haven’t had those opportunities and tell them what is available out there and what people can achieve, I feel like a billionaire. The individuals I help and the companies I educate…if I can walk out of the room and someone says, “I’ve learnt something”, that’s my payment.’ Life experience is the key to Luke’s expertise, for example, ‘I’ve been through the ISP (Individual Support Package) system, so I know what to look for, and I’ve been through some of your pain.’ An ISP is a funding package available to people with disabilities which covers support needs or equipment required as a result of disability. It allows the person to take control over what help they receive, and direct their own funding in ways which assist them to achieve life goals.

Luke is careful not to use the word ‘disability’ in his speeches, preferring to use ‘posibilities’ and encouraging people to instead consider what a person with a disability can contribute to their life and community if able to work and/or socialise. Luke’s motivation stems from his experience that expectations for people with disabilities aren’t as high as they should be; he believes they can be a lot higher. His philosophy is that if you can’t do something, find what drives you to do that activity and ask if there is another way of fulfilling that core desire or being part of that community.  He concentrates on the concept of using your disability to your advantage.

After visiting the US at age thirteen, he returned with a strong sense of injustice – why doesn’t Australia have the same standards of physical access? – along with a  stronger sense of purpose. His life mission is to change the people living with disabilities perspectives of their own strengths, weaknesses and capabilities as well as society’s general view of disability.

Luke was introduced to Youth Disability Advocacy Service around four to five years ago, and clearly he has found his calling, ‘I’ll be doing this for the next twenty to forty years. If I don’t want to do it, I won’t, but I will always be an advocate. It’s about the fact you can change people’s lives.’ His professional heroes are those who devote their lives to achieving inclusion.  For example: institutions for people with disabilities are viewed negatively by a vast majority of people in today’s disability sector, seen as places of segregation which do not provide  the full opportunity for intergration into the community and  many of which offer a substandard level of care. When describing one of his heroes, Luke explains, ‘he shut down an institution, and that takes guts, and his approach…not letting go. He’s been doing this for thirty years.’

So when is enough enough? ‘My biggest goal is to make our jobs obsolete, to walk into a room and for people to say, we don’t need you anymore because we know how to treat people with disabilities, we know how to support them, we know how to put access into houses, we know what the funding’s like. The day that that happens will be the day that I rejoice, the day that I’ve done my job. But in a sad reality’, Luke says solemnly, ‘you will never have that situation, one thing goes away another crops up. Something I get frustrated that people are not already informed about things like disability awareness training.’ Luke says we need to continually ask,  ‘what can we do to keep disability on the edge? What can we do to make things better?’

Luke is cautiously optimistic about the future of people with disabilities, both in terms of the funding they will receive and treament and  inclusion by the wider society: ‘I have great respect for the dawning of DisabilityCare.  It is a relief, but this is not a magic wand, it’s not going to solve everything and cover everything. Let’s be realistic, governments change, money may be allocated somewhere else.’  Relief seems to be the overriding emotion though because ‘it means our colleagues have done their job the best they can.’

If in power, the first item on Luke’s agenda  would be to put an extreme punishment on lack of disabled access, ‘…for the fact of exclusion, just to see what would happen, how many people would change their perspective, just to see how tough you’d have to be to make it all accessible so you’re guaranteed that a person with a disability could enter.’ After the punishment, the offending owner of the building should need to reapply for their venue licence.

When asked what he feels about the future of disability, Luke says ‘Attitudes are changing for the better but I am sceptical in some respects, society is still afraid, I believe, of people with disabilities though it is being eradicated slowly.

As for his key message to the general public? ‘Look at the person first, look at the possibility, look at how the person interacts. Look at the disability second, look at the individual first. If you can do that, then there’s nothing to fear.’

Words By:Nicole Smith

Photo by: Sean Porter

30. Laura Lynch

7 Aug

30 Laura Lynch cLaura Lynch has been a driving force for youth in our community since her humble beginnings as a reporter for Youth Central in 2011. Since then she’s had pieces published in Girlfriend Magazine, interviewed author Andy Griffiths and is currently in her final year of a Media/Communications degree at ACU. But on top of all her achievements in the media, Laura was one of 19 young Victorians chosen to be a part of the Youth Involve Committee in 2012; and shared her experience in working with the Minister of Youth Affairs with me earlier this year.

Tell me a little about your experience with Involve, how did you come into the program?

I came to find out about Involve through YouthCentral- a youth based website I used to write for. My experiences with Involve have been so inspiring, I feel so lucky to be connected with 17 young Victorians who are passionate about making a change in our beautiful state!

I know I’m very lucky to have the ear of the Minister in this term in the Involve Committee and intend on not taking it for granted- experiences like this are very hard to come by and I love communicating the voices of the Northern Metropolitan region to the Minister so he knows what we are enjoying, as well as areas where we can see more improvement.

Is Involve something that you would recommend to others? Why?

Involve is something is something I would recommend to every young Victorian who wants to make change to benefit less represented Victorians. If you feel as though you are a well connected member of your community who can articulate the voice of your community I would definitely recommend it!

It’s a role that can really bring change and allow the Ministers who represent us to know what we need.

What are the issues that you are most passionate about?

I am really passionate about reducing youth disengagement and making sure all Victorians have the capacity to lead rich and fulfilling lives.

Further I have an invested interest in raising the profile of anaphylaxis- a life threatening allergic reaction to foods; such as nuts and kiwi. In the last few decades instances of anaphylaxis has increased, it is crucial to inform others about this severe form of allergy; how to address it and minimize risk- as there is no current cure. As someone with it, I think it’s really important to raise more awareness about it! I sought to address this concern by writing to publications to spread the word; I’ve had articles published in Girlfriend magazine, YouthCentral and Anaphylaxis Australia.

I also have an interest in sustainability and the environment, where I write for SBN radio’s Primary Perspectives and Switch On Saturdays, two shows for young people addressing issues in the environment and proactive ways in which we can enact sustainable living.

I have always had a curiosity about homelessness in Victoria so I also became a volunteer at the Salvation Army. Rather than passively expressing my sympathies and concern for those who are reduced to a life on the street as a result of social and financial exclusion, I joined an institution that helped people who are displaced.  I’m currently studying a bachelor of Media Communications- so I hope I can work on bettering my communication skills so I continue to help raise the profile of these issues I am interested in.

In my position in the Committee, we have addressed to the Minister issues in social media, youth disengagement, the role of families in Victoria as well as youth Mental Health.

Have you brought about any significant changes to our community through your work on the Involve committee?

Our role in the Committee is to provide advice to the Minister, however seeing our recommendations take action in the form of policy or campaigns is really up to the Minister. Making changes can is often a lengthy process to work through Parliament.

However saying that, the Minister has always valued our presentation and reports and understands the areas we would like to see improvement.

I would like to see the Banyule/ Northern Metropolitan area to continue to flourish for young people. I think we as a community are incredibly lucky to be surrounded by good resources and most of all, beautiful parks and lovely people. It’s easy to forget sometimes that people who don’t live in our area don’t have the same access to resources as us.

I would however love to see a young people become more involved in community groups, be it youth committees, scouts or sports. It can do so much for us mentally and socially. Becoming more engaged!

 What is your advice to young people that want to raise awareness for their passions and bring about positive changes in their community?

I would love to see young people showing their beliefs and attitudes in action. I would encourage young people not to be passive in expressing how they feel- but turn it into something active- like joining a group.  Make a group in school to address an interest you’re passionate about or submit an article to a paper so that you can make sure your voice can be heard!

How would you suggest that young people become more involved in the community?

I would recommend to young people to find out about local youth council committees, joining up to scout groups or sporting groups too!

What’s next for you? How do you plan to continue your work after Involve is over?

After I finish at Involve I would love to continue to raise awareness of anaphylaxis. It is an issue very close to me and I would love to see the profile of it raised. I will also be continuing my work at SBN as writer so I will still be encouraging sustainability for young people.

Next year I also finish my Media Communications degree so I will probably look towards some travel and then find a job within the media field!

30 Laura Lynch b

Words: Samantha Taylor

Photo: Sean Porter

29. Laura Muir

24 Jul

29 Laura Muir“The biggest thing you can do for your country is to give your life defending it…”

This is one of the first statements which Laura Muir proudly proclaimed when I sat down to interview her. One would be impressed if they heard this from a seasoned veteran, let alone a teenage girl with a passion for serving her country. Laura, a member of 402 Squadron Air Force Cadets, dreams of becoming an Air Traffic Controller or IT Specialist with the Royal Australian Air Force.

Through the Banyule 100 initiative, I had the fantastic opportunity to meet and interview Laura Muir, the successful recipient of the 2012-2013 Living Spirit Fellowship initiative facilitated by the Greensborough RSL. Impressively, Laura is the first year 11 candidate to have won the Fellowship out of a field of over fifty applicants from 14 schools in the region. Encouraged by her Deputy Principal and mentor Mr Tony Chirico and supported by Loyola College, Laura decided to undertake the application for this Fellowship. At first, whilst completing her exams, Laura felt the daunting magnitude of the application. As a testament to her character, she not only “became intrigued” and “couldn’t stop” researching, she also excelled enough to win this trip of a lifetime. Soon enough, delegates from the Greensborough RSL would be arriving at Loyola College to congratulate her in front of her fellow students for becoming the next winner of the Living Spirit Fellowship.

Laura admits that she was excited for the journey, as she cannot help but to “love an adventure.” After landing in Bangkok in the early hours of the morning, the following day Laura’s journey truly began. Firstly, she arrived at Kanchanburi War Cemetery, roughly two hours north-west of Bangkok. Here she was subjected to the sight of over 6,000 graves – most of whom were Australian, British or Dutch soldiers.

Subsequently, she underwent a small group service at ‘Cholera Hill’ – the F Force POW Camp site where many Australians perished at the hands of this infectious disease due to malnutrition and enforced squalor. With regards to this, Laura has made an extremely poignant assessment:

“Family members laid a cross and said a prayer before placing individual poppies at  the base of the cross.  It was a heartbreaking moment. We heard stories of courage and mateship, as Diggers volunteered to care for their mates suffering from Cholera and ensure they were not left alone.  These Diggers knew they were at extreme risk of catching Cholera too, but refused to leave their mates. Everyone on the tour was a son, daughter, wife or brother of a POW or a serviceman. Words cannot explain how I felt visiting these locations, learning about the war, the horror and suffering of the POWs and their loved ones.  A constant question in my mind was how could a human-being treat another human-being like this? As an Australian, I was humbled to stand where Allied POWs and local civilians built by hand, a 245km railway for the Japanese. The men were tortured, beaten and murdered. Numerous stories of mateship and bravery brought many a tear.”

It was at this point that the raw emotion experienced “hit [Laura] at once.”

Throughout Laura’s entire pilgrimage there is a recurrent theme – “words cannot describe.” She’s entirely correct, one cannot conjure a phrase, or any amount of words which accurately portrays the gravity of the plight that the Australian (in addition to the British and Dutch) POWs suffered.

Laura soon attended a Dawn Service at Hellfire Pass – a pass cut through rock entirely by hammer and chisel, where it is said by locals that the haunting echoes of the ‘hammer and tap’ will forever endure. Here, after having traced the footsteps of Australia’s ancestors, Laura and her company laid a wreath to commemorate and honour Australia’s fallen soldiers. Laura listened to an especially emotional rendition of the Last Post by two Thai Army buglers, whilst Bagpipes echoed throughout the entire pass as dawn broke over the chiselled rock. When describing this scene to me, she spoke of pure “amazement” – this was the point of her journey in which her jaw dropped and an epiphany was reached. This is without doubt a moment which will forever be etched in her memory.

Following this, Laura attended a ceremony at Kanchanburi War Cemetery. She was taken aback by the sheer amount of foreign delegates such as Canadians, Swedes and Spaniard who had made the pilgrimage to pay their respects to the Australian, British and Dutch fallen heroes. This reverence exhibited by dignitaries from countries which had little to do with the Thai-Burma Railway serves as a testament to the respect commanded by these fallen soldiers.

This journey had provoked an epiphany and altered Laura’s mindset. She stated to me that she had gained a “better appreciation” and upon returning was “more grateful” for the life she had been given, a life which may not have been possible without the sacrifices of those whom she was honouring. Thus, fuel was added to her burning desire to serve her nation, instilling deep within her a “[pride in] what [she] wants to do.”

After detailing her experiences to me, I asked Laura to sum up her extraordinary journey in one word – “Proud” she stated humbly. She is proud of those who have served this nation past and present, she is proud of those who accompanied her to commemorate their fallen heroes, she is proud of the mateship which superseded the horror experienced on the Thai Burma Railway, and this without doubt makes her proud to be Australian and proud to follow the footsteps of the Australian POWs in Thailand.

I for one am proud of a young leader and idol such as Laura so willing to serve our nation and honour our history. She is an exemplar of honour and integrity and our country should see her as a valuable asset.

Words: Jake Breheny

Photo: Sean Porter

28. Annette Welch

10 Apr

annette welchAnnette Welch is a truly inspiring woman. Even from speaking to her for the short time that I did, her compassion, warmth and sensitivity shone through. Annette is a maths teacher and administrator at Diamond Valley Learning Centre and is recognised by all as an invaluable member of staff. Annette has assisted hundreds of young adults to see the relevance of maths beyond the classroom, understand the concepts and gain confidence in their own abilities.

Ever since Annette was a little girl she has wanted to be a teacher; “I think I’m the sort of person that likes to help people. So teaching was something that I always wanted to do, even when I was young I wanted to be a teacher.” She had been teaching in traditional school settings before starting a family and then the opportunity to teach at DVLC, as she puts it “fell into my lap”. At first she only worked with the adults there, but over time more and more young people joined the adult classes. Annette realised that being taught in the same class as the adults didn’t suit the youth; so she helped to develop the VCAL program.

The inspiration behind this came from the realisation that these students had so many gaps in their knowledge alongside her strong value of equality. “I just feel that they should have the same chance as everybody else, and often in their lives they’ve had all sorts of issues and problems with their education. I just want to help guide them in the right direction.” At first it was difficult to begin these classes but as more and more students came to DVLC, the numbers were high enough to start a separate program to the adult classes. The program is run differently to your average class. DVLC aims to make the students feel welcome and part of a community. The students are treated as adults and a safe and enjoyable environment is created. “They love coming” Annette laughs “maybe they don’t like to do all the work, but they do love coming, which says a lot about the program as attendance is normally a big issue for these students in mainstream schools. ” She goes on to talk about  the importance of this “It’s horrible, but people often isolated or feel isolated and Valley VCAL at DVLC  gives them a place to connect with other people and I think that one of the biggest strengths  here is that connection with other people.”

Many of the students that Annette teaches have come from disadvantaged backgrounds. They generally have had trouble with education and previous teachers. This is not, however, the case with Annette. Her students think the world of her; one of her students Jess said “Annette is not only a great maths teacher, but one of my vital supports through rough times. Her warm and caring personality makes her classes not only a great place to learn, but a place I always feel safe and could rely on to lift my moods and get me through the week.” As evident from this testimony, Annette’s teaching has been greatly beneficial to the students at DVLC. When asked about this Annette states “I think that everyone needs to be numerate. It is such an important skill to have in society and I just want to give them those skills. They just need to see that numbers are not horrible and are needed every day. I just want to give them these basic survival skills for when they are out in the world.” Furthermore, the VCAL program that Annette works on at DVLC greatly assists the students. Students learning styles all differ. These students don’t see the relevance in traditional learning; this  where VCAL is different. VCAL adopts  a very hands on approach.  “If you learn by the traditional methods that schools generally teach towards, you can normally do well, but often the students that come here have different learning styles. We can help cater for that a lot better because we’re smaller and we focus on the sorts of things that our students need. I think that’s really beneficial for them.”

As well as teaching, Annette has helped with fantastic new programs and ideas at DVLC. In 2011, DVLC ran their very first VCAL camp; an idea supported by Annette. The camp takes place at a ranch in Daylesford, where the students get to experience things they may have never imagined. It is also important as it bridges the gap between the teachers and the students. “The students get to know the staff on a different level, which is really important.” Not only that but it’s a chance for the students to stay away from home, which some of them have never done before. It gives them a sense of independence and maturity. When recalling one of the camps, Annette laughingly says “One of the things they loved the most was going to the spa. They had a day at the spa and it was such a pampering treatment for them.” Annette has also been a part of the waterwatch program. Waterwatch is a program where volunteers help collect information for the council waterwatch program on the quality of the water, in the different waterways. Annette volunteers for this in her own time, but last year decided to bring it into DVLC as a science program. “It’s really good because it makes students have a sense of belonging to the area that they’re in and they can start thinking a little bit about the environment.”

Annette loves her job, when asked about it she states “It’s a very rewarding experience and very challenging.” Although, it is a rewarding and enriching experience, it can be very difficult. So what gets her through? It’s the little things; they may not seem much to an outsider but they make a world of difference to Annette. “It may be a student who would spend all their time playing a gameboy, who this year is actually sitting and doing her work. She has gotten past that and doesn’t need to revert back to the gameboy to feel safe; she can now be part of the class in a meaningful way. Those sorts of achievements and outcomes are really, so much better than the educational ones, so that keeps you going.”

Working at DVLC has not only affected the lives of many students who attend school there, it’s affected Annette’s life as well; “It’s made me realise how lucky I am in my life because it never ceases me to amaze me what some people have been through and that they’re still bring themselves to places like this and hope to get some kind of education. That inspires me really, and that’s why I’m here to greet them with a smile and teach them about numbers.” So does Annette see herself continuing at DLVC in the future? Yes she does; “I want to continue here. I like being at the grass roots of it all.” And doing her part, she most definitely is. Her students say that they would not have made it to graduation without her, and her colleagues say she is an exemplary member of the teaching staff and an inspiration to all. Overall she is a truly admirable and inspirational woman whose contributions to DVLC have greatly benefited all those around her.

Words: Elysha Ringin

Photo: Adrian Faure

27. Amy Bryans

4 Apr

amy bryansEver heard that saying “children should be seen and not heard?” and stopped for a moment to contemplate what little relevance it holds in this day and age. It is already well known that Gen Y are the ones who will soon be taking over from the ‘Baby Boomers’ and fixing the mistakes made by those gone before us. This being the case the idea that children should “not be heard” makes no sense, as those belonging to Gen Y need to have their voices heard if we are to have any chance of making an impact on our world.

Meeting annually, YMCA in conjunction with the Victorian Parliament have created a program that does just that, giving  the youth of our generation a chance to speak out and have their voices heard. In a bid to improve the lives of Australia’s youths the YMCA Youth Parliament program gives those aged between sixteen and twenty five a chance to come together and vote for bills that they feel strongly about. In 2011 the amiable Amy Bryans participated in the program and was voted by her peers to be the Youth Premier.  She explains to me just how big an impact the program has made on her and what it offers for those wishing to join.

There is an unmistakable confidence brimming from this polite well-mannered young woman who has just emerged from a meeting at the Banyule Council where she is planning for a series of speaking engagements she will deliver in schools. Her warm personality makes her easy to talk to as we slip into the interview, in which she explains what first started her involvement in the Youth Parliament program. “I really wanted to gain leadership and experience” she says as she informs me of the YMCA camp that first brought the program to her attention.

Unlike some youth based programs, YMCA Youth Parliament requires a lot of time and dedication, “it take around six months to decide on the issues we want to bring to parliament” Bryans says, “after all the bills need to plausible in order for them to work.” There are around twenty teams that come together, the option of joining being entirely of one’s own volition, with groups from all sorts of schools, universities and scouts coming forward to take part in the program. “It gives people a chance to put their voice forward, and best of all you could have zero interest in politics and still have a great time.”

So what has this experience done for Amy? Already an outgoing character, she has seen Youth Parliament as an outlet to further explore her skills in leadership training. Now having already shouldered such a responsibility as Youth Premier she found the role not only “gave her something to do” but also gave her “somewhere to go”. Having become a part of Youth Parliament to gain leadership and experience she has found the program fulfilled all these hopes and expectations, teaching her how to handle responsibility and properly lead a group of young keen individuals, having allowed her to put her own voice and ideas forward.

Although she admits she never saw herself engaging in politics she is eager to return and further her skills. “This year I am a part of the Youth Parliament Taskforce on the Media and Communications Portfolio” she explains. When asked about her coming plans, “I hope to get lots of great media for the program” hoping to encourage more to come forward and participate. As well as this Bryans plans to further her love for theatre, “I hope to become a theatre director” she says, “I even returned to my old high school to assist in the school production.”

“I’d rather be busy than bored” she smiles “I have no problem doing a thousand things, it keeps my life interesting.” It’s no surprise that when asked about her life in high school she happily explains how she was school captain for year twelve, “I loved high school, I was always heavily involved.”

Crediting her love and inspiration for getting out and leading the public back to Youth Parliament she admits just how much it changed her life. “It inspired so much confidence in me, I was selected to develop my leadership skills and it’s really helped me grow as a person.” Now having such an ability with the public, when asked whether she values her reputation over speaking her mind her answer shows a level of sophistication and maturity one can only attribute to her experience with Youth Parliament. “When I was younger I would’ve said speaking your mind was more important, but now I think it’s more a balance between the two, and knowing how to interact with people.”

Coming from a family of divorced parents she explains how one shouldn’t let what happens around them be a product of who you are. Her family also run their own drama studio, which is what first inspired her desire to pursue a career in acting. “Working in performing arts” she says, “it makes life so interesting”.

She is a truly remarkable young woman who should serve as an inspiration to all who come into contact with her.

Words By:Rachel Nixon

Photo by: Sean Porter

26. Carl Thompson

20 Mar

carl thompsonWhen I was planning my interview questions for this piece, I originally had the idea that I would be profiling a person living with a disability and that I’d be raving about all of the marvellous things they have achieved ‘despite the odds against them’. However, upon meeting my interviewee and having chatted with him for about a minute, I realised that by following the original angle, I would not only be insulting my interviewee but all members of society living with a disability.

Carl Thompson lives with cerebral palsy and whilst the condition can sometimes effect speech and cognitive ability, Carl views himself as “one of the lucky ones” in the fact that it affects his mobility and nothing else. Unlike other conditions that were acquired “from a car accident or drugs”, Carl has grown up living with his disability and has thus become accustomed to it. With “care needs that weren’t as high as some other people’s”, Carl’s parents put education first, choosing to enrol him into a mainstream school as opposed to a special education school which offered extra disability support.

This decision was the best option for Carl and he is incredibly grateful to his parents for providing him with a challenging and stimulating environment, one which he feels he would have missed out on had he gone to a special school. Contrary to what society would envisage, growing up wasn’t a challenge for Carl. With “a brain that worked relatively satisfactorily”; as he modestly puts it, and a personality that made him enjoy talking to people, Carl was able to foster a strong peer group who carried through to his later years of life. “At the start, kids always stare but that’s just because they don’t know what’s going on. Once they know, they’re a lot more forgiving”.

As what normally occurs in these circumstances, Carl had an aide to assist him with motor skills at school such as writing and eating. “A good aide is very important; you need someone who is well-trained at blending in so that other kids view them more as a friend, rather than a mother type figure, consequently the kids are more likely to disregard the disability”.

However, there were times when people were not as understanding. With the academic competition that came as he progressed through his later years of education, he was often perceived by adults as having an unfair advantage over other students as the aide who was physically writing his essays and maths problems was viewed as mentally doing those things for him as well. But gradually as time went on, it was a thing that others learnt to understand and one that you yourself “try and overcome”.

Achievements in Carl’s life were viewed as victories for him, even if he himself viewed them as basic. “If you do something that’s relatively normal, you get put on a pedestal which is patronising in a way; and it’s not because people are being nasty”, but more so a result of the “low expectations” that others have of you. When Carl received an offer from La Trobe University to do his Bachelor of Business, it was seen as a “really big deal”, even though “thousands of kids go off to university each year”. So from witnessing first-hand the stigma attached to disability, Carl has undertaken numerous projects and advocacy work to emphasise the fact that people like him “just want what everyone else wants and not for it to be given to them, but for it to be made achievable with support, encouragement and greater expectations of them”.

“Disability is seen as aged care; a welfare state that isn’t considered an investment”. Instead of just “meeting someone’s basic needs”, Carl hopes that through his advocacy work he can make a difference and show that disability support “should be about getting people into education and employment” so that they too can achieve “the Australian Dream” which we all hope to have. “It’s not always possible with everyone, but it’s something we should aim for”.

Carl’s advocacy work led him to travel to Canberra as a result of his ABC Ramp Up article regarding systemic advocacy. He and a group of other wheelchair users blocked trams on Elizabeth Street to spark the attention of the media and lobby for more wheelchair accessible trams. He was recognised for his report of this protest with a Yooralla Media Award, and was invited to Canberra for the National Press Club address regarding the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

In addition, Carl also co-ordinates Banyule City Council’s ‘Good Access Is Good Business’ program, whereby local businesses are given rankings based on how disability sensitive and accessible they are. Taking into account factors such as ramps, lighting and guide-dog access, various shops and cafes around East Ivanhoe and Rosanna have been given rankings as an incentive to make them strive to achieve a more disability friendly environment.

I feel so blessed to have been able to interview such a quirky and charismatic man and I know that everyone at Banyule City Council loves working with him too. Even though he just wants “what everyone else wants” in life, I have no doubt we will see great things from Carl in the future.

Words By:Annalisa Cercone

Photo by: Sean Porter

25. Harry Prout

21 Feb

Screen Shot Harry crp[We had heard a lot about the impressive accomplishments of Brother Harry Prout, yet as our interview commenced, I don’t think either of us were prepared to be quite as blown away as we were by the amazing tales of a life of generosity and compassion that Harry had to tell.

Raised on a dairy farm, Harry’s own life had modest beginnings. His family life consisted of simplistic things such as growing potatoes, or “spuds” on their farm, looking after their flocks of sheep and riding bikes around – “we were generally pretty feral actually!” Harry jokes. But his childhood was also one of work, as he recalls having to milk the cows early each morning and then head off to school. On his return from a day of classes, Harry continued working, taking over the milking from his mother before dinner time. Such dedicated, hardworking attributes shone through early in Harry’s life and it is easy to see how he has carried this selfless attitude into later life. Not only that, but growing up on a farm enabled Harry to gain “a sense of nature, and God’s presence in nature”, what with new life surrounding him all the time, as calves that were born came into milking and eventually had babies of their own.

Harry’s strong beliefs and a desire to find a new life led him to join the Marist brothers. The institute of the Brothers was created in 1817, originally with a focus on educating poor and rural children in France, an aspiration that is still true of the organisation nowadays. Harry describes how their goal was to help the poor and the powerless. For Harry himself, he had always felt a particular pull towards helping the outcasts and the poor amongst society, “standing up for justice” in the same way that his other family members did. His charitable instincts could perhaps run in the family, as his mother was a nurse who cared for Aboriginal mothers who had their children taken away, while his father worked in Aboriginal Affairs.

Helping the young did not stop with his involvement in the Marist Brothers. Throughout Harry’s life, he has been actively involved in retreat work all around Australia, particularly at school camps. Harry believes that this sort of experience has enabled him to realise that sometimes it is necessary to just stop and ask an individual how they are going in life. The response to this question is sometimes shocking, particularly when it comes from such young people who are incredibly ambitious, aspiring individuals who have unfortunately suffered throughout their lives.

Harry has a background of teaching and has taught in 4 different schools across Australia. With a chuckle Harry acknowledges that aside from a smattering of English, History and Religion; he used to teach dance and movement for a while. “One of the things I miss most, actually, when I gave up teaching, was producing musicals… Such a great community building activity [where] the natural talents of kids really shine through.” Through years of being a teacher, Harry gained an understanding of the importance of education and learning being present in a child’s life – making him all the more valuable in his current position. When asked how he came to be in West Heidelberg, Harry explains that he had been working at a retreat centre in Mt Macedon, in a position of leadership. When he was approached by a woman named Sister Sally, who was accompanying a group of students, to come and work in their community, Harry felt ready to move on from his current position and accept a new challenge. Moving into the new area proved to be a big change for Harry, not merely because of the different surroundings but the people he lived with were not just other Brothers, but people from around the area. Harry notes, “It was actually the first time I had lived with women, so that was a big learning curve for me!”

Harry’s initiation into the community wasn’t easy. He had grown up and lived in a middle class society; therefore this new environment was confronting and at times “awkward”. He reminisces on the very fond memories of being assaulted up as he tried to intervene in a fight between young boys. It was a long journey for Harry, but he eventually built a good rapport with all groups in the community. These relationships have led to a lot of mutual trust and respect; they would all do anything for each other.

According to Harry, coming to West Heidelberg has helped increase his sensitivity and compassion towards those with disabilities. It has given him “a richer” understanding of mental illnesses, something he considers a “blessing”, and has also been in close contact with other less fortunate people. “In the neighbourhood, 20% of the population are Somali refugees”, remarks Harry, and it is because of this he has come to understand a lot more about their plight. A quiet kind of pride seeps into Harry’s voice as he recalls the Somalian refugees he has had contact with. He notes that unfortunately, in war-torn countries, usually it is not the poor and the disadvantaged who manage to escape, but those with a higher standing and some wealth. Therefore the refugees who have settled out here are the ones who already value education. “They know about education and they aspire to education.” Harry conveys to us a sense of their bravery and resourcefulness in making a life for themselves in Australia, and explains how even though they have known what it is to be educated, often out here they cannot afford such luxury and this can be very degrading for them. We, two privileged young girls who have just successfully completed Year 12, were stunned to hear about the ongoing conditions for these refugees and the fiery passion that Harry harbours in regards to looking out for those who come from war-torn countries was nothing less than inspiring.

West Heidelberg, the suburb that Harry currently resides in, is one of the most disadvantaged areas in Victoria. The level of poverty experienced by the town is very confronting. The number of individuals who have or do suffer with mental illness, abandonment, divorce, or alcohol and drug reliance is extremely high. Harry believes that sometimes bad experiences lead to even worse experiences, for example a single mother may consume unhealthy amounts of alcohol in order to “numb the pain” of her situation. This domino effect only contributes to the cycle of poverty in this small town.

Harry informs us that one major issue in the community is increasing obesity, particularly amongst youth. Living conveniently close to many fast-food restaurants has resulted in the community’s large consumption of foods high in saturated and trans fats. This unhealthy diet leads to the risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and many other health problems later in life. In order to tackle this issue, Harry has proactively promoted healthy eating by teaching them the convenience of healthy alternatives. He opens his house for “drop in lunches”, providing healthy meals to the community. Harry also raves about the Summer BBQs which are regularly held in his backyard. Harry believes that the popularity of his services has merely been spread through word of mouth. The number of people who drop by Harry’s house for lunch continuously increases, enough so that the visiting list has extended to over 300 families.

It took Harry a while to adjust to his new lifestyle, but he quickly learned that what was needed most in the community was someone to listen and allow the local people to give voice to what they really wanted. “I soon came to see that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason, so I did a lot of listening.” Most of the young people claimed they just wanted somewhere to go and “hang out”, so the house Harry lived in, the very house we sat in for our interview, became like a place of refuge and rest, where all were welcome. It was touching to hear Harry describe how the house would sometimes hold big gatherings with up to 20 people, who would all come along to enjoy a meal and support each other. When prompted to talk about winning the Jaga Jaga Australia Day Award, he quickly asserts that it was awarded to “the whole community”.

“[It was] just a recognition of the volunteer work we do,” Harry modestly tells us. The award was presented as a token to acknowledge how he and the other workers managed to “identify with people who are poor, to see if we could help them in anyway. … We just wanted… to journey with the people… understand what it’s like in their boots.”

The small, modest house that we sat in for the interview was the home that Harry had slept, cooked, showered and invited people into over the past few years. It was a very small abode, although it had a cosy, welcoming atmosphere that everybody who walked through the door felt. Harry explains how his home and the many neighbouring houses were built over 56 years ago for the Olympians of the 1956 Olympic Games which were held in Melbourne. Harry acknowledges that the houses in the Olympic Village were not “built to last”, resulting in many maintenance issues, mould and extreme temperature conditions during the hotter and colder months. Despite this, Harry graciously lives in his small home, taking advantage of the luxuries that his life has been granted with.
Harry’s work amongst his community is very important. Sadly, education isn’t regarded as a priority like it is for those in higher socio-economic areas. Very few in Harry’s area actually finish year 12. There’s not a lot of encouragement to go to school, and even if they do, they don’t achieve very high results. Harry believes that education is the “key to confidence” and in order to promote learning amongst the community, he wanted to provide a safe haven away from the chaos and mess at home for young kids to get their homework done to a sufficient standard. This eventuated in the local homework club, which enabled children to get help with their Maths and English at a proper working table. The club grew, although Harry recognised that the kids who desperately needed the help weren’t coming and taking advantage of the amazing services. In addition, hardly any kids are involved in sports, despite Harry’s best efforts to start up a netball team a few years back. The cost for the right footwear and uniforms is just too expensive, and some children don’t even have access to a car to go to the games or parents willing to go along and encourage them. Harry therefore helped push for the creation of the Bike Shed, a project funded by the council that enabled them to loan out bikes to children, and maintain the scooters and bikes that kids already owned. It also provided a designated destination for young kids to feel welcome to come and bond with Harry and other volunteers over their bikes and scooters, allowing them to open up about their circumstances at home.

Harry sounded very excited to report that they recently received a grant from Bendigo Bank for a whole new selection of scooters. The benefits of such a program have been astounding and while he waves away much of the praise that he is given, it all comes down to the hard work Harry has put in to making his community a better place.

Words By:Annabelle Pendlebury and Joely Mitchell

Photo by: Sean Porter

24. Rudely Interrupted

28 Dec

rudies

In a local bakery in Northcote I await the arrival of Melbourne based band Rudely Interrupted who have just released their new EP Mystery Girl. Since their formation in 2006 the now four piece band has been attracting all the right attention, having been praised for their catchy rock music by many critics, claiming it to be ‘some of the most energetic and genuine music of our time’.  But for Rudely Interrupted it’s not about fame and living the high life. It’s about proving to the world that although all band members, minus manager Rohan Brooks, live with some form of disability truly anything is possible.

It’s a Monday morning, and this quaint little bakery is bustling by the time Rohan, Rory and Josh arrive. Once seated guitarist and lead singer Rory Burnside takes me through the difficulties of living with his Asperger syndrome as well as having been born blind with a cleft lip and palate. Despite these afflictions the affable young man’s warm personality strikes me as he informs me of their upcoming tour. Music is a very big part of Rory’s life and having completed a music performance degree at Box Hill Institute of TAFE Rudely Interrupted has clearly chosen the right person to front their band, creating music the singer describes as ‘Indie Rock’.  But like any band Rudely Interrupted didn’t happen overnight, in fact according to Brooks the band was only supposed to be “a short project.”

The band’s formation began back in 2006 when Brooks met fellow band mate Burnside at a barbeque. It was at this time that the professional musician and musical therapist asked Burnside if he’d like to start a band, already knowing of his amazing musical abilities. From there drummer Josh Hogan and bass player Sam Beke joined, both already acquainted with Brooks from a musical therapy class he had been running at the time. Like Rory both members live with their own form of disability.  Sam has down’s syndrome and Josh endured many complications at birth that left him with bones that have failed to fully develop, but don’t let it prevent them from creating music that pulls in the listener and showcases their musical talents. “Josh had never played drums before the band” Brooks tells me as he describes Rudely Interrupted’s early days. “It was a strict left, right hand diet” Hogan adds as he went about becoming accustomed to the drums, “but it’s paid off.”

The following years proved to be very eventful as the band went about writing their first songs and gaining exposure at their performances. Their first song ‘Don’t Break my Heart’ was written in 2007 and came about when Burnside asked ‘if it were possible to die from a broken heart.” After gigging around Australia, Rudely Interrupted where invited to perform at the UN for International Disability Day in 2008. “We ended up being bigger than Bono” Brooks smiles, recalling the time the band performed to their sold out audience, achieving the numbers the U2’s singer’s speech had failed draw.

Releasing their debut album ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ in 2010 and self titled documentary that was screened both nationally and internationally in 2009, Brooks is right in saying that it gave them a lot of exposure. “The documentary was about us working together and writing songs” he says, “getting behind the scenes.”

Despite all the success the band has so far been blessed with; Rohan still finds that Rudely Interrupted’s reputation as a disabled band puts them at a disadvantage. “We just want to be accepted like any other band” he explains “but we just don’t have the same opportunities in Australia as we do overseas. It’s a lot better for us over there.” The frustration is understandable, but Brooks knows just how special this band is. “It’s important for society to have bands like us, after all these guys have the hope, confidence and abilities.”

Aside from this Brooks states that “the growth in the band has band amazing” having toured overseas six times since first bringing their love of music to the world. However, like any band, they’ve witnessed some changes, having lost keyboard player Marcus and tamborine player Connie. Although the two still accompany the band for the occasional performance, Rudely Interrupted has not at all lost its amazing flare and ability to create lyrically inspiring songs. “As artists, we look for the differences in life” Brooks says as he describes the inspiration the band use to write their material, “it’s great to write about these guys lives, and it’s really shone through in Rory, he has some great talent in song writing.”

The band’s music really sets them apart from the sounds of pre teen pop that now dominate the radio. Brooks admits that their music is quite simple, but in doing so gives each member the chance to truly shine and they express their own personal experiences when it comes to living life with a disability.  “We do our best to keep it organic” Brooks explains, and with the amount of positivity Rudely Interrupted has received since first breaking the scene, it’s clearly a method that has worked in their favour.

Rudely Interrupted have been touring the country of late, bringing with them a new fresh, set of songs and that same raw passion the group share for music. Then the band leave home soil and head for Italy in the new year to promote their EP to overseas fans. An app has also been designed for the band to showcase their lives on tour and give fans a chance to learn a little more about what happens overseas.

It is really touching to hear Brooks say how he and his fellow band mates aren’t apart of Rudely Interrupted “purely for those egoistical reasons.”  This band gives Rory, Josh and Sam a purpose in life and a chance for the public to see that one is not in any way, shape or form limited by the disability they may live with.  “I get support from them” Brooks says, “after all we’re there to push each other and strive to be the best we can be. We really love it; and I don’t see why we can’t be just as successful as any other band.”

Words By:Rachel Nixon

Photo by: Sean Porter

23. Eilish Gilligan

24 Sep

More than ten years have passed since a set of tiny little fingers; not even six-years old, had their first touch of a piano. As she explored the plethora of different notes and enjoyed playing with the instrument’s three pedals, Eilish Gilligan had no idea that the sounds she played on her grandmother’s piano would later turn into the breathtaking music she created within the walls of the Victorian College of the Arts or with her band, Nebraskatak.
 
An accomplished singer and pianist, Eilish’s talents have forced her to succeed in all of her endeavours. At the age of twelve, she received a music scholarship to her high-school before reaching 8th grade in AMEB piano. Furthermore, in 2010, she was the first-prize winner in the Victorian Government’s VicRocks competition for her original song ‘Party In My Head’ not only scoring her a $3000 voucher to Billy Hyde, but the opportunity to be mentored by industry professionals at ‘The Push’ and ‘Freeza’.
 
Music is not only a love of Eilish’s… but her way of life. Describing it as “the closest thing (she) knows to divine experience”; Eilish loves and appreciates the ability of sound to convey emotions and stories, and allow for an element of liberation and escapism to appear in our everyday lives. We all feel trapped and overwhelmed at times by life’s everyday stresses, which is why music is beneficial to us all, irrespective of how tone deaf we may be!
“It’s the ultimate comfort, it’s there when you are ecstatic or devastated – it will never stop loving you, or leave and never come back. It’s constant and completely intangible yet has the power to bring us to our knees”.
 
Joni Mitchell, Kate Bush, and Matilda Wormwood acting as some of her role-models, Eilish now hopes to keep others going with her blog that she has prided herself on writing for two years. Having started off as a means of practising her writing, the blog is now intended to spark people’s imaginations and reach out to their interests. She updates it daily, posting photographs, lyrics and poetry allowing her to fulfil her passions of art, writing and music all in the one activity!
 
Eilish cannot imagine herself doing anything other than writing and performing music. In her eyes, as long as she can create a sense of honesty within her music, perhaps a piece that someone can make a connection with through the use of relatable, comforting and beautiful stories, she will consider herself to be extremely successful.
 
Gaining her experience from her five-member indie pop band as well as her knowledge from her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Music (Interactive Composition) at the University of Melbourne ensure that we will see a great deal more of Eilish Gilligan in the future.
 
You can find Elish’s blog at http://eilish-gilligan.blogspot.com.au/

Words By:Annalisa Cercone

Photo by: Sean Porter

22. Waterdale Theatre

23 Jul

It was obvious early on that Shane Sanfilippo; founder and current president, would lead Waterdale Theatre to great things.

Shortly a year and a half after starting off as a West Heidelberg Youth Group in 2004, Waterdale had already grown to become a large, independently funded volunteer company that looked beyond financial barriers to provide many theatrical opportunities for all.

Staying true at heart to its original intentions, Waterdale provides a means for all young people to positively express themselves in an interesting an uplifting environment.

As a result of involving around 100 17-26 year olds in the average production, their rehearsal space at Parade College, Bundoora is simply bursting with energy and enthusiasm every Wednesday and Sunday afternoon. From auditioning to become a lead or ensemble member, to helping to provide a delicious snack during intermission, there’s a way for absolutely anybody to get involved whether they be at a professional, semi-professional or absolute beginner level.

As well as helping the organisation to grow, contributing to Waterdale will also allow you to challenge yourself as a person and try new things. Their nurturing environment places an emphasis on what’s best for ‘you’ and it’s remarkable to see how much people grow as performers from the beginning to the end of a production.

“There’s no better way to learn than to be surrounded by people as passionate as you are”- Kathleen Amarant, Waterdale cast member.

Following their performances of renowned musicals such as AnnieJesus Christ SuperstarFame, Beauty and the Beast, and their first show: Little Shop of Horrors, was their second production of 2012; Into the Woods. It is a story following the unknown events of some of our favourite fairy tales: Cinderella, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk and Little Red Riding hood, and the characters’ quest with the Baker and Baker’s wife to reverse a witch’s curse. With just 12 short weeks of preparation and a small cast of 20, the quality of the production exemplified the profound dedication and professionalism of all involved.

This year Waterdale Theatre will also coordinate the ‘Construct- Original Theatre’ project. This initiative allows absolutely anyone to present their own original piece of theatre, whether it be a play, dance or live art piece, and gives the chosen top 10 the chance to perform and be supported by some of the industry’s leaders.

If you’re interested in theatre of just want to try something new, then Waterdale Theatre. is the perfect starting point no matter who you are! They’re always looking for new members so for more information, visit their website at www.waterdale.org.au

Words By:Annalisa Cercone

Photo by: Sean Porter