The refugee week launch was a terrific event to be part of – a fabulous bunch of speakers including our own Greens Councillor, Belinda Coates; Kon K from theAsylum Seekers Resource Centre, Sediki Mukasa, an 18 year old who had settled in Australia having been a refugee from the Congo, and lived the first 6 years of his life in refugee camps; and Rebecca from the Refugee Council of Australia.
Rebecca’s speech was powerful and hard hitting and provided my fact of the day if not the week. Australia spends $4 billion on our detention systems, onshore and off shore. In contrast the entire refugee resettlement and support program of the UNHCR worldwide is only $3.3 billion. Imagine the massive amount of good that could be done by spending that money to support people fleeing for their lives rather than subjecting them to cruel, inhumane conditions and the mental torture of indefinite detention in squalor on Manus Island and Nauru
Much friendlier weather overall today though than yesterday – the last two hours of the ride into Ballarat were in significant rain – cold with a fresh breeze. I was pedalling hard, feeling like Cadel Evans ( not really!) needing to make Ballarat ABC studios by 4.30 for a radio interview, which I did with 5 minutes to spare! Iooked like a drowned rat though!
Yesterday’s ride was actually quite enjoyable in a ‘wow I managed to achieve that!’ sort of way. Quite a big climb up out of Bacchus Marsh but we got there and enjoyed the reward of a gorgeous view. Then on through the Werribee Gorge State Park and some lovely narrow quiet country roads which we whizzed along, breathing in the country. And even when the rain started it began as a blanket of enveloping drizzle hugging us and the sheep and their new born lambs (who looked quite unperturbed in the surrounding paddocks), and brought on choruses of frogs in the roadside verge singing praises to the dampness!
It was rather a contrast to the first day’s ride which was in perfect cycling weather –cool, sunny with a gentle breeze. It was so special to have had so many people join us for breakfast to see us off – we had 45 people riding with us to begin with, and about another 20 who just came for breakfast- including the climate guardian angels – gorgeous seraphim!
I lead the pack heading off and it didn’t quite feel right being out in front – I smiled to myself as I thought that that was pretty typical of my leadership style – I’m much more comfortable leading from the middle of the pack, able to observe, listen, and understand what’s going on around me.
Gradually that pack reduced, with people peeling off as they had to, so by lunchtime on the first day we were a dozen or so – and what a treat that dozen had. We arrived at a farm on the Werribee River, at Exford. Magnificent country with the river having carved its way through a basalt gorge, with towering River Red Gums along its banks. And on a bend in the river 100 hectares of rich fertile river flats which the owners John and Mila Little had donated for use by 28 refugee families to grow vegies. Beautifully tended rows hillocked red soil stretched out before us, with winter crops of chillies, bok choi, other greens, snow peas and more. And up the hill a large chicken coop, waiting for the chooks to be welcomed to it. The coop has just been restored – it’s now a mix of old and new, being a restoration of the chicken coop which hadn’t been used on the property for decades. John told us the families planned to start with 25 chooks and see how they go. The families are currently growing the vegies for themselves, families and friends, but they have plans to set up a social enterprise and sell the vegies locally, particularly through local churches and other community organisations.
We met a Burmese couple and their seven month old daughter, who have been in Australia for 4 years and have been farming their plot here for 18 months since the plots got going. They have 7 kids in all, the oldest aged 16, and live in Werribee travelling to tend their vegies 3-4 days a week. They had been in refugee camps for 9 years on the Thai Burma border before being accepted as refugees in Australia. Their vegie garden is clearly an incredibly positive thing in their life.
John and Mila told us how the gardens have been really well supported by the wider community too, who are really keen to come in and help the gardens get off the ground – this is the Australia I am proud to be part of, one which welcomes refugees, helps refugees, cares for refugees and wants to support them to find their feet as part of our diverse multicultural society.
Our first day ended in great style too, at David and Ruth Marnie’s place in Parwan, in a magnificent spot overlooking the Werribee River. I met with members of the Moorabool Environment Group, anti coal campaigners, local Greens and local Landcare groups, including neighbours whose plantings on the valley edge we could see from where we were. David and Ruth’s next door neighbour for example has been planting 600 trees a year for the last few years.
Such a great diversity of people and passions – and only 3 days into the ride! Such a great way to get to Canberra!