MY friend Liz McDonald is off to Phillip Island to donate books. Liz is knowledgeable about books, not just because she is an avid reader but also because she spent years in publishing. When you enter her house you don't see walls, you see floor-to-ceiling bookcases with books spilling out from high mountain ledges begging to be rescued and read.
As they accumulate to the point of over-population, Liz moves into culling mode. When I arrive, she already has a boot load of books neatly boxed. Although she lives in The Gurdies, her preferred point of donation is Bill's Book Shed over in Cowes. I have been invited along for the ride.
First stop is at San Remo for an appointment and then over the bridge to Newhaven where we beach-romp her dogs. A visit to the trout farm follows and on to Rhyll for lunch. This is shaping up as a very good day.
We arrive at Bill's Book Shed and are met by two remarkable women, Nola Fenech and Jean Wood, who have been manning the shed every Saturday for the past three years. With Joy Nevin, they form the core of the Melaleuca Lodge Auxiliary, a body that works to raise money for the Lodge, the only not-for-profit aged care facility on the island.
Along with grants from the government and organisations such as the Lions and Rotary, the auxiliary adds substantially to the lodge’s finances. It’s bought a bus and covers the cost of Christmas parties and birthday celebrations for the 39 residents.
The book shed goes back to 1990 when a much-loved local identity, the late Bill Hopkins, opened the doors of his tin shed in the grounds of Melaleuca Lodge to support the aged care facility. Over the following years it was estimated he catalogued hundreds of thousands of books and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars.
As reported in the Phillip Island Advertiser, on Bill's retirement in 2010 at the age of 95, he felt he should give consideration to his health and the concern others might feel if he continued. "I quite enjoyed doing this job … in the hot weather (the tin shed) was a bit uncomfortable for me, it became a health issue and a risk as I had been working there on my own," Bill said. "I realised that if anything happened to me there would be nobody to help me."
It was calculated that in Bill's final year the book shed raised $20,000. He said at the time, "When you think that none of the books were marked over $2 … it's very satisfying.” Today prices range from $2 to $5 so little has changed.
Donations exceed sales, so many are sent to third world countries when the auxiliary is advised of free shipping space, and large numbers find their way into under-privileged schools. A local doctor loads up with children's books whenever he visits outback Aboriginal communities.
Nola says up to 20 additional volunteers help out during the annual January sale, when visitors to the island stock up on good holiday reading. "We had a teacher from Wodonga Secondary College who was delighted to clean us out of our classical section, taking Shakespearian plays and all our copies of Lord of The Flies for class use, all at $2 a copy."
Donated books are left on a bench outside the shed and every day Phil Dixon ("She won't tell anyone what the Phil stands for,” says Jean) comes and takes them inside for sorting. Phil starts moving books into the shed while Nola and Jean continue cataloguing.
After dropping off her boxes, Liz buys a book to take home. "I'll return it with the next lot after I've read it" she says. It's a never-ending story.