UP HERE in the hills and along the Waterline, net connectivity continues to be a cruel hoax. Ignored by television programs and the Melbourne press, residents of Bass Coast are most often informed by the local papers or the neighbour. Or insightful on-line magazines. Facebook pages are a refreshing, though sometimes inconsistent, source of information.
In Melbourne citizens clutching morning coffees bond over observation of the weather. Round here a few people want to “hold councillors’ feet over the fire” – that’s a direct quote that could actually be a term of endearment in this chilly winter. Others have introduced themselves to me with “You probably don’t want to talk to me” or “You’re never going to listen to me so I don’t know why I’m wasting my breath”.
I can only wonder about the interactions that cause such diminished expectations and hope I’m not part of the problem. Many people have specialist knowledge or experience that informs a particular view and they spend years of their life chipping away at institutional inertia and indifference from the outside. Climate change or fiscal reform, we all know people who seem to care too much. The people who campaigned against asbestos are a great example.
A few years back I did a personal development course. One of the elements was the concept of already listening from a pre-set head space. Hypothetical example – a neighbour is always banging on about something that interests you but not that much. One day they interrupt your morning. You keep reading the paper hearing the same old litany. Except it isn’t. They’ve just won lotto and want to celebrate. Eventually they go away.
In June we voted to trial a permit system for sharing paradise between people who ride horses and people who don’t. Simple? In the lead-up to our decision we consulted widely. The conversation was friendly and polite for 95 per cent of the time. I sincerely thank everyone who took the time to speak to us at meetings, presentations, consultations and through email.
After the vote, a tide of words informed me that I was supporting an elite or conducting a witch hunt. Or both. I was told that our trial was the product of my stupid, lazy, corrupt, inept, biased, uncomprehending malevolence. Or indifference. I haven’t received any death threats. Others have. A state parliamentarian who advocates shooting deer in national parks and selling the corpses for pet food turned up at the council offices asking where we’d gone wrong.
To save us from digging another bloody big hole in the ground to fill with putrescible waste, we have rolled out the three-bin system. The vast majority of residents spoke politely and their input is greatly appreciated. Less than $1 a week to save this bit of the planet triggered some ill-tempered verbal abuse. I firmly believe that we (councillors, staff and the community) need to listen to as many views and suggestions as possible – otherwise what are we here for?
Council’s counter staff and officers are people doing the job they are paid to do. People. A tiny minority of the public cross the line between robust and offensive. My advice is that yelling insults down the line doesn’t advance the conversation, even if the yeller perceives vindication or justification.
Councillors attend as many meetings as possible so that we know the expectations and aspirations of residents. How many car boot sales does it take to build a hall? Volunteer effort across the shire is too great to measure. The number of hours, months and years that people commit needs to be recognised and built upon.
Almost every town in Bass Coast has a collective heart of some description – resident and ratepayer groups, foreshore, reserve, hall and Section 86 committees, church groups, footy clubs and ad hoc gatherers quietly work away maintaining and improving their patch and the shire. Don’t forget Landcare. And community houses. And South Gippsland Rural Australians for Refugees and … the list is endless and the people tireless.
I recently attended a meeting of a Waterline resident and ratepayer group. A sunny and cold Saturday morning, a good attendance and lots of factual reports from sub-committees about what is happening in the area. NBN? It’s on its way. More benches? Talking to council. Everybody had their say on a range of initiatives and issues. I passed on some news and explained some decisions. A few questions taken on notice and I went away knowing more than when I arrived. Community strengthening at its best.
Another resident and ratepayer group has this mission statement: Build on what’s strong (not what’s wrong). Need more be said except keep talking?