SIX months ago, as far as I knew, I had never met a transgender person. Nor did I know any kids living on the streets. Being a councillor has certainly opened my eyes!
After the talk, a few of us had dinner at a local club. Sally Conning, a Wonthaggi resident and member of the roadshow, opened my eyes about the many LGBTI people living in Bass Coast. Since then, I’ve heard from several parents dealing with their children’s issues.
At last month’s council meeting I was proud to second Cr Ellis’s motion that Bass Coast Council should publicly support marriage equality. The point was to send a message of acceptance for young people in our community struggling with their sexuality. As far as I’m concerned, there’s been too much segregation. We’re all different. Let’s just accept everyone for who they are.
Two weeks ago, I went to an open day for a proposed Wonthaggi youth hub. There had been a presentation to councillors on the project earlier in the year. The groups backing the hub, including Anglicare, are seeking help from the council to pay rent and expenses, around $43,000 a year, to set up a hub in Graham Street, opposite McDonalds.
We know it’s a worthy project in a good spot, central and close to the bus stop. There is clearly a need to be filled. Unfortunately they didn’t get a very good hearing.
The timing was bad. We were in the middle of doing the financial plan with a list as long as your arm of funding requests for projects across the shire. All worthy projects and collectively way beyond the shire’s means.
And we know the minute we get a youth hub in Wonthaggi, there’ll be quite reasonable demands for a hub on Phillip Island, another in Inverloch and another in the Waterline townships.
So I’m afraid we didn’t give them much encouragement. Funding for a youth hub didn’t make it into this year’s budget but I accepted an invitation to an open day at the proposed premises to learn more.
One young woman in particular has stuck in my mind after that visit. I’ll call her Samantha. Samantha has been dealt a tough deck of cards in life. She had to leave home young, which affected her school studies, but she’s now studying at TAFE and determined to finish her studies so she can make a better life.
Her positivity in spite of the hardships really touched me. Once I would have looked at someone like Samantha and thought, “Why don’t you go back to school? Why don’t you get a job?” It’s so easy to make judgements when you don’t know the person or their story.
I grew up in a bubble. After the past couple of months, I can see that. I took it for granted that everyone lived like me. Don’t get me wrong. I grew up poor, like half of Wonthaggi. We lived in a dilapidated old miners’ cottage on the south side, but there was always food on the table, a warm bed and a loving family. And I always had the football club.
Sport’s always been my thing. I believe sports clubs are a crucial part of the community. They can help young people fit in and find a path through life. But not everyone is sports minded. Young people like Samantha need just as much help from the council.
When Samantha talked about what a youth hub would mean to someone like her, with no secure home or family, she was full of life and excitement. A hub would mean somewhere she could go to meet and talk to people her own age in a comfortable, secure space.
Those words changed my thinking. At the empty house that could become their youth hub, I promised Samantha and the others that I will do whatever I can to advocate for their safe place.
Brett Tessari has been president of the Wonthaggi Power Football Club for the past six years.