Connectivity as a topic is massive so I was super impressed this week when one of the Future Shaper groups addressed it for their program day on Wednesday. The day started off with the most physical representation of the connectivity in the community - local public transport. 

Ballarat is known for many things but a useful and reliable public transport system is not on that list. To be honest, I’d never caught the bus in Ballarat - unless you count that time I went and saw Smashing Pumpkins at Kryal Castle, which for arguments sake, I’m not.

Ironically this week, our family car, the beloved hand-me-down Territory we pretty much live out of, blew up and had to be towed away by the RACV. The mechanic gave us a few grime alternatives. A couple of grand to replace the engine with a second hand one or to cut our losses and scrap it for $500. With the bill on the car we had to hire so we could get the kids to and from school, getting higher every day, neither of these outcomes were particularly encouraging. Maybe catching the bus could be an option…

Unfortunately catching the bus in Ballarat is just a bit shit. There are many contributing factors to this, but as an adult, it mainly comes down to the amount of time it would take you to catch a bus from one place to another versus driving there. For example it takes me about 13 minutes to drive from home to work. If I was to use public transport the quickest route would take 49 minutes and involve two buses and the train from Ballarat to Wendouree. If I was to add in the kids' school drop off as well (which I do four out of five days), it would be well over an hour and 20 minutes of travel. Do that twice a day and I’ve basically lost three hours of paid work. 

As a young person catching the bus (of which there are many) using public transport is a necessity. Getting to and from school during the week and travelling independently on the weekend means that lots of young people use the bus service. Unfortunately though their experiences are pretty shitty as well. Reports of dodgy passengers, people who are obviously high, aggressive bus drivers (who have probably had enough of the passengers who are high) are all commonplace and can make catching the bus in Ballarat a fearful experience for young people. 

To get a sense of this experience we started the day by catching a bus to our first stop at the recently renovated Ballarat Library. We caught the bus from the Little Bridge Street interchange which has a reputation as the dodgiest place in Ballarat. Obviously 9am on a Wednesday morning isn’t peak dodge time but it turns out that afterschool on a Thursday is so the PCYC (Ballarat Police and Citizens Youth Club) set up there from 3 to 5pm with a sausage sizzle to help create safer space for our young people.

Sausage sizzles certainly don’t change the world but there have been several instances where young women especially have sought refuge from predatory behaviour as they wait for their bus home. As community leaders these are the issues we need to consider and we went straight to the top with our next session from Chris Evan, the CEO of City of Ballarat to find out more about how local government goes about addressing such issues.

Running local government is pretty much one mega business that over looks 80 separate businesses. The City of Ballarat employs more than 1100 people, owns and manages over 650 buildings and has over $2.5billion worth of assets that need to be managed. With a constant growth of 1.8% Ballarat is in a constant state of change. To make sure that growth is healthy the City of Ballarat has put together the Community Infrastructure Plan 2022-2037 to help create continuity and alignment with their overarching principles moving forward.

Going from the big picture to an individual's perspective, we next meet a group of equality advocates from Women’s Health Grampians for a panel discussion about breaking down barriers for all. Now after my complaining about not being able to afford to get the car fixed and possibly having to rely upon a shitty bus service I was then put in my place by Heidi Biggin, one of the equality advocates as she shared her story about becoming legally blind at age 22 and her daily struggles. 

With three children (one being a cute baby she had with her) Heidi pretty much has to have three carers with her whenever she needs to leave her home. Every place she visits has to have a place for her seeing-eye dog to crap (I’d never considered this) making taking her kids to the footy a real problem. She has to spend over $1000 per week on support services (mainly carers and drivers - Driving Miss Daisy being the only one that does both) to help get her kids to and from school. 

Heidi takes this all gracefully in her stride of course, as did all the other equality advocates. These women, with backgrounds as diverse as they come, all openly shared their experiences about navigating this often harsh and ignorant world in the hopes that all of us can consider others more openly in the future.

Lunch was in the Yarning Garden at Barkley Square which was recently opened as a safe space for First Nations women to connect with each other, culture and country. We were hosted by non indigenous women Lou Ridsdale from Food is Free Inc who was a pretty awesome example of how non indigenous people can support and advocate for indigenous people. Open your heart and ears and for the love of god, keep your mouth shut! Non indigenous people need to listen. Listen without judgement or thinking up a solution. There is no solution. Much like gardening, we need to be patient and grow together.

Our next stop was BRMC (Ballarat Regional Multicultural Council) where we met their settlement team and heard about all the awesome stuff their doing for migrants into Ballarat. I considered myself EXTREMELY lucky to be a white, english speaking immigrant into Australia - there was no unconscious bias towards me (unless you count giving me shit about my accent - which I don’t). 

If your skin is a different shade, or your accent thick, moving to a place like Ballarat (being very white, for a very long time - once the indigenous people were crushed) can be incredibly confronting. God, imagine if you didn’t speak English and you’ve just managed to escape some catastrophic situation in your home country. You then get thrust into a community that doesn’t know what to do with you.  

There is so much more we should all be doing on a personal level and thank goodness organisations like BRMC exist. They’re doing an exceptional job to make sure that everyone who calls Ballarat home feels connected and part of their new community. If you know anyone who has immigrated to Ballarat (especially within their first 5 years) point them towards BRMC. There are so many services available but you don’t know what you don’t know and that is one of BRMC’s biggest problems - finding the people who need that help the most.

From connecting groups within a community to building brand new ones, we finished our day at the Integra HQ in Lucas - one of Ballarat's newest and fastest growing areas of development. Integra is responsible for multiple developments across Ballarat and Melbourne and I’ve been dying to get in front of them considering I’m a prefab builder less than 1km from their head office! Normally I’d go right to the top and ask them to come visit us but it felt rather insincere given the weight of the day.

Exploring connectivity has really exposed some pretty heinous gaps in our community. As an abled body, white, married, female I have a pretty sweet deal. And that’s saying something because being a female, already put me on the back foot. Listening to the many stories throughout the day made me seriously consider how incredibly lucky I am. My intersectionality is manageable. 

Intersectionality refers to the ways in which different aspects of a person's identity can expose them to overlapping forms of discrimination and marginalisation. Gender. Race. Ability. Age. Sexuality. Language. Faith. Education. They all contribute to society's expectations and roles for us. 

It’s so easy to accidentally turn a blind eye to other struggles - I don’t believe anyone does it deliberately unless they’re actually a jerk. Life is distracting. Life is hard. Just getting through the day is a mammoth task and it can feel like there isn't the capacity left to consider others, let alone a stranger. 

This is why we actively have to make space. It’s up to us. 

It’s up to you.

Video of the week
Tenacious D - ...Baby One More Time (from Kung Fu Panda 4)
Podcast of the week
Wiser than me: Gloria Steinem
Font of the week
Nautic Grotesk: Font of the week by Brandon Nickerson

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