Flooding Rains and COVID closeness

Things in NSW seem to be gradually hotting up on the COVID-19 front. Not like Melbourne, but more than Auckland and New Zealand more generally, who’ve reacted swiftly and hard overnight, in response to just four cases. We’ve had four cases within proximity of our regional campuses this week (2 in Batemans Bay and 2 in the Shoalhaven), and we’re still muddling along with non-mandatory masks and open pubs.

The Batemans Bay cases are a bit close to home, because we had both staff and students who were at the impacted schools and then on campus the next day. So far, all the test results have come back negative, so things seem to be fairly contained. The two cases from Sydneysiders visiting the Shoalhaven have impacted my son who works in retail in Nowra, and who suddenly had masks become compulsory midway through a shift on the weekend. Luckily, he had one in his bag. My friend’s daughter made one for each of us and sent them as a care package with a heartfelt message. They are “over-engineered” (in the words of her mother, who designed them), and very soft. Rob has been raving about his, and dutifully washing it and laying it out to dry overnight between work shifts.

My mask. My daughter has cats, my son has stars, and my husband has a dark animal-print one.

I really haven’t had a chance to wear mine yet, because I’ve barely left the house.

Part of the reason I’ve barely left is another bout of flooding–the worst in thirty years, we’re told. Certainly it’s the first time we’ve had water come into the garage, and we’ve lived here thirteen and a half years.

Tony very nearly got the swimming pool he’s always wanted, by default.

(I also have video of our normally dry creek bed as a raging torrent, but I’m not prepared to pay an annual fee just to share it here. I’ll see if it can be added to my personal website.)

On the homefront, the ensuite is finished so while the house is untidy and three bedrooms still haven’t had their paint refresh, everything is actually functional, which is nice. The fear when doing renovations at the speed of cash is one of inadvertently doing more damage while saving, but karma seems to have been on our side in this instance.

Ta-daaa!

And in more big news, we finally found a local company that will check and clean solar panels. This has literally never been done, because the company who installed them went out of business not long afterwards, and we’ve struggled to find anyone in our area with the correct certification (well, I did find one, but he didn’t actually show up at the appointed time!). By my calculations (by which I mean, I know we signed the contract on the last possible day to get the then-60c feed in tariff and I had a quick Google) they were installed in 2011, so I’m well aware that the prognosis might be dire. But they’re currently earning us all of about $10 per month, so I’m hoping that a clean and service might provide some sort of return on the investment of getting them looked out.

Now that I don’t have a renovation project to manage, I have found something else to fill my time. Back in April, I did my civic duty and ordered a couple of “essential” jigsaw puzzles. One order was cancelled, and the other only just turned up about a week ago. Apparently when the PM tells the nation to buy jigsaw puzzles, it mucks up the supply chain of jigsaw puzzles just a little bit. Anyway, mine is here just in time for a potential second lockdown, and it’s already testing my patience significantly. I chose a lovely image of the Venetian canals, thinking we could frame it and hang it on the wall.

I hope they have big walls in whatever aged care facility I wind up in, because this looks and feels like it is going to take decades to complete … and that’s assuming the cats don’t knock it over or push a few key pieces off the desk in the interim!

Of Chainsaws, Charities, COVID-19 and Catastrophising: an Update

Remember how we all couldn’t wait for 2020, because the end of 2019 was so horrifically awful? Yeah.

So about three weeks ago, I took out my trusty chainsaw and set to work on the dead tree in the front yard that had fallen over when we had the flooding that followed the fires. (Yes, for those playing along at home: we’ve had fire, flood and plague. Pestilence should be along any minute now).

A few weeks prior to that, Groundskeeper Troy had told me that he is very insistent on his younger relatives wearing full protective gear when using chainsaw, because he’s seen the injuries. I don’t own much in the way of protective gear.  Gloves. I wear gloves. And my usual eye glasses.

So to be fair, I had actually put the chainsaw down safely, when I had the brilliant idea to stomp on a long tree branch and break it in half. Which worked. But then the tree fought back, and flung upwards at a great rate of knots, tearing a cross shaped fairly deep cut in the bridge of my nose.

So I staggered inside, bleeding from the face, shocked eyes above the profusely bleeding wound, to where my husband was relaxing. And all I could think was, “Troy warned me about this!” It’s the chainsaw equivalent of, “Oh No! I had shot my eye out!”

 

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At least it wasn’t my eye.

Turning up at work the following Monday was pretty embarrassing. As he peered at my nose, Troy suddenly grinned and asked, “Do you reckon you’re the only member of the leadership team with an injury from chainsawing right now?”

The following week I went to a meeting of the leadership team, and I did indeed appear to be the only one with an injury to my face from clearing timber at home. The joys of regionality.

The regional areas in which our campuses are located are only just starting to think about the rebuild process, which is one step before the recovery process, after the fires. And now we have a virus with which to contend, too. People are already stressed and anxious, so there’s catastrophising happening, and it’s making tempers short. Like the rest of Australia, we’ve had our grocery store times truncated and deliveries suspended. And each day we are dealing with new movement, travel, and gathering restrictions. But as yet, no really big calls have been made. Schools remain open. Universities, including ours, haven’t been told to close, but are moving to online delivery post-haste. We did have to indefinitely postpone Graduation. This morning the PM gave us all a dressing down, giving us a classic daggy Dad bollocking regarding hoarding: “Stop it. Just stop it.” I half expected him to threaten to pull over the car.

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Pesky little thing, causing big, big problems.

In the midst of dealing with crises, mostly real but a few imaginary, I’ve also been volunteering behind the scenes organising a major community event for the NSW Cancer Council. To the surprise of no one, it obviously can’t go ahead as planned in a couple of weeks.

nowra relay off

Imagine trying to juggle a conference call with other volunteers, and an update on a local campus from the security firm, simultaneously. Or distressed staff members and a message from your kidult saying they have flu-like symptoms and asking what to do, all in one day.

That’s where we’re at. The tree was easier to deal with.

Still, things could be worse. I have toilet paper, and I have hand sanitiser, which arrived by post yesterday and shall be treated like liquid gold. My nose has healed up nicely, but the scar might be permanent.  And so we keep on keeping on.

 

 

 

Fires and Floods and Scholarships … Oh My!

It turns out this blog recently had its first birthday, and I missed it. To be real, I’ve missed a lot of things in the past few weeks and even months. My last post on here was pre-my daughter’s 21st birthday and Christmas. Jamie’s 21st was on a catastrophic fire day. We had most of the party inside, as planned, but headed outside for the formalities and cake-cutting because the Southerly had come through and dropped the temperature from the 46 degrees Celsius with which we started the party, down to a figure around half that.

With the Southerly came some pretty hectic ember attack behaviour from the Currowan fire, that blew embers 11km into town and started a new fire in Worrigee. That fire, in turn, started to blow burned leaves and ash into our backyard, about another 10 km away. Which was very festive. Always a nice moment when you have to suggest that the guest of honour change out of her flammable-looking outfit.

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Speech time, under an orange sky and with thick smoke behind us. #nofilter

brisky
With high school besties Brianna and Sky. Again, no filter. This is the colour our world was.

 

After that, we of course had Christmas and it was pretty calm, all things considered. Santa came past on a fire truck, which was a relief, because I really though the truck would be otherwise engaged.

A couple of days after Christmas we had a community briefing where we were told that the fire was breaching all containment lines and would inevitably jump the Shoalhaven River. A day after that, the SES doorknocked our street and showed us the projected path of the fire on a map. On both occasions, we were told that properties would not be defended. This was not the kind of thing you could put people in front of, even if there were enough appliances.

So we decamped to the kids’ place in Wollongong on December 30. I naively thought it would be for two days, and didn’t take any work clothes. We were away for almost two weeks.

In the interim, fires came within a few kilometres of our campuses at the Southern Highlands, Batemans Bay and Bega, as well as in the Shoalhaven. Some staff and students lost everything. UOW Bega became a place for students and staff to shelter. Batemans Bay campus become an overflow evacuation centre. On New Year’s Eve, our Admin Assistant Nicky Bath wound up hosting a slumber party for 300 people, most of whom were strangers and very frightened. She did such a great job that a local retirement village and the Disaster Welfare team organised for her to host their evacuated residents a few nights later.

nicky
UOW Batemans Bay: ready for anything.

Since then, we’ve had torrential rain, and even had to close a campus owing to flooding in the area. It has put the fires out. The clean up phase has begun, but rebuilding is a while off yet. Our communities are hurting. But they are resilient. Our impacted students have re-enrolled, which is remarkable.  We’re offering them what support we can, be it financial (emergency grants), emotional (through counsellors, student support advisors, campus managers and a welfare calling campaign), or practical (replacing lost uniforms or textbooks, loaning out laptops).

And to finish on a very positive note: we also have available scholarships for students who are new to UOW and intending to study at a regional campus. Destination Australian scholarships provide $15 000 per year for the duration of a new student’s degree. This is a great opportunity for people who want to study, and want to stay local. We have five available at each regional campus (Batemans Bay, Bega, Shoalhaven and Southern Highlands) for domestic students. Applications close this Friday – click on green hyperlink above for details.

 

 

‘Tis the Season

As we near the end of the year, people often cheerfully ask me if things are winding down. In truth, I am not sure I’ve ever been more wound up!

Last week we had Graduation celebrations for our students in the Southern Highlands, Batemans Bay and Bega. And because the week wasn’t busy enough, Shoalhaven hosted a two-day event for Indigenous students. And, just to add to the degree of difficulty, the massive Currowan fire between the Shoalhaven and Batemans Bay closed pretty much every road into the area, and put celebrations in jeopardy.

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Not the best driving conditions for graduands or staff …

The week started off in Moss Vale, which was pretty smokey, as you can see in the pictures.

with Ros

The guest speaker who gave the Occasional Address was none other than my friend and long-time collaborator, Dr Roslyn Weaver. Ros’ parents still live in Moss Vale and we all have a lovely catch-up when she makes her annual pilgrimage home each December. She’s currently using her research and writing skills while working in Vancouver. A UOW alumn and former tutor at the campus, she was a great choice to congratulate the students and inspire them that the skills and confidence acquired during their studies are very transferable. There is one graduate, however, we don’t want to go anywhere any time soon! Erin Acton is our Admin Assistant at UOW-Southern Highlands, who graduated with her BA.

with Sammi and Erin
With Regional Outreach Officer Sammi, and Erin. We did not consciously co-ordinate; we are just that sympatico. #teamregional

I then spent two days with Indigenous students from the Shoalhaven. They undertook art and dance classes on campus, and then we all went on a Bush Tucker walk at Booderee the next day. I learned so much on that one hour walk!

Graduations at Bega and Batemans Bay also went off without a hitch. We even made front page news in Bega!

For at least a week beforehand, there were many urgent communiques about whether or not the celebrations in Batemans Bay might not be able to proceed. We created Plans B & C, which we thankfully didn’t need. In true enterprising regional style, however, I later discovered that the eight graduands who live north of the Princes Highway closure had developed their own Plan B, costing out a charter boat!

skipper
What could go wrong?

 

 

Since then, I have pretty much been in recovery mode, frantically trying to finish off a whole bunch of work stuff before I start my annual leave this afternoon. We have had HSC results and ATARs released; we are waiting on information about some very cool incentives to study at regional campuses–watch this space if you are thinking about studying at UOW-Shoalhaven, UOW-Southern Highlands, UOW-Bega or UOW-Batemans Bay from next year–there are some new scholarships in the pipeline. We had two finalists in the University’s Pod Decorating competition, an Info night at Shoalhaven Campus, and there are more info sessions and drop-in days to come.

bushfire sun
Bushfire sunset over UOW-Shoalhaven Info night.

Away from work, things are also busy. In addition to the usual festive activities and ever-increasing to-do lists that abound at this time of year, our eldest is turning 21 on December 21. We are in the middle of a record-breaking heatwave and half the country is on fire, so we’ve been hastily shifting her vision of a cute outdoor grazing platter and glasses of Pimms to something which still has those elements but hopefully without our guests contracting heatstroke and salmonella. (This may also feature lots of Zooper Doopers).

Jamie
Can  confirm she will be looking way more glamorous than me on Saturday … Zooper Doopers notwithstanding.

So from our regional team and my regional family, our very best wishes to you and yours for the holiday season. Stay safe, stay hydrated, and most of all:

festive-black-banner-merry-christmas-greetings-vector-16840710

Live from Batemans Bay

I’ve mentioned before that I look after the regional campuses of UOW. Well, I have “strategic oversight.” That means I read stuff, plot, and write stuff. It’s kind of a cool job because I’ve always been interested in giving extra help to students who may not have had the easiest path to education, and when you work in regional areas, you get to help quite a few of those.

One of the regional sites is UOW-Batemans Bay, and one of the very great perks of my job is that I get to come here to work, sometimes.

seagull
A local.

My association with the Bay goes back a long way. Like most people who grew up in New South Wales, I have vivid memories of coming here on a holiday as a child. Many years later, we started bringing our own children here.

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Clyde River cruise, 2010. Photo credit: Ellyn Quinn

Then in 2008 I took up the position of Learning Development lecturer in Batemans Bay, one day per week. I would get up early, leave the kids with a high school aged friend and trust they all got on the bus together, then head down the Highway. I spent my day offering learning support to students who were under-confident, and seeing their delight when they started to see their marks improve. It was a great job, but when I was offered 2 days a week doing the same thing but for students with Disabilities on the Wollongong campus, it was contingent on not continuing to do 4 hours of commute + an eight hour day in the other direction, as well.

In 2017 I secured my current position, and so I now get to travel to Batemans Bay and interact with the staff and students a couple of times each semester. One of my former students is now a staff member, supporting younger students. It is lovely to see that cycle of learning and teaching continuing.

In addition to its fine tradition in learning and teaching, UOW-Batemans Bay has serious props when it comes to community engagement. Community Engagement Grants from UOW have funded projects like the Possum Skin Cloak, which has pride of place in the campus foyer, and on stage at graduations.

Possum skin.PNG

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In 2018 the team won a Vice-Chancellor’s Award for their next community engagement project, the Mogo and Mudji Project. UOW-Batemans Bay partnered with local primary schools in the area to produce two books, using local knowledge and language.

I’m very proud to have a copy of Grandfather’s Gully on my shelf– it is a cracking read. And it turns out that it may just be only the first book in this series, because publishers are seeking to expand the program to other areas and languages. UOW-Batemans Bay might be a small campus, but they have big ideas. And good ones.