I’m exhausted, and the academic year hasn’t even started yet.
It’s about to, though. It’s Orientation Day at UOW-Shoalhaven. There is currently a queue of students waiting outside my door to have their photos taken and their student cards printed. It’s an exciting time for commencing students. And a time of great uncertainty in the Higher Ed sector, as we enter the second year of COVID-impact. We’re all trying not to dwell on that.
So: positives. Last week I traveled to the campuses in Bega and Batemans Bay. It was my first trip in a year. All international and most domestic travel was cancelled for most of last year. and I struggled with being “benched.” It felt very “normal” to be down there again. I was able to talk with our staff face-to-face, which is a dynamic we all need sometimes. But in the evenings, I was all peopled out, and ordered room service and watched the tennis. I’m out of practice at this being social thing.
For my night in Bega I even managed to crack open The Book and do some work on it. This was a case of multitasking, however, since I didn’t want to miss the tennis. Ash Barty crashed out of the women’s quarter finals while we were welcoming the students today, so I might be watching a lot less tennis over the next three or four days than I had thought.
The book is progressing nicely. More than half the chapters have been vetted and formatted and when printed out, it kind of looks like a book. I’m currently wrestling with things like Bibliographies and Notes on Contributors and all the other little bits and pieces it’s easy to forget but which take less dedicated blocks of time than trying to pen, say, an Introduction. Which may or may not be taking ten times longer than I anticipated. But I digress.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Cake by Heidi at Cafe on Campus (and decorated by Jamie)
Indoor graxing table she whipped up herself …
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.
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.
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.
The week started off in Moss Vale, which was pretty smokey, as you can see in the pictures.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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).
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:
The other week I had to call our Head of Security and utter a line I never thought I would: “I just wanted to warn you that you may get reports of shots fired on our campus.”
Thankfully, they hadn’t happened yet, and this was not an emergency, but rather a licensed provider dealing with a kangaroo that was beyond recovery. Australia is in the middle of a massive drought, and so some people in the suburbs are finding roos and other wildlife where we would not normally see them. We have roos all the time, but more sick ones than usual, because they are very hungry and therefore sometimes eating things that they shouldn’t.
My office is located on a campus that is surrounded by bush. We have discussions about bushfire exclusion zones, and evaluations of which buildings are safest. We are on first name terms with Dusty from the animal rescue service, and we have a groundskeeper who has a second job working for Parks and Wildlife who is our first port of call when there’s a snake in the library or a possum in the childcare centre (and yes, both those things have happened). I’ve had to call Security and tell them that we’re closing the campus because of bushfire and because of flood–both in the same calendar year.
Which led to us getting this sign
… which we used in December flooding
Each time we have one of these events, we learn a little more. The first time we had a bushfire emergency, I was regaled with a tale by someone from a much larger campus about how the communications plan had been someone in high heels, running between buildings, shouting, “Fire! Fire!”
“Yes,” I replied, “that was me.”
We have 2-way radios, now.
The first time we had to close the campus, I was the last to leave when a carful of multi-generational hoons came cruising on in, to get a better view of the fire. “You can’t go in there,” I told the driver. “The campus is closed. There’s no one in there. The fire services will only turn you around if you keep going.”
The middle-aged woman in the passenger seat screeched an obscenity-laden message about how it was a public road and she didn’t need to listen to no one from no expletive-deleted university, and who did I think I was, anyway.
We have that nice “Campus Closed” sign, now.
I have no idea what the next thing to come up will be, but we’ll keep learning and our plans will keep evolving. And I can guarantee I will have more phone calls with the Head of Security where I can add to the “things I never thought I’d hear myself utter” file.
Do you have any #onlyonaregionalcampus stories to share?
There’s been a real buzz in the air at UOW-Shoalhaven, because today is Graduation Day. I love graduating so much I’ve done it several times now (Four, I believe. I did deliberately miss one when it was mid-Summer and I was significantly pregnant with Child the Younger).
UOW PhD 2009
UNSW M Ed 2017
These days, I’m not walking across the stage, so much as sitting on it and cheering for those who do. It’s pretty sweet from this side, but there’s a lot of work goes on behind the scenes to make it happen. Our campus manager and Admin staff all have critical roles to play to make sure that everyone is where they need to be, wearing what they need to wear, and receiving an appropriate amount of pomp and ceremony.
Our groundskeeper, maintenance go-to and all round good guy, Troy, always used to say Graduation was like Christmas, because all those jobs you could kind of live with, suddenly become urgent and have a deadline. Now, Troy’s one of those people who just keeps going until the job’s done, so in the good old days when Graduation was on campus, he would be out here weekdays, evenings, and weekends, trying to get everything looking its absolute best.
2009 Graduation Celebration on campus, with graduating siblings Alan & Simone
Graduation at the SEC, 2010, with Scott.
Today, Troy had a slightly different role. He’s still been running around doing stuff, sure. He spent time cutting a whole bunch of gum tips and taking them over to the Entertainment Centre, where we have held our ceremonies since 2010. But today his daughter walked across the stage. She is a first-in-family graduate and one of our great success stories. She’s a favourite of all us here at UOW-Shoalhaven, of course, because we’ve been hearing of her adventures, and those of her brother and sister, for many years. But long before I was hearing those stories, she was a senior high school student coming to English tutoring after school. And I was her tutor. It was an absolute delight to catch up with her today. Another of my former students was there today; she threw me a special wave as she passed by, and I clapped extra hard. We caught up afterwards for a photo. The thing about we teachers is, when we talk about “our kids,” we don’t just mean the biological ones. I was bursting with pride to see two of “mine” walk the stage.
Now, as a kid I moved—a lot. Homes, schools, states—my Dad was an engineer who routinely moved to a new company and a new mineral. The great and unexpected delight I have found from living in the same regional area for more than two decades is that I get to really know people, and they resurface in your life unexpectedly. Simone in the photo up there? She and I had kids on the same soccer team. Scott in the photo above became my son’s baseball coach. Troy and I were on the Relay for Life committee together. Last year, I saw the last of the student cohorts I had taught at UOW graduate, and I was sad, because it felt like the end of an era. But when you live in a community like this, there are always connections with the graduates, so it is always special and you always have “kids” who are “yours,” even though they are now graduated, employed, bill-paying adults.
Today was also nostalgic for another reason. One of my fellow graduates from the 1995 Graduate Diploma of Education cohort, the Honourable Mr Jihad Dib, Member for Lakemba and NSW Shadow Minister for Education, was our guest speaker. I’m in the process of sharing with him a series of photos from our Dip Ed year wherein we look somewhat more casual than we do below.
Garry H, Sandy & Garry M, me, Paul, Melissa, and the Hon. Jihad, back in the day. Garry H & I mark the HSC together, and Paul and I were teacher-educators together. Clearly we were a very talented bunch!
He and I were sitting close to the centre of the stage, and we could hear snippets of the graduates’ conversations with the Deputy Chancellor. The vast majority are already employed, are in caring professions, and are happy with how their work life is developing, which is just amazing. Jihad then addressed the graduates, speaking passionately and from the heart. He spoke about the importance of working to help others, and never losing sight of that. He also talked about seeing the positive, and remembering that sometimes, we can be the one person in someone’s day who reacts with compassion.
I think his speech resonated with many today, and it certainly resonated with me. I’m pretty sure than on our own Graduation Day, neither of us thought we’d be in the positions we are now. But we both wanted to work with learners, and in our own ways, we both still get to do that. And while neither of us can remember the Occasional Address from our own graduation, I suspect that some of yesterday’s graduates might remember his. Thank you, Jihad.
Can you recall the speeches from your own Graduation? What advice would you give to young graduates? What advice would you give your younger self?
Sound off in the comments below.