Good bye to the City of Whittlesea

Dedicated to the Memory of Pina Guerra who set me on the path of formalising my Community Development credentials that connected me to Helen Rodd, that connected me to a new career pathway

I also acknowledge the memory of David Turnbull- the CEO who had it under control.

I acknowledge the Aboriginal people whose connection to earth, land, space, water and all living things taught me about the importance of connection, empathy and what’s super important.

Every single cell in the human body replaces itself over 7 years.

That means there is not even the smallest part of me that was part of me 7 years ago.

I am here transformed from the person who started in 2004 in phase three of my body cell replacement.

I have been at the City of Whittlesea for the past 17 ½ years.

My mother left Italy when she was 17. She also got her licence at the age of 40 and started a business Peppa’s Café at the age of 55 which she ran for just over 17 years. The meaning of milestones and change resonate.

It has been my pleasure, my pain, my tears and my fears to serve the City of Whittlesea and its community. My heart is here.

I was the same age when I left home to study, young naïve and a head filled with aspirations- I was bursting with enthusiasm. I wanted to be a stage actor in the theatre. I embarked out into the big wide world.

I like to think I’m now wiser and that the choices I am making are informed by experience, purpose and intention.

It feels like I am leaving home – again.

In March 2004 I was interviewed by Neville Kurth and Ruth Spielman and the other person escapes me.

The day I started I was secretly 6 weeks pregnant – that night I had an appointment with Dr Skinner to check if I was going to have a successful pregnancy, given that I had had three miscarriages over four years of wondering why my body wasn’t responding to the  natural processes of family planning.  

That baby is now 16 years old, has a Robert DeNiro Taxi Driver mohawk and a desire for combat. The joys of being a Mother of an exploring & curious teenager. I’m so proud.

It was the first time I had landed a secure ongoing commitment to a job- up until then I had done heaps of project work. It was the jackpot- the best job one could ever wish for. I felt totally blessed and prepared to embrace all that it allowed me to learn, do and achieve.

I was invited to have dinner with the Councillors, and I asked if that was something that all new staff were invited to do as induction. The reception I received was overwhelming and heart-warming.

After 7 months I left to make time for a bundle of joy and was surprised to hear from Bob in payroll that I was not entitled to return, given that I had not yet served 12 months- however COW welcomed me back, after 9 months leave. And it was then that the work really began.

On two days a week amidst all the hormonal changes and motherhood, I started to work on Council’s first Multicultural Action Plan. With assistance from Jenny Ashby and Kris Pavlidis under the management of Neville Kurth.

James Merlino the Minister for Multiculturalism at the time launched the MAP in 2007 when we also signed the Victorian State Government’s Community Accord. We were already a Refugee Welcome Zone, signed in 2001.

The MAP won a couple of Victorian Multicultural Awards. It also created a new position of Multicultural Co-ordinator which I had applied for, although not successful because I was working two days a week and caring for a baby.

Salvador Nunez joined us and for 9 years Salvador and I worked tirelessly making and shaping the Multicultural agenda for the City of Whittlesea. We had a great time. Salvador since has become an author of three books and has carved out his own story.

Whittlesea as a result was sought after by other Councils with a MAP model that paved the way. We developed the Work Ready program and won three Diversity @ work awards, taking out the main prize in the third year.

We attracted projects and opportunities that enabled us to bring the community with us. We worked with Darebin, Hume, Moreland and Banyule, among others. Vic Health awarded the LEAD project- with a new focus on Anti-racism. I had also established the Whittlesea Interfaith Network with the Interfaith community, still doing great work independently and collaboratively with Council.

It was at this time that we amalgamated with the arts team and became the Community Cultural Development Department and we stayed together for 13 years and I observed how much we all had in common- most of us lived in Preston, which I found fascinating coincidence.

I had also developed the Welcome EXPO in collaboration with the Sikh community and we tested this idea in 2008 – I think I’ve organised 12, I’ve lost count.

I had developed the Whittlesea Community Leadership Network, in 2011 – 2013 which is when Alita joined us as a project officer.

I found myself having to let go of how I wanted things to be and allow the community to make and shape things. WCLN became an independent association and recently reconvened after COVID to continue working together to enable cross cultural collaboration amongst community groups.

Salvador retired in 2015 and a new position was developed when Ben Waterhouse joined us as team leader.

Ross joined us in 2015 as the strategic planner and while challenging we started on a new era of Multiculturalism for COW.

I provided greater support to Ross with less opportunity to innovate as we administered programs and projects with and for the multicultural community on an annual and rotating basis. I was absorbed by the work at hand. It was enjoyable to work with the diversity of the community and to be guided, learning from them as experts. I wanted to understand their world view to enhance my own.

Taste of Harmony is another ongoing annual event that was lead with an internal working group. The Scanlon Foundation highlighted CoW as a case study demonstrating how other workplaces might join and participate. This is a national initiative during cultural diversity week in March. I think we have organised 10.

I have organised forums for service providers, for staff and the community, all sitting side by side.

I have organised Community events and activities, working with volunteers from Melbourne Polytechnic and giving people their first work experience in Australia.

Supported community grants.

Supervised work experience students with respect, dignity and built their self confidence towards achieving employment outcomes.

I have been a referee and support to those seeking employment including staff and community.

I have supported and developed resources for our Language services, including the establishment of the Staff Language Aides.

A favourite was the Bilingual Park Guides leadership program with Park’s Victoria & Merri Creek Management Committee & NMIT (2006) where the bilingual community leaders developed skills and qualifications in leading walks and talks of our local open spaces. The program continued to develop coastal bilingual guides in the Point Cook area and provided an interest and avenue to environmental and sustainable initiatives that involved our multicultural leaders.

I wanted to set this up as an enterprise so that people were paid for their tours. Alas Park’s Victoria were keen to keep it as a volunteer led initiative, which is very much an embedded Australian attribute. This resource meant that newly arrived communities could be oriented to the Australian landscape and learn the importance of looking after it.

This role has not been without challenge and I often found the contradiction between what we were trying to do with the community and the agenda of a Council difficult to navigate and in contradiction.

I like to think that our work encouraged Council to be more welcoming, inviting, accessible –  that we established a sense of belonging for those who may fear authority.

What I also wanted to see and continue to appreciate is the magnificence of the people we work with, recognise, harness talents and work side by side in partnership, valuing what they bring as genuine, authentic contributions of love.

I encouraged people to be themselves, to present as they are, to join, participate and have the courage to step forwards embracing what it means to make a GOOD LIFE. I wanted to be holistic in the way that we worked, to see the whole picture of community and the role of Council within this.

There is more than enough to go around. Abundance is within us- we have the power to make change- within us. It starts with us.

When the me becomes the WE.

I’ve been highly sought after for my contacts and connections. I would encourage you to be collaborative connectors and to open yourself to the possibility – be available and generous.

Last year I decided to study Training and Assessment Cert IV so I could teach in the VET sector. In April I arranged to teach a Unit of Community Development at Melbourne Polytechnic.

At the same time, I applied for a job at the City of Hume, had an interview and was the preferred applicant- I received my letter of offer a month ago.

All of a sudden I had three jobs and choice.

I am so ready for a change.

At the beginning of this year I took some sunflower seeds and I planted them.

I watched them grow, and I watched them transform into the most amazing beautiful expressions of love, that was effortless and inspiring to observe-

We don’t stand over a plant accosting it to grow, we stand back, we admire and praise it’s beauty and we allow it to be itself as it is we allow it to grow, we tend the soil, we water and feed it and let it grow, here is the answer to the community development trajectory, in this tiny seed. Aspiration. Alleluia.

Poem- Autumn Sunflowers taking flight

I look at my sunflowers and I wonder why each one is uniquely different and stunning in its own way.

I planted the seeds at the same time in the same soil, with the same amount of water.

It’s as if they are all competing with each other’ beauty, and at the same time standing proudly offering their faces to the sun and the beeline to pollination.

It reminds me of the role of community development, the different people who come together to work for the good of everyone else. The leaders who stand at the front and are followed by their members.

Each one uniquely diverse and as a collective also stand out. Together advocating stronger.

I don’t want to miss the blooming golden glory. It will last a short time. It’s like watching a sunset and taking in the shades of change as the light manipulates the mis-en-scene.

Each time I look they change. impermanence a reminder, time passing.

I take photos at every angle wanting to capture this rapture.

Soon they will be transformed to dry wilted stalks and seeds that I can keep, gift and plant again.

How wonderful life is with sunflowers taking flight. Transformed to bursts of happiness.

The time of your life- Greenday

Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road
Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go
So make the best of this test, and don’t ask why
It’s not a question, but a lesson learned in time

It’s something unpredictable
But in the end is right
I hope you had the time of your life

So take the photographs and still frames in your mind
Hang it on a shelf in good health and good time
Tattoos and memories and dead skin on trial
For what it’s worth it was worth all the while

It’s something unpredictable
But in the end is right
I hope you had the time of your life

It’s something unpredictable
But in the end is right
I hope you had the time of your life

It’s something unpredictable
But in the end is right
I hope you had the time of your life

Allegory to the Sunflowers

It is the seed that taught me

The power of intention

That in my hands I hold wealth

In my heart I weigh strength

With my words the wind of truth

Tears, salts strength quench seed’s bliss

Be still to listen deeply to Earth’s gift

that birthed me

to which I will return

Transformed and renewed

Thanks to Nick, Ross, Alita, Feifei, Fatih, Donna, Barry, Andrew, Elizabeth, Salvador, Ben, Neville, David, Pina, Kris, Dalal, Emma, Cesar.

Also Thanks to the CCD Team- Julie, Mahony, Stef, Nicola, Sara, John, Marilyn. Sandy, Jason, Kellie Helen S. Mimma

Thanks to Fabiola, Agnieszka, and the Taste of Harmony working group also a great support in the work that we do here.

Please forgive me for not mentioning everyone.

One thought on “Good bye to the City of Whittlesea

  1. what a legacy you have created Fortunata – for what you have made and for what you leave for others to grow and blossom. You are a sunflower. lv t

    Like

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