SHORE WORDS #1: REFLECTION ON COMMUNITY ACTION, by Peta Murray
WORDS ON A SIGN: St Joseph’s College, North Melbourne. This classroom block was blessed and opened by his grace Archbishop JD Simonds DD, PhD on March 18, 1962.
I am early to the community action event at the Flexible Learning Centre. I walk the grounds to keep warm. On the edge of the courtyard, abandoned, incongruous, is a purple plastic fork beside a white plastic soup bowl. Someone has dined there al fresco. The volunteers aren’t here yet; they will wander down soon from Arts House where they have assembled. Black soil waits in a mound to be bucketed and barrowed from bed to bed.
WORDS ON A PLANT: MESEMBRYANTHEMUM – CANDY PINK.
This is the scientific name for a variety of the plant I recognise as something my Grandmother called pigface. This variety is some kind of a miniature. It is waiting for a volunteer to ease it from its pot, ease out its cramped little roots, settle it into the dirt of its new home, here, in these grounds.
WORDS I LIKE TO SAY OUT LOUD: Ground. Grounds.
European olives, tall and leggy, wait their turn too, beside giant cement flowerpots in startling shades of purple, blue and green. In the corner there’s a vegetable bed built from railway sleepers crowned by a bush of rampant rosemary, and on the ground, beside it, timid herbs and vegetables quivering in pots – kale and parsley, Vietnamese mint, lemongrass and ‘common’ oregano, with big fleshy leaves. The silver-beet, I note, is colour-blended.
So too are the wheelbarrows, there’s blue and orange, another caked with muck. I’m struck by a tableau: three standing and one, fallen, resting on its side, like a hurt animal. A crew-member pumps up its deflated tyre.
I squint into the cold bright light. I have forgotten my sunglasses. There goes Emily test-riding a re-cycled bicycle across the basketball court. Good as new.
WORDS ON A WALL: ‘ZOK, ZOK, ZOK’. This is someone’s tag, in a distinctive script, above a small installation of cigarette butts.
The volunteers arrive in startling woolly hats and gumboots. One holds a pitchfork. A toddler with mouse ears on his hoodie takes up a clipboard and totters around, looking official, before settling on my lap to doodle with my pen.
WORDS on a quilt-in-progress: Equity. Sharing. Students have written these words and phrases of aspiration. Less judgment, eh? These are just some of the things they wish for, hope for, in their future.
One has simply written AIR.
Welcomes. Announcements. The task for today: to get “a herb kind of vibe going.” The bossy seek out the clueless; someone announces she is “very good at weeding.” Another fancies some strenuous digging to start her day.
WORDS I overhear. Is there a hose? I’ll go and have a look.
The weeding crew departs. The shovellers remain. Out front, there’s a Canary Island Date Palm to be removed to make way for a cumquat, and an orange tree, hardy types that will cope with scorching summers and an uncertain future. It’ll take some grunt, and a crowbar or a mattock to shift that palm. Someone gives the others a lesson in the removal of onion weed or is it onion grass? Whatever the name, you can’t eat it. “It’s nasty, nasty stuff.” Someone else has parked their egg and lettuce sandwich and two ripe bananas on the wall – energy food? A few big drops of rain fall, then stop. It’s turning into a peach of a day.
WORDS on signage: We are proud to acknowledge the Wurundjeri People as the traditional owners of these lands and waters.
The barrow brigade heaves their barrows and tips the soil into the big bright pots. The olives go in. The pigface too. The citrus trees stand proud out front.
WORDS I overhear: “…feeling purposeful in the world.” And “hey!” And “It was really good.”
I love words, I truly do. But action, as always, speaks louder. In two hours these grounds have been transformed.