decided that you couldn't do things globally, you had to do things locally,
so I went with education and information, community radio, community newspapers
My childhood was
fairly isolated. My father was a headmaster of a school in a small town
in England so I didn't have many to play with.
I became a librarian,
and when I had a job in the university library I had the idea that libraries
shouldn't be just safe places for educated people. I thought they ought
to be in the mainstream of things. I developed this idea of what I called
a "social librarian".
There was a review
of libraries at this time and I wrote to them suggesting they could provide
resources for people who worked in society to change society who needed
resources. I was looking at resourcing community organizations to be better
at advocating etc.
It turned out that
the Principal Librarian of the State Library of Victoria, Marjorie Ramsay,
had a similar idea. She called me for an interview and we argued vociferously,
with me saying "I don't think it should be located in the State Library,
I don't think that is appropriate". She was saying "Well, that is where
it is going to be", but we were on a good wavelength and I got the job.
The problem was that no-one knew what I was meant to do.
I talked to Marjorie
about it and I found out there was this thing called "Community Information".
It was the information you provide for people who are in difficulties,
or whatever, and where you set up services through which you can discuss
the problem. You don't provide answers but you can give the person options.
These services don't
only provide individual assistance and ways out of their dreadful situations
but they provided the material for telling the government what needed
to be done.
If people were asking
for services that weren't there, you could go to Government and say, for
example, "We have had 500 people asking for emergency housing but there
is only enough room for 10 places".
We started off with
a database of services. It was about service delivery but it was also
about bringing back people's power. We aimed at empowerment through information.
This had results.
People were put in touch with each other. For example, the State Library
had this anti-uranium banner which was carefully and beautifully appliqued.
The problem was that it was very heavy, in spite of the air holes. The
other problem with it was that every woman who carried it got pregnant!
In the end we couldn't find anyone to carry it. So we had to give up our
banner, but we continued to work hard in the group.
From 1980 to 1988
I was working very much with Citizens Advice Bureaus and parts of the
state government to develop information services. Government information
was at that time just a directory of departmental names put out by the
Premier's Department. It wasn't very helpful.
A friend and I encouraged
the government to create a usable directory. For several years he and
I did the index for it. This, too, was part of making sure that people
knew what existed and where they could go.
Towards the late
eighties I began to realize that the glory days had gone - the money that
had been available for people to do useful social things was drying up.
Earlier, you could get money fairly easily to do pilot projects, to develop
When I retired, I
found the Older Persons Action Centre (OPAC) and went to see Margaret
O'Callagan. She started talking about the group and I realized I could
help there. After about eighteen months they asked me to be the Chairperson.
I always felt that
I was there just to manage the organization, as there were many strong
people there with lot of ideas, who had too many things to do. So I didn't
lead it - I managed it. For example, Margaret was concerned about what
would happen to case management when the Kennett Government changed the
hospital system. She drew together a whole range of people to discuss
the needs of older people who were being treated as bed blockers and who
were not wanted in hospitals because they needed to stay longer.
There was also Edith
(Morgan) who was very active in aged care in the national system and running
the Australian Pensioners and Superannuates Federation. We had campaigns
about the way banks were treating older people, we took on the needs of
older people regarding transport and we did a paper called "I Can't Come
on Sundays", which detailed the difficulties of older people in getting
around, particularly at weekends.
The next project
we did was on care in the home. We then did a paper on volunteering. Margaret,
in particular, was unhappy about volunteers being used as workhorses and
having no input or say. That has been a fairly strong element of what
we have done at OPAC.
OPAC has maintained
the words 'older people' as they are the only non pejorative words we
managed to keep in the English language and we are called 'Action Centre'
being the direction and place where people could be.
But it is getting
more difficult. The older we are, the less we are able to bring in younger
people to be part of it. We see them as going in different directions.