One of the more fortunate things to happen to me in this work I do, was last Friday night a the Strathewen Remembrance gathering. I was given a chook. I’ll let that sink in. A chook.

This is not any old chook. It’s a strathy chook, and rather than me go on about it, Barbara Joyce of Strathewen can tell the story

One of the first meetings I went to about the memorial planning process, at one point Barbara mentioned chooks. Everyone laughed. I think I made the comment along the lines of “Ah, yes memorials can also have a utilitarian purpose, like swimming pools, or halls” they all looked at me strangely. “Well, yes”, I stammered, “you know chook pens, vegie gardens” They all laughed and explained the chook project.

Last year, I was out at Strathy at a working bee for the memorial, and chooks came up again. I said to Ally Pascoe, so what does one have to do to get a chook. She said, All you have to do is ask.  And so, Keith was born. (Keith is named for Keith GriegImage, my favourite North Melbourne Footballer)

Early in my “career” as a disaster recovery manager, I seemed to be plagued by quilts. Just about every disaster that happened, someone from the Quilters Association would get on the phone and tell me that they are making quilts for all the people affected. Being young(-ish) and a bit too self confident, armed with the knowledge of my Mt Macedon Training, all this stuff was just that and not important , and would just get in the way of the real work of getting money and counselling etc to people. I generally ( I think none too politely) batted it away. Real work to do.

When visiting the Canberra Bushfire Recovery centre in late 2003, I saw a pile of quilts. “Oh crikey, they got you too, have they” I recall saying to Di Butcher, the fabulous manager of the centre. She looked at me, and said the quilts are great. I said something along the line of “just a pain in the arse”. Di, without saying anything called over someone in the centre and asked her, how’s your quilts. This woman was near in tears when she described how important they were to her and her family. That someone had taken the time and effort to make something for her. It was all about making a connection.  I found a box to crawl into.

Our volunteers in Red Cross make Trauma Teddies. IT’s a pretty strict process, and there are many who don’t make the cut, who we end up caring for in the office. I think various marketing managers over the years have tried to put them out to pasture. These little guys are terrific, and again, are made by someone, with love for someone in distress. When I was working in the Queensland floods, all my girls wanted to know was how many Trauma Teddies had we given to kids. Suffice to say, that is not a stat that we collect. There is now a section on our situation reports for Trauma Teddies Distributed.

As I have come to appreciate the nuances and subtleties of disaster recovery, this is one of my great learnings. The great thing about all of these: their simplicity. We have a tendency to over complicate things And want shiny new toys to help people. Simple stuff works best for many situations.

While what we do always has to be needs driven, and we do need to act as a bit of a human shield for people who are overwhelmed, we also have to recognise that  human touch and connection is a need, and sometimes the kindness of strangers is so important.

10 thoughts on “Keith

  1. Hi John, I am sure that “keith’ will become a special member of your family , as are Trauma teddies so special to those we give to the young and the not so young…mine comes to every activation with me…he’s been out a couple of times lately. You article brought tears to my eyes as it evoked lots of memories…thanks for your thoughts so well put!


  2. Hi John,
    Love your thoughts here and yes, those chooks are pretty special in project concept, community spirit and in woolly goodness.

    On the quilts and the chooks front, there is also another angle to why some people love these sorts of things. They are often some of the first homemade things that can buffer an otherwise fairly sterile or ‘store bought’ rebuild. I remember people telling me how nice it was to have something in their possession that wasn’t mass produced or plastic or impersonal. Often people have lost homes that were filled with sentimental things and that is what made it a home to enjoy. New things that soften the cold/new ‘stuff’ seem to be essential.

    Another reader here will no doubt remember the name I am trying to think of but there was a lady from Canberra who lost her home (Jill??) – she had written up a list of things that ordinary people can help with and homemade things were definitely on her list.


  3. Im glad keith is home to roost John. People say that people start to look like their pets, in your case its the other way around. I agree whole heartedly with Deb. Handmade gifts are precious, as they are made with love, time and care, not necessarily with lots of money. I have quilts that are so beautiful and I am now connected to the person. They are now heirlooms, to hand down to my childrens children. They replace those precious heirlooms that were handed to me by my mother and grandmother, now gone. May Mr Keith bring you much love and laughter.


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