Women of all ages delighted in time spent together and meaningful sharing today at the North Richmond Community Centre, as part of local International Women's Day events.
Attended by women from the local community as well as Susan Templeman MP, Deputy Mayor Mary Lyons-Buckett and Councillor Danielle Wheeler, the event filled every seat of the centre's youth building, with babes in arms a welcome presence. Visitors were invited to take part in heartfelt sharing with speakers such as Kurrajong Heights personality Lucy Baranowski (below), now known internationally for her honest and at times hilarious Facebook page, "Four Times the Madness".
Lucy spoke candidly of her experiences as a mother, as an RFS volunteer and from the unique perspective of being a woman on the fireground.
She reflected on the international media response to her online posts "about the silly things", saying that she had turned down most requests and chosen instead to accept the media requests that were somehow meaningful and apolitical, highlighting her enjoyment of being a part of the socially-minded "The Big Issue" and "West of the River" magazines.
Questions from attendees centred upon life after the Gospers Mountain Fire, with ideas on community resilience and disaster preparedness high on the agenda.
Lucy underlined the need for community connection, saying, "It's not just about people donating financial assistance; it's about connections between people. People are now helping to take care of each other. It's important that we remember how to be a village."
The event carried a general theme of resilience-building after crisis - both individually and socially - with attendees clearly expressing their need to rebuild a collective sense of safety and wellbeing. Susan Templeman MP and Deputy Mayor Mary Lyons-Buckett also shared their thoughts after months of daily community contact. Both stressed the importance of community centres - like North Richmond Community Centre - as central locations of safety, reliable information and practical assistance.
Deputy Mayor Lyons-Buckett said, "We're going to have a much increased need to rely on each other. There are a number of projects such as StreetConnect which is a resilience-building street-level project which you'll hear about in time, and of course the community centres as hubs are so very important, to connect people together."
Federal Member for Macquarie Susan Templeman spoke briefly about her experience of loss due to bushfire but was keen to share with the group a conversation about mental health and resilience.
She said, "There's so much that we can learn as a community. The mental health support is going to be needed for a while. In the Blue Mountains, it's been six years, and people are still struggling. Of course, over the summer for them, there has been some triggering for a lot of people."
Susan said that a new program, called 'Step By Step', will soon be made available to disaster-affected communities, with its implementation now formally underway.
She explained, "There's an organisation in Blaxland that has developed this out of the 2013 fires, and it's been really well-researched for its effectiveness. What's great about it is that it's not just about going to a psychologist's office and having an appointment. It's someone meeting with you and having a cup of tea - trained trauma counsellors - who can walk with you at whatever point you're on in the journey, and in a way that fits with who you are and how you live your life. That's a longterm program; I believe the intent is to have it in operation for two to three years. As we get new information about that, we'll be sharing that with the community centres so that the word can go out."
Visitors shared openly and found plenty of opportunities to laugh despite the serious nature of the discussions, enjoying a morning tea of fresh Bilpin-made apple pie, fresh-baked scones and fruit platters, before going home with a fresh rose each.
NRCC manager Birgit Walter was pleased with the success of the event, saying, "It's so important for us to share our perspectives from the heart, and keep it positive and full of life. It's about friendship, connection and a sense of belonging."
Left: North Richmond Community Centre manager, Birgit Walter.