Cr Fiona McAllister

Mayor and Mother: An insight into Cr Fiona McAllister

Cr Fiona McAllister

Post by Gareth Hart.

I recently read in the Leader that the Mayor of Yarra Range, Cr Fiona McAllister is about to take a leave of absence – as she is about to give birth to her new child. Two things struck me deeply about the article. Firstly, that the deputy Mayor, who will step up to assume Mayoral responsibility in Cr McAllister’s absence, is not being remunerated for her time in this role. (See full article here).   I will not make comment here, as it is clearly obvious what should occur in this situation.

Secondly, I was intrigued to discover how one of the most prolific leaders in our community, our Mayor, seemingly finds a balance between her professional and her personal lives. So, at 4:15pm on her last afternoon in the office until 1 month’s maternity leave, the Mayor graciously agrees to talk with me about exactly this (as if Cr McAllister wasn’t busy enough!)….

I get the sense that you are very active in the community; so, broadly, how do you balance your personal and professional lives?

Like a circus acrobat at times! I think the secrets to success are the level of family support. Certainly, the support I get from my husband and my children in their willingness to be a bit of blend between the personal and the council lives.

There are things as a family that we make conscious choices about where the line is, where the family time is and I need to make sure that I lock that in so that we do get that family time. There is a lot of middle ground where essentially I am performing my Mayoral role or councillor duties and the family are a part of that. Everything from speaking at Dawn Services to Citizenship ceremonies.

So, where possible, I include my family in that. I have to say, the feedback I get back from the community broadly around that, is really positive. People love the fact that they get to meet my husband and my children. A significant proportion of what I do is in the evening, and it’s trying to, where possible, make sure that these things are later in the evening to avoid impact on family. So we have our dinner together and those sort of things.

It’s chaotic at times! And I’ve given up on trying to maintain a tidy house, and those sorts of things, but it’s a happy, great experience for the whole family I think….mostly!

I guess you are saying that you try to make wearing these two very important hats (Mayor and Mother) an inclusive thing.

Yes. I think that’s it. It isn’t like when you are in a professional role where you do prioritise, because this is a public role, a community advocacy role, a representative role. You are a very public figure, and you can’t say ‘I don’t have that hat on at the moment’ you just can’t. That’s my personal philosophy about it. When I ran for council I understood that our lives would change, and my husband supported that, in fact encouraged it. For the term of council you can’t flick a switch. But again, you find ways to draw the lines.

Yarra Ranges mayor Fiona McAllister

I had a conversation with an artist yesterday, about the inability to ‘switch off’ that part of your brain, because creativity is a part of you. Do you feel the same about your role as Mayor?

Yes and no. I think for me having children is the best switch off method you can have! People often say ‘how do you do it [be the Mayor], whilst having children’ and I would say ‘how do people do it without children!’. Because if I went home and it was just me and my husband, it would be very hard to switch off, but I go home and I have a grizzly or happy little 2 year old, and a 10 year old wanting help with homework. In many ways, it is such a happy balance and a happy return to reality, that I have to say in many ways it can be my sanity: in not have space to mull over political things or community issues. For me, context makes a big difference, and I love the time I have with my children, and I have to be there 100%.

Do you see a synergy between your Mayoral duties and parenthood?

[laughs loudly]

They are very different roles. The thing about any public role is you have to have the passion, the commitment, it’s about the people, it’s not about what I want it is actually about what the broader community wants. Is that the same as being a parent? In some ways I suppose it is. IN some other ways it’s not. Being a parent is about what needs to happen.

What sort of Yarra Ranges would you like to help create for your children to grow up in?

In so many ways we have a wonderfully engaged community, and I would really like that to be part of forever in the Yarra Ranges. I would like my children to feel that they are part of making decisions about what happens in their lives and what happens locally. So I think that is really important. I live in the rural part of the municipality, we moved there 8 years ago because we loved it! And I would like my children to have that choice when they grow up: that lovely mix of great communities and small towns, environment, but still with good services and infrastructure. I think that is a real priority, getting that balance right. Being able to still access good education, sporting opportunities and all those sorts of things. I think that’s really important.

But you know, communities that are vibrant, that aren’t declining because we are trying to lock them up, keep them as they were 100 years ago. So it is really about trying to get that balance right.

Alive and progressive communities? Yes, absolutely.

Mayor Fiona McAllister in the community

Has motherhood had an effect on, or made you more aware of particular community values or needs?

I think every stage in our lives does. There are lots of things I have done, whether that be a parent or involvement in different community groups or meeting people with particular needs, just being a counsellor has opened my eyes to a whole lot of new issues and needs.

I would say for every counsellor as they go through different stages they are exposed to and their eyes are open to different and new things as well. So being a parent is no different to that.

Is there something you would specifically like the community to know?

We have an incredibly diverse, passionate and engaged group of people who live in the Yarra ranges and I love that. I am really thankful for that. I speak to some of my colleagues in other Councils where they hold council meetings where only 2 people turn up. We [Yarra Ranges] rarely have council meetings where less than forty will turn up! I love the fact that we live in a place where people care. So, if there is a message to the community, it is Thank You for that. Certainly, as a councillor, it keeps the fire in the belly and the passion there. It reminds all of us why we are here.

Yarra Ranges Mayor Fiona McAllister

Isabel Foster

Isabel Foster weaves and spins

Isabel FosterIsabel Foster exhibition

Post by Gareth Hart.

I first met Isabel Foster on a Thursday morning, here in the Burrinja foyer, during her recent exhibition. I was instantly enamoured by her. Not only did Isabel meet me with wide eyes, a warm smile and an infectious laugh, but all the while she had what I can only suppose was a 7 meter piece of knitting wrapped all around her, trying to keep it from dragging on the ground. This wasn’t a fashion statement; not a scarf that she was wearing. It was a piece of handcraft that she was working on. The woman is so addicted to wool and craft, that even surrounded by a small entourage of fans, and meeting new people every 30 seconds, she continues to knit and subsequently be tangled up in her own creations.

Isabel, you had me at hello.

A few weeks later, I gratefully accept a warm invitation from Isabel to come and spend some time with her in her own home. We talk at length…..

What was your initial response to the exhibition?

I had my cousins with me, and Julie [daughter] when I arrived. We walked in, and I was walking on air! I didn’t know what I was going to do when I went inside.

I want to know about the exhibition: how you thought it went, what it felt like for you, were you happy?

Well, what would you imagine I felt about it? Have you ever had such a thing happen to you, at this stage in life? What interested me, was the number of people, elderly, who came up to me would have known about me, because I was doing some teaching for people. Teaching them anything they would like to know, but I made sure I wasn’t teaching them anything, I was just demonstrating. And what they got out of that was added to by my knowledge of the hand weavers and spinners guild.

For those who helped me I gave back twice the amount. And I did it with a laugh, and no demanding ‘stand up and weave this way’, salute me, and all that. I didn’t want that. I wanted to be free.

I didn’t take it too seriously. I was doing what I was, because I wanted to, and because I could!

She reaches for a pile of paper near her teacup

This is the list of people who wanted to keep in touch with me through the exhibition. One, two, three, four, five, six. Six pages of people!

Isabel reads me the notes from the first name on the page. And the first one says ‘wants you to talk to the Art Without Borders program, that brings migrant and refugee women together to learn and relearn textile crafts.’

And again, I am left speechless. At the young age of 92, Isabel is being asked things like this. I learn that also a small group of women from a Steiner School came to Isabel’s house and spent some time learning the art of rug hooking. All in a day’s weaving for this amazing lady really.

So, six pages of people want to meet you, all eager to spend time with you. How does that make you feel?

Out of this world!

In a turn of the conversation, Isabel becomes quite reminiscent, we talk about the exhibition bringing her in contact with both friends of her past, and friends anew. Particularly as she lives alone now, in her Caulfield house, crafting away the hours of the day, she does sometimes become taken with a little loneliness.

When I gave my car away, or in fact I sold it, I was getting the rag tag, glaring, tooting and screaming. So I came home and told my husband that I was going to sell my car. So that’s where I started to go downhill, because I couldn’t drive into the guild. Over a period of 4 or 5 years, not being there all the time like I used to be, and talking to everyone, and being cheeky, making the whole caboodle laugh when they didn’t mean to laugh, (I had a ball!) I stopped going in. I also had to give up table tennis, where I was playing against men all the time. They were all men, from Europe, and they had been principles and top champions of the game. Winning everywhere. But that’s another story!

I’ve. Always. Been. Self. Sufficient. (Isabel bangs the table in between words, in emphatic punctuation of each word).

Isabel Foster loom

Suddenly, Isabel notices a ring on my finger – a shrimp fork twisted into the shape of a ring. She asks if I could make her a ring out of her husband’s 20cent piece collection. When I tell here, regrettably, that I couldn’t (I have neither the tools, nor the knowledge to do so), she seems deeply offended, exclaiming:

Then you stop and learn! I had to learn everything that I have ever done, without being told.

Isabel’s love for her craft oozes through her, and without even realising, she inspires so many others to dive into her world. But it’s not solo. Isabel holds your hand, guides you, provokes you, laughs with you. She does all of this out of the kindness of her heart. I get the feeling that if Isabel can inspire you, she is happy.

I think one of the most wonderful things that has happened, in my endeavours, is that I was spinning at a sheep show and this woman came up to me: a big strong country woman. And she watched me spinning wool. She told me her and her husband were travelling to northern Queensland to buy some top quality cattle. And she thought it would be a good idea with me pushing her, to do some knitting. I gave here a demonstration, and I taught her to spin on a stick. A whole year later, I am in the same place, doing the same thing, and she stood in front of me in a great big white cable knit jumper. I said ‘did you do that on a stick?’ and she said ‘yes’ – and I could have gone through that, up there (Isabel points to heaven), to think that I taught that person to spin on a stick in 5 minutes! I just couldn’t believe it!

And then there was a time when some big art people were organising a show, in between Richmond and Flinders street in the park. The day was wet. So I arrived with carpet for the floor, a tent to stop wind, my spinning wheel, fleece, yarn. This woman came from Richmond station with two children, with bags of food and shopping, ready to go have lunch. She was coming towards me with her two children. The little girl came up to me, at my spinning wheel, and said ‘oh, could I learn to spin?’. Oh yes, I could teach you. That child picked up the technique so quickly. The mother wanted to go to an exhibition, so they went off, but the little girl stayed with me for a while. She said ‘thank you for teaching me to spin’. So I said: now I want you to do two things for me. I want you to go to your friends, and teach two people to spin on a stick. ‘Oooh yes’ she replied. Now one year later I am in the same place, with the same rain falling, and the mother and little girl came up to me again, and I said ‘how are you?’, and the girl said ‘(panting) I’ve got something to tell you: you told me to go away and teach two people. I went to school and taught my teacher, and then the teacher went and taught the whole school!’. I get very weepy at the thought of her. But that was just a wonderful experience. That teacher was a wonderful person.

As I sit with Isabel, I am not surprised, on any level, that she has inspired so many people through her life: leaving remnants of her love of craft in many corners of the minds and hearts of others.

I could stop now, and no one would know what they are losing: all the things I can still do. I’m very honoured to be invited, for you to take from what I have been saying, what you need.

No Isabel, the honour is all mine.

Isabel Foster chair


Josh Collings in zombie character

Joshua Levi Collings’ reel world

Josh Collings filmmaker

Post by Adriana Alvarez.

Joshua Levi Collings is a man of many talents. His filmmaking business, Pegleg Productions, “is going crazy” at the moment with a few projects on the go. In the Winter issue of the hillscene we featured his house concerts, and when he wasn’t busy filming and photographing the night, he was joining in with the banjo on a few tunes. Music, film, photography, and events are some of the passions that drive this creative dynamo.

Whenever I see Josh around on a local film shoot, he’s got a big smile on his face and several cameras on the go. His three-legged dog, Bronson, the inspiration for the name Pegleg, is always in tow and seems to have the same boundless energy. He started doing film in high school in Queensland, he didn’t study it, he just picked up the school’s chunky VHS camera and took it with him everywhere. “I took it to every party and made a school video, which turned out to be a two and a half hour blockbuster” laughs Josh. Learning on the go seems to be in his blood and has led him to try his hand at a large variety of ventures. Since high school he has done many different things, including running a fencing company, several galleries and travelling around the world as a photographer for Anthony Robbins just to name a few.

Organising events for the galleries was another skill to add to his many talents. He ran over 120 events for Josh Levi galleries. One such event was ‘Underexposed’ was an exhibition of music photography with over 2500 images covering the walls of the galleries from floor to ceiling and included 40 bands playing over three nights. “It was wild”, says Josh “Powderfinger dropped in, Kate Miller-Heidke, some great local Brisbane artists came and did surprise shows, it was amazing.” So when Brent and CJ Dakis from Limerence were discussing the idea of starting the ‘End of the line’ festival Josh jumped on board to look after the music and art side of the event. With his previous experience of running festivals and the hard work by everyone involved, it was a huge success.

It was at the ‘End of the Line’ he restarted his filmmaking. At the time he was running projects for Melbourne University but finding it was not very satisfying doing that kind of work and being inside all the time. “So I just thought what do I love doing, and it was photography and making music and video so I just put them all together. I started up Pegleg last year in September and I’m flat out, inundated with work.” At first he was doing all the jobs himself because he had the skills, but since his business has taken off he’s been able to work with a range of talented artists; cameramen, editors and musicians from the hills. Using so many artists and creators from the hills has given his films a different vibe and flavour. His style of filmmaking with his love of stop motion, focused details, illustration and beautiful music makes them atmospheric, quirky and down to earth.

'Don't Feed the Platypus' video

Josh’s first choice for work would be making music videos and environmental work. He’s very passionate about the environment and prefers projects that make a difference and bring about change. Some of his recent works have been producing videos with the tiffaney bishop COLLECTIVE on their graffiti projects and working with local councils on a series of films about volunteering. Whatever project he’s working on it’s bound to be something that he can inject his sense of fun and humour into.

Being very hands on and learning via Youtube videos rather than more formal channels has given Josh a multitude of talents and avenues to be able to express his creative spirit. His move to the hills to “escape reality” has been a real bonus for us, let’s hope he hangs around for a while.

Josh Collings in zombie character