Need help? Sign me up, say Castlemaine volunteers

Posted on 31 Aug 2023

By Greg Thom, journalist, Institute of Community Directors Australia

Castlemaine Gaol Art

With a proud tradition of community activism dating back to the 1970s, the historic central Victorian town of Castlemaine is witnessing a new generation of volunteers stepping forward to make a difference.

Having called Castlemaine home for 20 years, Jacqueline Brodie-Hanns knows well her community’s capacity to do good.

The bohemian-leaning town has long been a magnet for artistic-minded people invested in the power of community engagement.

Even Jacqueline has been taken aback however by what she describes as “an explosion in progressive, cultural and social justice groups” taking place around her.

“We’ve been doing this for decades now, so in one sense it’s just building on the shoulders of what people have done in the past,” said Jacqueline.

“But what we do have now is a younger cohort that is a lot more diverse and a lot more engaged.”

Owner of Shedshaker brewery and Chair of the Castlemaine Fringe Festival Jacqueline Brodie-Hanns.

Jacqueline said the progressive core of the town had been boosted in recent years by an influx of new residents ranging from young families to members of the LGBTQI community and highly motivated community-minded retirees.

What many of these new arrivals have in common is a willingness to put their hand up, get involved, and advocate for change.

“I think we've got lots of groups that would have traditionally been in the minority or marginalised but because they've got allies and supporters [in the town], there's been a real rallying around that,” said Jacqueline.

A publishing industry veteran, events manager and former judge’s associate, Jacqueline is no stranger to community engagement herself.

Along with her role as acting chair of the Castlemaine Fringe Festival she is also head of the advocacy group Business Mount Alexander.

She also somehow finds the time to run Castlemaine’s popular craft brewery and community events space, Shedshaker Brewing.

Such is the surge in the number of passionate locals stepping up to help with everything from refugee advocacy and housing affordability to serving on the local cemeteries board that Jacqueline recently agreed to resurrect the Mount Alexander Volunteer Network, a group she headed for a decade before it disbanded in 2017.

“We're seeing a new cohort of people stepping into committees, stepping into volunteering, and they are very progressive and very collaborative,” she said.

“Areas like the arts, culture, environmental issues, social justice, climate preparedness. These things are motivating a lot of people.”

Castlemaine art
Castlemaine has long been a magnet for the artistic community.

Jacqueline says Castlemaine's unique vibe dates from the ’70s when the town saw an influx of people from leafy, bohemian Melbourne suburbs like Eltham move to the area.

“I think in the past five years there's been a big resurgence and we saw it during covid with a lot of people moving to the area and that helped to ramp this up again.”

Jacqueline highlights examples ranging from the town’s much loved community radio station, 94.9 Main FM, to the local chapter of Rural Australians for Refugees.

“People come here and if you’ve got a passion, if you've got an interest and it doesn't exist here, people make it happen.”

“Areas like the arts, culture, environmental issues, social justice, climate preparedness. These things are motivating a lot of people.”
Jacqueline Brodie-Hanns

Castlemaine’s 31-year-old mayor, Rosie Annear, agrees.

She said the town's usually stable population has increased by about 2000 to 20,000 residents for the first time, a trend that has energised the community.

“We're lucky to have the community that we do and to have so many people who are skilled, very passionate and have the time and energy to put into these projects,” she said.

While there are still some tensions between older Castlemaine residents and the new generation of “blow-ins”, the town’s mayor says more traditional organsations such as churches and service clubs are generally supportive of new initiatives – if not necessarily kick-starting them.

She cites a grassroots movement to tackle the lack of affordable housing in the town which succeeded in changing a local law that had made it difficult to locate small dwellings such as tiny houses or caravans on a property without a permit.

Rosie Annear
Castlemaine mayor Rosie Annear.

“We [Council] got 1500 submissions on that which is unprecedented and that was all based on advocacy,” said Rosie.

“One of my council colleagues moved a motion and the law was changed to make things easier. There’s been so much gratitude, it’s incredible.”

Concerned locals were similarly motivated to try and help those in their community struggling with mental health issues.

Their response was to create Castlemaine Safe Space, a welcoming place for people in emotional distress or experiencing suicidal thoughts.

The first rural Safe Space in Victoria, the centre is staffed by trained volunteers who have been affected by suicide.

Refugee sign
Many Castlemaine residents are passionate social justice warriors.

“That came out of a local community initiative around suicide prevention and awareness group called Every Life Matters.

“They've created this place for people to go if they're experiencing mental anguish or, you know, just need some safe space to be.”

Rosie said it’s no coincidence that four out of 20 participants in the Women Leading Locally program are from Castlemaine.

An initiative of the Victorian government delivered by the Institute of Community Directors Australia in partnership with Women for Election, the program aims to empower more women to run for office.

“Yes, there’s been a lot of interest here and I hope that I've had something to do with that because I have been having those conversations with so many women, just asking ‘have you ever thought about it?’.”

After moving to Castlemaine from Sydney with his young family six years ago, Adam Perrett wasted no time before getting involved in community life, signing up with the local cricket and footy clubs and as president of the community radio station.

“It was a great way to meet people and get to know the town,” he said.

Adam also put his hand up to join the committee for the historic Castlemaine Cemetery Trust.

“I’ve always been fascinated with cemeteries, even as a kid. I thought that it would be interesting. I’d never done it before.”

The role proved to be more challenging than he’d envisioned.

“I don’t think people realise how tenuous the whole cemeteries trust set-up is, because there is no real income.

“It’s a really tricky space and I have a lot of sympathy for people who have a go at it. It’s hard work.”

Adam Perrett behind the bar at the Shedshaker brewery.

He agrees Castlemaine is a very active town.

“It’s certainly a town where if you have the time and the inclination you can become involved in almost anything. There’s so much you could be doing.”

Jacqueline said the surge in the number of people with arts and events backgrounds joining committees, boards and trusts, while well intentioned, has highlighted the need for comprehensive governance training.

“Where some are struggling is with good processes: minutes, policies, planning, conflict resolution and a misunderstanding of the importance and over-arching nature of governance structures,” said Jacqueline.

She is working to address the situation through some of the resources offered by the Institute of Community Directors Australia, an enterprise of Our Community.

“It would allow them to have a more positive experience serving on a board or committee,” said Jacqueline.

“It’s just a structure that allows you to get the stuff done and actually helps you do it better.”

Jacqueline believes the number of community groups in Castlemaine will continue to grow.

“The climate crisis is not going away. The housing crisis is not going away. So I think those groups will continue to grow, some in response to emergencies and pressing need and others because it actually is a really positive and beautiful thing.”

More information

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