gorgeous Gayana: enriching Canberra’s community

a labor of love

a labor of love

If you think these flowers are beautiful then you’d be right.  But what’s more beautiful is the story behind them.

Today I met Gayana Wijewickrema, a beautifully cute fifteen year old and her gorgeous sisters at Canberra’s Living Green Festival. Gayana has Downs Syndrome and is the inspiration behind the family’s fledgling flower business GGs Flowers.


flowers 8

Gayana and her mother Geetha design and create floral arrangements with a business focus on providing people with disabilities with employment opportunities. GG’s ethos of ‘flowers with a purpose’ is what distinguishes them from other florists. The business is not driven by profit, rather they are motivated by providing full and meaningful life opportunities for their daughter and for others with a disability.

Downs Syndrome is a genetic chromosomal disorder resulting in babies being born with an extra chromosome, 47 rather than the usual 46.  It is a lifelong condition which means children such as Gayana may have some health and developmental challenges as well as intellectual disabilities.  The extent of those challenges varies from person to person.

flowers 3

Downs Syndrome Australia says that “To be a part of a community you have to be in it”.  It is something most of us never even have to think about.  Sadly people with disabilities are generally under-represented in the workplace and in our communities.

GG’s are challenging the paradigm by putting Gayana at the heart of the family business and her local community.  We are all richer for it.  I hope Canberrans looking for floral arrangements will support the company ethos of ‘flowers with a purpose’ and get behind this local family.  Their prices are reasonable, the service personal and the love and commitment plain to see in every stunning arrangement.   With young Gayana at the heart of every bunch.



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the Australian Hypocrites Party – taking a sledgehammer to democracy

too scary for you?  you should be - I vote

Scared of me? You should be. I vote

This country has learned nothing from its sorry past.

From its treatment and disregard for its first people, Aboriginal Australians to the enshrined racism of the White Australia Policy, the targeting and demonising of particular groups continues.  Now it is the turn of Muslim women.


The Australian Liberal Party says it believes in ‘the inalienable rights and freedoms of all peoples’. Well clearly that is not the case for Australian Muslim woman. Muslim women waking up in Australia today don’t have the right to sit in the public gallery in Canberra, the heart of our democracy, in clothing of their choosing.  A Liberal government is denying them that freedom.


We learn today that our Liberal government will compel women who wear the burqua in Parliament House to be seated separately from the general public behind glass screening.  Like animals in a zoo. What an utter disgrace.  It’s hard to believe a Liberal government whose central ideology is freedom of the individual, has introduced this appallingly racist, sexist and divisive move.  Why?


I have never seen a burqua worn in this country, only the niqab, chador and hijab.  But even if I had, my question is, so what? Since when, has what a woman chooses to wear, resulted in a democratically elected government, deciding she must be physically segregated because of it?  In this case supposedly on the grounds of national security.  I love the colour pink.  Am I safe in pink or will this government soon making a ruling on that?


I understand the need for comprehensive security measures at Parliament House – no one is arguing with that.  However women coming to Parliament House wearing a head covering or veil, and having lifted the veil and presented their photo ID to security for verification will still be segregated.  What message does that send?


If this is a democracy then the model is broken and Liberal decision-makers are the ones with the sledgehammer.


Muslim Women are such an easy target to package up and sell to a tabloid reading public whipped up by an ever hysterical, ratings driven media.  I feel sorry for our Muslim sisters.  My tutor at university is a Muslim woman who wears a hijab.  She is intelligent, vibrant, funny, very good at her job and absolutely beautiful.  She is the only hope I have of passing Statistics.  And this beautiful women will not be allowed to sit next to me in the public gallery at Parliament House because of an item of clothing.


Women in veils or head coverings are people – wives, mothers, employers, employees, team mates, sisters, workers.  And voters.  And I damn well hope they all vote ‘no’ to the Liberal Party at the next election for taking this country back to the dark ages and for adopting a form of apartheid.  It cannot come soon enough.


The decision made by our government today is shameful and the eyes of the world are watching. What they will see is a country not yet grown up enough to be accepting of cultural differences, not yet willing to accept those differences without judgement, not quite ready to actively practice tolerance.


But of course to endlessly preach it, while talking about secularism and freedom and rights of the individual.


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my all-time favourite speech


Two days before the 1983 election, Neil Kinnock, Leader of the British Labor party gave the speech of his life. Kinnock was squaring up to wrestle power from the Prime Minister and his arch nemesis Margaret Thatcher.

At that time Thatcher was riding high on a wave of nationalism, fresh from victory in the Falklands war with the polls predicting a Conservative victory. The verbal hand grenade lobbed from the podium by Kinnock, painted a bleak and foreboding picture of post-election Britain.


Kinnock’s ‘I warn you’ speech remains one of my all-time favourites because of its prophetic and haunting tone.  The landscape described largely came to pass in the years following the landslide Conservative victory where the richer got richer and the poorer got poorer.

I Warn You

“If Margaret Thatcher is re-elected as Prime Minister, I warn you.

I warn you that you will have pain – when healing and relief depend on payment.

I warn you that you will have ignorance – when talents are untended and wits are wasted, when learning is a privilege and not a right.

I warn you that you will have poverty – when pensions slip and benefits are whittled away by a Government that won’t pay, in an economy that can’t pay.

I warn you that you will be cold – when fuel charges are used as a tax system, that the rich don’t notice and the poor can’t afford.

I warn you that you must not expect work – when many cannot spend, more will not be able to earn. When they don’t earn, they don’t spend. When they don’t spend, work dies.

I warn you not to go into the streets alone after dark or into the streets in large crowds of protest in the light.

I warn you that you will be quiet – when the curfew of fear and the gibbet of unemployment make you obedient.

I warn you that you will have defence of a sort – with a risk and at a price that passes all understanding.

I warn you that you will be home-bound – when fares and transport bills kill leisure and lock you up.

I warn you that you will borrow less – when credit, loans, mortgages and easy payments are refused to people on your melting income.

If Margaret Thatcher wins, she will be more a Leader than a Prime Minister. That power produces arrogance and when it is toughened by Tebbitry and flattered and fawned upon by spineless sycophants, the boot-licking tabloid Knights of Fleet Street and placement in the Quangos, the arrogance corrupts absolutely.

If Margaret Thatcher wins -

I warn you not to be ordinary.
I warn you not to be young.
I warn you not to fall ill.
I warn you not to get old.”

Taken from Neil Kinnock: Eileen Jones

Kinnock was known for his powerful oratory but despite this final brilliant speech the election was won by the Conservative party.  Thanks in large part to the ‘boot-licking tabloids’ of Fleet Street under Rupert Murdoch’s ownership.

The disgusting headline in The Sun newspaper on the day of the election proved that Kinnock was right about the tabloid press – and they made it absolutely clear to the electorate whose side they were on.

No speech, however good, could ever compete with this:


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the world is full of…

trust me, I'm a shop assistant

trust me, I’m a shop assistant

…people whose presence make the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.  Not quite in the league of serial-killers but still up there on the ‘scared be very scared list’.

No1 on the list is hearing the footsteps of the approaching shop-assistant when I am halfway through changing, with my trousers around my ankles.  They must have a special timer so that their polite enquiry about how it’s all going on the other side of the curtain, invariably comes when you are standing there in your nanna underpants and a bra that has long lost the will to support your breasts.

Who’s holding the power in that relationship?

The other day in my desperate fury to yank up the trousers I was trying on before the retail assistant reached me, the price label got caught somewhere in my butt cheeks and snapped clean off.   Leaving only the plastic tab attached to the clothing with the pricing information somewhere between my cheeks.  Then I had to ferret around trying to retrieve it.  Too much information?

But back to the trauma from behind the curtain and the inevitable question from the shop assistant ‘How’s it going in there?’

This really means ‘Does it fit or do you need a larger size?’.  Then you have to go through the whole explanation of why you’re not buying it. But before you get to that part, the shop assistant is hovering outside and is waiting for you to emerge and do the twirl.  The whole interaction transports me back to my teenage years, only with my mother hovering outside the curtain.  Or worse still, yanking it back mid-change with an audience of un-suspecting shoppers browsing the racks behind her. Thanks for that mum.


Anyway, having finally retrieved the offending label from between my cheeks, where it had embedded itself, I ended up stuffing it into my pocket, returning the garment to the rack and slinking out the store.

I bet men never have to go through this insanity when they shop for clothes.

I seriously hate shopping.

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female violence – the terror of a girl fight



Last night I intervened in an attempt to break up a fight between two teenage girls.

A browse through an an arts and crafts shop with my husband was punctured by the sound of breaking glass.  I assumed it was an accidental breakage or something had fallen from a shelf. The first sound was followed by more smashing glass, a growing scuffle and the unmistakable sound of punches making contact on bodies.

It’s strange when you hear noises that are out of the context with the environment you are in.  If I’d been in a nightclub district, or at a pub, or in a crowded area maybe the shouting and scuffling would have sounded more in keeping with the landscape.   So it took me a moment to register that a fight had broken out in the shop a couple of aisles across from where I was standing.


“Get off me. Get off me. Get off me” were the first shouts to penetrate the air.  I walked to the end of the aisle and peered around.  I noticed people hurrying toward the exit and that shopping trolleys had been abandoned in the aisles with people backing away from the direction of the noise.  I saw the young shop assistant grab her phone, presumably calling for security.


I asked someone what was going on.  “Two girls are fighting”. “Two girls?” I said.  I had assumed it was a man and woman because of the cacophony of crashing and banging we could hear.  Outside the shop which had a glass frontage, I noticed a number of people staring in.  I started to slowly walk towards the noise because I was alarmed to hear it was two girls in what sounded like a ferocious melee. I got to the aisle and on the floor in front of me were two teenage girls tearing into each other on the floor.


One girl was straddling the other who was pinned to the floor on her back.  Her hands were flying in a cascade of punches to the girl on the floor beneath her. I could hardly believe what I was seeing.  I lurched forward and grabbed the hand of the girl to prevent her from doing any further damage.   It felt like time stood still as I crouched down and started pleading with them to stop because the level of anger and aggression was overwhelming.


The aisle was covered in broken glass with the contents of the shelving scattered around them.  Both girls had cuts to their faces and bodies.  I held onto the first girl’s hands while pleading with them both. Over and over I started to say “please stop, please stop, please stop” like a broken record and “please don’t do this, please don’t do this – whatever’s happened this isn’t worth it. It’s not worth it”.   I hoped that in doing so they would eventually listen and heed .  Perhaps the mantra was to help me too, to try and calm down my own distress at the savagery I had witnessed and in the hope I could de-escalate the situation.

It’s strange how, in such a frightening environment, your brain takes in and makes split second decisions about what is going on.  I did not fear for my own safety although at the same time I was acutely aware of the aggression being directed towards me as I tried to reason with them.  It did occur to me that she might start punching me instead and then what would I do?

At some point in any fight, people have to stop or want to stop because the adrenalin required is exhausting.  Nobody can keep it up for ever.  But they can’t back out, or don’t know how to back down or they don’t want to be the one to fold.  I felt that my presence, however unwelcome, was their only circuit-breaker.  I was begging them to calm down and to help me help them to just stop.


I felt horrified when I realised the girl on the ground had sunk her teeth into the arm of her opponent and was pulling at her skin and stretching it out to a sickening distance.  There was blood dripping from the arm and from the mouth of the girl on the floor. Eventually something must have gotten through and the shouting started to subside and both girls were marginally less aggressive. I remember thinking, how are we all going to get up without the one on the bottom kicking and biting and the one on the top lashing out again.  They both started to accuse one another of being the primary aggressor and insisting to me that “if I let go, she’s going to kick me”.

I was on my own for at least five minutes, begging and wrestling with these girls who couldn’t have been more than fourteen or fifteen.  “sweetheart please, please, it’ll be ok, trust me, trust me”. All I could hear was the sound of my own voice pleading for it to end.


Somehow, we were all on our feet and another older woman and a security guard were beside us.  Finally somebody else had stepped in.  But it wasn’t over.  Then we had to continue to restrain one while keeping the other one away. That was the only time I felt like what I was doing was in some way wrong.  To be pinning someone’s hands down as they pleaded for you to let them go did not feel ok with me.  She was still so angry and the second girl continued to yell and scream inches from my face.  “Please walk away, please walk away”.  Then two more security guards came onto the scene in whose hands the situation belonged.


Apparently the disagreement with the girls started at school.  We know that society has become increasingly violent and physical aggression and fighting between girls is all too common.  You-Tubes of girls fighting are uploaded and disseminated and are treated as a form of entertainment.  It is not entertainment.  It is assault.  Most disturbing of all is how often others just stand around and watch and cheer and take sides.  What is wrong with everybody?  One punch can be a game-changer for life.  We see this all the time.


I understand why people don’t get involved and it’s awful to see people fighting.


However we get the world we deserve when we sit back and do nothing.  The standard we walk past is the standard we accept.  If it was us being assaulted and punched almost senseless, wouldn’t we want somebody to help?  Violence and aggression (whether male or female) should be absolutely and comprehensively condemned.  Always.

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Jamie’s Italian, Canberra – top notch

Always eat dessert first – and here’s why.

yum yum

Oh my goodness, that was THE BEST.  Chocolate Espresso Tart.  A sumptuously divine, melt in the mouth, lip-smackingly good, indulgent, velvety serving of pure pure pleasure.  Too many adjectives?  It was that good, I don’t have enough adjectives.


And that picture really does not do it justice.  But apart from the chocolate decadence, that crispy little slither of caramelized orange on top was sensational.  Thank god my other half was full so I didn’t have to share the tart or the edible decoration.  But believe me, if you have not been yet to Jamie’s Italian in Canberra – hurry there my friends.  Run don’t walk.


Now I’m not a food writer, obviously, and we live in the burbs so we rarely eat out in Civic.  But tonight we happened to be in town so got a seat at Jamie’s, just before five.  The place was empty apart from two other tables but over the next hour it filled up, they dimmed the lighting and I was sold.


Jamie’s has a pretty funky vibe, as you would expect – the exuberant chef’s fingerprints are all over the joint.  All the wait staff are young, groovy and end all their questions in ‘guys’. How was that guys?  Can I get you a drink guys?  etc etc


The hubby had good old spaghetti for his main and I had Baked King Salmon.  Yum, yum and yum again.  The salmon came with balsamic roasted veg, a dollop of lemon ricotta (sorry lemony artisanal ricotta- whatever that means) and a delicate side salad which balanced it out. They’re always talking about texture and balance on all those damn cooking shows but now I get it.


The Italian bread we nibbled on as an appetizer got the gastric juices flowing and set us up for the main event.  A tiny bit salty but I suppose that’s the point – more wine garcon!  The people on the adjacent table may have been slightly irritated with the ridiculous amount of food photography going on next to them but hey – we wanted to capture every moment.


I’ve never bought any of Jamie Oliver’s many cookbooks but who knows, maybe I will.  I have been inspired to replicate a couple of his meals though after being sucked into his 15 Minute Meals but that’s because I really hate cooking. For me anything that accelerates the cooking process is music to my ears.  Jamie’s shows are akin to being caught in quicksand – once you’ve watched the first thirty seconds, you can’t prise yourself away.


Tonight’s delicious dining experience reinforced my intention to adopt some of those simple but flavorsome recipes.  Less is more, as they say.


Apart from that delicious Chocolate Espresso Tart.

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the disability support pension – removing the crutches


The news today that access to the Disability Support Pension will only be available to people with a permanent impairment with no capacity to work is welcome and long overdue.


The Abbott government’s ‘A New System for Better Employment and Social Outcomes‘ interim report was released today.  The report is part of the government’s review of the welfare system which is generally accepted as being unsustainable into the future. The thrust of the report rests on four stated ‘pillars of reform':

  • Simpler and sustainable income support system
  • Strengthening individual and family capability
  • Engaging with employers
  • Building community capacity


The welfare system has become a bureaucratic colossus, is hugely complex and paradoxically may in some instances actually provide a disincentive to seeking employment.  The government proposes to address some of the bureaucracy by axing a raft of individual payments and supplements and streamlining the system down to just four.

The four payments will cover those of working age, pensioners, those with a disability and family payments.  The move to pay the disability support pension only to those characterised as having a permanent disability rendering them incapable of work is a bold and significant step.   The definition of disability has become very broad and is now a catch-all for many chronic diseases.


There are sadly, many diseases which are characterised as chronic and disabling.  However the chronic nature of the disease in itself does not necessarily mean an individual will have to cease working for the remainder of their lives.  You might have a chronic disease which requires you to take medication for the rest of your life but does that necessarily mean you have a disability?  And would it meet the common sense understanding of the average citizen when we talk about those with a disability?


I have a personal interest in the discussion of welfare and the disability support pension because I have Multiple Sclerosis. The textbook definition of Multiple Sclerosis is that it is a chronic and progressive disease of the brain and central nervous system. It is an incurable disease (although importantly there are many treatments for it, many of which work well). Therefore I am considered a person with a permanent and progressive disability.  At least that is what I was told which I found staggering and ridiculous, given my actual circumstances.  I strongly objected to that characterisation at the time and I still do.  But what do I know?  I’m just the ‘patient’.


I’ve been diagnosed ten years and have always worked full-time.  The disease has never significantly interfered with my lifestyle or my capacity to work.  The longest I have ever taken off as a result of my multiple sclerosis, is five working days.  I took those days when I had my first significant relapse which was about three years into my diagnosis.  I had to spend a short time in hospital being zapped by steroids and then I was pretty much as right as rain again until a few years later. The second time I had the steroid treatment, I went to the hospital, had the 90 minute transfusion and then returned to work.  In the last four years I have taken about two days a year off due to my MS – not bad odds and much better than the average ‘healthy’ person.


Last year I had a funny cognitive episode over a period of about six weeks which also on a couple of occasions affected my vision. For the first time in a decade I decided to make an appointment with our Disability Advisor. I ended up having to tick that bloody box because there is no other box to tick.  The reality was that I was experiencing a temporary and mild impairment. I took two days off work. There needs to be better recognition of the sometimes episodic nature of medical impairments and more appropriate descriptors so we don’t all get lumped into a single inflexible category.


My chronic and permanent ‘disability’ has never eventuated and I don’t see why that would change. Over the last decade I have accessed very few services as a person with MS but that has not stopped the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) writing to me to flag an assessment of my ‘disability’.  My answer will be that I don’t have one – despite the technical definition of the disease and the prescribed categorisation which, from where I’m standing, is a part of the problem.  I’ll tell you when I feel disabled, not the other way around.


My case illustrates why this review of the disability support pension is absolutely critical.  It is wide open to rorting, it is wide open for people to opt out of the workforce based on the label they have been prescribed.  In short, it is open to abuse. I could visit my doctor tomorrow and say that my fatigue was so bad I can no longer work.  How can anyone argue with my diagnosis?  They should and they could but why would they?  I have been medically diagnosed with a chronic and incurable disease but the existing treatments have kept me very well.  There is little wrong with me much of the time but very occasionally there might be. At different times I have experienced symptoms such as numbness, weakness in limbs, pins and needles, pain, dizziness, chronic fatigue, however they have never stopped me working full-time.


I do know of people others with MS on the Disability Support Pension and I look at some of them and I wonder why. Most are highly educated, full of life, have no significant disabilities – they are similar to me. The big difference is that they don’t work.  It doesn’t stop them volunteering 15 hours a week, regularly socialising, going on overseas travel, or serving on community committees.  They have the energy and inclination for all of that.  So why don’t they have the energy to do paid work 15 hours a week instead?  These are the questions we need to ask.


So Minister Andrews and the Abbott government have got it right.  We need to take a long hard look at peoples’ real capacity to work.  We need to support, always, the permanently disabled when it is apparent to all that they will never be able to work.


The rest however, are fair game.  There will of course be an outcry from some quarters at this decision because it will be seen by some as an attack on our most vulnerable.  I’m certain our most vulnerable will always be looked after as we would all want them to be. But it is those very people, who are also being robbed when the ‘not working’ well place themselves in the very same category.  That is unjust and unfair.


I hope this adjustment to the disability support system will help those back to work who should really be there. But who have convinced themselves that they can’t, by a system which has facilitated and enabled that mindset.


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