House of Representatives Speech- Isaacs Electorate: Community Services 2010

I rise to speak about my recent visits to two important locations in my electorate that offer assistance to people in our local community, the Lyrebird Community Centre in Carrum Downs and Wellsprings for Women in Dandenong. The Lyrebird Community Centre runs many valuable programs for the local Carrum Downs and Skye community, offering child care and a wide range of classes, meeting spaces and youth activities. It also hosts annual events like the Christmas festival and carols by candlelight, which last year drew 4,000 people to celebrate the yuletide festivities.

I rise to speak about my recent visits to two important locations in my electorate that offer assistance to people in our local community, the Lyrebird Community Centre in Carrum Downs and Wellsprings for Women in Dandenong. The Lyrebird Community Centre runs many valuable programs for the local Carrum Downs and Skye community, offering child care and a wide range of classes, meeting spaces and youth activities. It also hosts annual events like the Christmas festival and carols by candlelight, which last year drew 4,000 people to celebrate the yuletide festivities.

When I went to Lyrebird a few weeks ago the centre manager, Fiona Dannock, who provides excellent leadership to the centre, showed me through some of the classes, including a class taking the certificate of general education. This class was made up of people for whom English was a second language, or in some cases a third or a fourth language, and they were taught general life skills—from the basics of filling out forms to how to speak better English. Participants came from all over the world, but there was a very strong spirit and camaraderie among the group. I was very touched as the class performed two beautiful songs for me, before we discussed some of the stories of the remarkable lives of this group of mostly women. It was fantastic to hear from the students that the two teachers of the class, Judy Treloggan and Jenny Brown, were very patient, helpful and extremely respected. Some students told me that this was the first time in many years that they had made real progress with English.

Classes like this are important to build the confidence of people in our society who otherwise might feel somewhat isolated or uncomfortable undertaking certain tasks. Some students told me they had recently lost their long-time partners and had had to develop skills that they once relied on their partners for. It is my hope that the program can continue to be accessible and assist those in the local community who can benefit from the support and educational experience that this course offers.

While at Lyrebird I dropped in on the Carrum Downs Senior Citizens group, which meets every Tuesday at the centre to play bingo, shoot pool, sell homemade produce—and I must admit that I took home a jar of tasty cumquat jam—and go out on trips. Last year I hosted a seniors morning tea at Lyrebird. It was fantastic to see the centre supporting the lively seniors community in the Carrum Downs area. I was told that some members loved the Tuesday sessions at Lyrebird so much that they continued to come even after having moved away from the local area to places like Mentone.

Earlier that day I went to the Wellsprings for Women centre, on Langhorne Street in Dandenong, to get an update on how the centre was assisting migrant women settle into Australian society. Veronica Hassett, who runs the program with the help of several dedicated staff and volunteers, showed me through the centre, which aims to support women and provide women from migrant communities with a comfortable setting to learn about Australia, the English language and skills that they can use at home or in the community. Wellsprings for Women operates from an ordinary suburban house, which is close to the centre of Dandenong and is a far preferable location—a much more comfortable location—than it would be if Wellsprings for Women were to operate from an office building. It was great to see at the centre so many of the women with their young children. It really gave the place a strong community feeling and will help the children with their own language skills and personal development.

On the day I visited some of the women and children were celebrating their birthdays, so the entire staff and participation group gathered with several cakes to sing Happy Birthday in several different languages—some of them from Africa, some from South Asia and some from Afghanistan—before singing Happy Birthday in English. It was explained to the women why in Australia we celebrated with birthday cakes and that in Australia people kept a close watch on their age, while the children were taught to blow out candles on the cake and told that they got to make a wish. These may seem like very basic things, but these exercises help these women and children learn about Australian culture in a respectful and fun way and can only benefit them and their families in becoming more settled in their new home. I hope that Wellsprings for Women are able to continue their excellent work for many years to come in the very convenient and comfortable location that they have had now for some years in central Dandenong.