Liz’s Story

My story starts with my parents when they were in their 20’s.

Mollie and Eddie were Irish Catholics who bravely moved to New Zealand in the late 1950’s on the £10 Scheme, had 4 kids [Maebeth died], moved back to Ireland for a year where Dad ran his own electrical contracting biz and Mum looked after 3 children under 4, then moved again to Australia where they had 2 more kids.

Those were the days where it took 6 weeks on a boat to get from Ireland to New Zealand.

We moved a fair bit as Dad got promoted and when I was 5 or 6 we moved to Western Australia. Mum and Dad were deeply involved in the local church and I learnt a lot about social justice and giving back from them.

And the world turned and the years went by and at 14 I showed my parents an essay I had written.

I told them that I just couldn’t believe in any external entity controlling our lives.

I believed we had our own individual power to live our lives and it was important to find out how that power was lived in the world.

I said that I wanted to find out how my individual power lived in the world and help other people work it out as well.

Obviously there wasn’t a job description for what I wanted to do!!

I did a psychology degree, worked in bars, taught swimming and was doing a post grad in recreation when I was offered the chance of a 3 month contract with the Dept of Sport and Recreation in the southwest of W.A. in the mid 80’s.

The downside?

I had to give up my jobs in Perth with no guarantees of any work beyond the 3 months.

I leapt at it. I was 24 or 25.

Three months of amazing opportunities with brilliant people became a year long trouble shooting contract and eventually a permanent contract.

The 4 years I worked with the Dept of Sport and Rec became the foundation of my skills and ability to work with communities and organisations.

It was the 1980’s folks.

If you don’t feel like reading the rest of this then you can look at my visual resume for details

We were innovating some of the first whole of community research and planning processes and working with communities all over W.A.

I loved being a pioneer and working with other people to explore what was possible in their lives and communities

After 4 years I left the Dept of Sport and Rec and moved to Geraldton as one of the first Community Development Officers in the state working for the Geraldton Midwest Development Authority.

For 2 years I worked with communities across 472,336 sq kms – driving along country roads, visiting communities and listening to anyone that wanted to talk to me.

In the 2 years with the Development Authority I:

  • worked with people to develop the arts and community arts through major research and practical advice
  • developed a 2 day conference to coordinate the wildflower industry in W.A. that resulted in major connections and the formation of a wildflower cooperative in the mid west region
  • chaired a Rural Health Medicine committee that in one year created a scholarship for a country student to study medicine; added a rural medicine module to the University of WA medical training programme; invested capital works funding to create a rural medicine internship space to a GP rural practice; created a video to promote rural medicine
  • created a network of community workers
  • represented rural W.A on a ministerial committee and chaired a subcommittee on aboriginal youth
  • developed training programmes for women in business
  • advised people on funding and policy in education, arts and health
  • developed and chaired enterprise and employment coordination meetings of key government departments in the region
  • sat on a board that turned a prison into a cultural and arts precinct
  • helped form a neighbourhood house/learning centre
  • was available to meet and talk with the 17 local authorities in the region

There are a million stories and I’d like to share this one to show how people can make a difference

I was invited to visit the properties and homes of a number of farmers who were growing wildflowers as an alternative and supplementary income.

I sat and listened and wandered their fields and asked them questions:

‘How do you know what your market wants each year?’

‘ Doesn’t it cost a lot for everyone to store and freight their product individually?’

‘ Isn’t there someone who can buy the shorter stemmed wildflowers that Japan won’t buy?’

‘ What’s the current research on widlflowers that could help you?’

‘ Has the industry [researchers, growers, funders, policy makers and buyers] ever gotten together to share knowledge and look to making the industry better?’

The answer to that question was NO.

So, I worked with the growers in the Midwest and developed a 2 day Wildflower Industry conference in Geraldton that included:

1. Flying in key industry buyers from Japan and Holland [we only had to fly them from Melbourne as I linked our event with another one there]

2. Bringing growers from all over the state to the event

3. Involving university and private sector researchers as well as exporters

4. Having a 2 stream conference process so that farmers who might be thinking of entering the industry could have their own speakers and existing growers could have their stream

5. Lots of spaces for people to meet and talk with each other including a bus tour of some growers properties and a bbq on a property

6. An industry dinner that included wildflower arrangements created by local florists using local flowers

One of the biggest results was that people from across the industry got to know each other.

Another key result was that local midwest growers formed a cooperative for storage and transport of their flowers, decreasing a key cost.

After the conference I drove a guy to a number of farms where he contracted to buy the shorter wildflowers that were normally thrown away.

He needed them for his wildflower value added business.

I loved being able to create an event and process that not only helped a whole industry but also helped families who were trying to find ways to stay on the land.

That’s why I love what I do

I love bringing people together so they can decide what’s next in their industry and community

That felt like a great success to me.

When you really listen to people you hear the whisper of many dreams.

I saw my job as being a listener and connector – connecting people to key information so they could make decisions and choices about their lives.

That’s powerful

After 2 years I moved back to Perth and worked part time as an Education Office for Learning Centre Link. I also set up my own consultancy and began an M.B.A at Murdoch University.

For the next 3 years I created distance learning programmes and visited the outback learning centres to train people to deliver the programmes. I also ran a number of strategic planning sessions in the centres. I loved the work.

It was near this time that I was asked [nay stalked!] to create Life Dreaming. [site closed at the moment]

In 1992 I did my own Life Dreaming and realised I was geographically challenged!

I needed to see  a bit more of the world and I was curious whether my skills were transferable globally.

They were.

In 1993 I took a years leave without pay and travelled to Ireland.

Within 6 months I had my first 2 contracts and I resigned from my job in Australia:

Social action researcher with Nexus [a social action cooperative] to design and produce whole of community strategic plans for Clondalkin [Dublin], Waterford, Portlaise and Kilkenny. In 1994 I created and facilitated some of the first whole of community strategic planning days that had ever been held in Ireland.

Within the Nexus contract I also developed the Wexford partnership plan by training long term unemployed people to be social action researchers over a year. I linked with UCC [Cork Uni] and they provided an accredited learning component to the training. Together we did all the research and developed the strategic plan.  The Partnership hired me for another year to implement key research recommendations in the plan and continue working with UCC and the group – 50% of whom found jobs in community development.

Facilitator of the National Arts Worker programme. This was an intense training and development programme for a group of artsworker from around Ireland. There were five 5 day training blocks over a year [some were residential] and the process was based on creative adult learning principles. I created and facilitated major sections of the programme.

They were the first 2 of a few hundred contracts in the 21 years I have lived in Ireland.

I have worked across sectors and issues:

  • the Arts and Arts in Community in Ireland and EU programmes
  • individual artists professional planning and website development
  • the Homeless sector in Dublin and Galway
  • rural and tourism development strategies
  • network development for artists working in communities
  • partnership processes and evaluations with government departments, local authorities and non profits
  • learning and performance strategies for the homeless sector in Dublin
  • organisational reviews for many non profits
  • celebration days for learning and training programmes
  • creative cultural explorations and celebrations with staff in small non profits
  • multitudes of programme and project evaluations
  • many many  design, management and faciltation events
  • lots of reports written that actually changed things [that makes me very happy]
  • lots of industry reflection days

In 2014 my work has included:

  • organising all elements of a 3 day visit by a high ranking government delegation from Singapore to Ireland. I organised everything from the hotels, transport, meals, information packages to a private dinner with industry speaker and meetings with the IDA as well as visits to key industrial parks. I also researched and wrote a 70+ page global report on Ireland for the clients
  • evaluator and facilitator for the St Stephens Green Trust funded projects working with survivors of institutional abuse. I have been evaluator for 2013 and 2014 and also facilitate 2 gatherings of the projects a year
  • write Legacy Document for St Stephens Green Trust and be keynote speaker at the launch of the document
  • designed a website for an eminent Irish artist – creating a simple and clean site to highlight an artists work is an interesting challenge
  • Flown from Dublin to Portland Oregon for a week to help an online business explore, play and plan their new biz structure and strategy
  • worked on branding, product development and marketing strategies for Life Dreaming – my other biz [site closed at the moment while I review it all]
  • completed 4 online business, marketing and copywriting courses. There’s always something more to learn
  • create simple and gorgeous wordpress sites in 4 to 6 hours with small businesses & community organisations – my 3rd biz!

30+ years of work and I’ve loved it all.

The 14 year old me would be proud and delighted.

I’ve had the privilege of working with thousands of people from all walks of life in Australia and Ireland.

And now, when my friends and family ask me ‘what is it you do?’ I can point them to this page!

Update 2016

On December 30 2014 I moved back to Perth Australia.

The recession in Ireland had decimated my consultancy and despite a range of efforts I could no longer live in Ireland and the weather had started to get me down after 22 years.

I moved back to Oz and within a month of moving back one of my best friends was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. I became, with Mary’s husband, her primary supporter and carer until May 23 2016 when she died.

My sense of loss is documented on my other more personal site – LIPS living – where I’ve been creatively foraging to rebuild my life.

My focus has been on Mary so I have only wanted to do small contracts. My work has included:

  • developing a creative place making and engagement learning process for WA Police as well as a handbook
  • organised and facilitated a strategic planning session for City of Melville Neighbourhood Watch – 2015 and 2016
  • organised and facilitated a strategic planning session for City of Canning Neighbourhood Watch
  • working with a state politician, a local councillor and an ngo in Maylands to research business safety issues and develop a short information pack
  • researched and wrote speech on new economics for Lisa Baker MLA Maylands to present in Parliament
  • as a result of that work I recommended and led a larger research process called CPTED [Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design] with the same team and the addition of an international CPTED expert based at Curtin University

Not bad and I’ve really enjoyed the people.

And in September 2016 I’m writing my application to do a PhD at Notre Dame University on a topic that impacts on me and many older single women in Australia and globally.

The topic of my research [and it will change!] is

Reimagining Home for Older Single Women in WA: exploring a wicked problem using design and disruptive thinking within a collaborative and creative social action research framework. What could women led beautiful, affordable and sustainable cooperative single and cohousing options look like?

It’s a new path and for the first time in a long time I’m very excited about a long range process.