Tuesday, April 3, 2012


by Pamela Mawbey

It was cold enough to start teeth chattering in the Legislative Council room at Parliament House during the three-day Homelessness summit held there in May 2001.
Most of those present, accustomed to sleeping in warm beds, shivered and pulled their jackets more tightly around their shoulders.
But for those used to sleeping ‘rough’ in on park benches or in narrow doorways, the chilly temperature felt just like 'home'.
They settled back on the plumply padded leather seats and slept like babies.
The cold made it hard to stay focused on all the different facets of homelessness.
It was not just a single issue.
Nor was it a simple one.
Nowadays, there were so many different types of homeless people.
No longer were they just middle-aged men with a drinking problem, readily dismissed as such.
Welfare workers reported seeing a growing number of homeless women with children, men with children, and single adults.
The causes of their homelessness were family breakdown, loss of income through separation from a partner, joblessness, or gambling and other addictions.
A constant in their caseloads was the mentally ill, with homelessness just one of the many challenges these members of our civilised society faced on a daily basis.
Crisis accommodation that did exist was not geared to cope with such a diverse group.
This meant that those who did not fit into categories currently being catered for, the right boxes, were literally being left out in the cold.
For many homeless people, there was simply nowhere to go.
Refuges were stretched to the limit.
Low-cost boarding houses had been turned into backpacker hostels, or pulled down and replaced with multi-million dollar apartments.
Rents had gone through the roof, and the long queue for public housing was growing every day.
Anyone down on their luck in Sydney, without any family or friends for support, was well and truly locked out.
What was desperately needed was a well orchestrated plan on the part of governments to effectively deal with homelessness.
Things had reached a crisis point.
For too many years, homeless people themselves had been blamed for the problem, instead of the lack of adequate safety nets.
The provision of more short-term crisis accommodation was essential, together with some low-cost, medium-term housing.
The latter would need to provide homeless people with somewhere to stay for up to three months.
This hopefully would give them time to get a job and save enough money to get back into the private rental market.
That is if they were mentally stable enough to hold down a job.
Having an address would help.
It was impossible to get a job, or somewhere to live, without one.
Both types of safety net were needed in all local government areas, not just the inner city.
One radical idea floated at the Summit was the introduction of temporary, short-term caretaker leases to allow homeless people to legally ‘squat’ in vacant buildings for a while.
Perhaps it was time to bring back the old suburban drive-in.
Not for watching movies on the silver screen, but to provide a safe space with public conveniences for homeless people forced to sleep in their cars.

Pamela Mawbey is a journalist who has experienced homelessness and slept in her car
(C) Pamela Mawbey 2001

Sunday, March 11, 2012


When I was a kid at primary school, more than half a century ago, I had to regularly chant the following mantra:
"Burrinjuck Dam on the Murrimbidgee River", "Burrinjuck Dam on the Murrimbidgee River",
"Burrinjuck Dam on the Murrimbidgee River"...
Ad infinitum.
The words were indelibly written on white butcher's paper slung over a large free-standing blackboard.
There were no such things as fountain pens then.
Us Aussie kids of the 1950s were still using dip pens and ink wells.
Oh, and good old blotting paper!
Kids of today would not know about any of this, about ink-stained fingers and hand-writing accentuated by unwanted blobs of ink
Back in those far distant days, Australians were very proud of their dams.
Not so now.
I can't remember the last time I heard the Burrinjuck Dam mentioned in the media.
A couple of years ago when I was driving along the Hume Highway heading towards Yass, I saw the sign, 'Burrinjuck Dam'.
Suddenly all these powerful feelings came welling up inside me from my past.
Here was that magical mysterious place with the funny name that I had been introduced to all those years ago.
It was worth taking a detour to see just what it was all about.
What an amazing place it turned out to be!
A narrow winding road led down through steep mountain terrain to what looked like, at first glimpse, a very large, very blue lake with an island.
Conifers interspersed among the gum trees give it an alpine feel.
By the time I reached the small village of Burrinjuck at the end of the road, I felt I was in Austria or Switzerland.
The place definitely had an 'other worldly' feel about it.
I wondered if it had been an Aboriginal sacred site where corroborees had been held by the land's original owners.
The word 'Burrinjuck' is derived from the local Aboriginal Wiradjuri language, interpreted as 'Barren Jack' and meaning 'steep mountain'.
The mighty Burrinjuck was the first dam built in NSW for the purpose of irrigation.
Work started on it in 1907 and was not completed until more than 10 years later in 1828.
Its purpose was to supply water to farmers in the Murrimbidgee Irrigation Area which included the recently flooded town of Griffith, as well as nearby Yanco and Leeton.
I was there at the time of the dam's centenary, but as far as I was aware, no major celebrations were taking place.
This was a great pity, because it is a very special place.
The dam is located within Burrinjuck Waters State Park and boasts walking tracks, king parrots and crimson rosellas, and fish like murray cod, golden perch, rainbow trout, and redfin.
Another fish, the fully protected Macquarie perch, has to be returned to the water unharmed by anyone lucky enough to catch one.
Burrinjuck Dam is just four hours drive from Sydney and is well worth going off the beaten track to visit.
(c) Pamela Mawbey 2007 (unpublished)

Thursday, March 8, 2012


This article, written in response to a controversial plan to run a railway through Parramatta Park was written when I was living there, after I'd been for a guided tour of the park.
It was published in the Sydney Morning Herald on 26 January 2000 (Australia Day) and is also featured on a school education website.
When Governor Macquarie's wife lived on the vice‑regal estate now known as Parramatta Park, she had a treehouse built in a tall gum tree so she could climb up and admire the view.
Elizabeth Macquarie was not playing at being a tomboy like Marie Antoinette did a milkmaid.
She had an active interest in the art of landscaping and delighted in both creating and viewing beautiful vistas.
When residing at Government House in Sydney, her special vantage point for gazing out at the harbour was the sandstone outcrop near Bennelong Point now known as Mrs Macquarie's Chair.

Link to come/


This article was published in Book News (2002), the quarterly newsletter of the Sydney Writers' Festival produced by journalism and writing students at the University of Technology.
I was one of them in 2002, doing a Graduate Certificate in Journalism.
He is lolling back in a cane armchair, gazing through fine-rimmed spectacles directly at the camera.
Whispy, long hairs from an untrimmed moustache overhang his lips and mingle with a beard at his jaw line.
His head is inclined at an angle, his jaw supported by the thumb of his left hand.
A pair of inordinatelylong legs garbed in grey woollen trousers splay out at the knees before coming together in a pair of leather boots badly in need of a polish.
It is this laid back image of John Horbury Hunt, the first American architect to make his mark in Australia, that greets visitors at the entrance of a current exhibition of his work at the Museum of Sydney (MOS).
The photograph was taken in 1889 to mark his presidency of the Institute of Architects of New South Wales, a professional body he helped found.
The following article appears on the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney website.
Baron Hyacinthe Bougainville
L'amour's ups and downs at the Sydney Botanic Gardens
by Pamela Mawbey 2009
In the spring of 1825, a beautiful young Anglo-French woman, married to one of the wealthier men of Sydney, has agreed to a midnight rendezvous with a gallant French nobleman on board his ship anchored in Port Jackson near the Botanic Gardens.
She has known him less than a month, but has already been in his company on 11 occasions.
He, in true French fashion, has wooed her assiduously, despite her ‘jealous’ husband, and is already calling her ‘my beloved’ in his personal notebook.
She is Mrs Harriott Ritchie, the eldest of six daughters and four sons of John Blaxland, the elder brother of Gregory Blaxland, one of the three first white men to cross the Blue Mountains.

more to come/

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

I became a journalist in the late 1970s after my appetite for news was whetted while working as a news typist for ABC radio.
I did a course on reporting for news with lecturer Keith Windschuttle at the Institute of Technology, Sydney.
He said an article I wrote about working in the ABC newsroom was one of the best he had seen about the subject of work.
I then managed to get an entry position with a fortnightly trade journal, Advertising News, published by Yaffa Publishing at Surry Hills, Sydney.
Two and a half years later I made the quantum leap to advertising, marketing and media roundsperson for the Australian Financial Review newspaper.
There I had to fill between three and five pages every Tuesday, plus have a story published on each of the other four days of the week.
Journalists at the Fin Review were still using typewriters when I started there.
The cacaphony of pounding keyboards at every 6pm deadline meant I was constantly having to go to the doctor to have my ears cleaned out.
They kept filling with wax to protect my sensitive eardrums from the constant deafening sound.
I then became one of the first to use the new computer system which was not pleasant.
It had a propensity to crash just when I was half-way through typing a long article.
The only warning was a horn and then the green light on the ceiling would turn to red.
Once the screen was locked, there was no way of saving the article.
For a while I was considering buying a Polaroid camera so I could take a photo of what I had written from my notes, and not have to compose it all again.
My editors at the Fin Review were Max Walsh and then the late P.P. (Paddy) McGuinness.
And my predecessors who made the advertising round highly regarded within the industry were Deborah Light and Valerie Lawson.
The Fin Review staff was small enough to get to know everyone, unlike that of the bigger paper, The Sydney Morning Herald.
And looking back, it was nice working for a family-owned company, and being part of the original Fairfax publishing empire.
I remember being given a copy of the history of Fairfax, Company of Heralds, when I was there but it was lost during my many moves of house.
Later I borrowed it from a library and read it from cover to cover.
As I have grown older, I have gravitated towards Australian history, both local and family.
The detective work involved, the thrill of the chase, is similar to that of journalism and takes me on many twists and turns.
I currently have around a dozen blogs on this subject including Mawbey Family Australia and Jimmy Governor Forensic, with more to come.
The words 'more to come' had to be written on the bottom of every small cream sheet of typed copy paper before the final 'ends' on the last page.