EcoHouse Memories – Stories Under The Tree Part 1

In February 2022, after two decades of success and growth the EcoCentre farewelled the humble brick EcoHouse as it prepared to redevelop a purpose-built and sustainable building on the same site. People gathered under the tree to share their memories, and to celebrate the EcoHouse Cottage, this organisation, and the people. 

This is Part 1 of EcoHouse Memories – Stories Under The Tree, featuring: Pam O’Neil, Michelle Fisher, Deb Punton, Debby Badger, Nick Capes, Keith Badger, Cécile van der Burgh and Louise Kyle

Pam O’Neil has been part of the organisation for around thirteen years and President for twelve of those years. Pam says, “I started by writing grants with Neil Blake. My memories centre around Keith Badger, Tony Flude and I working with Neil and April Seymore. We were a little team that achieved a lot of things together and the EcoCentre developed a lot in the eight years that Keith was there.

“Throughout that change the EcoCentre has still stayed what it’s always been, which is a fantastic community and really loving organisation. People look out for each other, they love working here and they love being on the Committee. It’s a great privilege to be here and to work with you all. Just to be around the tree with you all is really nice as well. It’s good to know that this tree stays in the new plan.”

“My memories are continuing and I’m looking forward to achieving more good things together, for the environment and the community. As you can see from these stories and memories, the EcoCentre is not just a building it’s the people. And that’s not going to change. We’re going to be across the road for eighteen months and then we’ll move into a beautiful place. Long may we sustain!”

In January 2022, Michelle started in the organisation’s new role of Impact Team Leader. “The first time I came to the EcoCentre, I met April when the Repair Cafe was going to set up here. I had previously set one up in Yarraville with John Hillel, who is now embedded in the Repair Cafe here. I remember thinking, ‘I wish I had this EcoHouse in our Repair Cafe. The sort of support that you offer; having someone show up on the day and promote it on your website. That’s just such amazing engagement, it goes above and beyond for most Repair Cafe initiatives across Australia, I would even say southern hemisphere.’

Once Michelle started, she instantly belonged. She laughs, “I was eager. I signed a contract and came to a party the next day. It was heaps of fun. And I’m so grateful to have seen the EcoHouse before it’s demolished. This is such a momentous point in the EcoCentre’s history, I’m very glad to be here and be part of the transition.”

Deb Punton first came to the EcoCentre eight years ago when she’d just got back from living overseas. Deb explains, “Someone suggested, ‘Why don’t you go down there? See if there’s something you can do while you’re looking for work’. I did odd jobs and some landscape design. Then I joined the community garden as the coordinator, first as a volunteer. But for the last five years, I’ve been in that role as a paid staff member and I’m on the education team as well.” 

Deb’s favourite memories are hearing the day to day stories and how this place makes people feel like they belong. And how the EcoCentre is a special place which adds meaning to their lives. 

Debby tells us, “One of the memories I have is of the Deep Time Walks that I ran for a couple of years. Once a month, I’d lead a group of people around the garden where we’d walk from before the earth’s crust was formed and we’d end up here, under the tree. I remember running through it with Neil Blake and saying, ‘I’m not a scientist, I don’t even know most of what this language means, how do I communicate this?’. Neil said to me, ‘Don’t worry about it, just do what comes naturally for you’. It was great to have that advice to help me relax and lead the group. It’s a wonderful place.”

Nick Capes got to know the EcoCentre through his partner. He says, “I’m working closely with EO, April Seymore, which is a pleasure. Louise and I go back a long way, when dear Tony Flude got me involved in the Public Fund. “It’s a lovely organisation, every time I come here I get excited about the wonderful things that everybody does and I’m delighted to be a part of it.”

Keith Badger was the EcoCentre Treasurer for eight years. Keith tells us, “Bede Doherty brought me into the EcoCentre where I met Neil Blake. I just thought, I love Lord of the Rings and here was this Gandalf type character! I was sold on it. And he knew so much…my overriding memory is of good people like Neil, Pam O’Neil and dear Tony.” 

Keith says, “I was concerned that one day Neil would have to leave. He’s totally irreplaceable.” To rousing laughter he adds, “But then we got someone far better!” The group turns to EO, April Seymore.

Keith says, “I think the organisation has thrived and I couldn’t be happier to see Nick Capes in the Treasurer’s chair. Keep up the good work, it is wonderful.”

Cécile van der Burgh’s first memory of the EcoCentre is from 2009 when she had just moved to Melbourne. Cécile says, “I moved to Elwood from Sydney and I didn’t know anyone. I wanted to connect with the local community so I started to volunteer in the gardens and then became part of the Education Team. I was there for about a year and it was really fantastic…I worked with Neil Blake on a couple of great actions…I remember making garden beds in schools and a community centre in Port Melbourne. It was great to be part of that community.”

“I kept in touch over the years and then I came back about two and a half years ago. I helped to start the Kids in Nature network 10 years ago. We’re really interested in connecting young kids with nature and give them the opportunity to have that profound experience of being in nature. The work that I do here at the EcoCentre is helping me to do that.”

Louise Kyle came to the EcoCentre in the early 2000s, not long after its establishment in 1999. She says, “I wanted to be involved in a local environment centre. I’d heard about Neil’s work when I was a project officer at the Municipal Conservation Association. I started off in a voluntary role and then I was on the Public Fund since 2002 when it began. I’ve been on the Management Committee on a couple of occasions…While I was on the Committee, I did some policy writing and wrote submissions for awards and volunteered in the office one morning a week. And I also taught yoga here. But don’t believe what anyone tells you, it wasn’t naked yoga!”

Have some memories at the EcoHouse Cottage that you’d like to share with us? Open up our interactive online time capsule to start reminiscing.

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The EcoCentre acknowledges the Kulin Nations, including the Yalukut Weelam clan of the Boon Wurrung language group, traditional owners of the land on which we are located.

We pay respects to their Elders past and present, and extend that respect to other Aboriginal and Elder members of our multicultural community.