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Fixing things - John Hillel, Repair Cafe Volunteer - Port Phillip EcoCentre

Fixing things – John Hillel, Repair Cafe Volunteer

By Natalie Farrell

The St Kilda Repair Cafe stands proudly among a global network of over a thousand repair cafes affiliated with the Repair Cafe Foundation. Community members who visit the Repair Cafe bring in their broken or damaged items and volunteers contribute their time and expertise to provide cost-free repairs.

In 2017, John Hillel, in collaboration with the Jewish Ecological Coalition and the EcoCentre, formed the St Kilda Repair Cafe. Inspiration for establishing this initiative came to John while he was volunteering at the first Australian Repair Cafe in Yarraville (now closed). Noticing that a lot of people were travelling from the other side of the river, John was inspired to bring the idea closer to home.

A deeper inspiration, according to John, lies within our society’s current ‘throw-away’ economic model. This refers to the production and consumption of goods designed for short-term use, leading to a culture of throwing things away.

The model is detrimental to the environment as it prompts excessive consumption and waste. John recognises that it is a ‘bad way to treat Earth’s resources’ and is contributing to a ‘climate and economic disaster’.

John gives reference to Vance Packard’s ‘The Waste Makers’, a 1960s book exploring the shift towards over consumption. The book highlights how producing non-durable goods became common practice in the 1950s, with products designed to break down or wear out within a short timeframe. 

Although this shift continues to impact the environment, initiatives like the Repair Cafe empower our community to fix these unsustainable practices.

Repair Cafes counteract ‘throw-away’ culture by promoting the repair and maintenance of items, fostering a mindset of longevity over quick replacement. They also serve as vibrant hubs for community engagement and skill-sharing, cultivating stronger and more connected communities.

John speaks to the vibrancy of the St Kilda Repair Cafe as he recalls some significant fixes. When someone came in with a flickering lamp, all that needed to be done was to screw in the lightbulb. This problem, which required a five second fix, emphasised the ‘lack of knowledge’ surrounding ‘even the simplest repair.’

John is grateful for the opportunity to start and run the St Kilda Repair Cafe. He says that he would be ‘bored out of [his] brains’ and it would be ‘a bit of a waste’ if he didn’t spend his time volunteering.

The same culture that encourages the constant replacement of items also fosters a tendency to waste our most precious resource – time – in places that are not beneficial to the health of ourselves or the planet.

Volunteering emerges as an antidote to these issues. By participating in volunteer work,

individuals not only counteract the throwaway culture by repairing and repurposing items but also invest their time in meaningful, impactful endeavours that lead to personal fulfilment.

With every clock that is fixed, we are reminded of the time. With every lamp repaired we are no longer in the dark. With every garment mended, a stitch in the fabric of change. When an item is fixed at the St Kilda Repair cafe, our community is fixing a throwaway culture and fostering a sustainable and fulfilling way of life for ourselves and the planet.

John says that he ‘knows what it feels like to fix something’ and ‘the camaraderie that takes place’. He urges the community to ‘help each other and get involved’.

If you would like to join as a volunteer at the Repair Cafe or give a broken item a second chance, please visit their website or email, and you can find the details of the next Repair Cafe event on our Events page here.

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The EcoCentre acknowledges the Kulin Nations, including the Yalukit Willam clan of the Boon Wurrung language group, traditional custodians of the land on which we are located.

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