Albert Park Kindergarden

I never used to like dropping my son off at childcare. I would say goodbye with a reassuring hug and a big smile but I never felt comfortable with it. It’s a big deal to trust somebody else with your child. Today I visited Albert Park Kinder (APK), a Seedlings centre, and met the Director, Jenny Whelan. We spoke all things education, sustainability and life. She gave me a tour of the centre and I got to meet some of the children. After meeting Jenny, the other educators and the kids, I left feeling reassured that I would have fet very comfortable about dropping my son off at APK.

Jenny grew up in The Otways, surrounded by pristine forest, rolling hills and bird song. She calls it the most beautiful place in the world. She’s carried that love of nature with her ever since. It’s that love, that with the help of her team, has helped to fuel the transformation of Albert Park Kinder from an also ran to a sustainability leader. 

I saw photos that showed how the outside space has been transformed over the past five years to the now vibrant, colourful home to plants, flowers and worm farms, that mesmerises the kids. Verity McLucas, the Seedlings Program Manager, shows me an impressive graph highlighting Albert Park’s ever decreasing use of gas, electric and water.  

I’m delighted to find out that it isn’t the educators that read the meters, it’s the children themselves invested in trying to get ever smaller numbers. In one year they reduced their water consumption by 64 per cent, electricity by 24 per cent and their gas by 76 per cent. On 7 June 2018 they took another step towards realising their dream of carbon neutrality when they turned off their gas. They now use a combination of solar energy, battery storage and green power.

The Kindergarten’s commitment was further demonstrated when they employed their own Sustainability Officer. Camille worked in close partnership with our own Brett Hedger to lead embedding sustainability throughout the curriculum, whilst chipping away to reduce their energy use, water consumption and waste.  When Camille moved on to a new role earlier this year, the service recognised there wasn’t a need to employ a new Sustainability Officer because under Camille’s guidance and leadership, the baton was picked up by all the other staff, the vision had trickled down not only to the kids but to all staff too.

Sustainability at Albert Park Kinder is not there simply to dazzle prospective new parents or to pad out their curriculum. It’s about inspiring the next generation to take care of their planet. The staff recognise that children already have a curiosity for the natural world, all they have to do is not get in the way of it. From purchasing non-toxic paints and working with Indigenous experts to design a Bush Tucker garden to installing solar panels and disconnecting their gas, sustainability and a love for our planet is evident throughout.

When I ask Jenny for an example of something she has seen or heard from the children, to highlight the importance of what they are doing, she recalls the time a four-year-old girl told her she was going to paint love. She drew a beautiful big red heart and out of the top was growing a plant. I immediately understood why this was the moment that sticks in Jenny’s memory, we share the view that love and sustainability are inseparable.

St Kilda Mums

As a St Kilda dad, I often hear other parents discussing the excellence of St Kilda Mums. It took a while to realise I wasn’t being discriminated and that St Kilda Mums is in fact a pioneering local charity. St Kilda Mums gifts bundles of baby and child essentials to families that really need them. They might be a refugee child, someone born to a mother with a disability, or a little girl or boy who's escaped domestic violence.

I wanted to go along and see for myself what goes on behind the doors of their large warehouse on Vale Street, St Kilda. Founder and CEO Jessica Macpherson, bursts through the doors with a warm smile and an impressive energy given that it is a cold, Monday morning in May.  I note that Jessica is clutching an All Blacks lunch box, a hint towards her New Zealand upbringing.

I get a sense that time is a precious commodity at St Kilda Mums and they use every last drop wisely. There is an impressive hum of activity as volunteers get to work; sorting and packing immaculate bundles ready for collection from social workers and maternal child and health nurses across Victoria. Every bit of floorspace is used, piles and piles of carefully packaged and labelled bundles full of everything a young child may need, from toys and prams to clothes and cots. It’s a Santa’s Grotto right here in St Kilda.

It all started in 2009 when a group of five mums were attending the St Kilda Maternal and Child Health Centre on Chapel Street. They noticed baby goods stacked high in the photocopying room that had been donated by local parents. Jessica, a lady who I suspect was born to ‘do’, volunteered to sort, launder and package the goods ready for families to enjoy. As they’ve grown they’ve gone from operating from their own verandas, to a donated double garage, to the more spacious warehouse they now call home.

There is a dignity in the way they go about their work. They don’t gift anything they wouldn’t be comfortable giving to their own children. Clothing is diligently sniffed and stain checked. Car restraints are safety checked and cleaned. Cots are checked to ensure all parts are present. Toys are sifted through to sort safe from the unsafe. They want to delight the new owners with items that are high quality, safe, clean and functioning.  

There is an emphasis on reuse of donated items, everything that can be reused is. Whilst they accept all donated goods, they are unable to reuse some, because they simply do not meet safety standards. In that instance, they will recycle. Whilst they don’t want the unsuitable goods, they will not refuse to take them, to do so might mean unsafe items will simply be used elsewhere or they will be dumped on a kerb near you. Southern Cross Recycling Group dispose of their recyclables, a service that is currently cost neutral, if that was to change and they incurred a cost, it would be a big problem.

Last year 40,000 items were diverted from landfill in the most wonderful way imaginable, to improve the lives of approximately 17,000 children in need. Volunteer inductions emphasise the need to reuse and recycle, educating new starters on what can and cannot be given a new life. The volunteers share Jessica’s passion, there’s approximately 1500 of them, an army of kind souls.

St Kilda Mums receive no government funding and instead rely on the generosity of the community to donate goods and assist with fundraising. As the goods come in, get checked and go back out, there is no question they are achieving their vision - to waste less, share more and care for every baby and child. A vision that saw them win the Community Award and the Premier’s Recognition Award in the 2015 Premier's Sustainability Awards.

I leave the warehouse already planning my next visit, to drop off a bundle of my son’s clothes and toys, the ones that have been retired to the back of the wardrobe or the bottom of the toy box. Learn how you can donate, volunteer or fundraise and support St Kilda MumsEureka Mums in Ballarat or Geelong Mums.

Save Albert Park

You've probably driven past it without a second thought. St Kilda Junction is used as a gateway to ferry busy commuters to and from work. But it also houses one of Melbourne's oldest living things. 

Tucked away in the very south-east corner of Albert Park is the ‘Ngargee’ Tree, a 20 metre, 700 year old, river red gum tree of huge Indigenous significance. It is believed  to be a meeting place for boys who for hundreds of years, would embark on initiation journeys. Women would also meet there before heading to special places on the coast to learn birthing secrets. In recent years, the tree has stood firm despite proposed construction works and vehicle impact. 

For approximately 10 years the elongated pond leading up to the tree sat empty and unloved. That was until late 2017, when Save Albert Park’s group of volunteers took it upon themselves to breathe new life into the pond. They successfully applied for a Small Poppy Neighbourhood Grant from City of Port Phillip Council and set about lining the pond and replanting the area with native vegetation. 

During the lining of the pond other park visitors inquired about the project and insisted on rolling up their sleeves and lending a hand. Parks Victoria endorsed the project and contributed $500 for water plants and native vegetation around the pond. 

On the day I visited, the Corroboree Tree is perfectly reflected in the pond, native birds drink from the pond and swoop down to bathe and a couple sit on the bench overlooking the pond and admire the view. 

"The pond is now full to overflowing and the first aquatic plants have  been set in place. it's being enjoying by park goers and wildlife. We hope we have provided a pond that will reflect the cultural significance Ngargee Tree", said Peter, park volunteer. 

My own reflection as I sat and soaked up the beauty was that, when people come together with a shared vision, great things can happen.