SBCG Solar Panels

Getting Solar-The Man Behind the Panels

Getting solar for our garden has been a goal for many years. And, in many ways, a lofty one at that. At least, when one considers that a little over 14 years ago, our current, 122 plot, community garden didn’t even have reliable access to water.

But that was then and over the years the lil’ community garden that knew it could, persisted; plugging away little by little.

And then it happened…

Compliments of a generous grant from the Tugun Branch of Bendigo Bank, we’d finally manage to be gifted the necessary funds to secure our very own 6.4 kw solar system.

But unbeknownst to us at the time, securing these funds would prove to be the easy part.

Roy Rudder
The Man Behind the Panels

And of the garden’s almost 275 members, no one understands this more than Roy Rudder. Because it’d be the 67-year-old Roy who selflessly volunteered his services to oversee the solar installation process.

To the self-proclaimed electronics nerd, the decision to step up to the task was a no-brainer. Afterall, he reasoned, his background seemed perfectly suited for the task at hand. That background included:

  • Extensive hands-on experience in audio equipment installation…
  • And eleven years in project management for Austar Communications where he directed and oversaw up to 160 contractors at a time.

As such, helping the SBCG Committee get their solar project across the goal line didn’t strike him as particularly Herculean or daunting.

It was just a little community garden, after all. One he and his wife, Lynn joined in back in February of 2022. Their intentions had been straightforward enough.

They were interested in meeting like-minded gardeners focusing on fruits, vegetables and herbs. Not long after that, Roy said, they were soon introduced to natural plant and herbal cures and nutrition support.

Roy says he and his wife were immediately attracted to the easy-going and open layout of the garden, low plot fees, friendliness of the members and the willingness of everyone to help each other. Especially that of Michael Lee whose carpenter and handyman expertise around the garden caught Roy’s attention.

And when Michael began building support frames for the garden’s donated aquaponic tanks and pump system, Roy was more than happy to lend his expertise in installing the small solar panel, back-up battery and inverter. Not long after, Roy found himself an active SBCG committee member acting in the capacity of Ordinary Voting Member.

Which is how he found himself with his hand up, happily volunteering to see the SBCG solar panel project to fruition. It was a project he expected would require a handful of phone calls and perhaps a few meetings in the garden.

SBCG Solar PanelsToday, Roy chuckles at his naivete.

“All my experience up to that point had been in the private sector,” he says. “I had no idea the amount of red tape I was in store for.”

In the end, the process of getting the solar panels installed and connected to the grid would require 13 long months. Months that saw Roy liaising between the garden committee, solar power providers, various government departments, engineering companies, an electricity retail outlet and a local community centre.

Meetings in the garden, endless phone calls, emails and follow up emails came and went. Monthly updates at committee meetings often left many with more questions than answers. The less determined would’ve easily buckled beneath the endless barrage of How’s and Whys.

But through it all, Roy never faltered. And, in the process, he perfected the art of being the squeaky wheel that gets the oil. Each and every hiccup, speed hump and fork in the road duly noted and recorded in precise detail to be acted upon.

Until eventually, SUCCESS would be had…and the lil’ community garden that knew it could, became the lil’ garden that did.

And, in the process, one Ordinary Voting Committee Member demonstrated he is anything but. 

 

 

 

 

Volunteer Tony Curtis

Tony Curtis — The Sky’s the Limit

The sky’s the limit in terms of the work which goes into keeping a community garden running. Even more so, when that community garden is in the midst of doubling in size.

But for Southern Beaches Community Garden volunteer Tony Curtis, he’d really prefer to have it no other way.

SBCG volunteer Tony Curtis
I eat work for breakfast

For nearly forty years, Curtis worked as a rigger and a dogman. Setting up and dismantling worksite cranes along with assisting in all facets of the construction process. The building of many of the high rises which today are so ubiquitous on the Gold Coast in which he was born and raised.

The work agreed with him. Enough so that, along with his three brothers, he’d end up owning his own rigging business, Curtis Steel & Rigging, for eight years.

Taking a quick break from building another wicking bed plot, Tony admits he loved the rigging work and the industry as a whole. The industry was good to him and he says he always enjoyed seeing the progress made at the end of each day.

Volunteer Tony Curtis
Always making friends

But that was nearly five years ago. And despite his rigging days now being behind him, the sixty-something ex-rigger has found a new way to satisfy his industrious proclivities.

Today, when not flying his extensive fleet of large, remote control airplanes, Tony and his trademark weathered leather full brimmed hat, can be found in the SBCG at least three days a week. There he’s been a member assisting in various garden tasks for almost a year. But most recently, he’s been instrumental in leading the charge in constructing the recently expanded premise’s new garden plots.

Thirty-six at last count. With more on the way. A roll call of success Tony is quick to attribute to the organisational skills of those he’s surrounded by.

“Getting things done is a matter of having all the right people around you and the right equipment to do it.”

Volunteer Tony Curtis
Getting it done, one bolt at a time

Tony lists names such as Kerry Hurse, Mandy McKinnon, Steve James, Nic Day, Dianne Casey and Deb Robson. Friends and fellow volunteers who Tony says are instrumental in providing the elbow grease in getting the heavy lifting accomplished.

“They all enjoy the work, and I think it’s the same as me, we’re getting something done. They enjoy that side of it.”

As for the planning and procurement of various necessary equipment, Tony doesn’t hesitate to give credit to SBCG President Di Gunther, Vice President Arch Cruttenden along with Ron Hasketh who oversees the Expansion Committee.

“Organisation is nine-tenths and if it’s organised properly, the job’ll go properly and Di and Archie always try to keep a step ahead and I enjoy that side of it.”

And President Di Gunther is happy to let Tony’s master plan continue playing out as it has been the past four to five months.

“We will not stop until Tony says so,” says Gunther. “There has been no other member who has the skill, ability, leadership, respect or integrity that Tony’s quiet presence exudes.”

It’s lofty and well-deserved praise. Especially good for a guy whose definition of gardening until only a year ago simply implied mowing his lawn.

volunteer Tony Curtis
Tony helping with the mulching

“I’ve always had my own property since I was 17 or 18 old so I always looked after the yard. I’ve never been big into gardens. Just as long as they looked neat, I’ve always been happy. But since I’ve come here, I’ve got an interest in learning all the different stuff.”

Some of that different stuff, he says, revolves around wicking bed construction. And then there’s the fruits and veggies of his labour. A thriving list that includes radishes, lettuces, kale, tomatoes, and, even, a small lime tree.

As for gardening tips, the ex-rigger likes to keep it simple by keeping an eye on the plots of his more experienced gardening friends. “You have to look around, see what stuff is growing the best and which is getting least affected by any bugs we do have and that’s what you grow.”

But ultimately, it’s the garden in its ever-expanding entirety that Tony seems to derive the bulk of his satisfaction from. On this day, when not admiring the periodic small planes flying low over the garden on their final approach into the GC Airport, Tony is quick to point out the hive of activity around him.

New plots being filled. Old ones being watered. Families in the park and playground. Numerous inquisitive faces taking in the sights and

Volunteer Tony Curtis and friends
The centre of it all

various areas of the garden.

There is no mistaking the garden’s expansion to the north side of the SBCG clubhouse has given the garden added exposure. And it’s irrelevant whether it’s the garden reaching out to embrace the nearby playground and public park, or vice versa.

Because, all that matters is, on this day–as has increasingly been the case–people are everywhere.

And Tony Curtis couldn’t be happier. “I’m proud to be a part of it.”

 

 

 

Bendigo Bank Community in Action

SBCG & Tugun’s Bendigo Bank — Community in Action

If you wanted an example of community in action,  a visit to your nearest community garden would be as ideal a stop as any.

And Tugun’s Southern Beaches Community Garden would be no exception. From garden beds which need building,  grounds that need tending, compost bins that need turning and pony poo runs that need manning…

There’s plenty of work of the volunteer variety to go around. And, yet, that would only be half of the ‘community in action’ story.

Community in Action Stalwart Allan Merlehan
Tugun’s Bendigo Bank Manager Allan Merlehan

Because, without funding from generous donors, all that work doesn’t even get off the ground. And in the case of the SBCG, chances are extremely good that generous donor would be the Tugun Branch of Bendigo Bank.

Yes, since the garden’s inception in 2009, Tugun’s Bendigo Bank has offered the garden’s members and the community, in general, its unwavering support. A level of community support that is extremely rare.

And one person that knows this better than anyone is Bendigo’s Tugun Branch Manager, Allan Merlehan.

So, that said, we at the SBCG wanted to show our gratitude by giving Allan the floor. To give him the opportunity to answer a few questions and, in doing so, to shed a little light on the banking mindset that has helped to separate and distinguish themselves from the rest of the banking, big player herd.

All while simultaneously helping the SBCG grow as much as it has.

 

So, Allan, how long have you worked for the Tugun Branch of Bendigo Bank? As a banker in general?

I’ve been at Tugun for I0 years and in finance for a total of 36.

Was there anything overly unique or special about the bank that sort of drew you to the place?

The ‘Community’ focus was one aspect and the other was they had bank managers with authority in their branches, so you had decision-makers at ground-level.

Having worked there for as long as you have, what do you feel makes Bendigo Bank different from other banks?

The bank’s focus on the customer & the community.

On average, how much does Bendigo Bank put back into the community each year?

Our branch directly sponsors about $90k.

When do you remember first hearing about the Southern Beaches Community Garden and how has the Tugun Branch been involved with the garden?

I heard about them very soon after I arrived in Tugun in January 2010. Since then our Tugun Community Bank Branch has provided over $32,000 in funding to assist with projects such as the propagation tunnel, water tanks, a covered seating area and a trailer.  Our directors and staff have also volunteered in a working bee.

What were your first impressions of the organisation?

They immediately came across as a group of determined people wanting to improve their local community.

Since then, what have you found most interesting or impressive about the garden?

How the garden has continued to evolve from the initial concept 10 years ago to what it is today.

Bendigo Bank Tugun Branch's Maris Dirkx and SBCG friends
Bendigo’s Executive Assistant Maris Dirkx and SBCG friends

Do you find any similarities between the goals of your bank and the SBCG?

The goal of connecting with your local community & endeavouring to make a difference.

After so much involvement with the garden, what are your thoughts as you walk around the grounds that, over the years, you’ve had such a significant hand in helping to shape?

I believe it is the members who have had a significant hand in shaping the garden into what it is today. We have assisted where we can, but it is the determination and hard work of the committee and the members of the SBCG that has brought that concept 10 years ago into a reality.

Of Bendigo Bank’s Tugun Branch’s many contributions to the local community, is there one that makes you most proud? If so, which one and why?

I am proud of all our contributions in the community, whether that is in a dollar value, the sharing of knowledge or the volunteering of time. It’s not so much the contribution, but what it enables others to do, that makes a difference for our community.

Natalia Ribeiro

SBCG Faces in the Crowd–Natalia Ribeiro

It’s a rare morning you won’t find SBCG member Natalia Ribeiro tending to her diverse and vibrant garden bed. Plot number five to be exact. The one, fittingly enough, located just around the entrance to the SBCG propagation tunnel housing fledgling seedlings which, if they could talk, would surely tell you about wanting to look just like the plants on their door step when they grow up.

It’s the plot managing to grow coffee, pawpaw, Thai basil, various chilli plants, mint, tarragon, bitter melon, arrowroot, okra, various lettuces and, no doubt, a wide

Natalia Ribeiro
Natalia & her Pawpaw

assortment of other unique fruits, flowers and veggies that might look familiar but whose names don’t exactly leap off the tongue.

And while you might not know the names of everything growing in garden bed number 5, one look will tell you the person responsible for such a prolific plot has invested more than just a bit of their time and effort into that space.

And you’d be very right.

But probably not for the reasons you might think.

For Natalia Ribeiro, you see, her raised garden bed is more than the mere sum of its many bountiful parts. It’s a portal of sorts. A connection to her past. A past that, until she and half of her eleven brothers and sisters emigrated to Portugal in 1974, saw Natalia grow up on her family’s vast farm in East Timor.

So all that said, in what we hope will be the first of many ongoing ‘Faces in the Crowd’ posts to come, here’s Natalia’s take on all things gardening.

How long have you been a SBCG member and how did you first get into gardening?

East Timor Plantation
The Ribeiro family farm in East Timor. A labour of love.

I joined the SBCG back around 2010. I was walking by and saw the area and immediately went in and started asking questions. As for how I got into gardening, that’s a bit of a long story. I guess you could say it’s in my blood. My father took over the family farm in East Timor from my grandparents. It was more a ranch than a farm and we had everything on it. Livestock of all sorts and we grew all our fruit and vegetables. We were completely self-sufficient with the only thing we had to buy from the store being toiletries. My favourite memory of the place was sitting on our big veranda waiting for my father to come home from the fields. I’d see him in his loaded up truck and I’d get so excited to see him every time. I lived there until the age of nine. It was then, when my father decided things were getting too dangerous, that me and half my twelve brothers and sisters moved to Lisbon, Portugal. He ran that farm for 61 years before my oldest brother took over.

What do you find most rewarding about gardening?

Like was probably the case with my father, I find the most satisfying aspect of gardening being able to grow my own fruits and vegetables and being able to harvest and bring them home. I’m proud to be able to say what I produce allows me to cook a delicious meal for my family.

What mistakes do you feel new gardeners make?

I think too many new gardeners underestimate the amount of work which is often necessary to produce and maintain a really healthy and productive garden over time.

They come in to it all very excited to get a garden bed and for the first few months—especially when the weather is cooperating—everything seems perfect. But later, whether it’s their busy life outside the garden or whatever, they start to neglect things. Add long periods with little to no rain and failing to get their garden sufficient amounts of water only seems to make the issue worse. A garden can be a lot of responsibility. I don’t think a lot of new gardeners understand that.

East Timor family photo
Natalia, bottom row (on right) with older sisters and baby brother

What’s your favourite fruit/veggie/flower to grow and why?

I’d have to say pau pau is my favourite because it’s so healthy and it grows year round. Back in East Timor we ate it all the time green or ripe. We used all the parts of it, too. The leaves, the flowers. Everything. My father planted a big patch of it and I remember he used to sit on our veranda eating it with a spoon in the afternoons.

What’s an aspect of gardening you struggle with and why?

I know a lot of people will probably say the heat but, to be honest, I’m pretty used to it. I suppose East Timor prepared me for it and I just really enjoy being outside tending to my plot and the other common areas. I usually arrive very early in the morning and am gone before things get too hot anyway. That way I do what I need to do in the garden and I still have plenty of time for other things I like to do like going to the beach.

What’s your favourite all natural fertilizer and why?

Although we have access to composted material in the garden, I still prefer grass clippings. The clippings are natural and generally in an abundant supply. I sometimes find bits of discarded plastic in the compost bins which kind of ruins everything for me. It might seem nit-picky, but I’m just all for the grass clippings.

What’s the best way to convince a young person gardening is a viable activity?

Leading by example in an enthusiastic manner is probably the best way. That way it’s easier to explain how much fun gardening can be while having them help you with various projects around the garden, like watering.

If you were a politician with clout on the Gold Coast, what gardening related initiatives would you put in place?

Natalia's Parents
Mr. and Mrs. Ribeiro

I would probably want to start an educational program in the area that focused more on recycling. Because it seems like a lot of people don’t have a really good idea about what can and cannot be recycled or composted.

If you could swap out your gardening ability with another skill or hobby, what would it be and why?

One of biggest dreams of mine has always been to be a real qualified chef. I’ve always been pretty good at creating healthy meals for my family but to be a chef would let

me take things to a whole other level. Plus, being a chef would allow me to really capitalise on my knowledge of plants and vegetables.

What’s the most memorable tip anyone’s ever given you pertaining to gardening?

Of course the most memorable tip I’ve received about gardening was from my father. He just always used to say that to have a beautiful and healthy garden you really just have to be committed to it and to believe.