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.