Thursday, 22 March 2012

Libraries have something for everyone!

I mentioned last time that the first thing I do when I move somewhere new is join the library.

And haven't libraries changed?  No longer places of absolute quiet, they buzz with activity.
  • reading sessions for pre-schoolers, 
  • the after school rush when children come in to play games, do their homework and change their books,
  • people using computers, 
  • in some libraries the ability to watch DVDs, 
  • the quiet circle of people in armchairs reading the daily papers
  • and still in the background people searching for books to read at home.
It was quite a shock some years ago when I went into the hallowed halls of the State  Library of Victoria to find the floor full of computer desks: not a book in sight!  I had to retreat upstairs to the LaTrobe Reading Room (or Domed Reading Room as I knew it) which has been magnificently restored and looks like a Victorian linbrary, though it was built in the early Twentieth Century.  here there are book shelves, wooden desks with lamps and a hush.

Information now comes in so many forms that libraries have moved with the times.  It is no wonder that computers are now central to storing and making information available.  And libraries are no longer confined to set opening hours.  I can browse the catalogue of my local library (and the SLV) at home, make my choices, order my books and be notified when they are ready.  But more than that, I can have access to an electronic library from my computer as my library subscribes to many on-line resources from encyclopedias to magazines that I can read at home.

Libraries are also changing in function.  From being a repository of books to be used and generally lent out, libraries are now involved inpromoting the skills of reading, finding sources of information and making them available to the wider community, promoting book groups which are as much about reading as about social networks, sharing information about community issues and events, hosting writers' festivals and exhibitions, and from the written word have moved into many forms of media: music, film, spoken word.  I know how wonderful the Talking Book service is to the visually impaired.  And for those whose reading skills are limited, libraries are no longer a closed space, and those who read languages other than English are no longer excluded.

In the last blog I referred to the National Year of Reading.  Among the aims of this year is to
promote a reading culture in every home; and  to establish a goal for families, of parents and caregivers sharing books with their children every day. So go to your local library, join in the activities an help achieve the goals.  And do look at the State Library website: it is a wonderful community resource (  And if you are in the city, a visit to the exhibition Love and Devotion from Persia and Beyond is a magical experience.

I was passing a school recently and there was a sign on the fence about a new buiding: the Learning Resource Centre.  I think that means a library, but is an attempt to get beyong the word which is after all derived from the Latin "liber" meaning book.  But it seems a pity to lose the connection with this origin.  It is comforting and intimate to hold a book in your hand, but an ebook is much easier when I am travelling!

I love to read...

I read the other day that it's the National Year of Reading, and thought ho, hum.  I love to read.

But then on the year website ( I was shocked to read the following:

Nearly half the population struggles without the literacy skills to meet the most basic demands of everyday life and work. There are 46% of Australians who can't read newspapers; follow a recipe; make sense of timetables, or understand the instructions on a medicine bottle.

I knew that indigenous literacy is an issue but hadn't realised how widespread the problem was in the broader community.  I know many migrants, particularly older ones and those from countries were schooling is not available also have problems, but the figure 46% is staggering.

I was lucky.  Somehow I had taught myself to read by the time I started school and was soon taken by a neighbour's child to join the local library.  The 'Children's Library' that is.  Where hands were inspected for cleanliness, and where  I was permitted to borrow 2 books at a time.  A new world opened.  Most of the children's books at that time were set in England but somehow my mind seemed to skip over the differences as I entered these new realms that opened up before me.  Animal tales, adventures, school stories, fairies, witches, fantasy...books about strange places, encyclopedias containing everything about everything, dictionariesAll stimulated my imagination, thirst to understand how and why, and provided a colourful environment that a rigid school system couldn't give.

And through the years reading has continued to give me great pleasure.  Whenever I've moved somewhere new one of my first tasks has been to locate and join the local library.  In London I even belonged to the library that then existed at Harrods!  And I've joined the electronic age with an e-reader which is wonderful when I travel, as I no longer have to carry a case full of books so have more room for shopping.  

I can't imagine a house without books and I can't imagine not having at least one book by my bed.  Sometimes I have two or three on the go at once.  These days I mostly read what could be described as literary fiction, mysteries, a bit of 'chick lit', travellers' tales and biographies.  More and more I find I'm reading about the experiences of children and women living in different countries, both novels and biographies, and often in translation.  I suspect this is a result of travel, which only touches the surface leaving me wondering about day to day life.  

I read for enjoyment, and if I can't 'get into' a book I'll give up, sometimes returning at another time.  I read for escape when life is stressed.  I read when I have spare time: flying and holidays. 

And when I've enjoyed a book, I love to pass it on, either the book itself, or if it's a library book, then the recommendation.  Many of my friends are readers, and our tastes often overlap. Not identical, but with enough in common so that we can share the enjoyment.

But to go back to that comment that 46% of Australians can't read sufficiently to meet the needs of everyday life.  Not only are they closed from a world of pleasure, the ability to gain basic information is also absent, making them dependent on others, relying on memory, being cut off from something that the other 54% of us take for granted.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Nurses: worth their weight in gold!

I want to salute the victory in the dispute about pay and conditions by the Australian Nursing Federation Victoria Branch last week after a long fight and industrial action.  It was also a victory for women, since nursing is still a female dominated profession and I think that is why governments and hospital administrators believe they can order them around.

When Florence Nightingale set about taking nursing from the Dickensian image of gin soaked Sarah Gamps, to a modern profession she set a high standard.  Nurses learnt on the job, entering a rigid, almost military hierarchy, as humble probationers and, for a very fortunate few, ending as matron.  Promotion was hard earned, hours were long, rules were rigid, conformity was essential and there was no room for initiative.  Nurses were expected to give their lives to tending the sick: they lived in nurses' homes (on the hospital premises) and even there were subject to rules and regulations.  They might have met, and in later years, married doctors, but if they did, they could not continue to nurse.

Fortunately there have been many changes: hospital training has been replaced by university training, the hierarchy is less rigid and status is not marked by changes in uniform colour and style, nurses' homes have closed and their time off can be spent as they please, and with whom they please.  And the pay and conditions have improved greatly.

I have seen nursing from both sides.

As a child/young person, I spent more time than I wanted in hospital, but it was this experience that moulded my choice of career.  When I started to train at the Royal Children's Hospital, it was in the 'new' hospital in Parkville, the last word in modernity, replacing the old hospital I knew so well in Rathdown Street Carlton.  Now the newest version of the hospital has been opened!

As a young student nurse I 'lived in', meeting a group of other trainees, many of whom remain among my closest friends.  We worked, ate, lived together; we supported each other through the challenges of learning, dealing with doctors, the nursing hierarchy and patients.  We knew each other's boyfriends, we met each other's families, we went to parties together.  I know even now, if there was a crisis in the middle of the night, I could call on these women to help.

More recently I have been in hospital  to give birth and to have various surgical procedures and I have again encountered nurses caring for me.  Most of the hospital trained nurses of my generation have retired, but they have been replaced by a new generation of caring people, often carrying out highly technical procedures, as well as the old routine of bedpans, sick bowls, observation taking, and being there in the middle of the night when the pain might be bad, when spirits are low and a quiet reassuring word, and perhaps a cup of tea are the best medicine.

Sometimes I miss the old skills to make beds so they don't end up wrinkled, or adjust pillows to be comfortable, but I'm sure Florence Nightingale would still recognise these modern practitioners as worthy heirs to the profession she reformed.

Royal Children's Hospital, 1967

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Bullying: No way

Bullying has finally hit community consciousness, and schools in particular are doing a great job in educating children and young people and by maintaining a zero tolerance for bullying behaviours.

But bullying still exists.

It comes from the holders of power in any situation exercising that power to oppress those perceived as different;

Different in race, colour, gender, beliefs, size, physical appearance, ability or disability, sexuality, status...just different.

Bullying can be
  • physical - hitting, pinching punching
  • verbal - teasing, put downs, spreading rumours
  • social - excluding
  • threatening
It can be done directly, face to face or indirectly by social media, and even by laws

It has can be a one-off or can continue over a period of time.

But it needs to be stopped.

Power differentials are part of life.

Parents are more powerful than children, but when that power is used to scream abuse, to put a child down, or to physically hurt a child: it is bullying.

Groups are generally more powerful than individuals but when a child or young person is deliberately excluded from games or social networks: it is bullying.

Men are generally more powerful than women,physically and often economically, but when women are passed over for promotion by the 'boys' club', or abused constantly by their partners: it is bullying.

And bullying is apparent in the way the dominant culture in our country treats new migrants, asylum seekers and worst of all, boat people.

So how do we change the culture of bullying?

Firstly we recognise it and describe the behaviours as bullying.

We work to recognise the rights of all people to feel safe, and to have their differences respected.

We learn to resolve conflict in a calm, positive way where all parties feel heard, and where the parties are helped to find a solution that they can all live with.

We encourage in our children a positive attitude to themselves and those around them, teach them to be assertive, not aggressive and encourage them to get help when they feel unsafe.

We need to continue to pressure all levels of government to respect all people, and to protect them by their policies and by legislation.

We may not be able to stamp out bullying overnight, but the process needs to start
  • in our homes
  • in our childcare centres, kindergartens, schools, junior sports clubs
  • in our community, in the media, sports clubs
  • at a governmental level: local, state, federal and international.
Today is the National Day against Bullying and Violence.
Find out more at

Monday, 12 March 2012

Developing Professional Nannies

Today might be Moomba, but to oldies like me, it's Labor Day and began as a celebration of the world's first agreement to the slogan '8 hours work, 8 hours recreation and 8 hours rest'.

Today many people have much longer working days, while others are fortunate enough to have a 35 or 37 hours week.

When I first became involved with nannies, I was determined to see workers who were well trained, and adequately paid.

There were various images of home based child care.
  • Mary Poppins, coming in and magically 'fixing up' children
  • the old family retainer who was employed when the first baby was born and lived with the family for years, until all the children were well grown, and probably acting as nanny for their children as well
  • the 'au pair' who lived with family, helping out with the children while learning English, and probably flirting with the father along the way
  • the little old lady from down the street who sat in a corner knitting while the children played
I wanted to help produce a new breed of nannies: professionally trained, working for families for a set number of hours, and living independently, not in a room of the family home where there is no real possibility of 'down time'.

I believe that looking after other people's children is important, and needs to be done by those who care about children, and who have a good knowledge of child development and appropriate activities (play, creativity, learning, rest, cleanliness etc etc..).

But looking after children in someone's home is even more specialised.  When I started a nanny school in 1992, I focussed on the areas of competence that nannies would need to do this work.  This is not the same as working in a child care centre where there are other staff to give support and help with the role.

Being a nanny is a very responsible role and as I moved into the employment area I thought it only right that nannies should be paid a wage commensurate with their skills and responsibilities. I am however a realist, and one of the realities is that the money to pay a nanny comes from a family's income so a balance needs to be struck.

At the Agency, one of our roles is to match families and nannies, to help them to work out the details of contracts, and usually to take on the employment role which means that nannies are taxed, superannuation is paid on their behalf, leave is organised, and of course families are invoiced.  In the matching and negotiating process it is our role to ensure both parties have realistic expectations of themselves and each other.  It is not easy for a parent to leave a child in someone else's care, nor is it easy nannies who are often not experienced in dealing with people whose working life is all high powered decision making.  The agency is also there to help resolve any issues that arise during the course of employment.

I'm also committed to nannies receiving on-going training to enhance their skills.  Unlike many workers whose training takes place during working hours, training for home based workers has to be on Saturdays and is not paid, so it is always pleasing to see such good attendance and high level of commitment from those who come. Our next training day is Saturday May 5 and will focus on safety and security. Training is free of charge to all Susan Rogan nannies.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Gran, when you were young a long, long time ago...?

The question got me thinking and talking to friends.

Yes it was a long, long time ago, especially by 4 year old standards, though not to me....

But remember when:
  • the milk man at night, and baker by day, home delivered, with a horse and cart, the horse stopping and starting automatically on its rounds
  • before supermarkets, grocer's and their assistants served you, weighing up and measuring out, packaging in brown paper; and if you were lucky there would be half a pound of broken biscuits in a brown paper bag
  • you went to one of the city department stores (no Chadstones, Highpoints etc) and your goods were wrapped in brown paper, tied up with string, and could be home delivered that day or the next, at no extra cost
  • shopping was carried in string bags which could stretch greatly and often touched the ground by the time you got home
  • the butcher used to give away bones for the dog
  • the wonderful gizmo in shops with your money and the bill  in a cylinder was whizzed off to the cashier who whizzed back the change
  •  banks used passbooks and you could see your deposits growing, or fading
  •  banks issued metal money boxes which you put pennies, or if you were very lucky threepences in, and when they were full you took them back, the bottom was unlocked, money counted and added to the total in your passbook, then you got the money box back to start again
  • pounds, shillings and pence were the currency, but children never saw pounds, pennies were as big as 20 cent pieces, but we all knew our 12 times tables because 12 pennies made a shilling...
  • 12 inches made a foot, with our heights being measured and dated on the architrave around the kitchen door
  • the iceman delivered big blocks of ice for the icebox, carrying it in from the street wrapped in hessian on his shoulder, and if you were lucky you might get a sliver of ice chipped off on a hot day
  • you had a school uniform, a set of best clothes for church or visiting, and possibly a party dress but few other clothes.
  • jumpers and cardigans were usually hand knitted, from wool, and often there were handmedowns through the family
  • we walked or caught public transport because we didn't have a car
  • phone numbers were a mix of letters and numbers, but most houses didn't have a phone which meant there were public phones in the street which you always checked on passing in case the last user hadn't taken their money
I'm not sure that they were necessarily the good old days but they were simpler times, and the kids marvel at how deprived we were, but we didn't think so.

Monday, 5 March 2012

I got out a handbag I hadn't used since last year and found a pair of 'just in case' knickers from when my granddaughter was being toilet trained.

That set me thinking about how much life changes when we have children (and grandchildren).

Suddenly there is a new life, totally dependent on us, and particularly so if we are breast feeding.  Our time is not completely our own.  Our lives are not completely our own, and nor are our handbags.

Fortunately, fathers these days are often more involved in the lives of their children, and many grandmothers smile to see babies strapped to the chests of the men they see shopping.

Still, however, surveys show that many women still take the major role in the care of children as well as doing the housework and often working outside the home.

A poll by Galaxy Research quoted in this morning's Age said mothers in their early 30's reported the least amount of "me time", a mere 33 minutes per day.  As I said, a mother's time is no longer her own!

Wendy Tuohy, in this morning's Herald Sun, writes of Posh Spice/Victoria Beckham admitting that she finds the combination of work and parenting exhausting. And no doubt she has plenty of household staff to assist her. Tuohy goes on to say that contemporary mothers are under more pressure than previously to have it all, and be it all, by the superstars who give the impression that it is easy to be a working mother.

There has certainly been a growth in the number of parents who are finding that their expectations are very different from the reality they experience, no doubting contributing to the increase in post natal depression.

I can't help feeling we had it easy as parents.  While we all wanted our children to be seen as well behaved and special, we had nothing like the bombardment of information on how to raise the perfect child.  We chose between breastfeeding and formula, with militants arrayed on each side, but generally we just got on and did our best. We had support from grandparents and extended family but now they are still working, or off travelling.

The spread of our cities has also made life difficult.  Friends and family can be an hour away.  Mothers work until almost the day they give birth and know few people in their local areas.  New housing developments are often under resourced in public transport, access to Maternal and Child Health Centres and play groups require families to have a second car or miss out.  It can be lonely being at home all day with a baby or young children.  Childcare is not necessarily readily available, or affordable when mothers need to return to work. 

I have every sympathy for young parents today. And I'm always delighted to hear parents say: "I just love being with the children" even if they have their occasional whinges about the drudgery.

Friday, 2 March 2012

I have to start somewhere!

March has started and the year is well under way.

People have suggested for years that I write an occasional blog, drawing on my work:
  • as a nurse,
  • midwife, 
  • Maternal and Child Health nurse, 
  • running a nanny school, and more recently, 
  • as the founder of Melbourne's premier nanny agency.
But there is more to my life than work:
  • family, including my very special grandchildren,
  • travel,
  • clothes, 
  • reading,
  • good food and wine.
No doubt my ramblings will draw inspiration from all these sources as well as the events of the day.

To start on a topical note, the release of the Cummins Report into Child Protection has raised the issue of mandating kindergarten teachers and child care workers, ie requiring them to report sexual abuse and serious physical abuse.  The Government has yet to decide which recommendations from the report it will implement, as well as how and when.  There are certainly issues with how well the current system functions in dealing with the large number of reports of abuse at the present time, let alone mandating more workers.  If this recommendation is implemented, however, it may ensure earlier intervention in families where abuse is an issue, and get help for children at a younger age.  Rest assured, if mandatory reporting is introduced for child care workers, we will ensure all our staff are adequately trained and supported.

But let's keep perspective.  

In all my years of professional experience (and I admit to over 40 years), this has rarely been an issue, and I do not expect that to change.

On a related note there was a story in this morning's Age about Jayneen Sanders an author and primary teacher who has written a book for young children about 'protective behaviours', an approach to the issue of sexual abuse, without using that very powerful term.  The Protective Behaviours program teaches children to demand respect for their bodies and to develop a list of 5 trusted adults they can talk to about anything that is worrying them.  Consequently the children are encouraged  to report inappropriate touching, tickling etc to these trusted people.  The program has been around for many years and is useful in helping children to communicate their fears about a range of issues, not just abuse.  Jayneen's book is called Some Secrets Should Never be Kept.

On a much lighter note, I'm going to see Miriam Margolyes in her wondefully well reviewed show Dickens' Women this weekend, so next time should be much lighter.