Grecian Sandwell

Photo by Simon Clarkson

Grecian is Perth born (1947) and bred. Her mother operated her own businesses (a cake shop then a furniture business) at a time when there were few other working mothers. Her father was a labourer and lab assistant and worked for the navy. He had a big influence on Grecian’s lifelong interest in plants and gardening. Grecian describes her father as easy going and helpful to others, and her mother as very hard working, stern but fair.

Grecian sees her skills as being very hands on (she says that school was difficult because she’s “never been very good at sitting still and letting words in”) – given a manual, she can work out how to use complicated electronic instruments, and to fix them where necessary. Grecian is an accomplished artist, who uses her skills in building small and intricate assemblages.

Her first job, at 16, was both exciting and scary. In those days – early 1960s – “conditions in factories were appalling”. Grecian remembers supervisors kicking women workers, and women were working for less money than men. At one time, Grecian remembers going in to bat for the factory workers, and being told that if she valued her job, she would not interfere.

Grecian’s working life was primarily focused in technical and scientific areas. She started out as a lab assistant, in the days when analysis was mostly done using “wet chemistry”. Then she became a technician, and for many years worked in the grains industry. Grecian completed secondary education at night school.

Her working life gave her independence and a great deal of satisfaction.

The foreshore of Perth’s Canning River has been part of Grecian’s life since childhood. “In grade six I used to spend time down at the river, collecting specimens for a school project involving native aquatic flora and fauna, which were held in aquariums” she says.

Then 21 years ago she looked at the foreshore and didn’t like what she saw.

“I saw the invasive weeds and it upset my sensibilities, I didn’t like the look of it and I knew they spread quickly.”

So, after work, Grecian started going down to the foreshore and removing weeds. For about five years, Grecian would get home from work, collect her wheelbarrow, and head down to the foreshore to do weeding. During all that time, she was mostly ignored, and no one joined her.

Grecian says “I’ve always been a gardener, since I was about 10 years of age.” Grecian remembers seeing weeds in neighbours’ gardens, and taking the initiative to go over and remove them.

“I’ve always been aware of birds and animals, and I feel I have a naturalness when I’m in the environment”.

Finally, another couple living further along the river decided to form an environmental group focused on the river. This couple had an interest in politics, and in getting the Local Council to take more action to protect its values. In 1995-96 they formed Canning River Residents Environment Protection Association (Inc) (CRREPA).

Grecian went to the very first meeting, held in a school library. She came away from the meeting unsure about what was going on – local politicking seemed to dominate – and it took her about a year before she joined the group.

Asked why she joined, Grecian said that it was “a good cause, and you could see that you could be more effective as a group”. Grecian commented that CRREPA has significantly more women than men involved, but is not sure why that is the case.

Photo by Colma Keating

Her leadership role in CRREPA began 8 or so years ago. Grecian and Colma Keating (her partner) decided that CRREPA’s progress on rehabilitating the foreshore would be more effective if the 6km stretch near their home was broken into smaller areas. They then hoped to get people from each area to take on the role of leading each small group. Grecian started to coordinate all the groups and then began liaising between those groups and the City Council.

Since that time, there has been a huge amount of planting, working with the Council to stabilise the river banks, and of course weeding. Grecian became more active when she retired from her job in the grains industry about 6 years ago. She then had more time to plan for CRREPA activities, work on the foreshore during the week and organise many more onsite meetings with Council officers.

Click here  to listen to Grecian talking about her work with CRREPA (you can hear all the birds from Grecian’s wonderful garden in the background).

For Grecian and Colma, both being involved in CRREPA has pluses and minuses. “It’s nice to discuss what’s happened with CRREPA but we can get very caught up in what’s going on. It can take over.”

Grecian says “I’d actually like to step down as a group leader. People aren’t putting up their hand to be leader – a lot of people don’t want the bother of it. For younger people, with families, there’s just not enough time”.

Other members comment that Grecian’s biggest achievement has been to re-establish a more positive relationship with the local Council, so that CRREPA and Council can work more effectively together on river rehabilitation. Grecian’s teaching role is also well regarded – helping people to understand more about the natural environment of the Canning River.

Please comment with your stories about Grecian’s leadership.

About Jane Elix

I don't have enough bandwidth to deal with this
This entry was posted in Sandwell, Grecian, Women leaders in social change movements. Bookmark the permalink.

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