How you can help Melbournians in Stage 4 lockdown

Juggling balls
Credit: William Warby on Flickr (

Today is the first day that Melbournians are without childcare, babysitting, pet-sitting or other types of in-home support. It’s our second week for mandatory mask wearing, fourth week of remote learning for most school-age kids, and we can’t leave home after 8pm.

It is a particularly stressful time for those of us with caring responsibilities — young kids, elderly relatives, family members with special needs, even pets.

I’m lucky that my partner is able to share care with me. I offer my fervent well wishes to the single parents and those who need to shoulder the caring while their partner does essential work outside the home.

How can you help your Melbourne colleagues?

Shorter meetings — Can you default to 40 minutes instead of an hour? 20 instead of 30 minutes?

Delay non-essential meetings — We have six weeks of extreme juggling. Can the discussion wait six weeks?

Two days for notice — If you give us forewarning about meetings, we can do time trading with our household members.

Avoid the peak times:

  • 9:00-9:30am — When many of us are setting up for school
  • 12:30-13:30pm — Household lunch time. In the Melbourne office, we are actively discouraging lunch time meetings so that we can get some winter sun in the middle of the day.
  • 17:00-19:00 — AVOID! This can be peak household chaos.

Support our flexible working — More than ever, we need flexibility. You might get emails from us at 5am, 10pm or on the weekends. I myself am working afternoons and evenings, as I’m on kid duty in the morning. Others will be compressing their work week into four days. This is what we need to do to make life work so we appreciate your understanding.

The above ‘asks’ came from an office-wide group of carers during a meeting we held earlier this week. Please do ask your Melbourne colleagues if they appreciate any other kind of support.

What does business resilience look like during a global pandemic?

Image: Neil Thomas at Unsplash

Over the past few months, I have been wondering how an organisation actually prepares for a global pandemic. How many corporate strategic risk registers have now been updated with ‘pandemic’ or ‘black swan event’?

There’s one sure-fire way for organisations to endure a sustained loss of income: have lots of cash lying around.

“It’s no accident… The other airlines are loaded up in debt. They have no choices. We have more than a billion in cash, so we have all kinds of options.”

Having a strong balance sheet is how Working Heritage has thrived during COVID-19. It’s how we’re able to proactively offer rent relief to our tenants, and have been able to go ahead with major infrastructure projects like Jack’s Magazine. We are doing our bit to hold up the Victorian economy.

Yet, I wouldn’t recommend every organisation to hold onto six months worth of cash in case of an extraordinary event. That money needs to be out there driving innovation, keeping people employed, and delivering valued services.

The Guardian had an article today that helped me connect some dots. Some countries — Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam — have navigated COVID-19 remarkably well, despite not having the resources of Australia, the UK and the United States. Clear messaging has proved essential. To quote NUS Prof Dale Fisher, chair of the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network at the World Health Organization:

“When you have any country with a weak leadership then people get confused. They’re not sure what to do and who to believe, and then you legitimise ignorance…”

Our businesses, community service organisations, corporations exist within society. They will bounce back when society purposefully and cohesively responds to the pandemic — together we will string up the safety net and overcome the peak as fast as possible.

Systemic and pervasive shocks and stresses like pandemic, like climate change, shouldn’t be (only) the responsibility of individual organsations to be ready for. We are all invested in the resilience of our society. It’s the difference between a business trying to survive two months of lockdown, or six months.

How does an organisation update its business continuity plan for global pandemic? By working constructively and proactively towards a resilient and just society.

Why I’m emailing you at uncivil hours

Image: Peter Pryharski on Unsplash

Sometimes I send work emails at 5:30 in the morning or 11:00 at night.

There are many reasons why I work odd hours and it’s not because I’m working long hours. I usually get to work around 9:15am and try to leave by 4:30pm. This allows me to:

  • Feed the kids their breakfast at daycare without feeling rushed.
  • Have a breakfast date with my husband once every few months.
  • Get changed and run home so that I can get some time-efficient exercise in.
  • Pick up the kids by 5pm.

I also have a governance role at Working Heritage so I sometimes duck out of my day job at Arup to go to meetings.

Having done fewer than the standard hours in the office, I might do bits and pieces at night. For bigger tasks, I work best in the morning so that usually means getting up at 5am.

My first child will start school next year and I will be making even more use of this flexibility. I’m thankful Arup’s culture and technology enables it.

So the mystery is solved. Please don’t feel like you have to reply at 11pm or on the weekend. I hope your workplace supports you to work in the way you like.

What’s your preference? Safeguard your home life from work to get balance? Or weave them together?

Long arms

Mia screeched, ‘Help! Mummy, help!’

‘Help what?’ I said.

‘Want to get those boxes over there!’ Mia was on her hands and knees, pointing deep under her bed.

‘Oh, I can’t reach, Mia. Only daddy can get those boxes. He has long arms. I have short arms.’

Hearing this, Mia sat back and was quiet. Then she shouted, ‘Mr Tickle!’

She jumped up and grabbed Mr Tickle from the top of her toybox. Then she threw herself under the bed, legs sticking out, and the sound of her straining to reach something.

Then I heard, ‘I did it! I did it!’ and two boxes were ejected out from under the bed.

Mr Tickle, a bright orange stuffed toy with long arms and a blue hat, is sitting in a toy cradle.
Mia’s Mr Tickle toy is rather large.


Toddler Mia pointed up at a poster in the reception of the physiotherapist.

‘What’s she doing, mummy?’

‘She’s running, Mia,’ I said. ‘Running is healthy. People often run after they’ve done something unhealthy.’

Mia’s eyes widened and she gasped, ‘She ate chocolate!’

A girl runs across a green field.
Why do we run? (Image by Julia Raasch)

Ground truthing

This is right outside my office. You’ve probably seen such markings on the ground before, although maybe not at this density. These markings show where services (electricity, gas, telecommunications) are.

Although there are written records of service locations, someone always has to check in person before any digging happens. This is called ‘ground truthing’.

It struck me that these markings could be beautiful and meaningful, reminding me of Aboriginal dot painting.

Am I an engineering geek if I think service location markings are beautiful?

Welcome to the world of cloth nappies

Buying cloth nappies is a complicated business. There are many different styles, different materials and brands. Prices vary from dirt cheap ($2 a nappy) through to insane ($50+ for a custom nappy. Yes, there are such things as custom nappies.).

The first time I bought cloth nappies, I spent around $14 a nappy. Unfortunately, these nappies started leaking regularly and falling apart. Within a few months, the retailer had sent some replacements that failed again. I’d say by the time Mia was a toddler, she was in cloth nappies half the time, disposables the other half, and we were doing a lot of laundry.

A pile of cloth nappies on a blue sofa. The nappies are brand new and in solid colours.
These are the cloth nappies that Mia used for 2 years.

I have since found out that these nappies have a reputation. They are identical to the dirt cheap generic nappies, but someone has rebadged them and inflated the price. Really, I got the worst of all worlds. Cheap product, high price.

The experience undermined my ability to recommend cloth nappies to anyone. However, in my nappy research for Lana, I have learned that good quality nappies:

  • Do not leak
  • Last overnight
  • Last beyond one child and can be resold to recover much of the upfront cost
  • Look completely different to the ones I had first bought

So here is the new nappy stash. These are handcrafted in Australia, made of bamboo and come in ‘everyday’ and ‘night’ versions. I paid around $25 per nappy, which is a very good price for a handcrafted nappy.

A pile of colourful and black cloth nappies on a white couch. The nappies are new. Some are smooth and some are furry.
These nappies fit both Lana (newborn) and Mia (toddler). Mia uses them only for nights now, as she is day toilet trained, YES!

I hope to write more about the environmental and cost implications of using cloth nappies. The benefits of cloth over disposable are not clear cut (unless you buy renewable energy and use your nappies for more than one child). There is also a lot to be said about the cloth nappy community (yes, there is such a thing) and the clash of cloth nappy cultures (yes!! There is an ongoing war at the heart of the cloth nappy community).

Bottom line: Budget for around $18-30 a nappy. That’s how much a good quality nappy costs. It will save you a lot of heartache and laundry to buy nappies that don’t leak.

If that sounds too costly to you, have a think about the cost of disposables over the 2+ years that your children will be in nappies. Think about doing cloth nappies part time. Also, seriously consider buying second hand. The second hand cloth nappy market is huge on Facebook. If you want help linking up to the right groups in Australia, get in touch.

Be an ally

Two people standing on railway tracks next to each other. The tracks travel into the distance. Sky is gray and trees have lost their leaves.
Make the journey as an ally of those who have to fight harder than you to get through each day. (Image by Jonathan Pendleton)
I am making the effort to engage people who make racist, sexist or other bigoted comments within my social sphere.

A few months ago, I joined an online babwearing group, which has conversations about social justice and racism as part of babywearing.

Although I have a deep education in sustainability, it is more than fair to say that I come at it from an environmental and economic background. Social justice is the last part of the ‘triple bottom line’ for me to actively engage with.

It’s been a terrifyingly steep learning curve, grappling with (in the order of my self-education):

  1. Tone policing — No, We Won’t Calm Down – Tone Policing Is Just Another Way to Protect Privilege
  2. Cultural appropriation — What’s Wrong With Cultural Appropriation? These 9 Answers Reveal Its Harm
  3. Privilege — The day I checked my privilege
  4. Racism — Walking While Black and I, Racist
  5. Roots of racism in the US — I used to lead tours at a plantation. You won’t believe the questions I got about slavery.
  6. Being an ally for marginalised people — Allyship

Most of the articles I’ve linked here are beautifully written (or drawn) and I encourage you to read them (particularly number 3 and 6).

My eyes are open to injustice now. The news is full of the leaders oblivious to the advantages they’ve had through life. All the models at the optometry shop are white. All the babies in parenting magazines are white. Friends of friends on Facebook are making, ‘I’m not racist, but…’ comments.

It’s Facebook comments that I’m tackling first. I’m not an activist by nature so it takes me a lot of energy to engage in difficult conversations.

Damjan asked me, ‘Is it worth spending your energy on this?’ What I realised was that I have the privilege of answering that question with ‘No,’ and walking away. If I were Aboriginal, Muslim, disabled, transgender, suffering a mental health illness or fat, I would be forced to face in the worst of human nature on the internet and in the real world every day. Bigotry and barriers would come looking for me.

It is unfair that the people targeted with hostility are the ones who have to fight it.

As we tell our children in anti-bullying programs, ‘Don’t be a bystander. Be an upstander. So I’m starting to do my bit in my little corner of the internet.’ I’m getting ready to do it in real life too, as my maternity leave is ending and I leave my home bubble.

Here’s what I particularly need to be conscious of as I try to be a better ally.

  • Create space for the people who don’t normally get to speak so that they can be heard — I talk a lot in all settings and I need to shut up and use my influence to allow marginalised voices in. Amplify their messages by repeating them word-for-word or pointing to those voices. Resist the urge to ‘improve’ the story.
  • Give weight to people’s experiences — Science and law is the language of debate in my household and workplace. But marginalised people have experiences that are real, important, and not codified in formal systems. I have to listen to these perspectives with an open mind.
  • Accept negative emotions as part of the message — Anger and frustration is central to the experiences of marginalised people. Listen to these emotions without asking that people strip their messages into the neutral technical language I’m used to.
  • Look for and accept criticism — I participate unconsciously in systematic discrimination every day. I need to be able to accept criticism without feeling defensive.