Our Elders profile series: Dorin Hart

Dorin Hart. Photo Bruce Jacups
Dorin Hart. Photo Bruce Jacups

My father was a gardener and I grew up on country estates in the Cotswolds. I was the first generation in my family to go to university.

In 1963, aged 21, I emigrated to Australia with my husband, who'd been snapped up by the public service in Canberra.

Three of my friends and I got our Australian citizenship at the same time and celebrated with a big bonfire. We all threw something on the fire that we could give up from our former land. I threw a plum, the 'plum in the mouth' - the posh English accent.

A Sydney friend told me she was going north to a "big meeting about buying some land to be a community". It was 1981 and the place was Bundagen - 94 hectares and 180 shareholders at $3000 each.

I thought, 'My children would never forgive me if I wasn't in this'.

Dorin Hart

I thought, "My children would never forgive me if I wasn't in this". I was 39 and had just resigned as a lecturer in human geography at Canberra University and was taking a break. My colleagues said, "But you've got tenure. You could be here, secure, until you're 65". I said, '"That's the problem!"

I didn't think I could live on a community, and in fact I've never been a Bundagen resident, although I was deeply involved. There were members who really needed a place to live and we wanted legality under the new multiple occupancy laws. There were families with 'ankle-biters' at Bundagen but no teenagers, so mine didn't want to live there. We moved into Bellingen for the high school.

I was able to live on the single-parent benefit and later the aged pension. This enabled me to not only spend time with my children but also become deeply involved in the creation of some really special community projects. The kinds of things one might say a government that is providing for people should do.

Dorin Hart. Photo Bruce Jacups

Dorin Hart. Photo Bruce Jacups

Through my involvement with Bundagen, I met Ralf Martin. He was a member of another local commune. He was quite a bit older and very experienced in social action; I thought he was wonderful. We had 13 years together before he died.

I had been taking multiple occupancy media releases into Bellingen's new community radio, 2TripleB FM. It had received a six-month grant to get local news started by employing an A-grade journalist, Peter Geddes, and two cadets. Peter called a meeting of everybody, including me, who'd ever brought in some local news. He said, "Now you are the news team".

Our local news came on after the high school show - Raw Radio - which involved two of my daughters and two of Gillie Adams' daughters. We recorded items and read scripts live to air, but had no idea how to do anything else. My daughter would stay on after Raw Radio and panel for us. It was terrifying but also wonderful: here was my 14-year-old in charge!

One of the things that really pulled me in was the hands-on training. Seeing the difference in even very shy people becoming competent. I was invited to join the board early on, and I enjoyed that too despite all the meetings. Group dynamics fascinate me. I then focused on developing and presenting training programs; especially after Ralf died I didn't feel like being out there any more.

I started to see then that's what we need to do, as we get older: pass on our skills. There's always someone who wants to be 'up there' bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and it's good to feel comfortable stepping back, supporting the people who are filling the space left.

In 2010 I won Bellingen Shire Council's 2009 Citizen of the Year. This was for the work I had contributed to 2TripleB since the mid-80s and also for the role I played when the studios had about 30cm of muddy floodwater pour through. Thanks to the station's little blue van and the hospitality of Carl Foster's garage, we were able to keep broadcasting from south of the river.

Unfortunately I wasn't here to accept my award because I was in the UK - at 102, my father had died unexpectedly, from a fall. It's such a shame my dad wasn't alive. He would have so enjoyed my local fame.

See also