We know her as the wonderfully organised and talented Camden Haven Music Festival Coordinator, but now Alvena Ferguson has been recognised as an official ‘Hidden Treasure’ for her volunteer work.
Tell us a bit about yourself …
In 1994 with my husband Ian, I made the tree change and settled in Lorne, west of Kendall, where we bought a farm, running cattle and operating a B&B. It was not retirement though; I think we worked harder than we ever had before! But we made wonderful friends, and the Lorne community is very close and supportive.
In Sydney I had a senior management role with Lend Lease Corporation as their Corporate Services Manager, with responsibility for payrolls, company cars, superannuation and other employee benefits and programs. It was a job I loved and where I made many good lifetime friends.
How long have you lived in Laurieton, and what originally led to you relocating there?
We sold our farm last year and moved to Laurieton, so now we are making the transition back to suburban living. While I miss my cows and the green open spaces of the Lorne valley, Laurieton is a delightful place to live – big enough to find anything you want but small enough to know lots of people.
In fact a trip to do the shopping can take up to half a day, by the time you meet friends and neighbours and ‘shoot the breeze’, as they say.
How did you first become involved with community work?
In Sydney I had been a Lifeline counsellor, which I found a life-changing experience. Lifeline training is beneficial to anyone, because of the skills of listening, being non-judgemental and tolerant that it teaches you.
Following on from Lifeline, I worked as a volunteer with an organisation called Ankali, which supported people living with HIV-Aids. This was in the early ‘80s, when a diagnosis was a certain death sentence.
I had many wonderful clients and lots of sad times too, with young people suffering and leaving us; but again, you see that remarkable human spirit shine through people, often when they are facing their darkest times.
Somewhat more light-hearted was my time spent teaching English to migrants, mainly from South Korea. I used to do that straight from work when I often started out tired after a stressful day in the corporate whirlpool. But then it was such fun and so rewarding to help people who were not able to understand a word of English, over time progressing and settling right in to the Australian way of life.
After we moved here, I thought I’d take a break and concentrate on the cattle cross-breeding program that I had devised for the farm, but a Sydney friend who had moved here before us persuaded me to join the Camden Haven Arts Council. That’s how I got involved in community arts.
You’re probably most well-known for your work with the Camden Haven Music Festival. How did your involvement with this event come about?
In 1999 I stepped in when the Festival Coordinator was unavailable due to family illness. I thought it was a great organisation and a wonderful community initiative, to bring world-class Australian musicians to perform locally. We didn’t have the wealth of choice in entertainment and cultural activities that are now available in our area.
One thing led to another, and a year later when the Coordinator wished to move on to other interests, I took it on. Again, it was to be for one year only while we looked for the ‘right ‘ person for the job … now I am still in the role, and we are coming up to our 16th Festival!
What jobs / duties do you perform as part of your community work?
I put together the program of events for approval by the management committee.
Then I negotiate fees, repertoire, presentation etc. with the performers, decide on venues, source sponsorships and grants, look after the publicity and marketing, contract and manage the production specialists and generally see that we present a first class Festival that will wow our audiences.
Every so often I dream up some wild scheme, like the Laurieton Lantern Parade last year, which turned out to be one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.
As well as managing the Festival, I am Publicity Officer for the Camden Haven Chamber of Commerce Industry and Tourism, as well as for the Camden Haven Arts Council.
How do you find the time to fit all these tasks into your schedule? You must be a master planner!
Well, I am not a musician, even though I have spent years involved with organisations that focus largely on music. But I am a good organiser and time manager, which seems to come naturally to me.
Quite often I’ve noticed that the skills of management and creativity do not go hand in hand, which I think is why most creative people require good managers to keep them grounded in the nitty gritty of their creative lives.
You’ve been awarded a tremendous accolade recently, being the only Mid North Coast nominee on the 2010 Hidden Treasures Honour Roll. What exactly is this Honour Roll?
The State Government deserves congratulations for initiating the Hidden Treasures Honour Roll, to recognise the work that women volunteers do in their communities: work that is often unremarked and unnoticed and often in isolated and deprived areas of the state.
NSW has over 1.7 million volunteers, many of them women, and this accolade is a way of acknowledging the contributions they make to their communities and to their State.
What does this recognition mean to you personally?
I was very surprised and humbled when I read nominees and the work some of these women are doing. While a few are young, many of them are quite old ladies, and this accolade has come following a lifetime of community service. I’m a junior in the ranks compared to some of these women.
What rewards do you get from being a community volunteer?
I believe nothing helps you belong in a place like being involved with its community. Not everyone can be a ‘doer’, but if you can make a small contribution of your time – so valuable in our busy society, the rewards are tremendous and help to keep you well, vibrant and engaged.
What do you see as the future of Laurieton and the Greater Port Macquarie region in general?
Of course it is inevitable that the area will grow, but I guess all of us who live here would like it to maintain its friendliness and unspoiled beauty.
When we ran our B&B at Lorne, we used to take visitors on trips around the hinterland and coast –and that is really beneficial to do every now and then … you see our own place through the eyes of others. That’s when you realise what a special place we live in.
What do you like to do in your spare time – if you have any?
Apart from reading, gardening and nurturing family and friends, I love to do Granny duty for my 8-year-old granddaughter, who lives in Port Macquarie. Grace is wonderful company, and we have some good times together. Oh, and I enjoy a glass of red occasionally too!
Where to from here … do you plan to keep up your volunteer efforts for as long as possible?
I hope to keep making a contribution and encouraging others to do so too. With our large retired population, we have access to a vast array of skills that people have brought with them, and that can be very enriching for those people and those they help.
Thank you Alvena – and congratulations on your nomination for the Hidden Treasures Honour Roll. It’s well-deserved!
The Hidden Treasures Honour Roll is a joint project between the Rural Women’s Network (I&I NSW), the Centre for Volunteering and the NSW Office for Women’s Policy.
The Honour Roll aims to recognise rural women making a difference in their communities through volunteer work.
Nominations for the 2011 Hidden Treasures Honour Roll will open May 1 and close August 25.
Nominations can be made by contacting the Rural Women’s Network on (02) 6391 3620 or firstname.lastname@example.org or through the NSW Centre for Volunteering: (02) 9261 3600; email@example.com
Interview by Jo Atkins.