Fixing the planet

Fix It Cafe -  Jim puts up the cafe sign for the day

Jim puts up the cafe sign for the day

If you need to restore your faith in humanity or your hope for the planet, head to the Fix It Café at the Maleny Neighbourhood Centre, every second and fourth Thursday of the month. Victoria McGuin paid them a visit recently and came away feeling replenished, in more ways than one.

Victoria McGuin

I have been frequenting the Maleny Fix It Café sporadically for some time now, for repairing much-loved skirts, tops and dresses, to mending my second-hand vacuum cleaner. It feels good to know you are avoiding landfill and extending the life of your household goods and clothing.

It only costs $5 for the team to check over your item, and if they fix it you can choose to donate more.

The Fix It Café was started in 2012, by Dolina Somerville and Paul Williamson, and is based on a repair-style café which originated in Amsterdam in 2009.  Over the years the team has steadily grown, with members specialising in electronics, bicycles, sewing, general maintenance, furniture repair and mechanics.

Jim Straker, the Fix It Café coordinator, welcomes me, and friendly faces look up from kettles, suitcases, bicycles and sewing machines.

“Some days we have quite a few things to fix,” says Jim, “But other Thursdays we are twiddling our thumbs, which isn’t good. We need more people to use this resource.”

Member Jo brings me a cup of tea, and her husband, Nev, takes a short break from fixing a bike to join us. I pick up an accent from over the pond. “I was actually born in Sydney,” says Nev, “but my parents moved to the UK when I was small.”

Nev and Jo married in 1960 and lived in Salisbury until 1969. “We came back to Australia with our four children,” says Jo, “and had one more here – our Australian baby!”

The weather played a big factor in their move, Nev recalls, “The winter of 1962, from Bristol to Hull, it didn’t rise above freezing point from Boxing Day for three months, to the day!”

“Nev had to go to work on a motorbike in that,” adds Jo.

“I worked on Post Office telephones, which eventually became BT, but I always had an interest in bikes,” Nev continues. “I raced them – the cycle speedway was popular. I would modify bikes, go to the dump to find parts and old bikes to restore.

“Our cycle speedway team was called the Bemerton Boomerangs, Bemerton was my village. We even made our own track.”

This background makes Nev the perfect person to bring your bike to, for anything from wheel alignment to modifications.

Fix It Cafe - Josie is busy as always

Josie is busy as always

Josie is another busy member of the group, having joined roughly five years ago. “I know I have a talent and I wanted to share it,” she says simply. “We are living in a throwaway world and we have to take responsibility. We have to know what we’ve got.”

Josie has been sewing since she was five years old, “I used to watch my mum on her machine.  When she would go and feed the chooks I would get on the sewing machine. She always knew though – I don’t know how!”

Weddings dresses, deb dresses, shirts, skirts… Josie’s daughter says, ‘There’s nothing you can’t make, Mum’.

“I was a wedding designer for a while in Brisbane. I made my first wedding dress when I was 18. I didn’t buy a dress until I was 30, I made my own. I didn’t even know you could buy knickers for many years! I made mini dresses with knickers to match.”

Jim joins us – things are quietening down for a few members. “I don’t have that problem!” says Josie.

“Hush up and keep sewing!” laughs Jim. The banter between the group is warm and full of jokes.

“It’s wonderful,” Jim says, “It keeps us all together. We tell some stories! I have one about… no I’d better not!” He smiles with a glint of mischief in his eye.

Jim has worked in the ‘garbage business’ since 1974, “so I understand the importance in not chucking things out,” he says. A Cooran boy, he now lives in Reesville after years travelling whilst in the army, and working in local government and environmental jobs.

“I’d been working in the Middle East and needed something to do,” he tells me. “I knew Dolina and she mentioned this place. I came in to have a look and I’ve been helping out ever since.”

Jim has ideas to expand the offerings at the Fix It Café. “I run courses on how to help people change tap washers,” he says, and brings out a homemade stand with various taps/washers/plumbing attached.

“Isn’t it brilliant?” says Josie.

“I like to empower people to fix things themselves,” Jim continues. “You know the old proverb, ‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach him to fish…’”

The next idea is to run car maintenance workshops.  “Show people how to change a tyre, check the water, windscreen wipers, find the jack, gain a basic knowledge of the engine.

“We could run it now, but we’d ideally like a retired mechanic to run it. We will be able to park six cars to do each workshop.”

Everyone here is a volunteer, and they like to spread the message of the Fix It Café. “Paul and Daryl went up to Noosa to set up a stall for the Floating Islands a while back. And a group of us went to Woodford to show what we do, and run workshops – Nev had a lot of bike repairs there!”

It is time for the community lunch at the Centre, and I enjoy home-cooked produce, interesting conversations with strangers, and live music from Danny Rose.

As I leave, with a full stomach and a full heart, Jim shakes my hand and thanks me for coming.

“It’s good to spread the word,” he says. “We need more people to bring their stuff. The Fix It Café needs to fix things!”

Visit: https://www.malenync.org.au/whats-on/fixit-cafe for more information, or call the Maleny Neighbourhood Centre on (07) 5499 9345

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