I’m keen to know what you were like growing up.
Ha! Well, I was the middle child of four children to a single parent, and Mum will tell you that I was the police of everything. I was that annoying child keeping tabs on everyone and everything. Argumentative. A young Claudia might have thought she would one day be a lawyer. I’ve always been somewhat of a justice junkie. And I’ve always seen a lot of injustice, particularly in the family environment. “That’s not allowed!” “Why are you doing that?” So I think I was always questioning right and wrong. I remember moments of feeling frustrated as a child and being completely helpless and powerless to actually make any change.
That’s so interesting.
I guess. Your reaction makes me realise that maybe it’s interesting [laughs].
[Laughs]. What’s funny is that you say all these things as if they’re the norm. You don’t see yourself as doing anything that special. You see that each of us has the capacity to effect change like you do.
Yeah, I mean I watch the news and feel distressed. I can’t do anything about ISIS, Syria, children in detention. It drives me wild, and apart from signing petitions, going to rallies and waiting for the next election cycle so I can vote again, the only thing I can do, I guess, is look to my local area. And that’s something everyone can do: think global, act local.
And it starts, as you say, with getting to know your neighbour.
Yeah, you just have to offer bite-sized opportunities to engage in a conversation out the front of the house. Ask them a question, have a laugh at the kids. Kids are wonderful for that. ‘Cause they’re so open and warm. Gardening out the front is great. People stop, you know. They stop! Some just walk past but others want to say “hi.”
You’re right. I think deep down we want to have that chat, we want to be acknowledged. We go about our days thinking, Do they want to talk to me? Don’t they? And we just choose “don’t” because it’s safer and it’s easier. But deep down we want to have a connection with our neighbours.
Yes and I want my kids to experience that. This is where a lot of their life decision-making processes will stem from. I want them to see what community can give, the security and the support it can provide. Like, if something happens, I get sick, I hope there’s enough connection in the neighbourhood, enough goodwill, that people will step in and look after my kids.
That’s why we build communities! For that support when we need it in our hardest times.
Right. It takes a village. We have a lot of single mums in the neighbourhood. And I saw what that was like for my mum raising four kids on her own, so I know exactly how hard it is. And I know how a small gesture of help can make a massive impact. We had some very generous people growing up. They’d come over and bring us lasagne. They’d take care of us when Mum had to do the shopping. So my real passion today is to help those single mums who just need a break. I’ll take the kids to the park for two hours so they can put on the washing or get the dinner ready. Or I’ll have them for a sleepover to give the mum a night off. Because I was there. I know that.
And Kelly was someone else you had quite an impact on. Tell us about her.
Kelly is a single mum, a Department of Housing tenant. We have kids the same age who connected over the years at Junior Jivers. She had moved and I hadn’t seen her in ages. She came to me and said, “I’m really sick, the environment I’m living in is really unhealthy. I’ve had pneumonia, I’m losing weight, I’m losing hair. It’s because we have a really bad mould problem.” I said, “No worries, I’ll organise some people to come over and clean it.” I got there and it was incomprehensible how bad it was. I called the Department of Housing and got nowhere. I was at my wits’ end. I made daily calls to the department, to MPs. I was trying to get attention to this situation and no one was listening. They were in a completely toxic environment—her four-yearold daughter had a cough that sounded like a dog barking. So with the community’s help we moved them into temporary accommodation, paid their costs, got new clothes, new furniture—people really got on board to help her out.
And you got her story on ABC’s 7:30 Report.
That’s when her life changed. I knew it was a big story from the start, and once I was able to get it in front of one of Australia’s best journalists, Quentin Dempster, and also The Redfern Legal Centre, her whole life changed. Kelly got compensation, she was moved to a new place. But most importantly, for the first time in her life, she felt validated. She had been heard.
When you live in a diverse community and really understand it, it’s hard to escape the reality that life is often profoundly unfair, difficult and sad. But when you see people around you suffer disadvantage or tragedy, you realise it’s an opportunity for you to use your own strengths in a way you might not have before, strengths you didn’t even know you had. There would have been a time in my life when I might have been judgemental towards a drug addict or a homeless person—thinking it was their life choices that got them there—and I wouldn’t have necessarily thought about why they do drugs, what sort of pain they were trying to escape. The exposure I’ve had to my community has made me far less judgemental and more appreciative of how life is for many different people.
You also have a cheese business. You’re a cheesemonger, which is pretty cool. I might be getting a bit romantic here, but I was thinking it’s kind of like a village role, right? You have the butcher and the shoemaker and the cheesemonger.
You’re clutching at straws [laughs]!
Oh, am I!? [Laughs].