Article: Neil Williams (Canberra Organic – Winter 2023)

Neil Williams
Neil Williams – COGS President

A warm welcome to the winter 2023 issue. This is my first article as President. Firstly, I would like to pay tribute to former President, Andy Hrast, for his steady stewardship during the past few difficult years. This, together with his work for COGS over a long period, was rewarded with a Life Membership. See more on our new Life Members, Andy Hrast and Terry Williams, in this edition. I would also like to thank former Editor, Rebecca Travers, for her work in delivering a high-quality magazine for our members.

A little bit about me to start with. I grew up in Canberra, after emigrating from England in the 1970s. Being an ex-Pom, the allotment style gardens of COGS are very familiar to me. I retired from a career in the Commonwealth Public Service in 2020. Since then I have sought to give back to the community in which I live and have worked. My first volunteer role was to become the Convenor of COGS’ Holder garden in September 2020. My wife has been gardening at Holder for 10 years – she grows an amazing array of fruit and vegetables. She is great at preserving and pickling our produce, while I, as the main household cook, turn the rest of it into meals. I am also our chief compost maker. As Holder Convenor, I attended COGS Executive meetings. In early 2021, Andy Hrast asked me to become the Treasurer, a role I performed up until our AGM in March 2023.

I am also a volunteer, a community transport driver for Capital Region Community Services and Chair of SEE Change, a local environmental charity and grassroots sustainability organisation.

I am a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and bring a strong focus on governance to the role of President. The aims of COGS in our Constitution will guide my approach. I have a few initial thoughts and welcome your ideas on what you want and value.

The aims of COGS are to:

(a) provide information on community gardening and demonstrate organic growing techniques for COGS’ members and the wider public:

I will seek to improve the information we provide, firstly to our members, but also the wider community. I am keen to attract younger members – the next generation of organic growers. A first step (which will take time) is to refresh our website, including updating our planting guides. Our new Information Officer, Mike Gisick, has already used his skills to make short videos for our social media platforms.

(b) provide access to, administer, and support the development of community gardens operated under organic principles:

I am keen to grow COGS’ footprint. I strongly believe we need more community gardens across Canberra for the health and environmental benefits they bring. We have actively pursued the development of more gardens and will continue to do so. We will continue to invest in the infrastructure at our existing gardens and seek to ensure individual gardens are well run by local members with the support of the Executive Committee. I would like to attend garden committee meetings and events at all our gardens over the next year. I recently attended Kambah’s monthly meeting and witnessed an engaged and welcoming garden community.

(c) work with likeminded organisations to increase the sustainability of food production in the ACT.

COGS has a history of working with a range of organisations and charities. I hope to continue this tradition and to expand the organisations we work with. For example, a recent working bee at the Holder garden linked up with the SEE Change Roving Regenerators program. Together we helped clean up an overgrown plot of one of our members who needed some support. As part of this event Holder garden also hosted a compost talk by Brook Clinton from Capital Scraps. A short video from the day is on our Facebook page.

On the day I became President I was delighted to be invited by the Convenor of Dickson Garden, John Robertson, to attend the 100th birthday celebration of one of our keen COGS gardeners, Veronica Dunphy. She is a testament to the benefits of organic gardening and, in her words, staying grounded!

Enjoy the magazine.

Neil Williams