Have you ever wondered how the Maleny Neighbourhood Centre came to exist? Well now there is a beautifully crafted book sharing the history of this building, and the people who worked so hard to create it.

by Gay Liddington

“The story of the Maleny Neighbourhood Centre is the story of an initially very small number of volunteers who more than 25 years ago first saw what others could not or would not – the growing human helplessness in their midst. 

‘We must do something!’ they said, knowing that ahead of them lay the difficult task of overcoming local cultural divides, wilful blindness, lack of financial resources and the indifference of all levels of government.”

The idea to write this book was sown in 2015 when some committee members discussed the possibility of producing a 25th anniversary history.

Writer Neil Byrne said the project was “deemed too massive to be completed by 19 May 2019 but not yet an idea to be so easily jettisoned, at least not in the mind of the committee’s Vice-President Jim Straker. 

“It was through his persistence and persuasiveness that 30 months later a team of six volunteers – Straker, Barry Smith (ex-president), N J Byrne (researcher/writer), Wendy Oakley (design/production), Ian Demack (MNC President) and Rick Paget (MNC Coordinator) – agreed to continue the project.”

The story of the Maleny Neighbourhood Centre book begins by taking the reader on an historical journey, creating images of a township that developed around a butter factory. It speaks of the region’s original custodians, the Jinibara people who hosted gatherings at a former volcanic crater known as ‘Baroon’.

“In the mid-1970s, Maleny was ‘a sleepy little backwater’, a rural town in economic decline, characterised by numerous empty shops and inhabited only by remnant farmers and newly arrived ‘hippies’.”

In 1992, Maleny State School became the hub where five ‘school mums’ met over a cuppa to discuss local concerns and the seeds for reform were sown.

The Maleny Community Support Centre (MCSC) emerged in April 1993, followed by planning meetings held in a garage-cum-hall at the rear of the Presbyterian Church. 

With funding out of reach, locals came to the fore and facilitated fundraising events, the first of which, Circus of the Senses supported by local musicians, actors, and artists, captivated an audience perched on hay bales.

Finding and financing a permanent home for a ‘neighbourhood centre’ proved challenging. It was only through the determination and drive of passionate people that the project gained momentum. 

Five temporary homes, beginning with space at Maleny’s RSL hall, gave credence to the project and attracted funding.

The needs of youth in the community arose from a public meeting held in September 1993 and were of primary concern. Unemployment, homelessness, suicide, and the lack of peer social interaction opportunities motivated projects such as the Youth Emergency Accommodation (caravan) project.

“It was in 1998 that the MNC first became connected with another youth project—the Maleny State High Flexi School …. from the beginning the Flexi School and the MNC were traveling companions by necessity, but they were soon to discover that their association could be to the benefit of both.”

However, the question remained. Where would MNC finally call home? In mid-2007, the council’s Community and Cultural Master Plan included a neighbourhood centre at 17 Bicentenary Lane.

Political wrangling created a slippery slope which saw the dream of a neighbourhood centre almost slip through community hands but, despite the challenges, building work began and construction was well underway by October 2009. 

The long-awaited open day of the Maleny Neighbourhood Centre on 20 January 2010 marked a momentous achievement, spanning 18 years from humble beginnings.

Though the Maleny Neighbourhood Centre’s past and present activities and events are too many to list, they include Thursday’s ‘long table lunch’ that fosters inclusiveness and connection; Fixit Café, the first of its kind in Australia, began in November 2012; emergency relief as with the 2013 Cyclone Oswald when the centre became a place of refuge; and, Christmas Day Breakfast, first held in 2001.

“The 2017 Obi Art Prize’s promotion of respect for Indigenous people, the LGBTIQ communities, DVF victims, the homeless and suicidal, and refugees are just a few of the issues that reflect the MNC’s ongoing commitment to addressing these and other pressing social issues.”

The story of the Maleny Neighbourhood Centre is written from research, recollection, and records patiently sifted through page by page, word by word, by volunteers who recognised the value of telling the story of a diverse community, its struggles, and its achievements. 

It is a book worthy of a place on everyone’s bookshelf.

The book will be launched on February 23, at an invitation-only event and on sale for $30 at the Maleny Neighbourhood Centre’s front desk, via the website, and at the Maleny Community Centre kiosk on March 16. A display will feature at Maleny Library during March.

Sponsor donations funded this project, but they fall short of the amount needed for the 250-book print run. Your support is welcome, so if you would like to donate, please visit malenync.org.au/get-involved/donate and include ‘book’ in the description.

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