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Stories of hope and resilience from the streets of Brunswick

New book celebrates the Brunswick Salvos community

“I still grieve, but I am no longer bereft,” says Elizabeth Calder.

Mark Phillips

ELIZABETH Calder was at rock bottom when she turned up at the Brunswick Salvation Army Citadel in Albert Street a year ago.

Her beloved third son, David, had recently taken his own life, leaving her to care for his reindeer hound called Doug, and she was operating on “auto pilot” and drowning under the weight of her financial debts.

But that first encounter with Lieutenant Alison Templar in Albert Street was the beginning of the 74-year-old turning things around.

She credits the support and companionship from a weekly women’s group gathering at the Citadel as giving her the strength to overcome her grief and despair.

Her healing has also included contributing to a new book of stories by members of the Brunswick Salvos community by delving back to some of the happiest memories of her childhood, time spent with her Jewish grandfather in Coburg.

Brunswick Stories contains prose and poetry written by 11 people earlier this year. Most of the writers are users of the services run by the Brunswick Salvos, which include weekly drop-in groups, hot meals, and a space for those without a roof to take shelter on excessively hot or cold days.

Lieutenant Templar has also written about the path that led her to the Brunswick Salvos community following the death of her ex-husband, whose funeral was held at the Citadel in Albert Street.

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The project was co-ordinated by Eva Milman, who was initially a volunteer at the Brunswick Salvos and then did a job placement there at the start of this year as part of her studies for a Diploma of Community Services.

“We have the most amazing, creative, resilient, inspiring and strong people in our community,” Lieutenant Templar said.

“The idea for this book started about 18 months ago … and we went back and forwards for 12 months until Eva arrived here on a student program and said ‘I would love to collect some stories about the people of Brunswick’.”

Ms Milman, who is originally from Argentina, arranged to meet people over tea or coffee at the Citadel, and together they would tease out a story, which Ms Milman would then help to write.

“Each person shared the most memorable treasures hidden among the neighbourhood streets,” she writes in the prologue to Brunswick Stories.

“Through this journey, sitting down and writing this book with the Salvos community made me realise how special Brunswick is. How it can be a place of happiness, a place to find a home and a place where you can build friendships. Listening to these stories every Monday has been a deeply moving experience.”

Elizabeth’s contribution to the book, ‘What are we?’, recounts childhood memories of her paternal grandfather Sydney William Moss and the day he took her on her first visit to the now long-gone Brunswick Synagogue and she realised she was Jewish.

Elizabeth – an anglicised version of her Hebrew birth name, Elesheva – has had a tough life. Married four times in total, she was a teenage bride and a widow before she had hit her 20s when her first husband was killed in the Vietnam War before he had a chance to see his son, Alexander.

Her second husband also died suddenly in a building site accident in Liverpool, England, not long after she had given birth to their third son, Aaron.

But it was the death of David, a veteran of military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, three years ago at the age of 42 that hit her hardest and led to her eventually turning to the Salvos for help.

“I came here because I was on auto pilot; I was letting my finances go down the gurgler and had a credit card debt I was never going to be able pay off,” she said.

“Alison [Templar] came and sat with me and let my cry because I was tired of standing on my own two feet and didn’t know how to ask for help.”

Elizabeth became involved in a weekly knitting group where she has found companionship and the strength to carry on.

“I still grieve, but I am no longer bereft,” she said.

Project co-ordinator Eva Milman (left) with writers Elizabeth Calder and ‘Giovanni’.

Another of the contributors, who prefers to be known as John the Poet, is a bibliophile and a regular participant in poetry nights at the Brunswick Green in Sydney Road. He has written two short poems for the book, ‘Ninety Seconds’ and ‘Sydney Road’.

The latter was inspired by the Sydney Road Street Party, which was held this year for the first time since 2020.

“Eva has a real talent for bringing out stories,” he said.

“She’s a very warm and friendly person and we had a few brainstorming sessions and at one of them she asked me to write a poem about Sydney Road. I said that’s a bit too epic for me, but then I had a lightbulb moment and thought I would concentrate on the street party.”

John, who also writes under the pseudonym of Giovanni, has been coming to the Salvation Army Citadel for about a decade. He was involved in starting a men’s group there and visits the twice every week.

The launch of Brunswick Stories coincides with The Salvation Army’s annual Red Shield Appeal.

The Red Shield Appeal is The Salvation Army’s flagship fundraising appeal that is in its 59th year, aiming to raise $37 million by June 30 to ensure their work can continue across Australia.

The book is free and copies can be picked up from the Citadel at 256 Albert Street.

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