Planting seeds: a chat with Patrice O’Shea (OAM)

June 19th, 2024Planting seeds: a chat with Patrice O’Shea (OAM)

Coomoora’s Patrice O’Shea recently received an Order of Australia Medal in the General Division for services to the environment and secondary education in the King’s Birthday Honours list.

Coomoora’s Patrice O’Shea recently received an Order of Australia Medal in the General Division for services to the environment and secondary education in the King’s Birthday Honours list.

Patrice has been secretary of the Friends of Wombat Hill Botanic Gardens since 2010 and was a teacher at Ballarat Grammar from 1982 to 2009.

Patrice said the award was “affirming” but was keen to add that many people were just as worthy. “But it is a lovely thing that people have gone to considerable effort to make it happen and it is pretty affirming to know that.”

“I think the vast majority of people in education work bloody hard and why do you single out one person, but having said that it was a profession that I certainly enjoyed enormously.

“I enjoyed where I worked, the kids I taught, the stuff I taught. It is hard work, there is no doubt about that, but the vast majority of people who do it are worthy of recognition.”

Patrice said she entered teaching because she enjoyed being a student. “I enjoyed stuff, understanding things, working things out, finding out about things, so it was something I enjoyed personally and seemed an OK thing to do as a career.

“But also, given the age, there was a tendency on the part of girls to either go into nursing or teaching.”

Patrice, who attended Catholic schools, said she had good teachers who made a difference in her life.

“All of my education was with nuns, and there is sort of the luck of the draw at any school, but I had remarkable women teaching me.

“You would hope good teachers make a difference – that’s the plan, what’s supposed to happen and you would hope if you were in the (teaching) game you would be one of them, you would give it your best shot anyway.”

Patrice said she had retired some years ago so the full implications of the digital age in teaching were not something she had experienced but she believed personal engagement was the critical element for teachers.

“During Covid teachers did work from home and my observations are that it near killed them. Really it is one of the jobs where you just have to be there. A bit like a GP.

“Telehealth is a wonderful thing but in the end you really have to be in the room with the person in my view.”

Patrice and her family lived in Daylesford, just below Wombat Hill Botanic Gardens, from 1976 to 1990, and they were “sort of like a big backyard”.

“Like many people I do enjoy gardens, trees in particular, plants and people so the Friends of the Gardens is really a terrific focus for all of those interests. That is what made the Friends such a good thing for me and for others too. It is a community organisation but also a community in itself.”

Patrice said she believed people were increasingly realising the importance of the gardens and how precious they are to the region.

“They are so wild and romantic in so many ways and so pleasant to be in, in so many other ways. Even when the weather is terrible there are pleasures to be had up there, as long as you are appropriately clothed.”

Patrice said the Friends of the Gardens were holding a first, a community Winter in the Gardens Festival, with the intriguing subtitle of “mists, magic and mystery”.

“It’s the first weekend of August, all orchestrated by one of the Friends, Frank Page, and we are having a series of talks, a dinner on the Saturday night to which people are cordially invited, tours of the gardens, the Daylesford Museum is putting on an exhibition and there’s even a winter flower show in the conservatory.

“It’s a wonderful community event with the Friends of the Gardens, the Daylesford Horticultural Society, the Agricultural Society, the Historical Society and U3A involved.

“It’s all free, except for the dinner, and we will be enjoying the gardens at a time of the year which is not what you see in the glossy magazines. It is a fantastic thing.”

Words: Donna Kelly | Image: Eve Lamb

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