Chickens and art exhibitions: my first two weeks leading CNLC


By Tony Milne


I recently became the executive officer of the Carlton Neighbourhood Learning Centre Inc (CNLC), a Neighbourhood House operating since 1982. Over Christmas, I was lucky to get to New Zealand to visit family. The inevitable question – what’s your new job? You’d think it an easy question but explaining what a Neighbourhood House does isn’t simple.

On my first day, I arrive at the centre and our farmer, Michelle, is supervising a mother and her two children feeding the chickens. They are part of a group of local families who take care of our “Carlton Cluckers” chickens. Other local volunteers are busy working in the community garden.

Upon entering the office, an old historic home, a long-term volunteer welcomes me with a warm cup of coffee. Mid-morning the admin officer reports she’s been dealing with a dead possum and a request to measure its length and check the colour of its eyes. 

Later that week I join our Alive and Active class for people with mild intellectual disability to learn literacy skills through community connection, to view their art displayed at the Neighbourhood Justice Centre. I sign a contract for a new Sustainability Victoria grant to expand our compost hub including a plan to collect organic waste from local restaurants and cafes.

The next week our English language students have an end-of-year barbecue and bowls at the Fitzroy Bowling Club. I became the official event photographer. But even an end-of-year excursion is a learning opportunity as the teacher explains what “on the house” means to a confused student.

I visit our “Open Door” office on the Carlton Housing Estate. My job is to hand out pumpkins and carrots alongside a line of people distributing free fresh food in partnership with the Melbourne Farmers Market. We provide refurbished laptops to residents, a partnership with Melbourne University. Laptops and internet are critical to access services and apply for jobs, yet many are denied access to these essential services.

The year ends with a graduation with more than 70 people celebrating our students and volunteers. Students who have recently arrived from Ukraine and Afghanistan beam with pride as they receive their certificates.  A volunteer team in the small kitchen prepares a beautiful lunch.

We finish the year planning our education classes for 2023 and our first events including a big Harmony Day celebration on March 18 at Carlton Primary School (come and join us!).

If you know anyone who wants to learn English or someone who has been out of employment/education for more than six months and needs support – we can help! •

What an amazing community organisation I have the privilege of leading.

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