About a week ago, I received an email that has the word Westona in its subject title. Westona is the name of the last train station on the Altona Loop and came from the winning entry in a council-run naming competition, held probably in 1984. It was suggested by Alan and Betty Angus to mean “West of Altona” (Ref 1).

I live near Westona station and it is not very often (in fact this is the first time) that I receive an email relating to Westona. Naturally, I will be interested in knowing what activity is being planned in my neighbourhood. I found out that this email is from Transition Hobsons Bay (THB) and it is an invitation to attend a potluck gathering in celebration of the winter solstice.

I have not been to a THB activity for a while and I thought this will be a good opportunity to meet more people as our social networks are quite limited. My wife too agrees and we settled on bringing dumplings – something that we perceive as a “safe” food as many people would have tried dumplings and should therefore have no problem accepting this dish.

After receiving the address from the host via SMS, I realized that the event is held in what is known locally as the “birdcage” district of Altona. This is a triangular residential area west of Westona train station and south of the train tracks, bordered by Truganina Swamp to the west, Maidstone Street to the east and Somers Parade to the south. All its streets are named after birds such as Seagull, Dove, Kookaburra, Emu, Robin, Curlew, etc. In fact, the area does have many birds due to its proximity to Truganina Swamp which is a haven for many species of birds.

The winter solstice falls on last Friday 21st of June. The hosts Dy and Kerrie explained to us that it is the shortest day of the year and this is a fixed date every year. Fortunately, that night was not as cold as the days before or after. It was still possible to sit around a bonfire in the back garden before we adjourned to the inside of the house for the potluck dinner.

I was surprised to see quite a considerable turnout of probably more than 20 people, including kids. Most people live around the area while there are people who come as far as Newport and Spotswood. The foods are wonderful. There is a variety of soups with different colours – green, yellow, orange and so on. The hosts and many others are apparently avid gardeners, which is reflected in the ingredients of the food they have prepared. This is not surprising as THB is a group that promotes sustainable living, conservation and a respect for the environment.

We learn many things from this gathering. My wife learnt how the host Dy prepares a healthy snack by baking the kales she has planted. After baking, the kales become crispy like dried Japanese seaweeds and taste a bit like potato chips. I had also tasted her wholesome and delicious homemade raisins and dried apple slices made from her organic garden produce.

Apart from food, I also learnt much about other stuff, such as exercises that work the gluteal muscles and why the weather in Brisbane is not preferable over that in Melbourne. The gathering is a delightful experience for my wife. She met a number of teachers, including an English language teacher and was captivated by a particular conversation in which the speaker was relating her experience of living five years on a small island, 500 metres wide, north of Fiji. Our kids also enjoyed the event very much, having made a new friend and together, they made the new environment their exploratory grounds. We are glad that we attend this gathering and we will attend more THB activities in the future.