By Matt Male

AFTER 15 years at the Wonthaggi Neighbourhood Centre at Mitchell House, Jan Bourne has called it a day.
“It’s surreal. It’s been the most amazing journey,” she said at her desk last Wednesday morning, on her second last day.
The centre, in Apex Park, is community-driven with a strong team of volunteers.
“We support people to be the best they can be. We’re based around the principle that learning is life-long, it doesn’t stop once you finish school.
“It’s always been a community effort here.”
Alongside help from a dedicated team of volunteers, Jan has organised multi-cultural festivals, Harmony Days and the Enterprising Young Women Network.
The network focused on giving young women the confidence to start their own businesses.
Ideas included becoming a jeweller, creating bags out of cut-off jeans and a nursery.
Those ideas then came to fruition, with the women setting up stalls at markets throughout Bass Coast to promote their ideas or products.
“We have a strong culture of markets here so it helped to encourage business ideas and for the women to use their initiative.”
Jan’s also worked with local primary schools, including Wonthaggi Primary, for National Reconciliation Week.
She kick-started the Harvest Centre and Men’s Shed, near the old railway station.
Back in 2008, Jan recalls, two people came into the centre on the same day saying they didn’t have enough money to buy food.
“I thought ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have a community grown garden?’
“It’s now a Men’s Shed as well and there are two youth groups there.”
It’s also hosted a bike repair program for VCAL students.
“These amazing teenagers would come in to fix up bikes and then hand them out to kids who couldn’t afford them.”
The centre has also produced some incredible videos on the Miners’ Women’s Auxiliary and more broadly, women in leadership, including the first female mayor.
“The key thing is we’re the only organisation whose, I believe, core business is community building.
“So that means anyone can walk through the door with any issue or idea, and we’ll endeavour to help them and if not, refer them on to other agencies.”
Jan also reflected on the reasoning behind the naming of the centre.
In the early 1980s, a group of women in Wonthaggi got together with a plan to create a community house to bring people together, and to look after one another’s children.
Those ladies then presented to the local council, the Borough of Wonthaggi, on a proposal to revive the old station master’s house – now Mitchell House.
But the councillors – all men – didn’t like the idea. One councillor reportedly told a woman to “Go home and look after your own kids”.
The women talked to their husbands, some of whom were in the Apex Club.
A few months later, those men then presented the same idea to the council – and they loved it.
The husbands and wives worked tirelessly every weekend to bring the station back to life.
But just a few months before the planned opening of the centre, tragedy struck when one of the women, Lorraine Mitchell, and her husband Ross were killed in a car accident.
Their children were made orphans.
“The guts were ripped out of this close group of friends who had been working on this project,” Jan says.
“Eventually, when it did open, they decided as a mark of respect to call it Mitchell House.”
As for the next coordinator at the Wonthaggi Neighbourhood Centre at Mitchell House, they hope to make an announcement soon.
Meanwhile, Jan will be working on improving a farmhouse with her family.
She then hopes to move into Wonthaggi.
“I’m sure there will be another project after this. I can’t imagine not being involved with people and the community.”