Page 3732 - Week 10 - Tuesday, 18 September 2018

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Helen Petrou—tribute

MS CHEYNE (Ginninderra) (5.14): I rise today with deep regret to acknowledge the loss to the Canberra community of Helen Petrou. I am one of, I expect, thousands of people lucky to have come into Helen’s sphere of influence throughout her short life. And what a sphere of influence that was.

I first met Helen at the Hawker primary fete. It was 2016 and my first year volunteering there. I had been on a stall up at the preschool but with few customers coming my way. One of the fete organisers, Emma, who I acknowledge is here today, pointed me in the direction of an absolute hive of activity in the undercover area. That was the Hawker fete craft stall.

This was not just any craft stall; it was the most elaborate stall I have ever seen. While fetes across Belconnen and their craft stalls all show off incredible wares, the craft stall at Hawker fete is a step above. Fairy dust, paper flower posies, jewellery, zombie rocks, fairy wings, lanterns. It was no surprise that there was a swarm of children and parents around this stall.

The products were all lovingly made by the hands of a woman called Helen and her mum, Janet, this small but powerful team of women, a purposeful buzzing between them, making transaction after transaction. I helped them for the rest of the fete, my hands never stopping as cash was swapped for these items. But they were not just items; they were treasures. I left that afternoon with a bunch of these treasures myself, having helped Helen and Janet pack the car, a feat unto itself.

A friend of Helen’s recently said it best: each person—and there were so very many—who purchased one of Helen’s creations now carries a little piece of her enthusiasm and joy for creating beautiful things. I feel very lucky that I am one of those people.

Helen made an incredible impression on me. The Hawker fete is always a highlight for me, but seeing and assisting Helen in and in the lead-up to the fetes in 2017 and this year left me with this boost that is hard to describe. Since Helen’s death, I have learned that this boost Helen could provide—only Helen could provide—was felt far and wide in the Canberra community.

It was felt absolutely in the Hawker primary community, where Helen was not only a fete fundraiser force, but a firm friend, supporter and nurturer to children, teachers and other parents. She was also an intensive care paramedic who topped her class, cross-trained and worked as a communication centre clinician, assisting thousands of Canberrans for two decades.

On top of this, she was an extraordinary cook and last year hosted a high tea to raise thousands of dollars for a charity she held very dear, the Tara Costigan Foundation. In one of our last conversations in person this year she told me how keen she was to do it again this year, insisting that I come.

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