Merle Mitchell and the Rose Garden
Enterprise Rose Garden
This rose garden – and the Enterprise Rose featured in the garden – are part of the internationally acclaimed ‘Spirit of Enterprise project’ – which celebrates the history of the Enterprise Migrant Hostel in Springvale. The rose garden forms part of the Spirit of Enterprise Trail which tells the story of the Enterprise Migrant Hostel and the Springvale community’s effort to welcome and support the hostel’s 30,000 migrant and refugee residents. The idea for a rose garden at this site was inspired by the original rose garden which adorned the entrance to the hostel. This garden contains a special rose symbolising the care and attention the community gave the hostel residents. Merle Mitchell, a driving force behind the community’s support for the hostel residents and the convener of the Spirit of Enterprise project recalls: Many residents said the first thing they saw was the beautiful rose garden at the hostel.
"Seeing that made them feel that they would be safe and secure in this country." (Merle Mitchell, Spirit of Enterprise Project 2012)
To realise the idea of the rose garden, the Spirit of Enterprise project approached one of Australia’s leading rose growers, Treloar Roses, with a request to name one of their new hybrid roses the ‘Enterprise Rose’. They readily agreed to this request. The first Enterprise Rose was planted at the site of the former Enterprise Hostel to honour the Spirit of Enterprise project by Jose Alvarez, Victorian state director of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, and Simon Crean, the Minister for the Arts and Federal Member for Hotham, on 1 April 2012. The Spirit of Enterprise project was recognised for its ‘outstanding contribution to culture’ at the World Organization of United Cities and Local Government Awards in 2018. Enterprise was the home to many arriving in this country for the first time. Those migrants have made an immeasurable contribution to this nation.
"Their spirit has shaped us and that spirit is reflected in this project. It is recognition of our strengths and our future intrinsically linked to our diverse cultural heritage". (Simon Crean, the Minister for the Arts and Federal Member for Hotham)
Visit the Enterprise Migrant Hostel and the Spirit of Enterprise project by walking the Spirit of Enterprise Trail. Read more information on the Enterprise Hostel History Project.
Today, the Rose Garden and the Enterprise Rose continue to symbolise the Springvale community’s determination to welcome and accept migrants and refugees. It demonstrates how strong, cohesive, vibrant communities can be built when migrants and refugees are warmly welcomed through unique, innovative settlement programs based on welcome, support and respect.
Merle Mitchell AM lived in Greater Dandenong for most of her life. She made an immense contribution to the community, especially as an advocate for equality, diversity and social justice. Merle was born in Dandenong in 1934 and trained as a kindergarten teacher.
She married Eric Mitchell in 1958 and had two children, Rick and Sally. Merle and Eric moved to Sandown Park in 1962, which was then a new area with few services – it was here that Merle’s passion for advocacy was born – as she and Eric campaigned to establish local kindergartens and Sandown Park Primary School.
"I think I became a community activist because whenever I saw that there was something that needed to be done, I thought we should do something about it." (Merle Mitchell, 2018)
In the early 1970s, Merle was a founding member and director of the Springvale Community Aid and Advice Bureau. SCAAB, as it was known, offered friendship and practical support to 30,000 refugees and migrants who stayed at the Enterprise Migrant Hostel.
Merle also helped shape state and federal government social welfare policies not only as a member of the Victoria Council of Social Services but also as president of the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS).
"Merle was steadfast, hardworking and wise. As radio broadcaster Jon Faine commented, she: … bridged the unfathomable gap between prime ministers, premiers, ministers and bureaucrats on the one hand, and the most disadvantaged in our community on the other". (Jon Faine, The Sydney Morning Herald, 7 October 2021)
Merle was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 1991. On Australia Day 2015, Greater Dandenong City Council recognised her lifetime of achievements with a Community Hall of Fame award for her ‘outstanding and sustained involvement in community life to help all residents feel welcomed and valued in our community’. Merle was a voice for the overlooked even after she retired. Her powerful and articulate testimony in The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety in August 2020 revealed the hardships of living in a nursing home. She continued to be a fearsome advocate for change to the system after the findings were released.
After Merle died on 20 September 2021, there was a massive outpouring of grief from the many people whose lives she touched.
"Her legacy of community service will live on for the Greater Dandenong community. Merle Mitchell AM (1934-2021) – ‘a genuine people’s hero’. Merle was a sharp, determined, tenacious, compassionate advocate who touched the lives of millions across her long life". (Cassandra Goldie, Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) CEO)