When the Regional Australia Institute called for ‘returners’, (that is people who grew up in the country, moved to the big smoke and returned) to participate in a research project I almost jumped down the phone line in anticipation of being part of the project. Talking point: Returning to Regional Australia, Regional Australia Institute 2014
There are so many things about my home in regional Australia that I love. I love the quiet, affordability, lifestyle, beaches and rivers, opportunity, culture and general friendliness of people. I love that life is usually slower, that creativity and innovation are essential (even if not always recognised) and I love that I can be awestruck by big buildings and busy crowds of people when I visit the ‘big smoke’. (I also love that I’m no longer embarrassed to say that)
I still remember packing my worldly belongings in a few boxes and heading for the city at the excitable age of 18, a time when I saw my home as a ‘hole‘ and the glimmer and glamour of the city to be the only future for me. And I wouldn’t change my decade in the city, the incredible friendships made, experiences had and workplace skills gained for the world. But I’m pleased to be home now.
As I work with communities in regional Australia, particularly my home, the Mid North Coast of NSW I see pockets of what researchers and government would deem ‘disadvantage’ – in fact, my home town of the stunning Nambucca Valley is said to have some of the highest levels of disadvantage in the country. There are a few things I need to say about that right now:
* First of all, my observation of working directly with people in these ‘disadvantaged’ (not a word of choice for me) communities is that disadvantage, like beauty is most certainly in the eyes of the beholder. When I set out to RESCUE the community of Bowraville in 2008 when I was working as the Service Manager of MiiMi Aboriginal Corporation I noted that while there was certainly room for change many people actually lived lives that were more rich and filled with love and care than I could even count – it was just a different definition to my own. The community didn’t need RESCUING at all (in fact, in many ways it rescued me) what it really needed was to be recognised for what it was, and a sturdy injection of hope, opportunity and acknowledgement.
* And secondly I totally ‘get’ the cost cutting, and rationalisation of the community services sector, with over 600,000 not for profits in Australia it’s clear that it’s time for at least some to go – however, it’s also important to note that a suicidal young person can’t and won’t travel an hour to the nearest service – a mum escaping domestic violence with three little kids in need of crisis accommodation can’t wait until Wednesday when the outreach worker comes to visit – and a marginalised community that has been ‘rescued’, ‘consulted’ and ‘strategised’ to the point of explosion is not going to engage with a ‘johnny come lately’ service worker, even with the best of intentions because relationships take time to build.
And this isn’t a point about big is bad and small is good – it’s just a great big opportunity to sub-contract, partner, build consortiums that include little grassroots organisations. The bizarre thing is that in the long term the service outcomes are actually better – implementation costs are lower and everyone wins…
But back to the main point and I’m going to be incredibly crass on this one here is a link to Nambucca Valley Tourism. I’d highly recommend you pack the car, jump on a plane, cycle, whatever tickles your fancy and take a look. Just do.
Thanks for indulging a conversation about one of my great passions – living in regional Australia.