Opinion | The Gauge
The federal election campaign and its focus on the need for affordable childcare demonstrated how important this issue is to the people of Australia. However, many families across rural and regional areas were again left bitterly disappointed by the complete and utter disregard given to their needs by the major parties.
The need to support parents who live in rural, regional and remote areas is now, more than ever, of utmost importance. Widespread drought across the agricultural regions of Australia and a few natural disasters here and there has led to an unprecedented strain being placed on farming families. Families that live and work outside the major centres, who have been forgotten by the politicians and policy makers and are left to struggle on their own.
Low returns, years without income and the lack of meaningful assistance has meant that on many farms and stations across the nation, wives and mothers are forced to pick up the slack, taking on a more physical role on the farm. After all, it's easier and cheaper for her to do it, rather than the alternative which is to take on an extra employee (if you can find one, and if you can afford it). It's a slap in the face to every rural woman that employment schemes, visa options and the like never allow for roles such as childcare or distance education to be supported, even when undertaken on a farm. It instantly devalues her contribution to the running of the farm and her own worth.
The lack of childcare options and assistance with distance education means that children miss out on their education and instead go to work with Mum and Dad. And while this is a great thing on occasion, with farming being the second most dangerous occupation in Australia, is that really where we want our kids to spend all their time? Day in, day out - in the tractor, in the cattle yards, feeding stock, riding quads, driving cars, climbing windmills, falling down wells......
The current system of in-home care requires a PHD in Bullshittery to navigate successfully and if the number of "wanted" advertisements I see for au pairs are any indication, bloody useless to anyone not within 10km of a conventional childcare centre. And while we have the AIC (Assistance for Isolated Children) for children doing distance education or at boarding school, it is sorely underfunded and not available for preschool children - who, as anyone with a pre-schooler would know, consume more art supplies in one year than any other group of children combined.
There has been much made of the increase in the funding for mental health support in the bush in recent times, but wouldn't it make more sense to provide support before we turned into mental and emotional wrecks? In rural areas, women aged 30-44 reported higher rates of "any mental health disorder", which in my experience is probably at least partially attributable to the incredible mental load carried by mothers who are forced to "do it all". I don't know that many people appreciate the incredible strain it places on parents (but mainly mothers) to teach their own children. While it can be a beautiful and enriching time for both mother and child, it can also be an endless battle of the wills that ends in a screaming match and emotional breakdown by at least one of the parties, if not both, almost every day. It fundamentally changes the relationship between mother and child, often forever.
These forgotten families need help, and they need it now. They deserve equitable support and assistance from the government, just like every other family in Australia. Their unique work environment and homes require a specialised solution, not the 'one size fits all' approach that has been handed to us.
- And for those who might doubt that we need support to run a household, work full time and educate their own children I say, "try it".
- Gillian Fennell lives with her family on a remote beef property in outback South Australia. You can follow Gillian on Twitter @stationmum101