Communities urged to make their own wishlist

Rural communities urged to make their own wishlist

Politics
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The author of a book into politics in rural Australia has told country communities not to wait for government to make policy for them.

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Author Gabrielle Chan with the iconic Mallee Bull in Birchip.

Author Gabrielle Chan with the iconic Mallee Bull in Birchip.

A POLITICAL journalist who has written extensively about rural Australia has a simple message for country residents looking to make a difference to their local communities.

"You need to find a way to be a community that people want to live in and contribute to," said Gabrielle Chan, author of the critically acclaimed Rusted Off, which details increasing political disaffection in rural Australia.

Speaking at a climate resilience forum in Birchip in late October Ms Chan said country communities needed to be self-starting rather than relying on government programs to spark investment.

"Don't wait for government to come up with policies for your area they are too disrupted, communities are ahead of government in terms of knowing what is needed."

"Now is the time to service your community and work out your priorities and what is important to keep people in your town in your circumstances.

"We've seen communities that work strategically to achieve that in any number of ways and with various different projects but the important point is that disengagement is not an option."

Ms Chan said it was critical that small towns and communities got out and promoted themselves and showed themselves to be a viable place for investment.

"Donald Trump made headlines when he said it was no longer a time to be a globalist and that US citizens should be patriots first, I would say in rural Australia we need to be a localist first."

While acknowledging the difficulties facing smaller rural communities in the wake of climate change and population decline Ms Chan said there were steps people from all areas could take to get positive messages about life outside capital cities.

"Everyone can tell their stories, whether it be the school here in Birchip that has had such great results and is now drawing students back that were previously heading away to boarding school or the work being done by Hay Inc in encouraging kids back to work in the agriculture sector."

"You can use all the data you like but when I tell a story I tell people's stories, I think that is the only way that you can."

Residents of country towns need to make their community a place where people want to live.

Residents of country towns need to make their community a place where people want to live.

Ms Chan said there were different ways communities could 'be the change'.

"In my own area at Harden (in the northern Riverina) we have concentrated on education and raise money for our kids to go away and do the training they need to.

"It is recognition that there are hurdles for our kids, it is a much longer route for kids to get into jobs.

"If they move to the city there can be difficulties in transition and the fundraising is designed to minimise the disruption, especially in financial terms."

But she said there were many other directions communities could go down to enhance their sustainability.

"Yackandandah has done amazing things with renewable energy and is aiming to be completely using renewables by 2022, but the focus could be as simple as trying to improve the streetscape and make it a more pleasant place for everyone to live."

Ms Chan said small country towns across the country were looking at ways to become more resilient.

"We are transitioning away from that big employer that keeps the town going, Harden was a big railway town and it was used to having that big government employer that doesn't happen anymore, increasingly government staff are being centralised in regional centres so we, as communities, have to work around that."

Externally, Ms Chan highlighted the need for the bush to sell its story to people in the cities.

"With things like climate change, the thing that worries me is if we don't tell the story then people elsewhere will get the wrong idea.

Ms Chan said while there often seemed to be mixed messaging on climate change from rural Australia on climate change, especially from political representatives, the reality of work practices suggested otherwise.

"At Harden people are changing what they are doing in response to the drier seasons they are growing more barley, they are planting and harvesting earlier, this is not an issue you can shirk, we need to be telling metro people what we are doing, they need to be able to trust we know what we are doing."

"Agriculture is acknowledged as part of the climate change solution, done well it can do amazing things.

"We just need to tell the whole food production story and show people it is not just a matter of taking the farm animals away and the whole eco-system returns to happy wellness."

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