Keeping our rural communities vibrant and resilient
Date: December 14, 2018
Author: Camilla Kenny, RAMHP Coordinator, Western NSW
Over the past 12 months and longer we have seen rural NSW painted as a sad, isolated place, experiencing one of the harshest droughts in decades. Images of bare paddocks, dry dams, cracked earth and poor livestock have filled our newsfeeds, television screens, and the countless campaigns for support and awareness of the plight of rural communities.
Without downplaying the significant impact on individuals, communities and families, what can be forgotten amongst the swathe of emotive images is the resilience and community spirit which is alive and well in our country towns and villages.
While rural living may look like Akubras and riding boots, a 4WD car and kelpie companion, it is so much more than what a photo can communicate. It is often the little things which we take for granted which make our communities so special and supportive. And it is at this time of year that taking stock of what is most valuable to you can be so important.
Rural life is taking over an hour to go to the supermarket for a bottle of milk or the paper because of the people you run into wanting a chat. It’s making the effort to visit multiple businesses for your groceries to support the ‘little guy’ – the butcher, the bakery, the greengrocer who knows your name and your family. It’s the wave you get on the road from drivers of oncoming cars. It’s the way everyone shares a day at the local agricultural show or Christmas event to celebrate the community. It’s playing tennis every week with anyone who will turn up, regardless of age, gender or social group. It’s having small social catch ups with neighbours to make sure everyone is coping ok.
During tough times, our communities band together to support one another – to give their time, provide a home-cooked meal, lend an ear to a friend or neighbour, or share a beer. We see this time and time again, and it reinforces the value of living in a rural town or village. It is important that we continue to check in with others like this during the holiday period.
We have countless people working tirelessly to support the community they live in during tough times. Now more than ever we need to say ‘thank you’ because these are the people who are taking the extra step to advocate for and support our communities so they are still vibrant places to live in the future. Often these people are also being impacted personally by drought or hardship, but continue to support others.
Thank you to the numerous volunteers of community organisations and charities who work to provide support, coordinate donations and organise community events. Thank you to the neighbour who phones or pops in to check up on others. To the business owners who are having a tough year but continue to have a smile on their face, donate to community functions and organise social events for their clients and community. Thank you to the numerous workers whose role is to support those doing it tough by providing information, advice, linkage to services and assistance with sourcing additional help, often going over and above their usual role. And particularly to those working over the holiday period to continue servicing our communities.
It is now more than ever that we need to reach out to others in our community to check in to see if they are OK. Christmas can be a difficult time for many which may be compounded by loneliness, financial concerns, relationship problems or workload. This can lead to many people struggling with their mental health and coping.
I wish to set a challenge for everyone this Christmas, to work towards continuing the strength and resilience of our rural communities.
Instead of trying to buy the best or most expensive gift, give the gift of love, time and laughter.
Instead of getting the best Instagram post or Facebook photo of your Christmas spread or holiday, use social media to connect with someone you may not have spoken to for a while or who may be alone.
Instead of over-catering and throwing food in the bin (or to the chooks) invite a couple of extra neighbours or friends over to join you.
Instead of running yourself ragged over the ‘silly season’ take the time to look after your own mental and physical health by doing simple things which bring you joy. Spend time in nature or the garden, read a book, listen to music, go to the beach, catch up with a friend. Take this time to reflect on the highs and maybe lows of 2018 and goals for 2019, with a focus on what you can have an impact or influence over. By practising these simple things we can work to build our own resilience and coping strategies, which puts us in a better place to cope with stress and then support others.
Our rural communities can continue to be active, supportive and vibrant places to live, if we are willing to contribute to and participate in them. By checking in with and supporting others we can work to ensure our communities continue into the future in this way. Please also take the time to care for yourself so you have the opportunity and ability to be healthy and involved.
We know that we will continue to have highs and lows, but with a resilient community we can get through and achieve just about anything!