A GPS to a better life


How sad I was, listening to the comments, on ABC’s AM the other morning, by twelve year old ‘Elise’ (pseudonym) from Kununurra, who someday soon “wants to stop stealing, breaking in…’cause it’s bad. I want to be good and have a happy family.” The story revolved around the issue of children, some as young as eight, roaming the streets of Kununurra in Western Australia, because it’s safer than being at home.

The same problems have been occurring in towns in western NSW for years. Aboriginal Elders and community members have repeatedly expressed their concerns to successive Governments, worked with under-resourced department officials, participated in numerous initiatives, but their concerns are not being allayed, in fact they are growing.

More and more funds are being poured into programs in schools, where Principals are tasked with providing everything from clean showers and breakfast to transport services and after-hours support. Teachers are expected to provide the guidance, encouragement and structure normally reserved for and undertaken by, parents. But they only have six hours a day with the children who, in some cases, only show up because if their attendance drops below 80% it affects the payments their parents receive.

We have created a problem that no one wants to truly tackle. Those who are closest to the problems can see what needs to happen; unfortunately the decision makers spend little or no time in communities and don’t like taking advice. How can we continue to polish our ‘developed, First World’ veneer whilst children in our own back yard are living in Third World conditions? How long are we going to allow them to be used like a debit card at the ATM?

Occasionally, very occasionally, there are wins. Children who are able to see there are many paths to be chosen if you have the right directions. It must be these few “wins” and small gains in self-respect that keep teachers and overworked, under-resourced departmental staff from becoming totally overwhelmed with the task at hand.

At least they’re ‘having a go’.

More Gadgets, Less Time


“You can never solve a problem with the same kind of thinking that created the problem in the first place” – Eleanor Roosevlet

The State Executive of CWA of NSW are meeting this week in Sydney to deal with the ongoing management of the association, including the issues of rising insurance costs on Branch buildings and the increasing burdens of new WH&S regulations.

These issues and requirements place immense pressure on volunteer organisations and governments need to understand that the huge contribution volunteers make to their communities is under threat of collapse because of continued changes to regulations.

As one of Australia’s iconic and longest serving community based groups the Country Women’s Association of NSW provides an example of membership trends over the decades that have, sadly, declined, even though Australia has a larger population, but then there are also more causes to join.

Last time I looked at Australian Bureau of Statistic (ABS) figures the number of people giving up their time had not changed greatly. What had changed, as I’ve said, was the number of organisations but more significantly, the number of hours each person was prepared to commit. Within different age groups there were some increases but almost every category showed that the number of hours available to volunteer had dropped significantly.

Presumably this is, in part, a reflection of our time poor lives, but it begs the question; why can’t we, like other groups, make use of new technologies and different methodologies to change our processes and encourage more participants? Am I being naïve in my thinking? Probably, but nothing ventured nothing gained! Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “You can never solve a problem with the same kind of thinking that created the problem in the first place”.

Organisations can continue to remind governments about the onerous obligations continually being placed on their members but at the same time we could be striving to change the things we CAN control.

Ideas that might be “outside the square”, but within an organisations aims or mission, should be encouraged and at least trialled because supporting each other is part of the ethos that attracts and keeps people volunteering.

Something’s got to give


It is conflicting and confronting to watch the scenes of devastation caused by too much water in the Philippines as I contemplate writing about drought in NSW. It’s also a reminder that there is always someone suffering to a greater degree and that discussion about how best to cope with drought, whilst I still have water on tap, food in the fridge (with electricity to drive it) and a roof over my head, seems churlish in the extreme.

My rationale for continuing is based in the knowledge that members of CWA of NSW will, personally and through our affiliation with the Associated Country Women of the World (ACWW), be offering financial, emotional and spiritual assistance to the people of the Philippines. The new World President of ACWW, Ruth Shanks (a Past NSW President) will no doubt be active in the dissemination of aid from societies across the globe.

Disasters come in varied forms; some horrendously swift with deadly consequences and others are slow and insidious. Drought takes the latter form and invades relentlessly, day by day. One of our members penned the following to me recently; Our situation is very similar to others – feeding for 9 months now and no significant rain for 20 months. We had feed on hand in drought readiness but that only goes so far and this is a long drought. We would have sold much earlier (cattle) but the market was swamped due to the effect of Labor’s live cattle trade policy with Indonesia. We have now sold three quarters of our herd including breeding stock at record low prices. Queensland is helping their farmers and communities; we must be a sub-species in NSW!!!”

If the Government is going down the path of preparedness and being proactive rather than reactive their new policies should have been implemented prior to the current situation, or the old system kept in place until the details of the new, were finalised. Incentives to provide on-farm storage are useless at present, unless they come fully stocked with feed and the deferral of Special Conservation Scheme loans just increases the final amount to pay unless interest charges are also suspended.

There are those who do not believe in drought assistance and I know many farmers who would agree; pride, however comes second to starving stock.The majority of landholders would much prefer to be self sufficient and if income had kept pace with cost of production we would be able to do that. Of course the consequential increase to the cost of a loaf of bread or a steak for dinner would have consumer groups (probably rightly) up in arms. There lies the dilemma.

How “prepared” do farmers need to be; what time frame will be considered acceptable when we are deciding how much feed to keep on hand? How much money should be tied up, in storing feed, that could be used for other improvements like no till machinery to conserve moisture, fencing and increasing watering points to allow for rotational grazing which combined with sowing native perennials will increase groundcover to help store moisture .

There are some in the wider community seeking more holistic methods in the production of food and fibre whilst steadfastly refusing to provide support and at the same time demanding cheaper food. Something or someone has to give and I’m pretty sure it won’t be the weather.

Efficiency, economies of scale, sustainable management practices are some of the catchcries we’ve heard over the last few decades, but they only work for so long, eventually increasing costs encroach on those gains too.

Resilience, eternal optimism and the ability to take risks have long been defining characteristics of Australian farmers, but those traits and their spirit, is evaporating as quickly as the water in the farm dam on a 40° day.