Friday, 26 October 2012

From Bre to the Gunbar Gathering *

Gunbar Uniting Church stands in a paddock beside the road on the way to Hay. The church and bell tower provided a stark contrast to the dusty paddocks of the 10 year drought but life is now evident in Gunbar.

Beside the church is a small hall. In the hall each Wednesday fortnight a group of young women and their babies and children gather to play, share stories and a cuppa. Also there will be community and/or church members whose children now have children, who come along also to play, share stories and a cuppa.

Jenny and I * went along on the first day to join in and take out a boot load of books and toys.But already there was a cubby house set up outside under the tree and trucks and toys temptingly left around. Jenny added the pram she’d brought and we went inside.

 We were greeted warmly and it wasn’t just the weather! First was the cuppa and amazing biscuits made by Anna and they were just part of what was set out on the table. A simple but well planned routine began. Play, story, songs, craft and then more play.

Soon Jenny was on nappy changing duty and Sue playing at the cubby showing the little ones how to climb up the steps and down the slide. Soon they were experts and lingered at the tower to wave and survey the scene before sliding yet again. Everyone gathered outside and we played ‘roll the ball on the plastic table cloth and bounce them up and down” Some children enjoyed the bouncing and others, picking up the strewn balls. There was something for everyone.

Anna Cochrane had the idea of starting the play group; the word got around. Julie let Sue know to ask if toys were needed. (They weren’t because Goolgowi playgroup had donated the equipment they weren’t using.) Announcements in local papers and church, emails circulated,a date set and the Gunbar play group was a reality.
Congratulations to Anna and the mums and community at Gunbar for showing how great things can happen in small places!

* From Bre to Gunbar and further, the Rural Chaplains "outdoor office" covers a wide area.
 *Jenny and Sue (Associate Rural Chaplain) are members of Hillston Uniting Church and drove 100 km to get to play group. Most people attending often have a similar drive to get to community events.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Darcy the Wonder Dog sees the Fish Traps at Bre

Hi ,I'm Darcy.

I'm the one you see here with Julie as she gazes intrepidly across the landscape. We were at Brewarrina taking a break in our travel and viewing the Fish Traps at Bre.

These are quite remarkable and worth seeing. That day several young men were fishing the traps. This entails standing in the river up to your thighs and catching the fish in your hands as they get caught in the traps. It was fascinating to see something which has been happening for hundreds of years in the same way and so ingenious.

I used to be a city dog but now I'm a rural dog. We regularly go kayaking on the Lachlan. I sit up the front and guide her on where to paddle.She can't do without me. It's the same on the push bike. I have a special box to sit in which balances on the bike. Sometimes I run alongside but it hurts my paws and Julie worries about me running on the road. One time in Enngonia I even got to roll in a dead pig carcass which is something I have always wanted to do but never got the opportunity in the city.

 You can see I have done lots of very different and scary things since I have been with Julie but I wouldn't miss it for the world and I love to go with her on her travels in rural NSW. ( Don't tell anyone but I cry when she goes away and has to leave me behind.)

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Hillston Hospitality

When Helen Miller-Brown came to town to conduct research for her Masters Degree in Adult Environmental Education, the experience of the interviews gave the farmers an opportunity to tell their story.   On her last night in Hillston, Helen told us that she was in awe of the farmers’ love for their land and how environmentally aware they are. They are caring for their land in constantly changing conditions with a view to handing it on in a better state for the next generation. The commitment to their land and tenacity in finding ways to learn and adapt to changing conditions is inspiring.

Helen views an irrigation channel with a local farmer

We asked Helen herself to comment on her time in Hillston.

“When I first decided to do this study I was concerned how I would find the farmers and once I had, would they talk to me?
Sue helped out with this. She found farmers and community members who were willing to be interviewed. Sue organized a broad cross section of farmers; from cropping and grazing, size of farms, age and wealth of interviewees.
Julie looked after me while I was in Hillston conducting the interviews. I can recommend her as a B&B as well as lunch and dinner.
Although there were only two and a half days of interviewing, due to the long distance of Hillston from Sydney, I was away Monday to Friday. Despite the intensity it was a wonderful and uplifting experience. The honesty of the farmers and members of the community is appreciated and I thank them for their integrity and courage. The generosity of spirit and good humour displayed made me feel sincerely welcome. I came away from Hillston thinking it is the best place in the world, and also with a sense of responsibility to do the right thing by the people who trust me with their story.
Now as I sit and begin the task of writing the thesis I am humbled by these stories and hope I can do them justice. This month I am attending a conference at the University of New England where I look forward to having the opportunity to share these stories with some of my fellow adult education researchers. Bit by bit let us hope justice is done for everyone.”
                                                                                                        Helen Miller-Brown

Friday, 12 October 2012

The Uni Researcher and the Farmers

Following on from the visit from the Moderator, Brian Brown and his wife, Helen Miller-Brown, Helen decided to visit the Hillston area again as part of her Masters in Education researching on-going learning.

 She had become aware of the issues facing farmers as a result of the Moderators visit. It occurred to her that coping with drought,constant seasonal weather change,changes in technology,the industrialisation of farming,together with the isolation, which is naturally part of farming life, meant that farmers are constantly having to adapt to changing conditions. This means they are excellent subjects in a study about methods of on-going learning.

Irrigated Wheat -Hillston
So .....Where did the Rural Chaplains come into it?

Helen was interested in interviewing farmers but simply did not know any personally. She approached the Uniting Church Rural Chaplains and asked if they could find out who would be good to interview in the Hillston area.
 One thing we are good at in Hillston is knowing everybody. Sue was deputized to the job and set about making a list of irrigation and dry land farmers on properties large and small but she had only been in Hillston 18 months and still needed more names.

What do you do?  Ask a local.

Down at the local info. centre and art gallery,The Red Dust and Paddy Melon Gallery, the question was asked. A long list resulted.Farmers of all types and descriptions.
"Ask....... they used to irrigate but now do dry land farming.That should be interesting. Then you could ask .... they are a small landholder next to a huge property. '' " You could ask ...they'd be interested but I think they are going to Melbourne that week."

The next task was to call the names on the list and explain the idea of the research and ask if people were interested. At times some translation was required as the terminology of the interviews was questioned. What seems an acceptable term to one group may not be to another and a term used casually by one person will put another person off. For example the term 'climate change' is viewed differently by many farmers as they feel it is used to justify many changes which greatly affect their livelihood. It was used in the questions but was misleading as to the true purpose of the interviews was concerned and put farmers off. Sue was able to act as a bit of a go-between in the situation as she knew both views held on the issue and most farmers were then happy to be interviewed.

Cockatiels in a Hillston paddock
Ten to twelve interviews were arranged,a mud map provided over lunch, as Helen arrived with 1 1/2 hours to spare before the first interview. In true Hillston style the first farmer turned up so she could follow him out out the farm and not get lost and 3 days of  successful interviews had begun.

Why was this a job for Rural Chaplains?

It related to the same concerns as those that led to the meetings between farmers and the Moderator. As a social justice issue and in the interests of having the rural perspective heard in academic circles and the wider community, these interviews fell within the role of Rural Chaplains to provide opportunities for rural people to tell their stories and have their skills and knowledge recognised as valuable members of our community. It will be very interesting to see the results of Helen's research.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Issues in the Murray -Darling basin

Community meeting in Finley
One of the roles of the Rural Chaplain is to advocate for social justice for members of the community who cannot speak for themselves or whose voice is not heard clearly amidst the clamour of voices in our media.
This role finds Julie doing some of her most challenging work and working very much out in the community.

A group feeling rather marginalised at present are the farmers of the Murray-Darling basin.The 10 year long drought has affected them greatly but just as the rain came and things took an economic turn for the better the water restrictions were announced and farmers faced losing up to a third of their water allocations which will,as you can imagine, affect their livelihood and has created an uncertain future.

Brian and Helen Brown looking at a Hillston Cotton Crop
Farmers are feeling very blamed for the environment issues facing the nation and feel as if they are the ones bearing the brunt of the changes to water and land management.An example of this is one conversation I had with the wife of one of the Hillston farmers who asked, "How would the owners of the posh hotels in Sydney feel if they were told to cut a third of their water use and not be able to wash the towels and linen as frequently?"

They also see themselves in the important role of providing food for the nation.Without their crops Australia would have to import all its food. On top of the general lack of services available in the rural areas these issues are hurting and making country people feel like the poor relations.

Brian and Helen Brown learning about rice growing Coleambally
Farmers are a very articulate group but they feel keenly that their side of the story is not being heard on the complex issues of water and land management.

This is an area where Julie,hearing these concerns as she mixes with people in rural NSW, sees a responsibility to advocate for such groups and act to allow opportunities for rural voices to be heard in the cities where the bulk of public opinion is formed and where decisions are made. It is not a role of arguing their case and taking sides but just making sure that all voices are heard and all sides of the issues explored.

With this object in mind the Moderator of the Uniting Church, Brian Brown, was invited to visit several areas and towns over 4 days earlier this year to meet with people and hear their stories and hurts.

Public meeting at Griffith
 The church has a role in caring for people who are hurting and the Uniting Church has always has a social justice focus so it seemed fitting for farmers to have the opportunity to speak with the Moderator and for him to consider and then write about, what he experienced in the Insight magazine. As he hears debates on the issues in wider forums he now has both sides of the story and can present an informed rural view to city dwellers.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Website designers follow the Waste Not Want Not food trail to Sydney

The three IT students and their teacher who are doing the website for Waste Not Want Not recently spent two exhausting days in Sydney finding out what happens to the produce when it gets to Sydney and how it is used to alleviate poverty.

First there was a visit to a soup kitchen and lunch with some of the locals. This was followed by a very eye opening time at Oasis Youth program run by the Salvation Army. For kids from Hillston hearing about some of the stories of inner city kids was quite a revelation.

The evening was spent helping serve food (in the rain of course) from the Exodus Food van parked near St Mary's Cathedral.

The second day involved a visit to Parramatta Mission to help prepare lunch and then some time at Foodbank seeing how the food is distributed to the charities. We were also able to help bag some apples while there and again were reminded that the produce is of excellent quality, just the wrong shape or size.

The students were a real credit to their school, interacting with all sorts of people and coping with a range of personalities and mental illnesses. They are keen to spend their next holidays volunteering in Syd.

Watch this space for the launch of the new website!


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