Friday, 25 April 2014

Super Time at Small Schools Camp at Weilmoringle.

Great excitement as students from Wanaaring, Louth and Engonnia all travelled by small bus and 4-wheel drive to Weilmoringle school, arriving Monday afternoon.

 Even more excited were the expert presenters-  Sue Anderson, from Geelong, tennis coach extraordinare, Lou Smith, from Bulahdelah, bringing the gift of wonderful music, Jeanine Boland from Parkes, with a boot full of pre-school activities and more patience than Job, not to mention Phill, with his fantastic games, and myself.

29 kids in all (half in kinder and Yr1) and about a dozen adults, with 3 fantastic local cooks keeping up the food. And what a week we had! It was great to watch children and staff reform or start, new friendships.

A local artist from Brewarrina, Morris Sullivan, came out for a couple of mornings and did Aboriginal art with the kids. I am still not sure how he managed to get so much done in such a short time.

And best of all, I got to leave my hand print.

Each morning was filled with groups moving between tennis, music, art and games with Phill.
Phill hit the ground running and reached into his bag of tricks. First up, First  class- “Tag you’re it !” It was full on till the afternoon.He also ran some  team building games -“Watch out for the Croc!  He is coming !! " leads the children in singing the songs they had learned.
Numbers in the preschool room varied but every time I  stuck my head in there were the most wonderful games, stories or craft happening.

Sue kept them all busy on the tennis court with a wide variety of games and in three days managed to get the older ones up to playing a game. The littlies were hitting balls over the net with confidence.

Lou adapted a Colin Buchanan song to include local places and the kids loved it. There were other songs with quieter sections and the concert on Friday morning was wonderful. But the part that kids loved the most was making lots of noise on the drums.

On the Wednesday morning Phill and I did the Easter story with the kids. As only Enngonia school has regular scripture for some of the kids it wasn’t a very familiar story.

Julie explains the Passover.

We did a simple Passover meal (Note to self – Be careful how you describe the grape juice or they’ll all think you are trying to make them drink blood!)

We also nailed messages to God on a cross and watched some fantastic animated videos.

The afternoons had whole group activities.

Aunty Josie, one of the Weilmoringle elders took us into the bush on a number of occasions and shared some of the special places and sacred stories.
One thing for sure, I’m never swimming in the Munda Gutta (rainbow serpent) water hole! The cultural events were finished off with an emu cookout and jonny cakes.

We also had Sam Buckie, from National Parks bring the information trailer, and Ronnie Gibbs from Country Rugby League.

One of the high points was the conversations with the staff and children. One staff member shared that she wished there had been things like this when she was growing up. She only had family and close neighbours to play with and talk to. This really opens the world to these kids, otherwise they just ride their motorbikes or go hunting or fishing, unless there’s a special day on. 

Preschool is in!
Five, very exhausted but elated, presenters climbed into the cars after morning tea Friday for the long journey home in different directions.

My sincere thanks to Sue, Lou and Jeanine who willingly gave up their time and brought their very special gifts to these students from remote communities.

                                 Your special gifts meant the kids had a fantastic time!

                                                                                                                  - Julie Grieg.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Easter - There's nothing in it.

Jesus' body was placed in the tomb on Friday but when the women attended it on Sunday morning the tomb was empty! 

When we bite into our Easter eggs on Sunday we notice that they are empty, reminding us of Jesus' tomb, where there was nothing inside because....

                                               Jesus had risen....

and because He has risen, death has been beaten and we can have hope, hope that is even stronger than death.*

*Based on an article by Chris Edwards.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Good Friday 2014

In this confronting image of a contemporary art work, the artist has placed a crucifix in a jar of his own urine and entitled it "Piss Christ". Naturally it excited a lot of comment when it was exhibited for the first time.

Many Christians complained and it was seen as sacrilegious, and it is.

Many Christians said no other religion would tolerate such insult and they were right.

However, and this is the power of the Cross and the Man, our God and Saviour, who hangs on it and yet was not bound by it; Jesus love and sacrifice is beyond mockery or insult, for how can you insult a God who loves so much as to give Himself like this, purely for us?

To mock it is to be shown for who you are -missing the point and turning your back on the One who triumphed over death, the One who loves you beyond all reason.

When you look at this work again you will see that God, in Jesus, has transcended this insult. He, in His love  and humility, speaks to us through this image.

It becomes beautiful, for it reflects the very thing He set out to achieve- His triumph over anything which can be thrown at Him to stop Him reconciling this world to Himself.

Friday, 11 April 2014

2014 Rural Chaplain Gathering in Dubbo.

February 24th - 25th was the time for the Gathering of the NSW Rural Chaplains, not just Julie and I, but chaplains from all the other churches- Salvos, Catholic’s and Anglicans. We met at the Salvation Army church in Dubbo and they looked after us very well.

Special thanks to Tamaryn and Mark Townsend and the team of volunteers for the great food over the Gathering.

As always, we can’t just do one thing, so we added a few side events into and onto this trip.  Firstly, we met with a new network of service providers, from government and non- government agencies, supporting those in drought. I found this most helpful. We had a great time of worship as our opening, which put us all in the right frame of mind to look at how we all could work towards building a network to assist the local farming communities over the coming months.

It was a most interesting and helpful process as we all shared what we could bring to the network to best meet the needs of those caught up in the drought and it gave me new connections in government departments and other service providers.

We also invited those that could to stay for morning tea. This value added to the building of connections. I was able to catch up with Tracey from DPI, in the Western area and with my local Salvo Chaplains, Peter and Jean.

 Over the next 24 hours we shared our stories and journeys and worshipped some more. We had an interesting guest speaker via Skype, Alison Kennedy, on the impact of deaths both accidental and suicide, on farm families. 

Suicide in rural areas brings trauma and sadness to close knit communities and Rural Chaplains are often called to provide counselling and support.

 On the fun side we went out for dinner together again, building a stronger connection between us all, it was so good. My wife, Lyn, was able to join us and meet the others I work with like Lloyd and Vicky from Bourke. These connections will prove even more important as we work to bring assistance to those on the land.

Much of our sharing was in how we use the resources God has given through the gifts of those in the wider community.

 There have been many wonderful acts of kindness – money and fodder for farmers and fuel for us. Chaplains and agencies work together to have those donations go to places of need, not only in this first wave of the government declaring drought, but as the months roll on. As chaplains we try to locate and assist those who fall though the gaps, who never got the rain others did and who will take that much longer to recover.

We have had a good rain event this year but we need so many more for things to fall into place over the next few months.

                              My flooded yard does not mean the drought is over.

Rural Chaplain - Phill Matthews

Friday, 4 April 2014

What's going on out west that there often seems to be a rural crisis happening somewhere? Part 2 - Terms of Trade.

Last week two influences crucial to understanding  what is going on for farmers today were introduced  - Climate and Terms of Trade
This week we look at Terms of trade.
Terms of Trade refers to the ability to make a profit that enables them to adapt to changing environment and technology.
Over the years the terms of trade has only gone one way - tighter. That means the farmer finds it harder to make a reasonable profit or return on investment.

Surveying the scene on John McKeon's property at Roto, near Hillston
Farmers, as a general rule, are price takers.The price being set by international supply and demand, which in the past has often been distorted by government policy to ensure stable food supply (especially in Europe after WWII when they suffered extreme food shortages, which then resulted in the '50's meat and dairy " mountains" ).
 Even today governments want cheap food for their people, often at the expense of farmer long term viability. You can then add into that duopoly purchasing power and distortion of supply/ demand ratios.

Farmers face unbalanced trading power where you have a large number of farmers trying to market to a few merchants who can then play one farmer against another to buy the produce at a cheaper price - this can then set a lower floor in the price attainable.
The duopoly purchasing power of the two major food retailers  in Australia results in further distortion of supply/ demand ratios. The classic example is the price of milk crashing because of the price war between Coles and Woolworth's running a loss leading market technique to get customers through the door. Usually the fresh milk market is considered the premium end market for milk for producers and processors, however, this strategy resulted in a downward pressure on returns to the milk processors and subsequently the farmers. When so much of the retail market is controlled by two companies (80 % combined in Australia) the option to sell elsewhere at a better price is extremely limited. If you are in a position to gain a supply contract to these companies, they virtually dictate the terms and conditions and hold the bargaining power if you wish to maintain the contract.

The issue of profitability is exacerbated in a variable climate such as Australia because the farmer relies on profits in the better years to carry him through the poor years. In the past that was not an issue, especially in the 1950's, and a farmer would reasonably comfortably handle a drought or a couple of tough production or trading years. However, today the terms of trade are much tighter and the ability to accumulate reserve funds are considerably diminished. Add on to that, decisions like the temporary banning of live exports to Indonesia (which effectively cut off income immediately for producers and transport contractors and will take many months ,even years to restore) and you have the right environment for financial failure of a large proportion of the agricultural sector as we are experiencing now, including the effects of the subsequent northern drought.

Farming in Hillston is dependent on a huge underground aquifer.

Farmers also face uneven market power.We are producing agricultural products for export and local consumption in a first world country with all the checks and measures and wages we believe we must have for our way of life, competing with countries with much less efficient but lower production standards and costs than Australia. These low cost countries then see the opportunity to export to Australia below Australian cost of production - especially horticultural products- and probably at much lower health and safety standards.

What are the solutions ? 
1) Long term finance at realistic cost is a must - we used to have a good system with the old Development Bank which was absorbed by the Commonwealth Bank and unfortunately, closed down.

2) Every effort to improve profitability through terms of trade - whether that be by reducing red tape and ability to adapt caused by such things as the draconian native vegetation regulations (which mean farmers are limited in their ability to make decisions about changing land for more profitable production) and ensuring a level market, not distorted by uneven market power or "dumped" imports.

3) The ability to claim tax write offs in good years for drought prevention measures (some of which we had back in the post WWII era).
Canola crop on the Hillston-Griffith Road

Agriculture will always be a significant industry in Australia. It is sustainable industry and it feeds all our peoples. Awareness of this by all Australians needs to be raised so farmers feel supported in their role. At present they feel unacknowledged and blamed by conservationists. Farmers feel they bear the brunt of the need to make changes to practices to conserve water and the land.

 Education of the city based population as to its constraints and opportunities is very important if we are to prevent strangulation of agriculture by emotionally imposed restrictions rather than science based development of modern agriculture.

* Blog information, this week is largely quoted, or summarised, from an article by- 
 Bruce Crosby, past farmer and agricultural contractor involved in soil and tissue sampling and testing and a member of Moree Uniting Church,  in response to a request from the Rural Chaplains for information on this topic.   



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