GIVING our "country cousins a hand up, not a handout" is the motto of a community- driven program bringing laughter and smiles to rural folk around the country who are doing it tough.
It's a noble and genuine ambition borne out of one woman's experience of growing up on the land in country South Australia and Victoria, and witnessing the way small communities operate in good times and bad.
On any given night in any given community affected by drought or simply circumstances that means they are doing it tough, the Shout A Mate crew could be hard at work cracking open work-hardened faces and bringing back belly laughs and smiles to people who simply have not had a lot to smile about of late.
The Shout A Mate Program enlists the talents of entertainers, such as program patron and musician Kieran Wicks and comedian Chris Franklin, who together bring their own brands of music and comedy to the bush.
Shout A Mate founder and tour organiser Anita Donlon comes from a country, small business and entertainment background, and she is a woman who simply cares for the people in the bush.
After being deeply moved by the plight of her generational grazier friend Cate Stuart, Anita's caring nature manifested in a way that has seen her develop a practical program that's all about bringing some joy back into the lives of people.
"We've been to communities that have been really tough gigs," Anita said.
"But the local people have come up to us and said, 'look please don't take it personally, the people in the community have just forgotten how to laugh'.
"So we have produced a show that lets people know that it's okay to laugh and it's okay not to laugh, it's okay to dance and it's okay not to dance … but everyone walks away happy."
Kieran said that the lasting effects of putting on a performance provided the group with great satisfaction.
"Other than just the events themselves, which are a one-night thing, the communities we go into are often really struggling financially," Kieran said.
"So what we do to help address that situation is we create highlight videos or call to action videos that talk about local events, local cultural attractions and history to actually really drive people to the communities."
Anita said the results of that plan could be measured in many more ways than just economically.
"We share the videos on social media and then the locals share that and they get a sense of pride, and they also get a sense of pride because they know we cared enough to go out there and showcase their town," she said.
"Everyone loves to brag and except for when we come along the community really hasn't had anything to brag about for a long time."
The way the Shout A Mate program works is pretty simple.
It's $30 to shout a mate or $50 to shout a whole family.
As the Shout A Mate website explains, this is not a donation, it is actually shouting someone to go out and have a good time.
For businesses there is even the opportunity to sponsor whole communities.
The funds make it possible for Anita to take Chris and Kieran on the road to perform a two to two-and-a-half hour show at the local pub or club.
Not that Anita is encouraging drinking, but the current travelling show featuring Chris and Kieran is headlined the Great Aussie Pub Crawl.
It's a title that fits well with another variation of the Shout A Mate program, The Partnering Pubs Program.
"We are very much about supporting the local economies, so when we do shows in the cities, we inform and then encourage the people at those venues about the program and get them involved to the point where they may adopt another community," she said.
"The Kangaroo Flat Hotel in a suburb of Bendigo, in Victoria, has adopted the Carinda community in New South Wales.
"It was a flourishing community a number of years ago, David Bowie even recorded one of his song filmclips out there.
"It's neighbouring to Walgett, which hasn't really had any rain for three years, and it's in a pretty bad way at the moment.
"So we have held shows at Kangaroo Flat a number of times and the money raised has allowed us to do three shows out at Carinda.
"It's not about drinking.
"You don't have to drink when you go to a pub, it's just that in many small towns all over the country the local pub is often the centre for people to meet and greet at the end of a hard week."
To find out more about the Shout A Mate and other programs visit www.shoutamate.com.au.
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