Helping spirits prosper during the big dry

HELPING OUT: (Left to right) Stacy Keane, Chris Ferguson, Michaela Fisher, Kylie Baty, Kylie Fisher, Lisa Mallon, Sarah Goulden (NSW DPI), Kate Ailmore, Nikki Vlach, Prue Ritchie (front row) Maisie Fisher and Alexandra Hytyk at the Matt Lawson Photography workshop.
HELPING OUT: (Left to right) Stacy Keane, Chris Ferguson, Michaela Fisher, Kylie Baty, Kylie Fisher, Lisa Mallon, Sarah Goulden (NSW DPI), Kate Ailmore, Nikki Vlach, Prue Ritchie (front row) Maisie Fisher and Alexandra Hytyk at the Matt Lawson Photography workshop. Matt Lawson Photography

JUST like a farmer’s paddock being brought to life with rain, a few good falls has enriched the Bourke region’s spirits.

While the recent downpours haven’t broken the drought, Bourke Rural Resilience officer Sarah Goulden said they had boosted morale.

“The rain we have had recently has just been fantastic,” she said.

“Even when you look on Facebook there are photos of paddocks covered in grass that haven’t looked like that for a long time. Everyone is feeling so blessed.

“It’s very positive at the moment.

“However, if you had asked me this question a few months ago… it would have been a very different story.”

Having a gauge on the community’s spirits is something Sarah has become an expert at.

For the last two years, she has been one of five New South Wales Department of Primary Industries Rural Resilience Officers scattered across the state.

It’s her job to listen to the community, offer support and help secure funding so farmers can build their personal and business reliance – then, she reports back to ministers and policy makers about bigger issues that need to be addressed in rural communities.

She refers to the five officers as being “embedded” in communities, it’s a strong term in her case as she has lived in Bourke for 10 years.

“Our job is really just about listening to what the farming community wants and helping them follow what they are interested in pursuing,” she said.

“You have to do it that way, you can’t come in and tell them what to do and what you think they need otherwise you just won’t get a buy-in – people won’t show up,” she said.

Photography workshops, a women’s weekend retreat, a tractor yoga course and even sausage making lessons for men are among the list of events Rural Resilience Officers have organised.

Sarah loves her job, and said a highlight for her while working in the role was coordinating the women’s retreat.

“We had it at the Bourke Bridge Inn, which is a beautiful caravan park or country resort right on the banks of the Darling River,” she said.

“We had a really great workshop with a woman called Cath Marriott.

“Then everyone got glammed up for dinner. They all had a chance to have a massage, or a facial or have their nails done by a local beautician. Everyone just raved about the weekend.”

While media attention often shines the spotlight on male farmers struggling the most during drought, Sarah said it was essential to support both sexes.

Women were just as vulnerable as men with mental illness when battling adverse environmental issues like drought, she said.

“Women are often the school teachers with distance education, they are the book keeper, they are the chef, they are the secretary for organising the diary, they are also the one who does the mustering and the fencing and also organises the social events on the calendar,” she said.

“So they are working just as hard and are just as busy so it’s just as important for them to connect with each other and be able to share their stories in an environment away from the farm.”

As well as organising events and guiding farmers through grant applications for their farms, the officers can do their own research on issues they feel need to be addressed.

At the moment Sarah is working on securing Bourke its own psychologist – currently the region has none.

“That was something I realised where there was a gap and it was something that I wanted to see if we could do something about it,” she said.

“It would just be very beneficial if we had a respected psychologist who could do some outreach work here. Do some events, maybe some workshops on building resilience and how to look after your neighbour, so if the farmers do need support there would be a permanent contact.

“That would mean if they did want to ring up and use those services, if something terrible happened within their family, or they were struggling themselves, they would have a rapport with someone in the community who they could speak too.”

Sarah feels confident that she will be able to have a win for Bourke and get the community a psychologist.

“Well, I really hope we can get one.

“There have been some positive signs.”

Although it’s Sarah’s bread and butter to look after her region, she said the tight-knit community was already working together to look out for each another.

Financial counsellors, stock and station agents and even vets were constantly in touch with Sarah if they felt there were people needing some support.

“I definitely spend more time listening than I do speaking,” she said.

Stay in touch

SARAH Goulden encouraged those who wanted to boost resilience in their own families to start by looking at themselves first.

“It’s good to have a look at how you are tracking: your diet, your health, your mental health and your exercise regime,” she said.

“There are some great surveys online you can take, the National Mental Health and Wellbeing, which will just give you a little bit of a prompt on how you are faring overall.”

When battling drought, Sarah said it was crucial for people to stay connected.

“You have to try and remain engaged with the community,” she said.

“Whether that is a sporting event, a fishing club, or simply being involved with your farming network.

“And then it’s just about looking after your neighbours. Dropping in to see if they need any help and asking if there is anything they want to talk about.”

If people are really concerned about their own or someone else’s mental health, Sarah said LifeLine and Beyond Blue were excellent 24-hour resources.

Fast facts

Rural Resilience officers are located in Bourke, Coffs Harbour, Goulburn, Hay and Tocal

Visit www.dpi.nsw support/rural-resilience- program for more information


Life Line: 131114


To check up on your own health, Sarah said had a great survey that offered a free professional follow ups.

Topics:  bourke drought drought-affected farmers

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