Movement and Mindset with Jessica Carey

Transcript from the podcast “Speak Out Loud: Stories of Strength from the Southern Downs”

SEASON 2: EPISODE 12

GUEST: Jessica Carey

PUBLISHED: 4th April 2022

Jessica Carey at Girraween

[00:00:00] Jessica: When we work on our mindset, when we work on our emotional resilience, when we’re connected to nature and when we’re moving our body, it actually shifts energy. It moves and creates change. And I think within anything to do with movement, it is creating change not only on a physical level, but with your mental health, also with your emotional wellbeing, which are all part of being a human, like when we’re very multifaceted and it’s not a one size fits all thing. It’s about choosing what works for you and, what makes you feel good. And I think that’s really important.

[00:00:42] Kathryn: My guest today is Jessica Carey. Jessica’s deep connection with the Southern Downs Region goes back six generations. In our conversation, we chat about the cycles and the seasons in nature, and that by choosing your mindset and your actions, you also choose to build your personal strength and resilience and this positions you in a much better place to manage the changes, the cycles and the seasons in life. Jessica also shares in this episode, her love of physical activity and sport, and the many opportunities across the region for joining in structured activities like sport, as well as unstructured leisure activities such as bushwalking that gets you connected with nature. Our conversation reflects many of the themes that we’ve explored in Season Two and I’m sure it will inspire you to get out there and get active.

Hello, Jessica. Welcome to the podcast.

[00:01:46] Jessica: Hi Kathryn. Thanks so much for having me.

[00:01:48] Kathryn: Can you tell our listeners what your connection is with the Southern Downs?

[00:01:53] Jessica: My connection with the Southern Downs is very much family-based. So I’ve grown up in the region and I have six generations back, uh, on both sides of my lineage and family line in the Yangan and Emu Vale area.

[00:02:08] Kathryn: During the drought which we had over several years, and that was followed up by the bush fires in 2019 and 2020, I spoke with a lot of people about their experiences. And some words that were commonly used were devastation, hopelessness, and despair. And so clearly for many people, those were really tough times. But at that time, I also recall having some conversations with you too. And you had a slightly different perspective, I’d have to say, which I really think must’ve helped to boost your resilience. You were speaking about the cycles and the seasons in nature and in life, and there are purposes and benefits to each of those cycles and seasons, even though they can be challenging. Could you share some of your thoughts on that perspective with us a little bit more?

[00:03:00] Jessica: I would love to. So in my profession I have a lot of conversations and I hear a lot of stories, uh, from really beautiful and happy memories to really hard times, um, being a hairdresser. Yeah, people are really vulnerable with you. So feelings of devastation and hopelessness and despair were definitely very common during that time and how I look at it from a psychological perspective and a cycles of nature perspective is that we have a life death life cycles. And that happens in nature, that happens within our bodies, our life, our inner world. So when we went through that really, really tough time, which many are still in, it was reflected back to us within what was going on in our internal world. It was really hard to see the devastation that the drought bought just like right now, the land is very fertile. So those cycles of nature are continuous. I have a lot of conversations with farmers and a lot of them are just very connected to those seasons, those cycles in nature. And I really like hearing those stories because it actually teaches us that there is always a time for these things, um, that nothing ever stays the same, that we are cyclic beings. And that what’s really important is to learn how to become resilient through some of those harder times, some of those tougher times in life, um, that we will all face at some time.

[00:04:23] Kathryn: So our thoughts and our attitudes can really have quite an impact on our resilience as well as the actions that we choose to take. Now, I know that you’re someone who highly values health and vitality and resilience. What are some of the choices that you make every day that keeps you feeling strong?

[00:04:45] Jessica: I love this question, Kathryn. Health is one of my highest values because I believe without it, that we can’t actually make the choices from a really clear and vibrant space. So, uh, eating really well from the land from the earth is really important to me, whether that’s growing your own food or going to local farmer’s markets and sourcing locally and seasonally. Really good sleep cycles. I believe that’s really important in how I show up in the world every day is sleep is how our bodies heal. So that’s really important. Movement, so physical activity, whether that’s team sport, getting out in nature, doing a yoga class. Being still for a period of time within that movement is important as well. Being aware of your body. Having really nourishing relationships and being social is part of that as well, whether that is on a hike or team sport, or simply saying hello to my neighbour as they walk past. And having really clear desires and goals are another part of my life of working towards being a really, just the best version of myself in this life. I think that’s really important and I’m really connected to nature. I think we live in an incredible region where nature is at the forefront and I love being connected to her. I think it’s probably the thing that I love the most is, um, it connects to all those other things and it creates a really incredible foundation for the rest.

[00:06:12] Kathryn: And you’ve been involved with lots of different physical activities over the years that you’ve lived in the Southern Downs and even when you’ve gone abroad Jessica. What opportunities are there for people to get active on the Southern Downs?

[00:06:28] Jessica: Ah, where do I begin? There’s so many. I was brought up playing a lot of team sports, so I was involved with netball and touch football um, in particular. I was into athletics and swimming as well. And I’ve always done some type of gym work. So, there is just so many depending on where you want to start. You can pick your team sports, you can pick your individual sports. You’ve got incredible gym facilities in the region. You’ve got, um, some of your unstructured sports, like you’ve got your mountain biking, orienteering so many, so it really depends on the way that you want to move your body, but we are an incredible region, that offers so much for getting outdoors and yeah, just seeing what we’ve got on offer.

[00:07:10] Kathryn: So with so many opportunities out there, how can people find out about what’s out there if they are starting from not doing anything, they don’t know what’s available to them, how can they get connected?

[00:07:27] Jessica: I would say first port of call is talk to people. I think within anything in a small country town, it is asking the right questions and asking around. Secondly, using your social media apps. I think that everything is on there now uh, whether that’s your unstructured or your structured sport. I think, uh, using your hashtags is really powerful, especially on Instagram. So if you’re like hashtagging Southern Downs or Granite Belt, there’s a lot of people who explore this region that are tourists that love coming out here who share pictures and who share what they’re doing to get outdoors. It’s actually how I found a hiking group that I’m now involved in for 25 to 35 year olds in the Southeast Queensland and we do hikes and outdoor activities everywhere, but they also come here. So it’s how I found them. I found them through Instagram and I wanted to meet like-minded young people. Um, yeah, so there’s, there’s so many opportunities if you put yourself out there and aren’t afraid to, aren’t afraid to get a little bit vulnerable and put yourself out of your comfort zone. And the council website has a great foundation on there as well for a lot of facilities and a lot of ways that you can get connected in the region. And also just going to some of the like asking local businesses, go down the main street of any of the parts of our region and ask locals. Locals know what’s available. Um, you’ve got your outdoor sports shops. You’ve got your camping shops. They’re like they’re owned by locals. Locals love this region. They explore and get out there. You’ve got so many ways to find your resources, to get outdoors and love this region.

[00:09:01] Kathryn: What are your favorite ways to get active and why? What motivates you with those activities that you love to do the most?

[00:09:10] Jessica: My favourite ways to get active is I really enjoy hiking. I love experiencing nature in a way, uh, that I’m moving without actually feeling like I’m exercising. So it’s just comes naturally. And like, I can enjoy it with friends. I can also enjoy it solo. I feel really connected when I’m with nature, when I’m in immersed in nature. And when I can experience what what’s on offer there. So for me, it’s, that would be my foundational one. And then I also really enjoy team sport because it’s social. I really, really, I think team sports are really great, great way to flourish. And, um, couple of nights a week for that for me is, um, gives me a good people fix and I can move my body, do some cardio and head home.

[00:10:00] Kathryn: Those places that you like to go hiking, Jessica, could you tell us a little bit more about them?

[00:10:06] Jessica: Oh yes. So my favorite place to go hiking in this region is Girraween National Park. I that’s my local stomping ground. Anyone that I meet in hiking groups, that’s they’re like, Oh, you’re so close to Girraween. And I’m like, yes. Yes I am. And there’s something about that granite in that region in Stanthorpe that has so much on offer, not only for just hiking, but so many other outdoor activities. Yes so that is an incredible part. I also love just going out to Killarney. Leslie Dam’s got some really incredible spots as well. I love watching a sunset out there and, uh, yeah, there’s just so many snippets of this region, but definitely Girraween National Park is something that is very much sought after by most people I meet in a lot of parts of Australia.

[00:10:57] Kathryn: For people who are living in town or maybe don’t have that transport to get out to some of those National Parks, some of those big open spaces like that, what would there be for someone say who’s in Warwick or Allora or in Stanthorpe?

[00:11:15] Jessica: Well, we have really incredible waterways in each of our towns and we have incredible walking tracks that are paths. They’re concreted and at the moment the water’s flowing beautifully. So there’s some really incredible river walks that are really flat, really accessible for children, for anyone who maybe their fitness isn’t up to going on a mountain. So I think our waterways in Warwick, Stanthorpe, Killarney, even, and, um, the centre of Stanthorpe are really incredible ways to start.

[00:11:43] Kathryn: Jessica, you also teach sport. Could you tell us a little bit more about that role that you have?

[00:11:51] Jessica: Uh, yes. So on through the summer I teach swimming. So I swam for a number of years and I believe it’s a life skill that everybody should have, whether that’s swimming in a pool, the beach, or skiing out at the dam, whatever it is, it’s one of those life skills that I believe are really important. So yeah. I love teaching kids swimming. It’s really fun. It’s, I love seeing their development. And I love seeing how they grow in confidence and build body awareness. And it’s something they can take for the rest of their life, which is really fun.

[00:12:25] Kathryn: And I imagine that even for adults who may want to learn to swim, that there are opportunities for them as well. Or it might not be swimming. It might be adults who want to have a go at a new sport that they haven’t done before.

[00:12:39] Jessica: Oh, absolutely. Most of the clubs in town, like most of your team sports or even your local gyms are always providing opportunities for you to move your body and get active and meet people. And yeah, I think you just need to ask around and find one that suits you. And there’s always incredible, incredible ways that you can get moving, get outside and umm move your body.

[00:13:01] Kathryn: For somebody who maybe doesn’t move a real lot, maybe isn’t really physically active, perhaps they have some pain or they haven’t had as many opportunities as somebody else to get involved with sport, or maybe they find it really hard to find the time to do that, what advice would you have for that person?

[00:13:23] Jessica: I would say start small. I think with anything with movement over my entire life, it’s been about setting a goal and slowly working towards it and being really kind and compassionate with yourself because all things take time. And I think resilience is a part of that. It’s nothing happens overnight. So you’ve got the river walks, as I mentioned earlier. And then you’ve also got some of the tracks that are in our region, whether that’s Queen Mary Falls or you’ve got a beautiful track at Girraween called Granite Arch, you know, they’re, they’re very gentle tracks for beginners and a way to move your body in a very short amount of time. But a lot of it’s mindset. A lot of it’s working towards something, knowing why you do it and being intentional about it. I think intention behind anything that you choose to do is really vital.

[00:14:13] Kathryn: Jessica, is there anything else that you’d like to share with us about that power of mindset or choosing to be active and getting connected with our community?

[00:14:24] Jessica: Absolutely. So whether it’s our mindset, how we choose to move our body or getting connected with others, it’s all about how we choose to show up in the world. You know, when we work on our mindset, when we work on our emotional resilience, when we’re connected to nature and when we’re moving our body, it actually shifts energy. It moves and creates change. And I think within anything to do with movement, it is creating change not only on a physical level, but with your mental health, also with your emotional wellbeing, which are all part of being a human, like when we’re very multifaceted and it’s not a one size fits all thing. It’s about choosing what works for you and, what makes you feel good. And I think that’s really important. If you’re flogging yourself to do something, it’s not sustainable. And I think like anything in nature, things need to be sustainable. So again, coming back to connection with nature and connection to cycles, it’s really important that we treat ourselves with love, respect, and compassion. And when we do that, that’s reflected around us as well.

[00:15:27] Kathryn: We mentioned before that you had travelled abroad. Could you tell us a little bit about what you were doing when you were overseas and how that’s relevant for us here on the Southern Downs?

[00:15:40] Jessica: Yes, I would love to. So a couple of years ago I went and lived in Canada for a short period of time. And I worked at a summer camp in BC. So I was working with children in the outdoors doing structured and unstructured movement and leadership. And it was an incredible time in my life. I believe this region is so similar to parts of BC in Canada. Every time I come back through Stanthorpe after being at Girraween, I just, my heart just takes me back to that time. We have so much opportunity in this region and for what’s available to explore, get out doors, be connected, go mountain biking, hiking, not just your team sports. We just have an incredible resource here in, on the Southern Downs. And I’m very passionate about getting people out doors, getting people moving and showing what is on offer in this beautiful region we call home.

[00:16:38] Kathryn: And we started putting together a list of those sports and those unstructured activities which we have access to here on the Southern Downs. And I’m sure that there are many more that we haven’t even thought of but that’s quite some list, isn’t it?

[00:16:51] Jessica: Oh yeah. There’s oh, from orienteering to tobogganing, soccer, netball, volleyball, water polo. You know, we’ve got our gyms, Pilates, yoga, National Parks. You can walk the dog, basketball, like it just, the list goes on whether it’s trials, whether it’s team sport or whether it’s individual, there’s literally something on offer for everybody, especially in a, in a beautiful country town.

[00:17:16] Kathryn: How can listeners contact you if they’d like to find out a little bit more about what you’ve been talking about today?

[00:17:23] Jessica: So I have a website. It is www.jessicacarey.com.au. I have a contact email that is accessible there, and I have social media. So I have an Instagram account, which is underscore Jessica Carey and Facebook is Arise with Jessica Carey. You can find me pretty easily. So yeah.

[00:17:44] Kathryn: Thanks for listening to the Speak Out Loud Stories of Strength podcast with me, Kathryn Walton. I hope this episode inspires you to get involved and to get connected with your community. You can find the transcript and any links mentioned in this episode, in the show notes and please share the podcast with your friends.
We acknowledge and pay respect to the past, present and future Traditional Custodians and Elders of this nation and the continuation of cultural, spiritual, and educational practices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Series Two of this podcast has been jointly funded under the Commonwealth and State Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements 2018.

Know Your Neighbours with Liz Fama’aea

Transcript from the podcast “Speak Out Loud: Stories of Strength from the Southern Downs”

SEASON 2: EPISODE 11

GUEST: Liz Fama’aea

PUBLISHED: 3rd April 2022

[00:00:00] Liz: We have honey eaters and little finches and wrens. And they all sort of hang out in this little gang. It’s really interesting because I didn’t realise, you know, how much birds all mix, even though they’re different species and completely different birds. And so you’ll get this little gang of about two families of finches and then a couple of families of Superb Wrens. They all come roaring through the garden eating the insects, eating whatever’s hanging around on the flowers. It’s really good to see that recovery of the bush after such devastation. I guess it made us all slowly feel a bit better.

[00:00:37] Kathryn: Today’s story on the podcast comes from Liz Fama’aea who joined me to share how valuable it is to be connected with your community. Liz had grown up in Stanthorpe and she was motivated to move back with her family into the area a few years ago so that they could reconnect and benefit from the support of the community. She has a really interesting story to share about the damage that her home and property sustained during the September 2019 bushfire as well as the incredible recovery journey of the landscape and the community which was reflected in the recent Hope and Growth Photo Exhibition.
Welcome to the podcast Liz.

[00:01:28] Liz: Thank you for having me.

[00:01:30] Kathryn: Can you share with our listeners what your connection is with the Southern Downs?

[00:01:34] Liz: I’ve lived here on and off since I was about seven. I think that’s when my family moved here. And I guess have mostly grown up here with my sisters and, you know, moved away as a lot of us do to study and work. Moved back briefly to have my children have my first two. And then moved back when they were starting high school. I think a lot of us do that. A lot of us move back. At some point you start to see the differences when you’re not as much part of a community and when you bring them back, it’s almost like this big sigh of relief, Oh, that’s what we were missing. And within six months they were back building cubbies outside and they were back doing mostly sport based activities or outdoors stuff and going fishing and they were enjoying life a lot more. They were a lot more relaxed and we were a lot more relaxed too. I think the presence of my parents as well really helped and just in general, the community of people that we’d all known as kids that embraced our kids as well. So I guess we moved back for the community and the community’s become fairly quickly a big part of our lives. And that’s really nice. Yeah. My husband also grew up here. He I think spent a little less time as a child in the community cause his parents moved away, but he’s from the Solomon Islands. And so, for him growing up in the Solomon Islands, he had this really close knit community of relatives and extended family that he lived with, and then coming to Australia, Stanthorpe was probably, he says, it’s the closest thing he’s had to the community that he had over there. So for him moving back here was really important as well, because this is the first place they came to in Australia and having a community of people who knew him since he was a child, and then also knew the boys. So for both of us, I guess, moving back here, um, and reconnecting with the people that had always supported us and seeing how they also supported the kids as they were growing up. That was really lovely. Yeah.

[00:03:40] Kathryn: You’ve been the official photographer for the community photo exhibition called Hope and Growth. Could you comment on how that exhibition celebrated the recovery journey and the growth following the bush fires that came through this region in 2019 and 2020?

[00:03:59] Liz: Oh, wow. That was, um, that was just such a wonderful thing to be a part of, I guess, one of the things that I really enjoy about being a photographer, and one of the reasons that I became a photographer to begin with, is the opportunity to sort of bear witness and record events that are deeply personal to both to people and to our community. And to see everyone being able to express their memories and their feelings and I guess the many things that Stanthorpe has been through as a community, through the photography that they’d done, that was really important. I think hearing people talk about their memories and one photograph, you know, would bring up different memories for each person. So you’d have the photographer talking to the firies or the neighbours or their Mum about the things that had happened that day. I think that was just really special. And that’s, I guess what I tried to capture in the photos that I took.

[00:05:04] Kathryn: And you have your own story of the bush fire that came through in September 2019. Is there part of that story that you’d like to share with the listeners as well?

[00:05:14] Liz: So I didn’t actually enter any of my own photos in the exhibition and I didn’t actually take many photos of the bushfire. I definitely didn’t get my camera out and do the professional photography bit. Sometimes I like to not take photos of things. Sometimes I like to try and remember them without having to record it officially. Being a photographer at times, everything becomes about capturing the moment, capturing, you know, evidence of what happened. And it’s not the same as experiencing it. It’s not the same as being in that moment and being fully present. When you’re photographing, you’re thinking about light and you’re thinking about exposures and you become a little clinical in your approach to things. So during that time, I actually didn’t take many photos because it was such a shock too. We had the bushfire come right up to our house. We’d had a plastic tank at the back of the house that melted and actually stopped some of the house from burning. We had a little shed at the back of the house and that had pretty much exploded. We’re still finding bits of melted metal all through our driveway. The tank was right next to it. Because of the drought, we’d been very careful with our water and that tank was full of water cos that was like our reserve. And yeah, the water in that tank stopped the house burning down. So that was pretty amazing to have that happen. We bought the house not long before the bush fire and we were still unpacking. I haven’t seen those sort of conditions at any of the properties that I’ve lived on, where everything is so dry from the drought and the wind was so high. We have had other catastrophic bushfires that have similar in the past. I guess it’s always a threat. It’s always a risk that we think of when we do anything. When we build a house, when we expand our garden, we’re always, you know, looking at it going well, you know, that tree is probably a bit too close to the house. And the trees near my house are trimmed and, a fair way back from the house. The ones that are close to the house have obviously been kept low and that was another thing that saved our house.

[00:07:24] Kathryn: You said that you’d only recently moved into the house just before the bushfire came. Had you had the opportunity to do any preparation to bush fireproof the property before the bush fire actually came through?

[00:07:39] Liz: I guess not really apart from the mowing. I think the previous owner had lopped some of the trees near the house and that really helped. But I didn’t see many of the trees right near the house actually burn. You can see on the tree behind you that there’s burn marks all the way up the trunk still, you know, it’s still shedding bark. It’s an apple gum, so it doesn’t shed bark as easily as some of the others. And that actually still had all its leaves on it. So the leaves didn’t catch fire. The bushfire sort of went around the house. But came up through the yard with the embers. And I think, you know, like a lot of houses, the mulch around things caught fire. But we hadn’t really had a chance to do much in the way of bushfire prep. We’d been, you know, just surviving the drought and I guess more focused on that. And we hadn’t been in the property long enough to really look at the bush and take out the dead wood.

[00:08:32] Kathryn: So here we are about two and a half years later. I think. What sorts of things have you done since the bush fire? obviously there was a bit of cleanup to do from what you were describing there. What other things have you done keeping in mind that you’re in a bushfire prone zone?

[00:08:51] Liz: For us it’s a case of just continuing to do what we’d already planned to do. We probably want to get more tanks put in like a lot of people would. Probably the first thing we did was try and drop the dead trees near the house. There were quite a few dead trees after the bushfire. We still have heaps sort of acres and acres of dead trees. So we’ll never get into all of that, but just trying to drop the dead trees near the house. We’re continuing to monitor the bush and keep dry grass away from the property. There’s not much you can do once you’ve got lovegrass and lovegrass is one of the biggest things that speeds up that onslaught of the fire. So in the backyard here, you can see, you know, I’ve got a bit of lovegrass around us right now, but, we’ve been working on actually removing as much as we can from around the house and replacing that with other grasses and especially the native grasses. I’ve seen a lot of native grasses come back since the bushfire. And just trying to fight the lovegrass a little bit so that the native grasses can have a chance.

[00:09:57] Kathryn: What other changes have you seen in the land around you following the bushfire as it’s gone into recovery as well?

[00:10:04] Liz: Oh, look, that was the most amazing thing. Before the bushfire, I’d been looking at the property and going Well, you know, compared to properties that I’d grown up on, there was not a lot of diversity in the vegetation. There was umm eucalypts and a few wattles of mostly the one variety. And I was looking at it going, you know, there’s no Hardenbergias, there’s no little ferns and there’s not a lot of insect life either. So I was thinking about how to do something about that and how to, um, bring some of those plants back in. And then the bushfire happened and I have seen this explosion of growth all around the house, all through the bush. I’ve seen stuff growing that I’ve never seen before. It’s just been incredible. So we’ve had everything change so quickly after the bush fire. bush right now has about four or five different types of wattle growing back. And that’s of course, you know, one of the things that happens first after bush fires, your wattle just explodes. So I’ve got these different wattles growing and then the smaller plants that have grown back have been amazing. So all of these little seeds that were just sitting there waiting, all came out and then after that the drought broke, you know, we had this incredible rain and it’s all just gone completely nuts. And all of our bird life changed as well, as well as a lot of our wildlife. I think from looking at things, the possums have been the slowest to recover. I have not seen many of those possums returning. I’m sure they’re still around there. There’s probably a lot more food for them, so they’re not coming close to their, our houses anymore, but the bird life has been, as you can probably hear the bird life has been incredible. It’s all changed. We’ve got different birds to what we had beforehand. We used to have a lot of parrots, a lot of different types of parrots come through. And that changed. They stopped visiting the house. A lot of birds did not visit at all. There were no birds anywhere for about six months, a good six months after the bush fire. I think there was just, a lot of them unfortunately wouldn’t have made it. And a lot of them would’ve just had to go elsewhere because there was nothing. It was just like a desert all around us. That was quite difficult because everything was just dead, you know, it was just, um, sand and dead trees and rocks. And that’s what it felt like so, after everything started to grow back, we, we planted a lot. We put a lot of work into the garden around the house, and we’ve planted a lot of, I guess, fast-food type plants, around us right now. We’ve got pineapple sage and that’s really brought the birds, some different salvias and I’ve let a lot of weeds grow, which sounds, it sounds really weird, but a lot of the weeds even the introduced ones that come in are really important for soil regeneration, and also food for the birds. So there’s one that I think is called ink weed. It’s got lots of spikes of black and purple berries, and I saw a lot of birds getting through winter on that. The little black cypresses that grow all through the bush, they’re actually a really important food source for a lot of parrots so we were lucky to have some of those survive and we saw our Rosellas start to come back to feed on the seeds from those guys. And now we’ve got this incredible bird life where we have honey eaters and little finches and wrens. And they all sort of hang out in this little gang. It’s really interesting because I didn’t realise you know, how much birds all mix, even though they’re different species and completely different birds. And so you’ll get this little gang of about two families of finches and then a couple of families of Superb Wrens. They all come roaring through the garden eating the insects, eating whatever’s hanging around on the flowers. It’s really good to see that recovery of the bush after such devastation. I guess it made us all slowly feel a bit better.

[00:14:06] Kathryn: Before we started recording our conversation Liz, you were pointing out to me the native bees as well.

[00:14:12] Liz: Ah, yes. When everything was so dead, there would be bull ants. And I actually found a lot of trapdoor holes that I hadn’t realized was there because they were all covered in vegetation, you know, so all around us, although, you know, don’t want to alarm you, but there are little trapdoor spiders living all through the undergrowth and they survived, which is really good. But we’ve got a lot more insect life now, which is wonderful to see. We’ve got the native bees, the little blue banded bees, they’re all through the pineapple sage, and all the natives that are growing back. I think we’re told that natives are quite short, lived plants and people think of something like a wattle. It’s just going to grow overnight and be quite quick to flower. And that’s not actually the case. What I’m seeing with a lot of the wattles growing back that most of them haven’t flowered yet. The variety we’ve got here hasn’t flowered at all yet. Some of the smaller wattles that I’ve seen growing in other areas, they’ve already flowered a couple of times, but the majority of our wattles haven’t, so there hasn’t actually been a lot of the mass food that those insects would rely on and they’ve come into our garden and are taking advantage of our little introduced plants. And I’ve been really happy about that. So that hopefully as the wattles and start to flower, they can move on to those and the populations can recover.

[00:15:38] Kathryn: Some really exciting changes happening there.

[00:15:41] Liz: So it makes me think, Oh, I wish I knew more about how all of the little ecosystems work together, because you can see it happening and you, you know, you can see that there’s something going on there and you wish you knew a bit more about how to support it really.

[00:15:55] Kathryn: What are some of the things that you’ve learned, Liz, as a result of being impacted pretty directly by this bush fire, something that you think the rest of the community also needs to know about, or maybe you’ve got some advice for other people who are living in bushfire-prone areas?

[00:16:12] Liz: I think, the thing that I, that I really learnt that really touched me the most, I guess, was how important your community links are. How important engaging with your community and being a part of your community is, because we’d only just moved into the house in our little area, I only knew a couple of the neighbors and we didn’t get any formal alerts about the fire until it was right on our doorstep when the police came down our little driveway and said, You guys need to leave now. If we waited for that, we would have left the house with pretty much clothes that we were in and we wouldn’t have been able to take any of the animals. So we may have come back to additional tragedies. So, luckily the one neighbour that we knew called us and let us know what was happening because the fire moved so quickly in our direction. And there’s only one way in and out from our little street. So I think the engagement with the community is super important. So I’d just really encourage people to get out there and introduce yourself to your neighbours, because it is sometimes really life-saving that you do that, not just for you, but for them, because we really rely on each other in the country in times of drought, in times of bushfire. If you have an accident at home, having neighbours that know that you’re there and know who you are and have your contact details you know, I can’t emphasise enough how important that is. And then during the recovery process, we just saw the entire community get together to support everyone. There was so much being given and donated and we’re not, you know, we’re not a rich community. We’re a community of farmers and workers and during the drought a lot of people really struggled and then just to see the amount of immediate help and support that was on offer for all of us, for everyone in the community was just really, you know, I think community moves faster than governments are able to, and all the big infrastructure support, you know, the army and all of that, they do take time to get here. Whereas your neighbours are right there and your friends down the road are right there. So, don’t be too proud to go and ask for help because it lets people know that they can rely on you for help. In the country, we don’t want to ask for help because we always are telling ourselves that, Oh, I don’t have it as bad as so-and-so or, I don’t want to be a whinger, but one of the things that I did learn was that if you ask other people for help, then they feel comfortable coming to you when they need help. That’s what I’ve been trying to teach the kids through this is that when we ask other people for help or when were honest about what we need and what our struggles are, other people will then feel free to come to us and share their struggles as well. And that’s really happened a lot since the bush fire for a lot of us. You do tend to feel that like, you know, that survivor guilt You don’t want to complain too much because you know, someone who, who literally has only their clothes I think it is a bit part of mentality of living here and the mentality growing up in the bush is that being self-reliant is very valued and people do take pride in not being a bludger and not being not being someone who takes more than they give, I think is the important thing. But at the same time, your mental health really suffers when you do that. And then you lack the ability to help other people. Rather than viewing ourselves as being really independent and not needing others or not asking the community for too much, if we keep in mind that we are part of the whole community, and it’s really important that if we stay healthy and we stay well, then we have the ability to help others. But if we’re sort of running on empty, then we can’t really, we don’t have a lot to give, you do see people that isolate themselves too much not able to participate in that I guess, mutual care and mutual support because no one knows they’re there. No one knows whether they want help and people will often be reticent to offer help because Oh they don’t like be disturbed.

[00:20:20] Kathryn: There might be times we need to have each other around.

[00:20:23] Liz: That’s right. We like our privacy and we often like having our own space in the country, but at the same time, I don’t know I think when I was a kid going to town was a really big deal and wasn’t something you did every day. It was a real community event. You’d go to town and get dressed up and put your good clothes on, put your good shoes on. And mum would wash everyone and off you’d all go, you know, do the shopping and, have a coffee or have a, have a catch up with people and then go home again. And I think even if you’re someone who normally spends time on their own it’s really important to keep going to town, you know, go and engage with the community and meet your friends and see how everyone is. And, you can offer help as well as receiving help.

[00:21:06] Kathryn: Circling back to the Hope and Growth Photo Exhibition, Liz, given your own bushfire story, how was it for you being involved with that photo exhibition?

[00:21:19] Liz: Oh wow. Um, I really enjoyed it. I really enjoyed talking to the other people in my street. A few of the other people on my street were involved in, um, they’d put their photos in and it was really lovely to talk to them about what had happened. it was also, I think, a really important chance for a lot of us to thank the emergency services, the bush fire volunteers and the people who were there because we often don’t get to see them except for when something happens, you know, and they see know them personally you don’t get much of a chance to say thank you. There were some wonderful poetry that was about thanking the emergency services personnel that had been there. And it was really lovely to see them getting out and feeling appreciated and feeling valued.
[00:22:04] Kathryn: Community events such as that photo exhibition is another way for people to get involved and to get connected with their community. Are there any other benefits that you’ve noticed or that you can think of for people when they do get involved in community projects like that?

[00:22:23] Liz: I definitely think that mental health support of similar events can’t be underestimated. A lot of the time when we think of mental health support or the mental health needs of the country and people who are living through a disaster or after a disaster, a lot of the time we think of counsellors or have social workers on hand or better access to mental health funding and things like that. But I think those events are of great value. Events that support the community as a whole to recover and support people to communicate their feelings about what’s happened in a creative way, help people who maybe struggle to verbalise or communicate how they felt about that event or communicate that they still are suffering from that event. I think having a community art practice like that was really a beautiful thing because you would see people who maybe at other times might struggle to talk about, Oh, hey, I’m still feeling like this. think having an event a few years after the fact might seem like that’s not really going to provide a lot of mental health support or that’s not really going to be the immediate help that’s needed. And you know, you do need immediate help and immediate support when something really big and traumatic happens, but it can take years for those emotions to come out. It can take years for you to actually access how you’re feeling. And I noticed that after about a year and a half after the bush fire, there was a smaller fire and they had the helicopters out again. And I had a really strong physical reaction that I did not expect just from seeing the helicopters and the change in the light that happens during a bush fire. And, you know, the smoke just covers the sun and the light is this really peculiar orange that you don’t really ever forget. It’s completely different to any other sort of light that made me realize that I was still actually affected by it. And then also again, you know, seeing the photos and hearing the stories brought a lot of things out that I had thought, you know, I’ve got this all sorted. I’ve had counselling, I’ve moved on and you realise that, Ooh, there are still some things there that I’m working through. And I think that was the case for a lot of us where getting together and talking about it was just a little step forward in the healing and a little step forward in reengaging with each other, and helping the community to, to heal and to move on and celebrate the good things that had happened. So, I think community events like that, where you’re not just focusing on having a chat or doing mental health work or trying to recover consciously, where you’re actually just connecting together and remembering, that’s a really important part of being a community, I think.

[00:25:23] Kathryn: Liz, we’ve covered a few different things in our conversation today from your connection to the community, your experience of being impacted by the bush fire and that burnt through your property and melted your water tank, the regrowth, we’ve talked about the Hope and Growth Photography Exhibition which you photographed the exhibition as well. And these opportunities for people to, I guess, explore their own recovery, either in structured or unstructured ways. And, once again, coming back to being connected with community and building strong communities. Is there anything else that you’d like to add into our conversation?

[00:26:10] Liz: I think, getting to know the countryside and the, bush around you is something that I don’t know if we talk enough about a lot of the time. The bush is sort of seen as something that we need to control or manage. And through the bush fire I actually learned a lot about the bush and about how we interact with it and how important that is for, not just our survival, but the survival of the environment that we live in. And it was interesting to see which trees burnt and which trees didn’t. A lot of the time we think of the bush as something that will all explode in flame, and we have to be cautious of it and we have to, I guess see it as something a bit dangerous, but I think that the more time we spend actually looking at what’s going on around us, the more chance we have of surviving when something like this happens and helping the bush to survive as well. Most of the eucalypts around my house didn’t burn. Their leaves didn’t burn. The little black cypress that I think a lot of people I’ve heard say, Oh yeah, they’ll go up like a candle. They didn’t. They all dropped their leaves after the fire from the heat. We lost almost all the stringy barks on the property because they did burn. And we lost a lot of our older gum trees. The parts of the bush where the trees are all dead the fire was so hot that nothing was going to stop it by that point. A really important part in, I think all of our houses surviving the bush fire was the fact that the state forest management teams had done a big burn off in the weeks before the bush fire, a huge burn off. They’d been in there for several days. And I think that really saved our little community because it would have checked the speed that the fire was going and the hotness of the fire. We do need more education on how to manage our bush. And we need more education on how to do a safe burn off, how to take out dead trees so that it doesn’t become just a ticking time bomb waiting for the next fire.

[00:28:18] Kathryn: It sounds like what you’re saying is if we get to know that land around us, get to know the bush, connecting with the community which helps with education, but also supporting that wider, that broader fire management strategy right across the community, that it’s not just you protecting your land, but you’re working together.

[00:28:41] Liz: Cos we’re really aware that it’s people around us, you know, whose houses are at risk as well as ours, you know, all of us. The fire got so close to the whole town that the whole town was at risk. And so the fire management strategies that the Park Rangers and the forest management teams and the council work on every year are just they’re vital. We can’t ever defund those because we will lose whole communities of people if we do. Their work throughout the town every year is just vital to to our whole community survival. But yeah, I think a lot of the older people have amazing knowledge that, you know, if we don’t engage with them, will be lost because they really know how to manage fire.

[00:29:27] Kathryn: There’s something there about that we have these people with some of that expertise and experience and being able to rely on them for some education, or being able to access information from them to help us as well.

[00:29:42] Liz: I remember reading about some programs that were happening here with Indigenous land management teams teaching on how to do a cool burn uphill and stuff like that. Like that was really interesting to see that all coming out after the fire. And I think that that would be amazing if we could get more education from people who actually have been doing it for so long. Land management practices of Indigenous people, I think, is an amazing untapped resource that communities could be benefiting from, and I know that the Park Rangers and things like that probably engage a lot more with local Indigenous people, but it would be wonderful to see the community itself being able to engage with that and a bit more of a, I guess, focus on recovering some of the knowledge that we’re losing there.

[00:30:30] Kathryn: Thank you Liz, for your time today. It’s been really lovely sharing this conversation.

Thanks for listening to the Speak Out Loud Stories of Strength podcast with me, Kathryn Walton. I hope this episode inspires you to get involved and to get connected with your community. You can find the transcript and any links mentioned in this episode, in the show notes and please share the podcast with your friends.
We acknowledge and pay respect to the past, present and future Traditional Custodians and Elders of this nation and the continuation of cultural, spiritual, and educational practices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Series Two of this podcast has been jointly funded under the Commonwealth and State Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements 2018.

Connection Through Digital Technology with Carmel and Adam Wooding

Transcript from the podcast “Speak Out Loud: Stories of Strength from the Southern Downs”

SEASON 2: EPISODE 10

GUEST: Carmel and Adam Wooding, Empower Digital

PUBLISHED: 28rd March 2022

Carmel and Adam Wooding

[00:00:00] Carmel: I think technology is just a tool to facilitate that connection that we as humans want, you know. We need each other. And I think technology is just a way to, to make that happen. Like we can see in online marketplaces like the Buy From The Bush, people want to support each other. And technology gives us a platform to make that happen so that people from the city can support bushfire recovery or flood recovery or drought, by purchasing handmade item from people that really need their purchases.

[00:00:25] Kathryn: Carmel and Adam Wooding join me on the podcast today to chat about how digital technology can help you to thrive by connecting you with your friends, family and community, as well as how digital technology is helping rural, regional and remote businesses across Australia thrive by connecting them with their customers and their teams. Carmel and Adam established their own business, Empower Digital, during the drought and the bush fires of 2019 in Warwick, Queensland. They also had plans to travel around Australia with their business when the pandemic changed what was possible. Their story reflects how important it is to have goals in your personal and your work or business life. But most importantly, it highlights the value of being flexible in how you work towards your goals. So the themes you’ll hear in this episode encourage you to connect and to be flexible in life and business.

Carmel and Adam, welcome to the podcast. Can you talk to our listeners about what your connection is with the Southern Downs?

[00:01:48] Carmel: Sure. Well, thank you so much for having us Kathryn. So my name’s Carmel Wooding and, um, I actually am a born and bred local Warwick girl, you know, I was raised here, went to school here, moved away after uni and moved to the Gold Coast and met Adam. And, uh, you know, the call of the Southern Downs was too strong. And after our second child was born, back we came.

[00:02:09] Adam: I’d love to first of all, acknowledge the Githabul People, um, the, the Traditional Owners of the land, that we are meeting on today. As Carmel said, I was born on the Gold Coast and before moving out here had absolutely no experience of living in the country at all. I’m a real beach boy. And so after I met Carmel and started coming and visiting Warwick, it was definitely a new experience for me coming out and visiting a country town and so as Carmel said, after our second child was born, we decided to come back and spend some time in Warwick while Carmel was on maternity leave and we had very, very strict plans that we were only gonna come and visit for 12 months. And we were definitely going to be going back to the Gold Coast. We were really sure about that, but I think, um, after I think about two weeks, I think it was, I remember Carmel and I sitting out here where we are now and just thinking, This is just so amazing, such an amazing lifestyle out here. Why would we want to go back to the crowded city? So we decided to stay in Warwick and I’ve just really learned so much and really love living out here now. And I think that for us there’s just so many opportunities and um, it’s just such a amazing way of life for us and our kids now as well. So, I don’t know if I can myself a local yet, but I, I definitely feel a lot more connected to the to this area now.

[00:03:34] Kathryn: And Carmel and Adam in 2019, you had a vision to empower small business owners to develop a stronger digital presence. And at that time, the Southern Downs Region was experiencing pretty severe drought and bushfires. And I recall Carmel, I was collaborating with you to offer some rural and regional small business owners, some education and support that they were needing at that time. What inspired you to start your business at that time? And this was pre COVID as well.

[00:04:05] Carmel: Sure. So, I’m actually an educator, I’m a teacher librarian by trade. And so, education has always really been a passion of mine. Adam has always done a lot in the digital space. So, the businesses that he’s worked for before and particularly in the, in the creation of his father’s business, Adam has always done really amazing things with small businesses in terms of getting them online, having an online store and great digital presence. So I think for us, it was kind of natural that both our passions came together. We decided we didn’t ever want to be gatekeepers and do things for people because we believe so much in empowering people and believe so much that people have the capacity to kind of be the master of their own future. They may just need help with the knowledge and skills to get there.

[00:04:51] Adam: Yeah I think that there wasn’t any conscious decision to start at that particular time, for any reason. Other than that we felt like the time was right for us to start our own thing and have our own business for our family. I had spent a lot of years um, working for my mum and dad’s business which was fantastic. They, they are so generous and, so giving and they always made us feel like we were part of that business, but we, we just felt like it was time for us to go out on our own and, and have our own thing for our family. So that’s the reason that we started at around that time.

[00:05:23] Carmel: And to be honest, Kathryn I think, um, you know, you did have a part to play in that because the opportunity came at that time for those local businesses to get support. And I think that was a real moment for Adam and I to go, Well, the need is out there for somebody to be doing this work. And I guess we were in a place where we were able to offer that to people as well.

[00:05:41] Kathryn: I also recall that at that time you had some plans to travel across Australia and that you were hoping to spend 2020 doing quite a bit of travelling. What impact did the COVID 19 pandemic have on your plans?

[00:05:56] Adam: You’re exactly right. We couldn’t have chosen a worse year to embark on a trip around Australia. No one could have foreseen what that year was going to bring but in terms of the impact for us, so we had planned to continue with our business while we were travelling. I remember that when the pandemic hit, we had about four or five projects lined up that we were planning on working on while we were travelling and everything, all those businesses, pulled out of those projects. So, at which we completely understand because it was such a turbulent time and no one knew what was going to happen. And um, we completely understand that those businesses just needed to put those projects on hold. But it was really stressful for us because all of our work just fell through and we had rented our house out so we didn’t have anywhere to come back to. So we were travelling but we had lost all of our projects. There was a couple of weeks there where it was, I found it really stressful, I think Carmel was handled it a bit better than I did, but, um, it was a really stressful time when that all started. But we fortunately made some changes to our business and started to offer some webinars and um, all kinds of different things like that. And really quickly, our business went in a little bit of a different direction and, and we were very fortunate to make new partnerships with other organisations and start focusing on helping businesses who needed to transition to online sales really quickly to make that transition. Then found a whole new market and are our business has gone into a totally different direction. That’s what we’re focusing on now.

[00:07:26] Carmel: Yeah, so, um, the plan for 2020 was to travel around Australia in a caravan with three children. Our business plan at that point was to run workshops in small regional towns and do a lot of in-person work to be honest because Adam and I are both very passionate about relationships, and very passionate about meeting people where they’re at. So when COVID hit, um, we did return to Warwick. It was about March. So we’d been on the road for about two months. And I think just the uncertainty, you really want to be close to home when, when you’re faced with that level of uncertainty. As Adam mentioned, we did, you know, have to rethink things, Well, can we make that personal connection through online meetings? And of course, we now know that we’re in the era of Zoom and Google Meet and all of those kinds of platforms that make that connection really easy. So, you know, we stayed in Warwick we got our business back on track. We kind of felt a bit more confident in the world and then we were really lucky. We were able to take off again about August, and managed to get five months of caravaning and working on the road in, um, where we got to go through the Northern Territory, did the entire coast of South Australia and the Victorian coast to Geelong before we had to come home and settle back into reality.

[00:08:31] Kathryn: So lots of adjustment and adaptation of the business but also of your own personal and family plans for travel.

[00:08:39] Carmel: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And our family dynamic and all of those kinds of expectations as well.

[00:08:46] Kathryn: Were there any surprising benefits for yourself, for your family or for your business through all of that?

[00:08:52] Carmel: Well, as Adam mentioned, COVID actually had quite a silver lining for our business because we found very quickly that what we were able to offer people was really beneficial and value adding to those businesses. People needed to get their businesses online because people just weren’t out to purchase things in bricks and mortar stores. So the services that we offered were really in demand. So COVID actually, even though our business did go in a completely different direction, it’s actually a really solid direction for us. And, really a way of working that we’re really passionate about and something that we, we actually really love. And in terms of our family, I think it taught us all to be a lot more flexible, taught us to be a bit more resilient I guess. You’ve got to see the silver lining in things, you know. COVID’s been a really hard time for lots and lots of people. And I don’t ever want to downplay that at all, but I think for us and for our family and for our business, we’ve actually come through COVID feeling confident that, that our business has grown and we’ve been able to help other businesses as well.

[00:09:48] Kathryn: Connection to community and to each other is one of the key characteristics of a healthy and a resilient community. And we’re seeing that from the research that’s coming out of the bushfire recovery studies and so forth. Throughout the pandemic businesses and individuals have really searched for solutions to this problem of isolation and feeling disconnected and the issue of distance. And yet people who have been living and working in rural areas and regional communities are really used to dealing with these issues of distance and connection. How is technology, because that’s the industry that you’re working in, how is technology helping communities, including Aboriginal owned businesses to connect with each other and to thrive?

[00:10:38] Adam: I think that technology is playing a huge part in all those things that you mentioned. So I think that there’s so many different aspects that technology is helping in. So I think first of all, the ability for business in those communities to sell their products to either domestic um Australia-wide market or international market. So there’s amazing platforms that make it so easy for those businesses in, in those rural and um remote communities to be able to reach a global market, to be able to create a following and create an awareness of their business and what they have to offer and to be able to then sell their, products and then bring income into their local communities. So I think that technology is playing a huge part in businesses, in um regional and, um, and remote areas. And I think also the ability for people in those communities to communicate and connect to other communities or, um, other relatives or people that are in different areas by being able to have virtual meetings which I think are so powerful. And with our business, we have formed relationships with people in communities all over Australia which is just incredible and and we would definitely not be able to do that without those digital tools.

[00:11:55] Carmel: Yeah, I agree. And I think, just a couple of things on that, Kathryn. So firstly, you know, I think technology is just a tool to facilitate that connection that we as humans want, you know. We need each other. And I think technology is just a way to, to make that happen. Like we can see in online marketplaces like the Buy From The Bush, people want to support each other. And technology gives us a platform to make that happen so that people from the city can support bushfire recovery or flood recovery or drought, by purchasing handmade item from people that really need their purchases, not just buying them online from Amazon or whatever. The other thing I think that is important to note is while technology is amazing, we need to be aware that we’re not all at the same level of access. When we were travelling around Australia in our caravan, it became really apparent to us. Even just, you know, we had our mobile phones and, and all of that kind of, technology. However, there were places that we went that technology just wasn’t available. There wasn’t an internet connection. We couldn’t stay there. We heard a really interesting point as we were travelling. There is an indigenous community, kind of on the Northern Territory South Australian border who had no, no internet, they had no phone towers and it wasn’t until the police needed to set up the COVID checkpoints between the states that they went Oh, well, there’s no internet here. We better get some phone towers put in. So that facilitated that community being able to access technology. So I think we do need to remember that we are really blessed. Even though we’re in regional Queensland, there’s lots of places in Australia that don’t have the access to use this technology to have that connection that we have.

[00:13:29] Kathryn: So it sounds like what you’re saying is these technologies can be wonderful tools for us to connect. Accessibility can be an issue for some people. Is there anything else that you would like to share with us around digital technology and how that can help or perhaps where it’s not helping individuals to connect with each other or for communities and businesses to connect with each other?

[00:13:53] Carmel: I think for me, one of the things that really has become apparent in our business is we do have quite a number of people and look a higher number of people in regional and rural areas who just think technology is not for me. I’m too old. I’m too old school. I didn’t have the opportunity to use it in the past. It’s too hard. And one of the most delightful things about our business is seeing somebody who says in our first meeting, Oh look I’m not tech savvy, go on to run a successful e-commerce store or to have a successful presence on social media. And I just really encourage everybody that there is no such thing as I’m not tech savvy. Everything in life is a learning and technology is no different. And I think there’s just so many potential benefits, particularly for business owners, to just give it a go, dip your toe itn the water. Like you can’t break it. It’ll be fine.

[00:14:45] Kathryn: Because that is a big fear, isn’t it? That if I touch something or press that button, it’s going to break.

[00:14:50] Carmel: That’s exactly right.

[00:14:52] Adam: We’re just so fortunate to have been part of so many incredible stories and so many incredible businesses. So we’re very fortunate to work with an amazing, amazing, organisation that’s based up in East Arnhem Land. And, it’s just this incredible community that has a, has a natural spring that’s on their land. And they are just doing really innovative things. So that they’re bottling their water and selling that online Australia-wide to generate some income for their community so that they can employ teachers and build more facilities. So that’s been an incredible project that we’ve been part of. And so many other businesses around Australia in, in really rural and remote places that have used technology to transform their lives and transform their communities. So, I think technology is a really positive thing and, and has huge potential for such a big impact on rural and remote communities in Australia.

[00:15:50] Carmel: And Kathryn you mentioned about, you know, were there any negative things that I see about technology. So of course I’m an educator. I’m in the education field. And of course, I think it’s just always important for no matter who you are, no matter what age to just maintain that information literacy and remember that everything you see on Facebook, isn’t the truth. So, you know, social media and particularly with our young people, you know, there’s a lot of comparing yourself to others. There’s a lot of, What am I doing wrong in my life because their life looks so good. And it’s in the business field as well, not just in individual life. But I think again, let’s just, let’s just remember that everyone has their bad days, they just don’t post about those days.

[00:16:26] Adam: Yeah I think that you just remind me of another negative aspect as well is, which is really, really bad at the moment is people who are trying to take over other people’s social media accounts and that sort of stuff by gaining access because people have, maybe really poor passwords or not very good security measures in place. So I think we’ve come across a couple of things very recently where, because people haven’t set up very good passwords or are maybe using the same password for multiple accounts, that sort of stuff, that either their bank accounts or their social media accounts or business systems have been broken into. And so that’s caused huge problems for those businesses. So I think, that’s just another area that we come across fairly often that I think business owners need to really be making sure that they have really good passwords and really good security measures in place.

[00:17:17] Kathryn: Thanks Adam. I was going to ask do you have some suggestions on how we can manage some of those challenges with technology? Because just like when COVID came and you had to adjust and adapt and flex your plans and find solutions to those problems that you were having, we can also look at some of these other challenges we have in life like the downside of technology. How can we see our way around that? How can we flex or adapt or adjust what we’re doing to reduce the challenge that we have in that area?

[00:17:50] Adam: Yeah, I think just some practical tools that people can use. So I think that first of all businesses need to just make sure that they are keeping all of their software up to date, making sure that they’re using the latest versions of all the different apps and programs that they use. I think that it’s extremely important that businesses use a password manager to manage all their passwords. I know that can be a little bit of a process to get that set up but it’s definitely worth the time and effort to do that. It can make a very big difference. And by using a password manager, make sure that you are using a different password on every different account that you have. And I think turning on two-step authentication wherever possible is also really worthwhile to do that too. And I think just being really careful about, um, about what links that you click on and who you share sensitive information with as well is really important.

[00:18:51] Kathryn: Adam, you mentioned an organisation that you’d worked with in East Arnhem Land, helping that organisation to develop their online presence and that there were so many benefits for that organisation in being able to do that. Reflecting on that process of being involved with some of those more remote communities, how does that feel to know that you’re part of facilitating their connection with the wider world?

[00:19:20] Carmel: Kathryn that was actually a community in East Arnhem Land. And they created this business called Knowledge Water. Their community is steeped in education, but they have a transient population. So their Homeland school is always under threat of being closed. So they kind of just went, Well, what can we do? How can we change this outcome for our children? But they didn’t want their children going to school in the nearest town four hours away because they were worried about the things that kids could get up to. They really wanted them on Country. And so yes, they just developed this plan to bottle in a sustainable way, their natural spring water and sell that and use the profits from that to then, um, long-term they hope to bottle it onsite. At present it’s not. But you know, they are educating teachers from their community to become educators in the community at their local Homeland school. And think to be part of that really did show us the power of technology because these guys are really working for their own self-determination, the ability to control their own future. Um, and so many communities unfortunately do feel powerless when their young ones have to move away to get work because there is nothing on Country for them to do. And I think really for us, the ability to be involved in that project was super affirming. It was never just a job for us, you know, we’re still connected to that organisation. We plan to work with them in an ongoing capacity. We rejoice at their successes. It’s just, um, you know, I think that’s how we work. We really do get involved with the businesses because we care about their outcomes.

[00:20:46] Kathryn: That’s really beautiful Carmel. And I’m thinking too, that the business that you’ve set up for yourselves here in a regional part of Queensland, because of technology, you’re actually able to reach out to some of these more remote communities who also are now becoming more connected and being able to be part of their world, part of their community, but from a distance.

[00:21:11] Adam: Definitely. It still blows us away every day that we’re able to run our business in a regional town and connect with all these incredible organisations and businesses and communities all around Australia and do that from our home office. And we wouldn’t be able to do that without technology. And think that it was a a really good time for us to start our business. COVID has made it more normal for remote meetings to be just a part of everyday life. And I think that that has actually been a real, a really positive thing for our business because now, we can just continue to make those connections with remote businesses using technology.

[00:21:49] Kathryn: And whilst you’re building your own thriving business, supporting other businesses and other organisations and communities to thrive as well. Adam and Carmel, what’s the best way for people to contact you?

[00:22:02] Carmel: I think probably by our website. Our online presence is www.empowerdigital.com.au but we’re also on Facebook and LinkedIn, Instagram, all of the socials.

[00:22:13] Kathryn: Thanks for listening to the Speak Out Loud Stories of Strength podcast with me, Kathryn Walton. I hope this episode inspires you to get involved and to get connected with your community. You can find the transcript and any links mentioned in this episode, in the show notes and please share the podcast with your friends.
We acknowledge and pay respect to the past, present and future Traditional Custodians and Elders of this nation and the continuation of cultural, spiritual, and educational practices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Series Two of this podcast has been jointly funded under the Commonwealth and State Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements 2018.

Landcare with Tanya Jobling

Transcript from the podcast “Speak Out Loud: Stories of Strength from the Southern Downs”

SEASON 2: EPISODE 9

GUEST: Tanya Jobling, Condamine Headwaters Landcare Group

PUBLISHED: 23rd March 2022

Landcare tecahing group of students

[00:00:00] Tanya: We run a range of workshops that suit people who are farming, either grazing or cropping or land managers in that way. So sometimes there we’re working on soil. Sometimes we’re working on natural sequence farming. Sometimes we’re working on regenerative agriculture. There’s also a range of bush care groups that we support. So we’ve got at least two bush care groups in the area.

[00:00:22] Kathryn: Tanya Jobling joins me for today’s episode to share information about the Condamine Headwaters Landcare Group, a not for profit organisation which has been active across the region for 30 years. The Condamine Headwaters Landcare Group collaborates with other organisations to help the community connect with land management workshops and projects that benefit the health of the land and the health of the people. This includes education on techniques such as natural sequence farming, regenerative agriculture, bio controls and bushfire risk mitigation, as well as bush care groups which are open to anyone interested in getting involved.

Welcome to the podcast Tanya. Can you tell us what’s your connection with the Southern Downs?

[00:01:21] Tanya: So I work here at the Condamine Headwaters Landcare office. I work as the project manager and coordinator here at the office. I run the projects and deliver all the activities of the group to the community.

[00:01:35] Kathryn: Can you share with our listeners a little bit more about what the Condamine Headwaters Landcare Group does?

[00:01:41] Tanya: The Condamine Headwaters Landcare Group has been running for almost 30 years now. It’s been a very long term Landcare group, one of the longest in Queensland and in the current format it delivers projects on a wide range of land management techniques, Um, relevant to farmers, bush carers, conservationists, any land managers in the Southern Downs. We like to look at what the issues are that land managers are facing. And there’s been some that have been very long-term the usual ones like weeds and erosion. Um, and then there’s some newer ones. We talk a lot about regenerative agriculture. We talk a lot about soil health. We talk about alternative ways of dealing with weeds like bio. And so I look around at the different kinds of needs that land managers have. And I try to design projects that meet those needs.

[00:02:33] Kathryn: The Southern Down’s Region has been on what we call a recovery journey following drought and bush fires in 2019 and 2020. And more recently the region has had some pretty significant rainfall and flooding as well as the pandemic. So there’ve been a number of layers of stresses across our community, as well as right across Australia and the world. What are some of the challenges that people who are living and working on the land have needed to navigate throughout this time?

[00:03:05] Tanya: I think like you said, I think the challenges have been all of those things. And I think that people on the land aren’t really a different country though. I think they’re feeling the challenges that we’re all feeling in terms of what’s been happening for the last couple of years with the pandemic, um, all the rules, the difficulties with travel, the difficulties with sourcing materials or labour. So I think, you know, people on the land are just, you know, feeling what the community feels. We’re part of the community just the same. With respect to the bush fires and the floods and the drought, I think most people on farms can mostly take that in their stride because they well and truly know that that’s part of the landscape that we manage when, when we’re land managers, that’s part of our environment. We always know in any business, be it in land management or in any retail or wholesale or manufacturing, we should be prepared for different things. Maybe the rest of the world now has more of an understanding what farmers go through and farmers have these kind of major disruptors often. So, I think farmers are really good at handling disruptive events, you know, you just take it on the chin and look to the next day.

[00:04:33] Kathryn: Being immersed in land management, and obviously drought, bush fire, floods is going to affect the land management, what activities and events is the Condamine Headwaters Landcare Group currently focusing on? And in what ways is that benefiting the region?

[00:04:52] Tanya: I had a wonderful project that came out of my experiences in the 2018, 2019 dry period, which was having the opportunity to look at some early adopters of natural sequence farming in our Southern Downs area and how those farmers had actually managed to create a place in their landscape that held water and held biodiversity and a lot of life in that really dry period. And so that inspired me to write a project looking for funding for a natural sequence farming project that was successful. So from 2019 to 2021 we ran a natural sequence farming project. That’s a natural sequence farming is based on the work of Peter Andrews looking at holding water in the landscape, rehydrating soils, creating a better environment in the Australian farming system for capturing rainfall and increasing biodiversity, increasing soil cover like pasture cover on the soil. Really interesting conceptual work that really does apply to us here in the Southern Downs. So that project delivered a range of workshops. It delivered a training course with Tarwyn Park Training that was extremely well-received. And we then went on and did funded works on a whole number of properties in our area. And that got a lot of people started with trialing natural sequence farming. And you know, that really builds people’s experience with a new land management technique and looking at those results now has been very encouraging and it’s a kind of work that applies right across the seasons. Um, both in the dry times and the not so dry times, it’s still relevant. You know, we are almost always limited for moisture supply to our plant life in this environment. So increasing the capture of rainfall is really critical, even in the current season. And if we don’t actually capture the rainfall when it is raining, then we don’t have a chance any other time. So that’s one of the projects that’s been very inspiring over the last few years. That’s led into Uh, a range of projects in regenerative agriculture and working with farmers who are deliberately working with a whole range of techniques to build soil, build biodiversity, build health in their system. And the health in their system is then a resilient system. So it’s a system that can handle a bit of dry or a bit of too much wet or a bit of cold or a bit of heat because it is a system that is more intact. So you know, if you’ve got pasture cover on your soil, then a hot windy day is of less damage to your soil than if you have no pasture cover. I mean, that’s a simple example, but farmers who are trying to work with their landscape to increase its function as a system, as a whole, has been a lot of the focus of the regenerative ag work that we’ve been doing. So we’ve currently got a program running a whole range of workshops in regenerative ag. So some of that is natural sequence farming. Some of it is multi-species cover crops. Some of it is pasture crops. Some of it is grazing practices. Some of it is tree establishment where there’s no trees in the landscape and a lot of it is around soil health and system health for for farming. So we’ve got a really active cohort of people who come to those workshops, contribute to them, or, you know, take on ideas out of those workshops. And that’s been one of the really interesting projects that’s been running across the Southern Downs community.

[00:09:00] Kathryn: Tanya, that sounds like there are benefits for the land in terms of a healthier landscape, increased productivity for those who are working on the land which also leads to profitability and benefits for the economy, for the larger economy across the community, which all leads towards health of the people.

[00:09:25] Tanya: I think very much so. It’s not always as direct as what you’ve just said. You know, if we shift to regenerative practices, we might take a hit on yield, for example, if we put on less direct urea in a certain crop, but we might’ve reduced our costs as well. And we might have reduced our runoff to the waterways and we might’ve reduced our insect pressure in the process. So, the benefits are as you said, across the landscape and definitely across the community, but sometimes they’re diverse. Sometimes they’re not as quick as, you know, the quick fix solutions are and the most benefit, and I think this is the one that you could never measure, but is, is the most interesting and most exciting is that people gain a real sense of enthusiasm from understanding that they’re farming better, that there is an encouraging way to work with the landscape, and that there’s a whole world out there to explore of other ideas that apply to a farming. It doesn’t just have to be more of the same fertilizer and more of the same pesticide. That’s not to say fertilizers and pesticides aren’t an option, but they’re one of a number of options. And so a lot of our farmers are really exploring those options and finding it very interesting and rewarding to do so. And the rewards are financial, the rewards are on their farm, but their rewards are in the joy of you know, the work of finding that out as well. It’s probably a little bit idealistic to say that we’re all immediately profiting from regenerative ag. We are, but in a sort of deeper way than, you know, increasing yields.

[00:11:20] Kathryn: Thanks Tanya. How can people get involved with the Condamine Headwaters Landcare Group if they’re so inspired to do so after hearing about some of the projects that you’ve got going?

[00:11:31] Tanya: We run a wide range of projects for all different kinds of interests. And so the best way is to look out in the media for what kind of workshops are on that are going to suit your interests. So for example, we run a range of workshops that suit people who are farming, either grazing or cropping or land managers in that way. So sometimes there we’re working on soil. Sometimes we’re working on natural sequence farming. Sometimes we’re working on regenerative agriculture. There’s also a range of bush care groups that we support. So we’ve got at least two bush care groups in the area. There longstanding bush care group at Killarney. So Killarney Bush Care. They’ve been meeting for a lot of years. People are welcome to get involved with that. And we’ve got a more recent group that does bush care here in town at a reserve, at a particular reserve. So people are welcome to get involved with that. And so there are ways that people can get involved in specifically conservation works and have an interesting social time while they do it. People can get in touch with the office and I can hear what they’re looking to get interested in, and I can put them in touch with the right kind of groups for that.

[00:12:44] Kathryn: Tanya, what’s your top tip for managing tough times, for example changing weather conditions for someone who might be living or working on the land or caring for land in some way?

[00:12:57] Tanya: A top tip for dealing with change is to know that it is all going to change. I mean change is certain. My top tip would be look after yourself and get yourself ready for change because it will come. It is coming. It’s here all the time. Put yourself and your family and your farm or your piece of land in the best possible place for that change. We don’t know whether it’s a drought next or a flood next or a fire next or we often in our lives have personal changes as well. We just need to be sure to position ourselves as best as possible for that. I often like to talk to people and I say, well, you know, there’s three kinds of business. There’s your own business, there’s the business going on around you, and there’s the business that belongs to the rest of the world. Well, the only business you can really mind is your own business. And so get stuck into your own business and make it a good one. Whether that’s your health, your family, your landscape, your own life, you know, and be ready for change.

[00:14:02] Kathryn: Before we started recording Tanya, you mentioned the cultural burning workshops. Could you tell us a little bit more about those?

[00:14:10] Tanya: Yes, certainly. Condamine Headwaters Landcare Group has been involved in cultural burning workshops for a lot of years And all through 2020 and 2021, we ran a series of cultural burning workshops to help people in the Southern Downs understand more about cultural burning. So there’s, there’s three really important aspects to cultural burning. There’s the cultural aspect of it. So understanding the indigenous perspective of land management and burning as it applies in this environment. The second aspect is understanding the way that appropriate fire increases the health of the tree, grass landscape. And so there’s a whole lot of biodiversity benefits that go with an appropriate fire regime looking at grass health, looking at weed control, looking at tree health and looking at cycling nutrients. So the third aspect of cultural burning is understanding bushfire risk mitigation. So with appropriate fire regimes in a predominantly fire prone landscape, we can manage to some extent bushfire risk. All right. So what our workshops were were helping people to understand how they could use cultural burning, cool burning, and appropriate burning to reduce the bushfire risk, particularly in areas where people’s houses are close to bush. They were a really interesting series of workshops. We had a lot of people attend them and still a lot of interest in cultural burning you know, in the community now.

[00:16:08] Kathryn: Is there any possibility of future workshops?

[00:16:12] Tanya: There’s plenty of possibility. It’s always a juggle to squeeze a bit of funding here or there, and then, you know, bring it all together. That’s, that’s our task as a Landcare Group. Certainly the interest is there and I imagine there would be a range of cultural burning workshops coming up in future years.

[00:16:31] Kathryn: Is there anything else that you’d like to share about Condamine Headwaters Landcare Group?

[00:16:37] Tanya: I’d like to share that I understand that it’s difficult for people to know where Landcare sits in, in the whole bureaucratic framework. A lot of people come to Landcare thinking that we’re somehow a government thing. And whilst Landcare is right across Australia it’s not the least bit government funded in Queensland. We receive no government funding at all. We’re not connected to council or to state government or the federal government. We’re actually a local, not for profit community group on the same basis as as many other local community groups. I feel that we as a community have a responsibility to land management, but you know, we also, as a country, I guess, as a nation, have a responsibility for land management. And I guess that’s where state and federal connections come in. And I understand that it’s hard for people to know where Landcare sits in that framework. So when we get a project that is funded, it’s up to us where we can actually get our money from to run those projects. And I guess Landcare has got a bit of a legacy of having been highly funded in the past. There’s just so much less funding around and anybody involved with community groups will know this, uh, there’s a lot less funding around now than there was in the past but I think, you know, I guess that’s relevant in a conversation on resilience. Isn’t it? You know, that, uh, we’re resilient too, but it also means, I guess, resilient doesn’t mean expecting things to be like it was 10 or 15 years ago because that’s not possible. So what we’ve aimed to do at Landcare is to work our way forward in the current funding landscape and be the best kind of group that we can be for the community for what’s going on now, for what our outlook is for the next few years. I hope that people understand that Landcare sits in that kind of community groups space whilst dealing with the rather enormous issues of erosion and soil health and and weed management and land management, and you know, what is sustainable and what is regenerative and what is good agriculture. And we tackle the big questions from a small base. And I think we’re good at that.

[00:19:05] Kathryn: How can people get in touch with what you’re doing with the Condamine Headwaters Landcare Group, Tanya?

[00:19:11] Tanya: So the best way for people to get in touch is to call the office directly. We have a landline. Four double six one, double 9 0 9. We have a Facebook page, so people are welcome to have a look on our Facebook page. We always post our workshops and any other current activities on our Facebook page. People are welcome to sign up to our newsletter. So we send out a newsletter three times a year. People are welcome to become members. So members always receive the newsletters and also are welcome to come to meetings. And they’re welcome to send an email into the office as well. You’ll find the email address on the council website.

[00:19:50] Kathryn: How can people get on your newsletter list?

[00:19:53] Tanya: They can ring me up or send me an email And they can ask to be on the newsletter list. And there’s no obligation. If people want to be on the newsletter list, you don’t have to be a member or participate in anything in particular, just to read what we’re doing on an ongoing basis.

[00:20:11] Kathryn: Thanks for listening to the Speak Out Loud Stories of Strength podcast with me, Kathryn Walton. I hope this episode inspires you to get involved and to get connected with your community. You can find the transcript and any links mentioned in this episode, in the show notes and please share the podcast with your friends.

We acknowledge and pay respect to the past, present and future Traditional Custodians and Elders of this nation and the continuation of cultural, spiritual, and educational practices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Series Two of this podcast has been jointly funded under the Commonwealth and State Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements 2018.

Decision-making Tools with Helen Lewis

Transcript from the podcast “Speak Out Loud: Stories of Strength from the Southern Downs”

SEASON 2: EPISODE 8

GUEST: Helen Lewis, Picot’s Farm

PUBLISHED: 21st March 2022

Helen Lewis, Picot's Farm
[00:00:00] Helen: If we focus on what we can change ourselves, what we can control and then what we can influence, that’s a far better use of my energy than worrying about the area of concern, which might be out of my control like rainfall. I can’t make it rain. I can’t make it not flood. I can’t do all those things, but I can make a contribution on my place so I’m ready for that. I can either get my business ready for that. I can get my land ready for that as best as I can. It’s never going to be perfect, but at least I feel I’ve, we’ve done as much as we possibly can with what we’ve got and we’ve made some early decisions.

[00:00:47] Kathryn: Today’s guest is Helen Lewis who shares some valuable insights and some tools to help you manage tough times. Helen is a primary producer from Picot’s Farm near Warwick on the Southern Downs, and she has a keen interest in educating communities about chosen change and unchosen change as well as decision-making for your farm, your business, your family, or your personal life that’s based on your values and your longer term vision. Helen also shares some information about the Outback Way Project which highlights the benefits of connections within and between communities and the power of collaboration.

Welcome to the podcast, Helen. Can you share with our listeners what your connection is with the Southern Downs?

[00:01:40] Helen: Well, thank you. It’s pleasure to be here, Kathryn really uh, It’s it’s wonderful the series you’re putting together. So thank you for including me in that. My connection with the Southern Downs probably starts when I was about nine months old. We moved from Brisbane to Warwick. And interestingly, my parents had purchased Hillside, which was Archdeacon Glennie’s old home sandstone home on top of the hill, in Glennie Heights. And so I grew up in this lovely old rambling sandstone home, and, uh, which had a deep connection with the area. The rectory of St. Mark’s church, is actually the kitchen from Hillside. And so I had 30 wonderful years living and you know, enjoying being at Hillside, in amongst being at boarding school and university and everything, but it was always home, which was lovely. So my connection has probably been in and out I guess of the Southern Downs with education and work. But eventually came home in 2003 and have been here since.

[00:02:40] Kathryn: The Southern Downs Region has been on a recovery journey following drought and then bush fires in 2019 and 2020. And more recently, the region has actually experienced some pretty significant rain and flooding. So we’ve had it all as well as the pandemic. What are some of the challenges that people who are working on the land have needed to navigate throughout these times?

[00:03:04] Helen: It has been a period of a roller coaster of events, hasn’t it? And there’s a lot of emotional impact that that has on people, uh, as well as physical, and obviously in landscape as well. The challenges are clear I mean, we know that drought is, is low rainfall and it’s just you know landscape dries out. We know the damage fires do. And we also know the impact of floods. But I guess, you know, it’s interesting that bush fires and floods are deemed to be a natural disaster because they are, you know, there there’s a start and finish. They come and they go, quite quickly, probably within days. A drought though lasts for however long it lasts and we don’t know how long that’s going to be. And so it’s the unending. It’s the continuous dry time. That’s the unnerving bit in drought. These events are actually unchosen and they create unchosen change for us. So there’s the process of unchosen change and where there’s steps and stages that we go through, regardless of how big the unchosen change is or how small and those steps include denial as the first one. So we put our head in the sand, it’s not happening, we don’t want a bar of it. We’ll just put our head in the sand. It’ll go away. Soon enough we understand that that’s not gonna satisfy with it’s still here. It’s still in our face. So then we start blaming. We start actually blaming others for it. And government’s not doing enough, or, you know, what happened, or whose fault is it? So we want to blame someone. Then we actually probably come to the acceptance. Okay. It’s here. Righto. Acceptance is just acknowledging that Right, we have a problem we’ve got dry times or, we’ve, you know, it’s happened. Um, and then from acceptance, if we can move through acceptance we get to resolution, which is actually, Okay what am I going to do about that. I better do something. I better make a decision about what I’m going to do differently, or how am I going to manage this? And then there’s exploration. Once we’ve hit that resolution of, Okay, I’ve got to do something, it’s up to me, we then start exploring, which is where we see all our options and ideas. And we actually then have chosen change. We move into the chosen change process. We’ve chosen change. There’s a relief because we’ve made a decision to do something and then there’s that excitement of, Okay, well, how can I make that work? And where can I put it? And let’s make this happen, but then we actually hit self-doubt. Sometimes we get caught on self doubt. And that’s where we can get stuck. And that’s where it’s really important to have supportive community around you because you need that support of the like-minded, your own tribe to actually help you and encourage you to keep on the path of of the change you’ve chosen. And then, from that you then go into resolution again. The resolution is I’m okay and I can keep going. And then you probably make another chosen change, you know, you kind of move through them. So it’s a really important that people understand those, but with all these events that have happened, natural, like, you know, with drought and bush fires and floods, it is the unchosen change and being aware of blaming. We can keep blaming for a very long time. And that’s not helpful for people to get stuck in because it’s negative and it’s very tiring. And also there’s no answers because it’s not necessarily anyone’s fault. So with that, I guess it’s comes then to the need for being part of local groups like the Landcare Group or farmer groups. We have a lovely farmer group of five other families. We meet every three months to work on our businesses. We discuss things. We, we challenge each other. We ask questions of each other. The kids have a lovely time together. Like it’s just a really great support. And during the dry times we certainly lent on each other heavily to discuss what was going well and what was good and how things happen. We just really tried to shift our focus into what was working but then also acknowledge what wasn’t, then you’ve got this group of people who can help you with ideas on, or what do you do to fix that or make it move, you know, how can we help each other? So Yeah, look, the challenges are endless. It’s about the commercial viability in a changing climate, really. I mean, if we don’t actually improve our landscape function, we’re going to have more droughts and more floods, and they’re going to be more severe. So we do have a responsibility to improve our landscape function. I mean, I was so excited that the recent flood we had a few months ago. There was silt on our flat so we have water coming through from Greymare Creek and it dropped a load of silt um on the first paddock. By the time it was crossing the road, it was only like maybe five to 10 centimeters deep. It was crystal clear. I could see the bitumen through it. But that’s exciting. That’s exciting. I know that our landscape is filtering that water. We’re getting the bonus of someone else’s silt I guess, but at the same time, we are sending that water off our place crystal clear. And it was completely saturated, but it wasn’t running fast. It was running slow, and it was clear.

[00:08:21] Kathryn: So some land management in action there.

[00:08:23] Helen: Absolutely. That’s testament to the work that we’ve been putting in with our planned grazing and really improving our ability for soil and our grass to filter water. It is our responsibility as farmers to actually get our landscape ready for rain and ready for drought. I want my landscape respond, whether it’s five mills or 50 mills. I want us to have enough ground cover so that five mils is useful and so is 50. We need to have landscapes that can function with very little rain plus also be able to absorb and hold lots of rain at once. That’s a great landscape. That’s a big compost bin and, you know, in the soil, which is what we’re aiming for. And if we’ve got that, then we’re holding the water in our soil and that’s the best place to hold moisture. It brings everything alive. It enables the microbes, the fungus, the bacterias everything to function. It’s about understanding that.

[00:09:17] Kathryn: I’m really interested in the unchosen / chosen framework that you spoke about Helen. It sounds like when you can accept that there are certain things you can’t control around the weather and those events like bush fires and floods, there’s only so much we can control around that, but you’re making that resolution and you’re exploring your options, even when things are going fine, when things aren’t tough, when those natural disasters aren’t occurring. And that’s a really good preparation for those times when drought might, you know, the dry times might come or, or the flood might come. And so holding that soil together and the water management, the land management, all the things there.

[00:10:06] Helen: Yeah, that’s right. And it’s also about really being very clear about your circle of influence and circle of concern. In the drought, Ian and I really talk about what can we do now? What are we a hundred percent in control of? Well, we’re in a hundred percent in control of our landscape. What’s going on here, whether we have animals or not. We can choose, we’ve got lots of choices to make lots of decisions to make, and we are a hundred percent in control of what we’re choosing to do. And when we actually really focus on ourselves and what we can control, we then help to break down what we can control and then that helps what we can influence. So our circle of influence grows and then also diminishes our circle of concern. So we could have lots of concerns about lots of things, but if we, uh, if we focus on what we can change ourselves, what we can control and then what we can influence, that’s a far better use of my energy than worrying about the area of concern, which might be out of my control like rainfall. I can’t make it rain. I can’t make it not flood. I can’t do all those things, but I can make a contribution on my place so I’m ready for that. I can either get my business ready for that. I can get my land ready for that as best as I can. It’s never going to be perfect, but at least I feel I’ve, we’ve done as much as we possibly can with what we’ve got and we’ve made some early decisions. But also we’ve sat down and said, Righto, what’s our drought trigger point? So in this good season, if we hadn’t have had the rain in, by the end of February that we’ve had this year, we would have started to de-stock. Now we’ve had three good seasons in a row. We have so much feed. We know we’ve got this year, we’re sorted, we know we’ve got standing hay for the winter. We know we’ve got enough feed to carry our animals all the way through and we could probably take on more animals. But then again, if we don’t have rain by January, February next year, because March is too late for us to grow anything, so we need to have the summer rain by the end of January, early, mid February, for us to know that we’ve then got enough growth time for us to have winter feed, we then start to reduce numbers. It’s just early decisions. And so we completely destocked in the drought and we had no stock here for 12 months. And that was, I mean, that was an excellent decision because we actually then were able to do other things in the drought. We weren’t doing the day to day feeding or anything. And how do you, how long does that go on for? You don’t know the end point. And so that whole notion of hanging onto something and continually putting money into it without knowing the end point, we don’t have that risk profile. We don’t, some people do and that’s that’s okay. But we don’t. So it’s about us knowing our risk level. We make that early decision and we destock, but saying that, so we had brown ground cover everywhere on this place. It wasn’t very thick at all, but when it rained, four weeks, we had knee-high grass. We were back in business four weeks.

[00:13:19] Kathryn: It was really amazing wasn’t it to see it just come up like that.

[00:13:23] Helen: Absolutely. So it’s about understanding what decisions am I going to make that will help me go into drought later. It looks like a depressing landscape, but then at the same time, it’s got its own function. And I was just thinking what what’s nature doing now, when I look out the window, when it’s dry and you go, what’s going on under there, something’s going on under there, like, and we had soil carbon for the microbes to eat. They were eating the pantry stores, which is our soil carbon. Then they can be brought back to life with rain, you know, and that’s, that’s extraordinary, you know, nature is so forgiving and just always happening. So I feel that it’s early decisions. It’s about understanding your own trigger points. So you need to make a plan and you need to stick to it. And understand how long are you prepared to feed Whereabouts are you going to do that on your property? Are you going to do it the same place every time? Why not move it around and actually put some animal impact around the place and then when it does recover, you’ll actually get some recovery. It won’t be another scalded place a spot for another 10 years, you know? So people move their feeder around into different paddocks, even onto bare patches and give that a bit of joojup with all the hoof action and every day just move the feeder. Then you’re actually preparing your soil for rain. And what are you going to feed them? Where are you going to get it from? How much is it going to cost you? So what are you doing? Why are you doing it? It’s all connected back to our values and how we want to live our life.

[00:14:45] Kathryn: And I wanted to circle back to something you mentioned a little while ago, Helen, about creating a network of farmers around you. And that it’s, it’s a really great way to support each other, to share information, to share ideas and inspiration as well about how to manage whatever happens to be going on at that time. And I just wanted to check in with you about that risk there is when we get together with groups of people. And I know particularly when the landscape was very dry and it was very brown, often the conversation would be around the negative. So how do you, within a network like that or in a, circle, a social circle, keep things positive and constructive?

[00:15:40] Helen: And I think that’s where we focus on what we can do and so if people are whingeing about feeding and it’s taking its toll, sell your animals. Get rid of them while you still can and while they’re worth something like, it’s actually about why do we make a rod for our own back? No one’s making you keep your animals. They are a saleable asset. Choose. Otherwise don’t complain. It’s actually about, it’s about the choices we make. We’ve got to actually be comfortable with those choices. If you know, if you’re comfortable feeding, great, well, that’s going to be a good story for you, isn’t it? But if it’s not, well, maybe there’s something wrong with that decision. Maybe you actually selling is a better decision for you because you are pushing against your own risk. You are pushing against your own values. And it’s in the face of your values and how you want to live your life and so sell. Or find agistment somewhere. So I feel that really being very, honest with yourself when you start hearing yourself talking in those groups, when you are in the middle of a drought, what are you whingeing about? What can you do about it again, circle of control, influence, concern? What can you do about that? Is it in your power to do something about that?

[00:16:58] Kathryn: That’s probably a really good segue into exploring this values piece a little bit more Helen, which you also mentioned a couple of minutes ago. And one of the roles that you have apart from farming is educating people around values-based decision-making and holistic management. Could you share with our listeners a little bit more about those approaches and how they might be able to help people in tough times and with some of these tough decisions like destocking, keeping stock, feeding stock?

[00:17:31] Helen: That’s right. So I guess with our values-based decision-making, if we’re clear about how we want to live our life and what really matters to us, and then also talk about the attributes. When our land is at its best, when we’re at our best, when our community is at its best, what are the attributes? If people write those down, that becomes their life context, Uh, which allows them to use that as a reference point. And if we keep updating that as we grow and evolve as people, and you know, we try and do ours once a year and just to check in to make sure it’s still current, that means if we’re using that reference piece for our decision-making and in our decision-making, we’re just checking that every decision we make is good for us as people, it’s good for our environment and it’s good for our finances and wider economy. So we’re trying to actually ensure that we’ve thought about the impact that we’re having, the ripple effect that every decision makes, because you know, we don’t make decisions in isolation. It’s like a pebble in the pond. It causes a ripple. And it goes off farm too. You know, we need to be really conscious that it ripples into the community with the choices we make. Our decision making is, is based on our context of our values and what we want for the future. It’s very grounding. So it’s not Joe Bloggs down the road and what their opinion is. It’s not all the noise from the media. It’s not all the pamphlets from the trade show or the ag show that you go to and you don’t know what to choose and you, so you just choose everything. It allows us a sifting process of all that noise and all those pamphlets and those opinions and we can actually check it check to see if it actually fits our values. And if it does great, if it doesn’t it’s out. And so we make that decision, which is very good for early decision-making. It means that we’re making decisions that are true to ourselves. We’re backing ourselves and it allows us to then, create those sorts of trigger points and policies, I guess, for our farm and our management so that we can be as proactive as possible.

[00:19:36] Kathryn: Would you be able to give us an example of values decision-making in action?

[00:19:41] Helen: I guess one of them was in relation to the feeding. Our values include things like self-sufficient, we want to make a difference. We want to have a really nurturing environment. We also want to be having a highly functional landscape, you know, we want to be proactive. We want to be positive, all these things. And if we run the ideas of feeding or destocking, towards our values, then destocking came up trumps because it actually enabled us to maintain togetherness. We’re looking after our land because we’ve actually destocked, for a short period of time, really in the scheme of things and also just the financial one was a big one because we went Well, we don’t know how long for, and we’re just not prepared to spend that money feeding animals. If we can grow more grass, and if we can maintain that grass because of management, then we can go into drought later and we can come out sooner, even if it means destocking in the meantime. And our next plan for our drought will be probably some agistment somewhere because we now are part of a process where we’re putting our animals through to to other producers who are value adding and selling boxed beef into Brisbane. We’re supplying them with clean meat, into their clean supply chain, which absolutely ticks our boxes, compared to selling it onto the open market. Just knowing that we are being responsible, you know, when we are regenerative ag, and we are trying to produce a clean product and our nutrient integrity is intact, then it’s our responsibility to make sure that that nutrient integrity ends up, being maintained through the whole supply chain um, and that really sits well with us because that gives our product complete integrity. It also is completely in line with our values and that those are the decisions that we’ve moved, that we’ve checked towards our decision-making as well. So yeah, it gives us focus.

[00:21:30] Kathryn: And it sounds like that’s a way of enabling your values to catch one of those ripples that goes out to the wider community so that at the other end, the consumer is enjoying the benefits of those values that you started the process with.

[00:21:49] Helen: Yeah. Yeah. That’s right. That’s really important that we maintain that transparency and the value of the product all the way through for the consumer.

[00:21:57] Kathryn: So many wonderful ideas that you’ve shared with us already, Helen, but I’m wondering if you could choose one top tip to give somebody for managing tough times, whether it’s weather conditions or something else who’s living off the land, what would that be?

[00:22:15] Helen: It is decision-making. I mean, when we need to also understand the tools and the toolbox. So sorry. The one tip might be very big one tip. But yeah, look, the understanding how nature functions. So, planning grazing, moving animals. If we’re set stocking, we’re allowing animals, just to graze everywhere, anytime, for as long as they like. We’re just eating species by species, plant by plant. Like it’s not going to be helpful in a dry time. It’s just going to cause more drought. If you’re planning your grazing and allowing adequate recovery of your grasses, you will have feed for longer. There’s just so many people who’ve had success with that. And mobbing animals up putting them together and then moving them around your paddocks. And then not coming back to that first paddock till it’s fully recovered in a summer will mean that you are growing grass for winter. And that means that you can keep in business. So understanding how to manage your animals and even in cropping, explore the cover cropping. Explore direct drilling into to land. Why plough when you’re all you’re doing is you’re breaking the, microbes, you’re breaking up the soil profile and, all the things that you’re relying on to grow a crop, you’re actually destroying with the plough and then all your top soil blows away. It’s not about jumping off the cliff and going all of the farm all at once to do the transition into some cover cropping or some direct drilling into pasture. Just try it and try it for three years, but just keep persevering because yeah, this stuff, is you transitioning out from something that’s very input heavy, which costs a lot of money to grow, to try to transition to something that’s going to cost you far less. It’s all very well to be best in show and the best yield, but how much does it cost? And that’s a big point. And so I just feel that people need to be really aware of the costs and input costs are only propping up what should already be in the soil and the soil should be functioning for us. And the more diversity we have, the greater the resilience of the plant we’re trying to grow because of all the predator, prey relationship in play. In the toolbox we have technology, time and living organisms. Technology. We love technology because it’s quick, it’s a gadget, it’s a how to and humans are linear. We love it. But we have to keep in mind with technology, if it’s destroying soil structure, if it’s breaking down soil biology, if it’s baring ground and if it’s not solving the root cause of the problem, then why are we using it? Because that’s taking us backwards. Living organisms are all the natural biology. It’s the compost teas. it’s the microbes that people put on. It’s all this living inputs. That’s where we’re better off because in the technology bucket, in our toolbox, that’s the chemical fertilizer. It’s the chemical fungicide. It’s the chemical pesticides that’s, that’s all technology cause it’s manmade. If they really feel the need to put something on, they can transition to natural inputs which are living organisms. And in the middle is time, which is actually about understanding the time on the land for grazing, the time for plants to recover, obviously we have times for crops to grow. We have time for harvest. Time is something that we manage. It’s a tool. We can use the tool of time for healing, and growing and harvesting and eating and, and enjoying. So it’s uh, actually a really important one cause time in nature is huge. And droughts are really a time for nature to reset like frost. So it’s an event in nature. And so we need to acknowledge that as well.

[00:26:08] Kathryn: That toolbox sounds like it would be useful for every individual human being as well.

[00:26:15] Helen: So absolutely. It’s a universal toolbox that we need to just check in with and say, well, okay, what tool am I choosing to use here? And technology’s everywhere, but, um, we just need to be mindful about the application of that technology. Just because we can doesn’t mean we should.

[00:26:31] Kathryn: The other part of technology, which I’m thinking about as you’re speaking, Helen, is how we access information. And there are some wonderful opportunities these days to educate ourselves, to access information and education using technology.

[00:26:48] Helen: And that’s where technology comes into its own. And we’re doing farming in a completely different era now with technology. And if we can use it well, there’s Ted talks, there’s Google, there’s Zoom calls you know, you can go to a course every day on Zoom, you know, like there’s just so much out there. But even local land care field days are enormously beneficial and they’re tactile, they’re physical, they’re people, you know, face to face.

[00:27:11] Kathryn: I’d like to change focus for a few minutes, Helen, and have a bit of a chat about one of your other roles that you have in our wider community, even beyond the Southern Downs, which is with the Outback Way. Could you tell us a little bit about your work with the Outback Way and how that might be impacting communities that it’s serving directly, but also indirectly and more broadly across Australia.

[00:27:37] Helen: Sure thanks. So I’m the General Manager for the Outback Highway Development Council and we for the last 20 years have been, well, I think it’s 25 years now have been uh, advocating and lobbying for sealing the road between Laverton in Western Australia through to Winton in Queensland. So it’s a transnational link connecting the east to the west, um, right through past Uluru. And we have secured over $400 million and road is being sealed now. With the final use of that 400 million, we’ll only have 900 kilometers to seal and we’re hoping to have this done by 27, 28. That’s the plan and what it does for the community. So we have 13 indigenous communities along this route that rely on the Outback Way roads. And it’s connected by four or five different roads. So we’ve got the Kennedy Development Road. We’ve got the Donohue Highway. We’ve got the Plenty Highway. And then the Stuart Highway around Alice Springs right down to Yulara. Then it hits onto the Docker River or Tjukaruru Road. And then we hit the Great Central Road in Western Australia. So they’re the roads that make up the Outback Way. And um, along those roads, we’ve got very cultural communities right the way across. And the impact for the communities is it sounds Irish, but if you can leave a place, you will stay. And that really is magnified when we’re talking about health and educational service delivery. When teachers and nurses and doctors can leave a place, um, 24 7, regardless of weather, regardless of any time day or night. they will stay. longer. And so as a result of that, then the trust, continuity of service delivery and health delivery improves and is consistent which means that there is far better health outcomes and far better education outcomes. Um, and that trust is really, really important particularly indigenous communities. And so the sealing of the road is more than just, let’s just put some tar down and like make it a tourism route. That’s lovely. And that’s obviously going to be fantastic for Australia and you will actually be able to zigzag the nation, which is great. And so gray nomads won’t have to go around in circles anymore. Um, they’ll actually be able to come across. And so looking forward to that, that’s, that’s awesome. But really importantly, even just the basket of goods. So all the national basket of goods, we worked it out that in Warburton, which is in the Western deserts, WA their basket of goods is 136% more expensive and it’s tinned food. It’s not fresh food. It’s tinned and frozen food. If we can seal the road where it means fresh fruit and veggies and fresh meat can reach this central Australia and these isolated communities, again, their health and their wellbeing will be enhanced significantly with just simply better quality food. And so that in itself, you know, really does change things for these communities. In addition to that, there’s obviously employment opportunities and with tourists, there’s a huge amount of opportunity for indigenous tourism activities, but also just local remote communities. Boulia is just buzzing at the moment. They’ve just redone their Min Min Centre Encounter. And so they’re just loving the connection the Outback Way gives them to a whole new set of tourists from central Australia. And clearly on a bigger notion the Outback Way will really enable enormous amounts of growth in mining sector in Western Australia. And it’s the mines that are mining the minerals and resources we want for our gadgets. So these are the mines that have got the rural resources, the copper, all these things that are critical for taking us forward into the battery technology, uh, and then also, then we’ve got the national freight story. You know, just recently the uh, Stuart Highway was closed. The railway was closed. The Adelaide Darwin railway was closed. The Nullarbor railway was closed. And so if we had a third route across Australia, we’ve got then a freight option as well. Another freight option which is really critical. Last year the Nullarbor fires closed the Nullarbor for a while. And again, if we’d had the sealed route across Australia through the Outback Way, again we’d be able to transport product east-west. There’s a lot of horticulture in Central Australia. There’s a lot of cattle, and improved animal welfare, improved savings for freight companies and trucking and pastoralists and actually making viability more realistic out there and adding value to their marketing options as well. And then of course, the tourism as well. The Outback Highway Development Council is put together with, um, the five shires across the route. So Winton, Boulia, Alice Springs, Ngaanyatjarraku and Laverton. Uh, and this project is then multilayered. So we work with Indigenous Land Councils. We work with the state and territory governments, the federal governments, we’ve got three tiers of government involved. We’ve got Indigenous community, we’ve got tourism, we’ve got freight, we’ve got logistics and we’ve got mining companies all involved in our organisation. We’ve you know, 40 companies and organisations that we’re collaborating with. And the value of this project but it came from the ground up. And I was out there 2017 with a media famille. And when they knew that we were on the Outback Way, we got hugs all around. They just can’t wait. The Indigenous communities are crying out for this infrastructure because it means people will stop. They’ll spend some money. They can have enterprises, they can actually make some money. They can make some economic development choices and it does comes back to this decision-making, you know, when you’ve only got one choice of toothpaste on the shelf to choose from, you’re not even making a decision. And so we’ve got this situation where we’ve got these people in these communities who aren’t even empowered to choose what food they eat, what toothpaste they use. I mean, for someone in urban Australia, well, that’s we just take it for granted. So how do you empower yourself if you’re not even making that basic day-to-day decision there’s no choice. And I believe the sealed road will enable that choice because there will then be the option for other products to come in and they’ll suddenly be able to choose between two toothpastes, two different brands, maybe five different brands. That’s exciting because it suddenly means empowerment. That starts the whole notion of actually being able to be in control of their own life.

[00:34:11] Kathryn: There are some really terrific themes that are coming out of the Outback Way that you’ve described Helen. Choices on all different levels right from being able to choose something different at the supermarket. Perhaps even a choice of supermarkets but also a choice of roads for tourists who might want to do some travel around Australia. So those logistical choices as well for transport. So if there is a problem with one access road there may be this other option as well.

[00:34:46] Helen: Yep. And I guess, the big thing too is the project is really about, collaboration and it’s come from the grassroots. It’s come from the shires and the ground up, and there’s no one out there that doesn’t want this to happen. And that’s really unique for such a big scale national project. It’s the only one of its kind that doesn’t have contention attached to it.

[00:35:09] Kathryn: So you’re seeing this aspect of collaboration, lots of opportunity for connection as well in the example of the Outback Way and bringing that back to our local Southern Downs Region, it brings to mind the Food Map. Could you tell us a little bit about the Food Map because that’s very much about connection and collaboration and choice and empowerment as well.

[00:35:34] Helen: So in 2019, Sarah Duden and I completed the Food Map. And that’s basically a, um, a list of all the producers in the region that are direct marketing to consumers, so the consumer can actually buy direct from the farmer and also any cafes that are actually selling and putting local food on their menus and or value adding local foods. So, you know, Jamworks and their berries and then there’s variety of producers that are growing produce in the Southern Downs, processing it in the Southern Downs, and then it’s available for sale. So locals can buy local very easily when they get hold of the Food Map and then start buying direct from farmers.

[00:36:18] Kathryn: That’s terrific. We’ve covered lots and lots of topics on our episode today, Helen. Is there anything else that you’d like to share about holistic management or values-based decision-making or anything else that maybe we have covered, but we’ve missed or something that we’ve missed altogether?

[00:36:37] Helen: Just a closing thought and that is I think if we adopt the headspace that we’re either winning or learning, I think that’s really powerful. It’s either working for us, or what am I learning from this? If we’re not comfortable, if it’s not going so well, okay, what am I learning? What can I learn from this? And what can I do differently? It’s a really positive space to be in. And also it’s a really important because with that learning notion, it means that we have to be monitoring. We need to be checking in and we need to know what we want, to know that we’re not going so well. What, what do we need to find or seek out to help us take that next step. It really puts us in a much more proactive state of mind.

[00:37:24] Kathryn: Winning or learning. Sounds like a really fabulous motto for us to take on board and if people are wanting to learn a little bit more about this values-based decision-making Helen, how can they find out about that?

[00:37:39] Helen: Sure so my values-based decision-making contact is Decision Design Hub, so they can go to our, my website and then there’s a personal button and people can actually do the online course. And for agriculture, there’s an agricultural button, and then boards and organisations can also click through and I’m looking to help organisations and councils and community groups, actually uh, put together values-based decision-making for their own organisations, because it’s very good at collaborating. The Outback Way uses holistic decision-making within our decision-making process as well and it’s clearly helping us with our collaboration. And then for what we’re doing on farm, Picot’s Farm, and they can source our beef and also the workshops we host, through picotsfarm dot com dot au and Picot’s is P I C O T S farm. We get pickets, but it’s Picot’s from Harry Picot, the fellow who, uh, who built the buildings and did some work down here. We very happy to talk to anyone who’s interested in any of those things. And if they’re interested in the Outback Way and want to go on a trip it’s outbackway dot org dot AU.

[00:38:48] Kathryn: Thanks for listening to the Speak Out Loud Stories of Strength podcast with me, Kathryn Walton. I hope this episode inspires you to get involved and to get connected with your community. You can find the transcript and any links mentioned in this episode, in the show notes and please share the podcast with your friends.

We acknowledge and pay respect to the past, present and future Traditional Custodians and Elders of this nation and the continuation of cultural, spiritual, and educational practices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Series Two of this podcast has been jointly funded under the Commonwealth and State Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements 2018.

Returning Home with Peter Gill

Transcript from the podcast “Speak Out Loud: Stories of Strength from the Southern Downs”

SEASON 2: EPISODE 6

GUEST: Peter Gill

PUBLISHED: 10th March 2022

bushfire regrowth
[00:00:00] Peter: The morning after the bushfire,

I’d snuck home by six o’clock

Without much time to prepare myself

For the return home was a shock.

I dodged around the roadblocks

To get back up to my place.

My house alone there in the bush

Where fire swept through a pace.

My carport and my shed as well

Were such a welcome sight.

Though I had prepared myself I might have lost them through the night.

I swung around the corner

And pulled up in the drive

I saw right there, the roof intact

So my house, it did survive.

[00:00:33] Kathryn: My guest on the podcast today is Peter Gill. Peter lives on the Granite Belt in the Southern Downs Region where he’s surrounded by bush land that’s a habitat to a diverse range of vegetation and wildlife, including many birds which you might hear as you listen to this episode. For Peter, writing poetry is a catalyst for self-expression and creativity. He shares one of his poems with us today that conveys the relief and the despair of returning home after the bush fire in September 2019. Peter also shares with us the vital importance of preparation and being proactive, including asking for help of any kind, if you need it.

Peter, can you tell us what’s your connection with the Southern Downs?

[00:01:27] Peter: Well, I’ve been here about 11 years, um, just over and to be honest, I picked Stanthorpe off the map because I wanted to be near family in Brisbane and Ballina but I wanted to be in a nice, natural environment that had its own couple of industries, be it tourism and agriculture. So I figured that there was going to be a healthy economy and a healthy community, and also wanted to be able to buy property with a significant amount of land, my idea of big land, so that I could care for that and be part of it, but still be near a community that had the basics to get by shopping the usual things. If you need to go to the big smoke you do so, but otherwise you can avoid it. So, um, I just thought that Stanthorpe looks like an attractive town, be it Quart Pot Creek and the National Parks around it. Um, and yeah, the agricultural industry and the tourism industry being a significant part of how Stanthorpe can exist. And I was looking forward to becoming part of that and have done so.

[00:02:27] Kathryn: And a few years ago, 2019 and 2020, we had a number of fires come through the region and late last year, so late 2021 we had a community photography exhibition called Hope and Growth. And that was an opportunity for people in the community to submit artwork, particularly photos. And you submitted some poetry to that. And that was a great time to reflect on those bush fires and the recovery journey that the community had been on. Peter, would you like to share one of your poems with us?

[00:03:07] Peter: Sure I’d be more than happy to do that. I did write seven or eight poems, most of them focused on the bushfire. Um, some of it was focused on thanking particular, um, aspects of the, either the firefighting process or the recovery process being the community recovery hub. And I wrote a couple about more personal note of living in the forest, coming home to a house in the forest after the fire had been through and things like that. So, yeah, there was a bit of variety, that I expressed in that, and they were usually tapped out onto my phone at some ridiculous hour in the morning when I couldn’t sleep properly, because it was a bit on the stressful side, as you can imagine. So yeah, I wrote a few, but I think we’re going down the avenue of a personal aspect one that’s written partly as a, an emotional returning home but also includes a bit of an educational aspect about how to manage your own bush setting if you live amongst the bush, or you have some native bush land nearby, um, it’s got a little bit of educational stuff about how to interact with your environment so that you can live in harmony with it rather than being scared of it and how to prepare yourself for bushfire basically. It touches on a couple of different levels, but we’re going for the returning home one just simply called Returning Home and here it is.

The morning after the bushfire,

I’d snuck home by six o’clock

Without much time to prepare myself

For the return home was a shock.

I dodged around the roadblocks

To get back up to my place.

My house alone there in the bush

Where fire swept through a pace.

My carport and my shed as well

Were such a welcome sight.

Though I had prepared myself I might have lost them through the night.

I swung around the corner

And pulled up in the drive

I saw right there, the roof intact

So my house, it did survive.

Though as I looked around me

With smoke still in the air,

The brief sense of relief had passed

And turned into despair.

Most of my sheds and caravans

And several water tanks,

The fire on its ruthless charge

Had plowed on through their ranks.

My fire break had done its job

Almost right across the hill,

And yet it crept around the sides

And burnt most things down still.

Where I had done cool fuel burns

The forest fared really well.

Where the high fuel loads were the fire

Turned it all to blackened hell.

So the lesson here is not to rest

Until your fire prep is done.

And your bushfire plan is personalised,

Not just some generic one.

You’ve got to make really sure

That you’ve thought of everything.

For now we know a bushfire plan

Is not something you can wing.

You’ve got to keep on top of the grass

And trim it nice and short.

If you let some parts get out of hand,

You’ll be on that insurance report.

So call the local firies in for a fuel reduction burn.

Slip the brigade 200 bucks,

Could save your place you’ll learn.

For fire generally knows no bounds

Charging like an angry steer.

So it really came as no surprise

That it had done some damage here.

The drought we’re in has set the stage

For a scary fire season,

For a week ago it was winter here.

Me thinks climate change the reason.

It’s all part of preventing loss

And reducing risk of pain,

For once you’ve been through one bush fire,

Its memory will remain.

That’s Returning Home.

[00:06:10] Kathryn: There are a lot of pointers in there about preparing, really practical pointers about preparing for bush fire season. And that emotional element as well. Certainly a very stressful event, being part of a bushfire.

[00:06:25] Peter: It certainly was.

[00:06:26] Kathryn: And that recovery journey I think it really starts even before the bush fire doesn’t it, with your preparation and then there’s that stressful event. And then there’s the immediate clean up the immediate things that need to be done that are often very practical things. And then as time goes on, there continues to be recovery. I’m thinking that that Hope and Growth Exhibition in the community, that came about around about two years after the fire. So reflecting on those two years, there’s been you know, a lot of other actions that have taken place that have been part of your recovery journey and for the community as a whole there’s been a lot going on too.

[00:07:14] Peter: Absolutely. The agricultural community, not every year, but you know, frequently goes through stressful times, whether it be hail damage, flood damage, fire damage, various economic issues. So yeah that I mean now community deals with stress every year. It’s not just an economic cycle or a global phenomenon of a flu or anything. It’s it’s every year it’s tough going. And I think part of the strength of the community is that there’s support out there. And it’s part of the acknowledgement that if you need support and, you know it exists, then you feel confident enough or brave enough, or it’s not stigmatised. It’s like, oh, you know, I’m being a bit of a wimp here. I need some help. It’s like, no, it’s not about that. It’s about, it’s about understanding that other people are going through similar things. They might’ve been there before. They might be going through it at the same time as you. And if you can interact with people in your community, then you’ve got support and you might have, you might get some good ideas from someone about how to deal with something, or you might simply have someone who’s willing to listen to you tell them how hard it is. Opening up to someone can be the first step for you to have an emotional recovery or to deal with a problem or to fix something or, you know, whether it’s sharing to people talking about, yes, we’re both having the same problem, isn’t it terrible. Or, Hey, I’ve come up with this solution. Or, you know, so-and-so told me that we could do this or whatever, and next thing you know, you’ve got resources available to you. You’ve got something to help. The concept of mental health, we’re starting to try and get it out there in the public domain rather than it’s like, you know, you know, did you hear about this? And I don’t even want to talk about it. Well, now you can actually talk about something with confidence and say, Look I’m going to go out and I’m going to talk to someone and I’m going to get, whether it’s counselling or I’m going to find a resource to help whether it be something as simple as practical skills or recovery or mental health improvements, whether it be socialising more, whether it be getting help with fixing the farm, coping with the loss of a crop, that sort of thing. It’s about sharing. It’s about support. It’s about, acknowledging that it’s okay to say, you’re not okay. I mean, that’s the whole thing. You mentioned about the Blue Tree Project. And that was a project to raise awareness of a lack of mental health, perhaps like, you know, you’re stressed and you’re worried that you’re going to lose the plot or, you know, you’re not going to be able to cope with situations as you used to. And to be able to talk about it, um, whether it be in confidence or whether it be with friends, To actually just acknowledge that there’s an issue and start dealing with it and working towards solutions rather than dwelling on the fact that you’ve got a problem. Work towards solutions, get support and, um, yeah, let’s face it. You can save a few lives by everyone being able to find the resource base that they need and find a connection with someone that’s going to help them, even if it’s just someone at council steering them in the right direction, saying, you know, you can get help by contacting this number or something. It’s like the first step is the most important one. You don’t solve something if you haven’t taken your first step. So the first step is the biggest one. That’s the hardest one. It might be the most confronting one to acknowledge that, Hey I’m not coping with this. I’m not dealing with it. Need some help. And that is the moment in time where you actually start fixing something because you’ve acknowledged that it exists and that you want to fix it. So, yeah, the Blue Tree Project was a bit of a, um, a visual for creating awareness and to get the community talking about it. It gets people talking and starts helping people find solutions to problems that they’re facing so, yeah, there’s always a solution. You can have been through something really stressful. Whole family can go through it. A whole community can go through it. A whole country can go through it. It’s about finding help.

[00:11:17] Kathryn: And certainly the research has been showing how important it is to be connected with your community and to be prepared for stressful events, whether it is a bush fire, preparing your property and preparing your safety plan for a bush fire, or it can be making sure that you’re connected and that you know where to seek help if there is something else stressful going on in your life.

[00:11:46] Peter: Troubles are predictable. Some are predictable. Some are not, you can see some of them coming. I started preparing for the bushfire that came on Friday night. I started preparing on Monday and I decided on Sunday that I was going to prepare for Friday on Monday. So I took the day off work and I took stuff off my bush property and stored it in town cos I thought, excuse me if the [WHISTLE] hits the fan on Friday cos the weather forecast is appalling- strong winds, hot winds, high temperatures, dry, dry ground. I was like, this place is a tinderbox. If Friday turns out badly I’m going to be really up the creek unless I do something today. So on the Monday, I actually was probably the only person that was thinking about a bushfire on Friday because I took my ride-on-mower and my trailers and started packing things up. I packed up all my backpacks full of clothes and bedding and stuff. And I thought, because if I don’t prepare now, I’m not going to have time. If I’ve got five hours notice that there’s a fire coming, I’m going to be losing a hell of a lot of stuff if my place goes up. And I sat on the bonnet of my four wheel drive in town, watching the fire go over the hill. And I counted the fireballs go up where the gas bottles exploding. And I actually thought they were the gas bottles next to the hot water for the house and the granny flat. And it turned out to be barbecue gas bottles. But if I hadn’t have prepared myself for the possibility that I was going to lose, possibly going to lose everything, then I wouldn’t have had the mental focus to start acting and preparing myself for the possibility of loss, for the mental anguish. No, if I’m taking action, then I’m not suffering mental anguish. If you’re starting to prepare yourself for, be it a drought or, you know, you’re going to go look I’m not going to suffer from hail damage next year because I’m going to invest in hail netting or my crops, they’re not all going to be just tomatoes. I’m going to have a diversity of crops. The neighbour up the road now grows vegetables as well as fruits and things like that. So that’s about diversifying. It’s about preparing. It’s about building up a buffer zone or cushioning yourself or whatever. You can’t always see trouble disasters coming, but, um, there are certainly times when if you stop and think about the possibility of a particular type of disaster, then it’s the fore warned fore armed sort of thing. If you’re already on the front foot and you’re thinking about it, you’re conscious about it. You’re mentally more mentally prepared for it. You’re also more physically prepared and more economically prepared perhaps. So there’s things like that. So it’s about preparation and coping and you’re more likely to bounce back. Gotta be honest, I’ve bounced reasonably well after the fire, because I just went Well okay so I’ve reduced my human footprint on my block of land. It’s a big block of bush. It’s now more natural. So rather than going, I lost all my push bikes in the shed and you know all that went up and all my building materials got burnt. It’s like, well, now I don’t have as many projects to deal with so life’s going to be easier and you decide how you manage your recovery. And not to mince words, but you get an insurance pay out if you get burnt out. You get an insurance pay out if you’re insured properly. I know I was under-insured, but, I decided what I spent money on. To replace what I wanted to replace and didn’t replace what I thought well actually can get by without that. So that’s part of putting things in perspective and the usual thing of seeing a silver lining in a situation. How you deal with it, I guess, is really important. Yeah. Rather than me sitting and moping like sure, I was in shock for days and weeks for sifting through stuff and looking at everything that got charred going Oh there’s you know one of my best resource books. Yeah. Here’s the front cover, the little, little bit of ash that you can just read if you look at it in the right angle. How do you deal with that? It’s hard.

[00:15:37] Kathryn: Sounds like it was, almost in a surprising way, an opportunity to reevaluate your priorities, how you spend your time and your energy and finances.

[00:15:50] Peter: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, there’s the full range of aspects in your life, whether it be health, financial, recreational, employment, and it’s not necessarily a fresh start as such, but it’s certainly part of it was a clean slate and going, Okay, so I’m going to rethink how I do things to reduce the possible exposure to risk in the future or to feel okay about loss to, be able to deal with loss. You’ve got to feel okay about it. You’ve got to accept it. You’ve got to understand it. You gotta talk about it. So then you can cope with it and move on. Not moving on forgetting, but moving on knowing, knowing that you’ve managed to survive something or recover from something, and perhaps, you know, reduce the chance of loss in the future, or be a bit smarter than you were last time around, like. We’ve got to come up with a way of minimising our exposure to damage or loss. And that can be done as a long-term preparation basis. Whether it be every year you prepare yourself for fire season, or you prepare yourself for storm season or that sort of thing, or economic downturn, you know, whether you’re multi-skilled or whether you’re, you can only do one thing. I’m always busy it’s because I do three different things in my employment for self-employed. Yeah, I do trees. I do grass and I do shrubs and I can do handyman stuff or whatever. That’s that’s just a simplistic thing, but, but diversifying your interests means that you’re going to roll with the punches and be able to get through things more like the next door neighbour doesn’t just grow fruit anymore. He does the veggies and that sort of stuff. So you’ve got different markets that you can sell your products on different times of year when you can sell it. So you’ve got a more consistent income or something like that. So it’s basically about understanding your own situation, preparing yourself for change, being able to accept a change and deal with it. And when things get out of hand, knowing how to step up and change tack or readdress things, reassess it, and maybe go off on a different tangent. As long as you’re prepared mentally, then you’ve got a lot more chance of being able to cope with it and if something takes you by surprise that you weren’t prepared for and you’ve never thought about, then you’re more likely to be knocked off your feet and take months to get back on your feet. And that’s a hard slog. I’ve seen that happen to people, you know, I might have been part of it myself at times, but strengthening yourself for possible things the foreseeable things and the unforeseeable things. It’s I guess it’s comes down to the strength of spirit and, and your preparedness and your foresight to have a bit of an idea about what things in life can affect you and what things you can bounce back from and what things are you going to need help with and who you can contact to get help.

[00:18:58] Kathryn: So circling back to community projects and community events like the Hope and Growth Exhibition, and we know that when people are connected with events, with projects, with people, with the land in their community, that they have a greater opportunity to bounce back. Sounds like you’re saying it really helps to have people in your life that you can talk to that you can be open with about how things are going. You’ve got practical help there as well, you can help other people, but they can also step in and give you a hand, if you might need that from time to time?

[00:19:35] Peter: Absolutely.

[00:19:36] Kathryn: And raising awareness and sharing information, that’s something else that you brought up as being really important in those connections that we have in the community.

[00:19:45] Peter: Yeah. Being comfortable with acknowledging that something’s not right in your life and thinking about which friend or family member or community member, or which official person, you know, whether they be behind a desk or on the other end of a phone, trying to think about who’s most likely or most relevant or who could understand who can assimilate and understand with what you’re going through and who can help you. Even if it means asking someone else, Who do you reckon I should call or where should I go? Should I try the council? Or should I ring up the state ombudsman or go and talk to a neighbour that, you know, went through such and such 10 years ago. Talk to them about it, how they coped with something. Yeah, it’s about taking the first steps to recovery. Not expecting recovery to come to you necessarily, but to actually go, Hey, I want to fix this. How can I do it?

[00:20:32] Kathryn: Some really great pointers in there. thank you, Peter. And thanks for sharing your poetry with us as well.

[00:20:39] Peter: You’re very welcome. There’s a few on the wall in the Hope and Growth Exhibition. You can pop into Jamworks, or you can go into the High Street or out to Wild Grounds Cafe out east of Warwick. And then there’s Vincenzo’s. There’s a few places around where you can see some bushfire photos and some of my poetry’s on the wall there. I don’t consider myself to be a poet per se but you need a catalyst or a stimulus, something to provoke. The need to express something and I just chose poetry to do it. Some people would draw a painting, some people would you know, write a story. Some people would go and plant a forest. I just use poetry, but now, and then I might know who got months, couple of years, whatever, without writing anything, but then something dramatic happens like that. And next thing you know, you pop out eight poems in the space of three or four days. Let it be said that the growth season that we’re in with all of this beautiful lush growth, will eventually lead to dry grass, dry leaves and possibly a water shortage. It’s just the usual cycle. So don’t think that we’ve had one bush fire it’s reduced the fuel load. It’s building up again. So.

[00:21:48] Kathryn: Be prepared.

[00:21:49] Peter: Be prepared. Think about it, work out what you need to do to minimise the damage. Be prepared.

[00:21:57] Kathryn: Thanks for listening to the Speak Out Loud Stories of Strength podcast with me, Kathryn Walton. I hope this episode inspires you to get involved and to get connected with your community. You can find the transcript and any links mentioned in this episode, in the show notes and please share the podcast with your friends.

We acknowledge and pay respect to the past, present and future Traditional Custodians and Elders of this nation and the continuation of cultural, spiritual, and educational practices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Series Two of this podcast has been jointly funded under the Commonwealth and State Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements 2018.

Get Creative with Stanthorpe Regional Art Gallery

Get Creative with Mary Findlay from Stanthorpe Regional Art Gallery

Transcript from the podcast “Speak Out Loud: Stories of Strength from the Southern Downs”

SEASON 2: EPISODE 5

GUEST: Mary Findlay, Director Stanthorpe Regional Art Gallery

PUBLISHED: 7th March 2022

Stantghorpe Street Art
“WHATEVER THE WEATHER, WE STAND TOGETHER”
https://www.srag.org.au/stanthorpe-street-art

[00:00:00] Mary: I talk about uniqueness there. Not one of them, not one artwork is the same. And that tells you a little bit about yourself. So find your uniqueness of what you would like to do and follow that in your heart and do it because it does give you peace. And especially with the things that we’re kind of facing. It connects you to yourself, first to yourself and then it can connect you to other people.

[00:00:23] Kathryn: Mary Findlay is my guest on the podcast today. Mary is the director of the Stanthorpe Regional Art Gallery and her enthusiasm for connecting people to the creative arts is incredibly contagious. As Mary says, the arts are a wonderful connector that brings people together as well as being a valuable way to express your own voice or story.

Mary, welcome to the podcast. Can you tell us what your connection is with the Southern Downs?

[00:01:05] Mary: Kathryn, thanks very much for inviting me, first of all. And connection. Well, oh about 20 odd years ago, I came up here for my honeymoon with my husband, it’s really his connection. So his mother was born up here in Nundubbermere which is a sheep station on the Texas Road. And we came up here for our honeymoon and that was kind of it. I’d heard about Stanthorpe. And a friend of mine had moved up who was an artist as well. And then several years later we bought a 10 acre property. Then and several years later we moved up and I got a job at the high school and then subsequently got this job as the director at the Stanthorpe Regional Art Gallery. I feel like I’ve known this place for a long time, although it hasn’t been really my connection, but I suppose now it has, I come from a tiny village in Scotland about the size of Wallangarra on the east coast of Scotland near the, um, North Sea. The sense of community here and this smallness, I think really I was never a city girl and the city is kinda too big for me and so when I came here, I felt the sense of peace and, and I feel it’s a really, really strong community, so that’s my connection at this point. And I think slowly over time, you know, the investment in the community and then other people invest in you and that strengthens you, your connection to the place and to the people so that’s where I’m at at this time and it’s strengthening every moment, I suppose, really.

[00:02:36] Kathryn: Mary, could you tell us a little bit more about the Stanthorpe Regional Art Gallery and the role that you have here?

[00:02:43] Mary: Yeah, this is my sixth year and um Nicole Holly was here before me and she was a young Irish girl and she kind of woke the place up a bit with her ideas and everything. And then I heard that through the grapevine that her job was there. And I, I was teaching art up at the high school amongst other subjects and my background’s with theatre with Zen Zen Zo theatre company in Brisbane for 10 years, so I applied for the job and got it, which it was 4th of October, five years ago, last year. So it’s nearly six, this I’m in my sixth year. And it was a 90 degree learning curve, but this gallery has at this point 71 active volunteers. Some of them have been here for over 20 years and they know this gallery inside out. We have a 4 million just underneath a $4 billion collection that’s been gathered over many years. We have a very, um, feisty and wonderful calendar of events and lots of exhibitions we change every six weeks. We have a biennial art prize, which was last year, and that was a $50,000 art prize national. We had a photography prize last year and another national prize. We’ve got the, at present a local art prize, but we do favour local art here. And this particular exhibition is, just to give you, as a kind of example, there’s 95 works here from 95 different people. So that gives you an insight to how many artists are here. And there’s a few people I know haven’t entered for a variety of reasons. We’ve run a boutique and under that boutique it’s all local art and all that money goes back into the local community of artists. And as you know, during the last few years, it’s been difficult for artists, you know, um, performance art, everything to, you know, to make a living out of what they do. So that has been really, really useful. So I think the art gallery I’m kind of the face of it, but really, it’s been around for over 70 years in different forms in different places here. And then 33 years ago, 34 maybe now, they pushed for an actual bespoke gallery and no one can believe that we have such a kind of large, beautiful gallery as this in a small town. And these people who there’s a whole, um, what is it? The triangle of them behind me have pushed to this point in time. And, they valued art and I often thought, why it was so valued and there’s so many artists and so much creativity here is like during the 18th century. Cause we are having the hundred and 50th of Stanthorpe this year. We’ve done a lot of research and um, there was a sanatorium here and people came up here because of TB and well there was no television or anything. So they drew and they painted. And then there was the first world war people came up to recover from that. And then people didn’t have television. They didn’t have radios. There was theatre and plays people put on and there was poetry nights. There was art club. And then there’s a huge Italian influence here as well. And I think the cultural, uh, marriage of colonial people and the Italians was really amazing and they’ve fought hard for their place in this town and brought their culture here, which has been fabulous. But I mean, one thing I admitted to see that Indigenous people here long before us and we in our hundred and 50th, we’ve actually got some artwork and we’ve had permission to put a photograph in there from the Kambuwal people and so art has been practised by humans for thousands and thousands of years. And we’re just carrying on as a way of expressing ourself, our emotions, our stories, the things we’re thinking about, the things we’re worried about. And it’s a way of doing this. And I think that’s what makes art so important. For me anyway.

[00:06:39] Kathryn: Mary, you were talking about different art exhibitions and photography. And that brings me to the next question that I wanted to ask you about, which is the Hope and Growth Photography Exhibition, which was a community exhibition that began in late 2021. Stanthorpe is in the heart of this Granite Belt area which is at the southern end of the Southern Downs Region. And this whole area had been experiencing severe drought for quite a number of years and then there were the bush fires in 2019 and 2020. There were a number of them and I know there were fires before and after that as well. And since that time, we’ve had some other challenging events such as floods and the COVID-19 pandemic which has brought a few extra bumps to the region’s recovery journey. But one of the wonderful projects that was created as part of the region’s recovery journey, was this photography exhibition called Hope and Growth. Could you tell us a little bit more about how that began and what sort of benefits there are for the community and for the people who got involved with that project?

[00:07:53] Mary: Yeah, I think it was really timely, you know, because people were struggling in some ways of, you know, I think acknowledging that we had gone forward, even though there had been other issues after the fire and all that sort of things and the drought that we’d experienced all that time. So there was a chance then in that particular project to celebrate some of the things, but also acknowledge what had happened to us and not let it go, you know, like it’s happened, but as usual things do happen and they’re not what we want, but people stand up and they’re counted and they come together and they survive. And which is what we did. I feel really strongly, we did survive as a community. So the word was out that um photography, and we’d done this during Crisps Art Prize. We’d ask people to send to the gallery photographs to us of things that were happening to them and everything. And we put it up on our webpage. So it was put out again to photographers or people in the, in the region to send them to the council as well, because they were kind of putting this together with the recovery resilience and getting us back. And so they were chosen some of the photographs that did remind us hope and growth, but also reminded us of what we had done to survive. And there was three exhibitions. Was one down at Jamworks and one in town and then one at Vincenzo’s. And I thought they were kind of really timely because they were south, the middle and we had all experienced everybody in these communities had experienced the fire particularly and the drought. So, um, we were able to put these exhibitions up and come together again to um, the word celebrate isn’t perhaps correct, but acknowledge, and celebrate what we, how we had survived and how we continue to overcome things there. And to see some of the beautiful shots of growth from, you know, nature and nature had grown again after being burned to what we thought would never recover and what happens? You know, it, it does recover. And that gives you hope and hence the name Hope and Growth because it does give you hope. So I thought it was a really, really important exhibition and the Rural Fire Brigade were part of that as well. And there was photographs of them and they were there at every occasion because people looked to them at the time to help us and they did and um, it was unbelievable. And I know many of these people and, you know, we, we were all feeling very fragile at the time, so it was great to look back on it and see, well, we had felt pretty tricky, but here we are now, so yeah. Very important.

[00:10:39] Kathryn: A really lovely way to reflect and look forward to the future with some hope. Stanthorpe has a reputation for creative arts, as you were mentioning, before Mary. What else is on offer for locals as well as for visitors to get involved with arts projects or arts pursuits?

[00:11:01] Mary: Well, oh my goodness. I’m overwhelmed by how much there is to do. I mean, just to start with the gallery, you know, we have our fibre art group every second Wednesday. So they knit and a lot of them make their own patterns. And mix things up and they meet here. Every Wednesday we have an art group who meet here. We have workshops during the school holidays for young people and workshops during the year, like during the Apple and Grape. We’ve got our Indigenous basket weaving going on if you have a look on the webpage. Other great celebrations of art is GBART, which is a group that’s come together there. And we have one weekend where everybody in the district who are artists come out and show their wares, and this has become a tourist attraction. So it brings other things to the region as far as accommodation, and as far as for restaurants and things, but people can showcase their work and that has being hugely successful. We’ve got, um, the pottery club has been here for over 50 years and they have workshops if you’re interested in that. It’s really nice. And so many people willing to help you start off as a beginner. It’s always a bit intimidating, but these people really do help you. And we have Artworks are part, um, the QR Precinct. So they run art classes all the time, which is on the webpage there. They’ve got I think working Monday, Tuesday on a Friday and I think there’s cheese-making classes going on on a Saturday and then you’ve got another one, Laurie’s Larrikins. They’re up in the Agricultural Society on the Monday morning and Borderline are another group of artists who cross the border from Tenterfield in here. They’ve been together for, I think, a long, long, long, long time, 50 years, a long time. And they are very strong group as well. And there just seems to be something going on all the time, you know, for different things to do. And if you feel that you wanted to get involved in any of these, you know, please, you know, give me a ring and I can put you in the right direction. But I think what it does bring to people that when I noticed some of the group on, particularly the Wednesday group who are in the room next to me, and I’m often sit and have a cup of tea with them, is there’s all different levels. One person had never painted before in her life. And she’s a single person. And I know that, her horse had to be put down and things like that. And she came to the Wednesday group and, and that was really sad for her, but she had a group of people who shared that sadness. They were all loved nature and knew that. So there’s a sense of community in that little group that’s really lovely. And I was sort of saying to them, Do you think you’d ever like to put a little small exhibition together and we could celebrate? And they sort of giggle and think that might be a good idea or it might not be a good idea. When I go up to Artworks on a Thursday, I get invited for coffee there and there’s poetry every Thursday and they read poetry and it’s humorous and it’s social commentary and it’s, some of it’s a bit sad sometimes. And then there’s people who paint at that same time, again, all different levels and people just pop in and they have coffee at 10 o’clock and do the poetry. If you’d like to just have a look at that. I think there’s lots of musicians here. People come in, we have a piano in the gallery too, if you’d like to. Grand piano in beautiful condition. Many backpackers come in and play that, other people when they’re doing their exams play it. One of the volunteers just plays it cause she likes playing it. And so there’s a lot of music here as well and teachers who teach music. So I think there’s so much creativity here, and I think it does bring people together. And I find it really a way that people can express themself. It’s what they paint. They don’t paint as a person the same next to them. You know, they have different choices. Some are doing water colors. Some are doing acrylic. Some are using pastels. Some are just drawing. And so it’s, um, something they seem to, when I observed their participation in that, there’s number one, a sense of connectedness on their art connects them together. Then there’s a sense of peace when they’re actually doing the work. So they lose themselves in the work and there’s peacefulness in what they’re doing. And there’s also they share capabilities and skills, like someone’ll say, Oh, I can’t get this bloody tree right. Or, you know, something like that, I can’t get this right. And I remember one of the, another artists who came down one day for a meeting with me and someone was struggling with perspective and he did a quick fix on perspective, which was really super. So I think such sharing of skills and the fact that you don’t have to feel that you’re perfect or ultra good or you know, anything. And I think we discussed before that people say they aren’t creative. And I think everybody is creative in different ways. It can be gardening. There’s a community garden up within the Artworks Precinct which is a QR Precinct. And they meet a couple of times a week, which is really amazing. And they create gardens. They create food, they, um, brought some peaches along the team came on Saturday. The steam train came on Saturday at 10:15, but it was late because we had a tree over the thing. So we all hung around and someone had dropped peaches along for us to share from the community garden. So whether it be gardening, I find for myself, cooking is great for me. I love cooking. You know, I love gardening because it just gives me peace and I feel like I’m in nature and you really enjoy it. So lots of things to do.

[00:16:51] Kathryn: Lots of things to do by yourself, but also lots of things to do if you choose to gather with another group. Sounds so vibrant.

[00:16:59] Mary: People YouTube things to learn things too, you know, if, if technology has its benefits and other things, but we won’t talk about that are annoying, but you know, if you want to do something, you can have a look at that too. So there’s lots of ways to do it on your own too.

[00:17:13] Kathryn: If someone’s listening in and is feeling inspired to get involved with a community project, or one of the groups, or even to take up a new hobby that helps them to express themselves creatively, have you got any advice for them, Mary, on how to get started?

[00:17:29] Mary: Number one, you can phone the gallery or look on our website or any of the websites around here. And I mean, if you’re in Warwick, Warwick Art Gallery, again, get in touch with them. And they know other community groups that are doing things as well. And I suppose, talk to people, I think, follow your heart and making time to do something that you have thought that you might want to do. Is it writing every day? Is it a bit of poetry? Is it spending 10 or 15 minutes? If I spend 10 or 15 minutes in my garden, I can actually pull out a few weeds and sort things, put a rock here and there, you know, try and give yourself some time. It is really, really important to give yourself some time because um you deserve it. And creativity, you might say to yourself, it doesn’t exist, but it’s hidden away inside you. And maybe you’ve been told you aren’t creative. But during the Crisp’s Art Prize, we had 918 entries from all students in this area. Kids who don’t paint, who don’t do things. Cause I go and visit all the schools. And when I asked the teachers, they thoroughly, thoroughly enjoy it. And everybody has a goal and I talk about uniqueness there. Not one of them, not one artwork is the same. And that tells you a little bit about yourself. So find your uniqueness of what you would like to do and follow that in your heart and do it because it does give you peace. And especially with the things that we’re kind of facing. It connects you to yourself, first to yourself and then it can connect you to other people.

[00:19:08] Kathryn: That sounds just absolutely inspiring, Mary, thank you. Is there anything else that you’d like to share with us about the arts generally or about the Stanthorpe Regional Art Gallery?

[00:19:21] Mary: I think arts transcends things. It transcends differences. You know, the street art that we have here, you don’t have to walk through a door and feel intimidated if you’ve never been to a place like an art gallery before, but you can see it in the streets. So public art is seriously important. So I think art to me during this time, I’ve noticed that people have found a lot of peace and joy in singing and creating music, all the forms of creativity that, that are in the world. We have really, really enjoyed it. So participate enjoy and find your muse.

[00:19:59] Kathryn: Thank you so much, Mary. You did mention the art gallery website. We’ll include a link to that in the show notes for this episode. And, we’ll try to link up as many of those groups that you mentioned as possible into the show notes. I think on the gallery website there’s also a page, a bit of a directory?

[00:20:19] Mary: Yes, there is. And we give it out freely. If any of the art groups want to put their webpage, we put a link on because we see ourselves as trying to bring people together and people are, it doesn’t have to be at the art gallery. You find where it suits you, you know, to be a part of whatever it is.

[00:20:37] Kathryn: So it’s a wonderful way for people to get connected. Thank you very much for your time today, Mary.

[00:20:41] Mary: Thank you Kathryn.

[00:20:42] Kathryn: Thanks for listening to the Speak Out Loud Stories of Strength podcast with me, Kathryn Walton. I hope this episode inspires you to get involved and to get connected with your community. You can find the transcript and any links mentioned in this episode, in the show notes and please share the podcast with your friends.

We acknowledge and pay respect to the past, present and future Traditional Custodians and Elders of this nation and the continuation of cultural, spiritual, and educational practices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Series Two of this podcast has been jointly funded under the Commonwealth and State Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements 2018.

Navigating Business in Tough Times

Navigating Business in Tough Times with Julia Keogh from Warwick Chamber of Commerce

Transcript from the podcast “Speak Out Loud: Stories of Strength from the Southern Downs”

SEASON 2: EPISODE 4

GUEST: Julia Keogh, President Warwick Chamber of Commerce

PUBLISHED: 27th February 2022

Warwick Chamber of Commerce Logo

[00:00:00] Julia: At the end of the day, I think it comes down to the individual making a decision as to whether it’s going to be that old adage of a glass half full day or a glass half empty. If we as individuals start the day looking at opportunities and solutions, as opposed to the negative impacts that all of these challenges provide on a daily basis. I think that’s probably key. That we look at being solutions focused and take ourselves out of our comfort zones.

[00:00:42] Kathryn: I’m joined on the podcast today by Julia Keogh, President of the Warwick Chamber of Commerce. The Southern Downs Region supports a wide range of industries and businesses, including agri businesses, which feel the direct impact of events such as drought, bushfire, and flooding. In this conversation Julia shares practical ideas for business owners to manage their preparation for, and their recovery from adverse events, such as these as well as the impact of COVID-19. I hope you’ll be inspired for the future and enthused to take action after listening to this episode with Julia.

Hello, Julia. And welcome to the podcast. Can you talk to our listeners about what your connection is with the Southern Downs?

[00:01:32] Julia: Kathryn, thank you so much for inviting me to be a part of this really, really exciting project. As a local Warwick girl, Warwick and the greater Southern Downs Region is very, very close to my heart. I was born here at the Warwick Base Hospital let’s say 54 years ago and I’ve lived on our family property for, give or take, about 48 of those years. So I’m pretty connected to the region.

[00:01:56] Kathryn: You’re currently involved with the Warwick Chamber of Commerce amongst other organisations in the community. How did you first become involved with the Chamber of Commerce and what is your role there?

[00:02:09] Julia: I became involved with the Chamber, probably around 2012, 2013. So, while my children were growing up in Warwick I held a variety of different positions, but I also took on a role starting my own business as a commercial contract cleaner. And I found that I was really missing out on being able to connect with a lot of other local business owners that I guess I was engaging with on a daily or weekly basis. But it never got past that transactional relationship. And I really wanted to grow the business. I wanted to develop it. I was looking for some business mentors in town and my Mum actually said to me one day “Why don’t you join the Chamber of Commerce?” Up until that point, I’d been a sole trader for a long time. And I’d never actually thought that little old me as a sole trader could become a member a local Chamber of Commerce. I didn’t think I had the business experience or the nous to do it. Looking back now, I see how that fear and that hesitancy really did impede my ability to engage with a lot of fantastic local mentors. I ended up being brave and filling out the application form and, started attending some of the meetings. It resulted in a position coming up as Vice President, goodness, several years ago now. And, then the following year, the presidency was made vacant. And again, I guess I got brave and put my hand up. It was shaking a fair bit when I put my hand up, but I still did it. And so I’ve been involved now, since in the executive since 2016.

[00:03:48] Kathryn: Can you tell us a little bit more about the business sector in the Southern Downs Region? What types of businesses, commercial ventures and industries and services are operating on the Southern Downs at the moment?

[00:04:02] Julia: We have such a wide variety. Primary production is still our major economic driver in the Southern Downs. But then we’re looking at, you know, manufacturing is up there, the building sector, housing, all the way through to, well, I guess stemming from the agriculture, primary production and secondary production of goods and services. We truly have such a wide variety of business interests and experience that anyone looking at potentially relocating an existing business or starting a new business, the Southern Downs has so much to offer. We are resource rich. We are land rich. And now recently, after the most fantastic year of rainfall that we’ve had a very, very long time we now are getting back to starting to see some boom times, and as we’re sitting here, where we’re actually sitting in, in my front garden, which is not a garden anymore. It truly is a jungle. Just seeing the different growth that has come through from the rain is really reflective in what we’re seeing within our business sector, that we’re starting to see fresh opportunities, really blossom and bloom.

[00:05:17] Kathryn: And certainly the Southern Downs Region has been on a recovery journey. There have been successive events. I’m thinking of the bush fires in 2019 and 2020, but there was a severe drought that preceded that for several years. And more recently since the bush fires, we’ve had floods, we’ve had a mouse plague and as the rest of the world has also experienced, we’ve been experiencing this pandemic. So how have all of these events impacted local businesses and the business sector as a whole?

[00:05:51] Julia: It’s really interesting to look at how different, events shape a community. You and I’ve often discussed the difference between the immediacy of a fire event, a bushfire event, and how that’s in stark contrast to a creeping drought. So we look at what’s been happening over our region for the past 10 years since our last flooding events in 2010, 2011 to a 10 year drought, and just that stark contrast between the immediacy and the devastation of a fire, as opposed to continuing weeks months, and years of drought. Drought gets under people’s skins. It permeates. It’s a terrible thing for a regional community that relies on agriculture to have to go through. Our primary producers are well, well-versed and very, very used to it being fickle, but we do rely on cycles. And when those cycles don’t eventuate, it becomes incredibly eroding. It seeps into your pores and that, that feeling of despondency and desperation, whether or not people are aware, it creeps into the psyche of a community. Communities come together when we have events like floods and bush fires and communities start to fragment through drought. Now, if we look at the COVID impacts, we’ve been truly blessed across the Southern Downs to be in our own perfect little bubble for so long in that we haven’t truly been impacted. Looking at lockdowns and the impacts of lockdowns we’ve still had space to be able to get out and even if we do live in town and we have a unit or a small house, we’ve still had the capacity to be able to breathe fresh air, and go about life fairly normally. However, with the current variant Omicron and the need for people to be far more aware of social distancing and masks I guess it’s got real for us. My understanding is that we’ve got a couple of hundred cases across the Southern Downs with people who are in home quarantine and being cared for, my understanding is really, really well by our primary health providers. And now it’s our turn to step up to the plate and really show that resilience. I really feel that our COVID response is similar to drought in that it can fragment a community. And I’d really like to flip that and see people come together as we do in other natural disasters.

[00:08:24] Kathryn: How are the individual businesses dealing with COVID? Is that similar to how they dealt with, the impacts of bush fire, drought and flood? For example, the economic impacts, the social impacts?

[00:08:42] Julia: Business owners are still putting one foot in front of the other, however, with the changing goalposts and we’re seeing changes happening on a daily basis. Sometimes we get a week’s worth of reprieve, but as the state and federal governments look at different ways of trying to cope with this really overwhelming issue that we are now faced with, I see business owners, and staff showing fatigue levels that we don’t normally see during our fires and floods. There’s this sense of, When will this all end? And that’s incredibly difficult to keep resilience levels up when the future is so uncertain, but obviously there are ways that we can look after ourselves as individuals so we can look after our teams. We can look after our families. We can look after out our larger community. And that is first and foremost, by recognising that everyone is in this ever-changing environment together and that by keeping a focus on what is truly important to us as individuals, but then taking that into the business framework that we have to be kind and caring first and foremost. And that then leads to a change in attitude. We’ve had a number of businesses speaking to Chamber about how to deal, especially in the retail and hospitality sector, with people who are unhappy with changes within state and federal directions around distancing, around mask wearing. Obviously the introduction of only allowing people who’ve been vaccinated into hospitality venues has been something that has hit our region hard but it’s hit every single region, in every part of Australia and indeed the world.

[00:10:30] Kathryn: So it sounds like there’s quite some difference between how individuals, but also businesses might respond during different types of natural disasters or stressful events in the community. So there’s things like drought and COVID; they hang around for a long time and the impacts are also long lasting. Whereas there are some other events like bushfires and floods which seem to be generally of shorter duration, but the community seems to be mobilised in some way to take action and to drive some energy towards direct support. Is that right Julia?

[00:11:11] Julia: I really liked your use of the word energy and we have seen that time and time again from the large floods back in 2010, 11, with big communities of mud armies just spontaneously occurring and helping out neighbours and people that live down the street, down the road, around the corner that you’ve never met before. We see the same, I believe, with bush fires as well in that there is a huge amount of energy that’s generated with the immediacy of what has happened and potentially that’s because it’s so highly visual. We can see the job that needs to get done and that in turn translates into communities coming together. Whereas what we’re seeing at the moment with COVID especially is that as I’ve mentioned, communities, appear to be fragmenting and I’m wondering if that’s something that as individuals we need to look at from, from our own building of resilience, to start looking outside the self, if that makes sense. So with bush fires, there’s obviously energy that’s gleaned through fighting the fire and then in the cleanup recovery. And then within a small amount of time we see regeneration and growth.

[00:12:29] Kathryn: It’s a really stark contrast isn’t it? There can be bush land one day and perhaps housing, other infrastructure, fencing and so on. And then the next day it’s gone. So it’s a really rapid change. Isn’t it?

[00:12:42] Julia: And that’s the same with floods with large flood events. But then the regeneration and growth is also quite quick. And so visually, we are seeing the coming back. We don’t get to see that with drought or COVID. It’s that long slow game that really fatigues people and when people are fatigued and they’re unsure sometimes we tend to lash out and we’re finding from a lot of our hospitality and retail providers, are saying that people’s ability to just be a decent human being, and be patient and tolerant is something that we’re not seeeing a lot of the tolerance. We’re seeing a lot of the intolerance, impatientness and just behaviours that really aren’t all that conducive to a thriving community.

[00:13:29] Kathryn: So these behaviours that some businesses in some industries might be needing to deal with as part of the ripple effect of COVID can be quite challenging?

[00:13:42] Julia: They can be. There can be some generational markers when it comes to people who have had a lot of experience working in certain sectors, being able to support people who haven’t had that type of exposure and being able to do the flip language with customers who may be experiencing episodes of lashing out to the wrong person. Not that there’s ever really a right person to lash out to. So we do see a lot of support coming through from experienced staff. But I think it’s providing our local employees with the opportunities to engage with external bodies as well, so that we can get some of that expertise happening for people. No matter what age so whether or not we have someone working on team who’s 14 and still at school all the way through to someone who’s had 20 or 30 or 40 years of experience in the hospitality or retail sector. There’s certainly opportunity for us to continue always to develop professionally. And I think it’s really important for employers to be able to provide resilience training to their staff.

[00:14:49] Kathryn: And that also speaks to retention of staff and retention of knowledge and skills that could be so valuable whether it’s stressful events or it could be other things that are taking place in the community that aren’t necessarily stressful, but that, I guess, that collected wisdom that people have through the ages to be able to share that with the people who are newer in their industry or are coming into the industry and building businesses or new staff.

[00:15:20] Julia: I agree, and that actually brings me back to the reason why I became involved with the Chamber in the first place. And it’s looking at seeking out those professional supports, those opportunities to engage with mentors, either in the same sector or a completely different sector. I think it’s really, really important that we continuously look at how we can better improve our professional practice. This goes across the board in every single sector that we have in our business community but also in the wider community itself.

[00:15:56] Kathryn: So that professional development, the mentorship, the modelling, the support that goes with having someone who’s perhaps more experienced in the business community, sounds like that’s really useful, not just for hospitality, but you’re saying across different sectors across the board. And that’s something that’s been really helpful perhaps for some business owners or for some staff, in navigating some of these challenges that we’ve had in recent years. Is there anything else that has enabled business owners to be resilient? Is there anything else that’s happening in the community or internal resources that people have that helps them to be resilient?

[00:16:41] Julia: At the end of the day, I think it comes down to the individual making a decision as to whether it’s going to be that old adage of a glass half full day or a glass half empty. If we as individuals start the day looking at opportunities and solutions, as opposed to the negative impacts that all of these challenges provide on a daily basis. I think that’s probably key. That we look at being solutions focused and take ourselves out of our comfort zones. So part of the strength, I guess, of a Chamber of Commerce is the fact that we have members from all sectors and being able to reach out and network, even if it means taking time out of a busy day to sit with a peer or a colleague and have those really, truly meaningful conversations about how we deal with solution based decision-making. So it is about the individual challenging themselves first. And then leading to that, I guess, change in thinking that will hopefully go across the board and to impact each part of the individual’s business. It is always going to come back to the individual making a choice as to how they are going to respond to any given situation.

[00:18:05] Kathryn: It sounds to me like what you’re talking about is a mindset that becomes part of everything you do through the day, whether that’s personal life, family life, business life, and the attitude that you bring to that can really make quite a difference to how you feel at the end of the day. And including how your business has been responsive to whatever climatic conditions or environmental conditions are happening at that time. Is that part of what you’re saying?

[00:18:36] Julia: I think having a positive mindset, even when faced with the ongoing challenges of the current situation that we have with COVID, as we know, it’s a moving smorgasbord of changes. And so being able to not have a rigid mindset around what we will or will not do within our business structure and practice, I think is one of the most important things we need to be looking at. Businesses that are thriving at the moment are the ones that have been responsive to the ever-changing guidelines as they’re handed down, whether it be state or federal and who encourage, their staff, their teams to follow guidelines. And I’m not saying we should be blindly following. I think we should always have the opportunity to have a critical thought process when it comes to looking at, at, any direction. But when we are looking at overall public health and safety, the businesses that I see are thriving and, and we have many, many businesses on the Southern Downs who, despite all of the restrictions that we currently have, if we’re looking at it from a COVID context, continue to provide outstanding service. And I guess it’s looking at what we do have control over looking at that Circle of Control theory, that there are things that are in our control. There are things that are most definitely out of our control. I guess that then comes back down to the individual response and responsibility of how we deal with that.

[00:20:09] Kathryn: Have there been any surprising benefits for business owners and the wider community as well that have grown out of these tough times that people have been dealing with?

[00:20:20] Julia: I think digital literacy. It’s provided us with a number of positives, number one, being able to connect within the business context of being able to have virtual meetings, whereas potentially as employers, we wouldn’t have been looking at that as being a positive to our business for potentially for several more years, if not decades. So it it’s brought into really, really, stark focus, how we can trust our team members to be doing the right thing. I’m thinking in the context of working from home. We’ve seen productivity from people who have been given the opportunity to do that increase. We’re seeing far better reports of work-life balance for people who are provided with that opportunity. So definitely digital literacy has taken people out of their comfort zone but we’ve learnt so much from that. Digital literacy has obviously pushed individuals, teams and businesses, to look at solutions rather than continuing to rely on doing it the same way. For instance, businesses having meetings with accountants, and you know, that team traveling an hour or two hours to be able to present at board level, being able to now link in with those teams and still have the information flow happening, but not the impact on, on travel. Obviously we’ve got benefits environmentally for that. And I think it’s given us the opportunity to now look at how we do run our business and how we can do it better into the future and none of these changes would have come about unless we were forced into the position in the first place. So out of every disaster, there will always be a benefit.

[00:22:05] Kathryn: As you were talking there Julia it occurred to me that for some time the Warwick Chamber of Commerce was running their meetings virtually using video conferencing. And for myself that actually improved accessibility for that period of time. It made it easier for me to actually participate in those meetings. I know that technology for some people there is a barrier there and I guess I’m just speaking for myself but I’m wondering if that’s true for some other people too, that there have been some benefits of accessibility?

[00:22:41] Julia: Thank you for that. And I agree not only benefits for accessibility, but time management as well. I personally have found that I’m far more productive when I’m given the opportunity to meet people virtually. Being able to, to run a meeting and wrap it up within 45 minutes has incredible time savings not only for productivity, but financially as well. Can you imagine even 10 years ago, having the opportunities that are now literally at our fingertips? Technology has been really, really pushed to, to provide solutions and I think it’s come up with some absolutely fantastic benefits that we’re going to be continuing to use well into the future and they themselves will continue and evolve over time and it actually reminds me of one of my tangents that we were talking about earlier. And that is, that our response to disaster management, whether that be from high-end government response all the way down to individual response, is that we rely on technology so much. It provides us with means of being able to get help to where it’s needed very, very quickly. We can provide updates to family and friends about how things are going for us in real time. And again, that’s something that when I was heavily involved, as you were back with the flooding events of 2010, 11, we didn’t have the range of digital support that we now have at our fingertips. And I just think it’s an incredibly exciting time to be alive and, and seeing the evolution of IT assisting humanity, which sounds like a really broad brush stroke, but it’s a pretty exciting time.

[00:24:29] Kathryn: And speaking of connectivity, I think this is a great segue into another kind of connectedness, which I’d like to ask you about Julia. We know that when people are connected to their communities, rather than living in isolation, they tend to be more resilient during, as well as after challenging times. So whether that’s natural disasters or stressful events in the family or the community, whatever that happens to be. In what ways can business owners connect with each other and with the wider community?

[00:25:02] Julia: Well, thank you. That’s a perfect segue into join your local Chamber of Commerce I think is one of the first things but not only join the Chamber, actually have some skin in the game and be involved in Chamber. Chambers of Commerce, like any community organisation will only thrive when people are active. I’ll just do a quick plug. The Chamber turns 100 this year. So it’s our centenary year. And obviously we wouldn’t have been able to reach this milestone if originally we didn’t have a group of interested community members come together and want to form the Chamber. The Chamber structure and the Chamber aims and objectives are slightly different to what they were a hundred years ago. But that key theme is connectivity. And being involved. So when I say being involved, it means actively participating for the improvement of, not only your your individual business, but for the community at large. And you mentioned earlier that people thrive when they are connected to their community, but there’s an energy component there that we need to unpack quickly. And that is the actual physical engagement process. Unfortunately things won’t manifest themselves for us, unless we provide an action for that to happen. So, we need to be involved. What does that look like? It looks like either participating virtually or in person at meetings. It means bringing ideas to the table about networking opportunities. It’s about reaching out and actively engaging with other business owners. It’s about having simple conversations. We do actually have to have some momentum to do things instead of staying stagnant and letting the status quo be our normal. We have to be consistently moving and through that movement, there will be change. And through that change, there can be positive benefit in whatever shape that that manifests itself. But there has to be movement. That’s the one thing I can say, movement is critical.

[00:27:04] Kathryn: The phrase that comes to my mind with your description there, Julia is creating a vibrant community.

[00:27:11] Julia: Absolutely. So how do we create a vibrant community? We get involved in the community. We engage in things like this fantastic podcast that you’re doing. So that potentially one or two little, little key words or phrases from what you and I have discussed today might actually start sowing the seed for someone to get out and move. That’s the biggest thing and when I say, get out and move that can still be done in a virtual situation as well. You have to take a step. And unless your business is consistently taking steps forward, there will never be any change.

[00:27:48] Kathryn: And that once again, feeds back to something you were saying before that the businesses that are tending to thrive, are those that have been able to adapt and be flexible, not stick rigidly to the way things had always been done, but to look at change, embrace change, and take those actions towards new solutions that maybe they haven’t had to use before.

[00:28:14] Julia: And that’s exactly right. And it’s about being aware that it’s okay to feel nervous, to feel that sense of trepidation, but take the step anyway. I remember saying to um, my middle son years and years ago, he was very, very nervous about going to primary school. He was starting a new primary school. And he said to me, in the car, driving into town, “I’ve just got butterflies in my stomach, just got butterflies.” And I said to him, “It’s okay to have the feeling of butterflies in your stomach, but you have control of the butterflies. So make them fly in formation and make them work for you.” And it’s okay for business owners to feel nervous about the current times that we have. I think you’d have to be pretty stoic to not feel some sense of there are things going on that are out of my control. I think we can agree that, you know, there’s a lot going on that’s out of our control, but let’s focus on what is in our control and take that step anyway.

[00:29:08] Kathryn: What supports and resources are currently available for business owners who might be having some challenges with managing their own personal stresses or with stresses that are particular to their business?

[00:29:21] Julia: Oh my goodness. I can answer that simply. There is a wealth of support for small to medium business owners. The list is incredibly long, and we were talking before about digital literacy. All it takes is giving yourself some time to sit, do some reflection around what are the key elements that you are currently having some struggles or some difficulty with? No one knows your business the way you know your business so you need to be able to identify the key issues that you feel are impacting the business and then start doing some research. I mentioned earlier that the Chambers of Commerce have evolved over time. A hundred years ago, the Warwick Chamber of Commerce was focused to provide a united voice on behalf of the business sector, but also to be a wealth of knowledge and an industry expertise to be able to feed back to businesses. With the introduction of the internet, a huge amount of that information can now be located by anyone. So Chamber’s role has morphed over time, but getting back to your key question, where can business owners find solutions. They can reach out to their local Chamber of Commerce. They can reach out to the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland. Locally we have fantastic providers with TAFE who provide links to employers for free education. We mentioned earlier about, how do we deal with aggressive or rude customers? How do we up-skill our team? The key is identifying what it is that you need help with. Actually being brave and taking that first step and saying that you need help, whether it’s to yourself, whether it’s to a business mentor that you may have, whether it’s by contacting Chamber and saying, Don’t know if you guys can help me, but I’m struggling with this at the moment. I guess it’s really bringing back into focus the fact that at different times, throughout our professional and business life, that there are things that we’re going to need to ask for assistance with. And that it’s okay.

[00:31:31] Kathryn: In the first series of this podcast, we spoke with Donna Neale-Arnold who’s a financial counsellor with Lifeline. And one of the other resources that she spoke about was the Rural Financial Counselling Service which is a free service that can provide some support to small business. And particularly we were talking about post bush fires. We’ll include the links to services like that, as well as the ones you’ve mentioned Julia, in the show notes that will be available following this episode.

[00:32:06] Julia: That’d be excellent. There is a wealth of information out there. There’s a wealth of resources out there, but the reoccurring message that I get back from business owners is I’m just too busy. And I’m going to challenge that right now and say, if you’re too busy to be able to do some reflective practice on your own business, and you’ve already identified, that there’s some things that you need assistance with, isn’t it your responsibility to actually spend some time to try and find some solutions in the first place. There’s a range of different supports, services, solutions, out there, but it’s not going to manifest itself unless you invest the time.

[00:32:46] Kathryn: Taking the action, once again, investing your time and energy into something that could be quite fruitful.

[00:32:53] Julia: Absolutely. One of the best things I was ever taught by one of my mentors was when you identify the problem, you’re then faced with the problem. So you’ve taken those first steps of doing that identification process. Sometimes the issue can seem quite large, you know, like the elephant in the room and the only way to eat the elephant in the room is to do it one bite at a time. So identify, take the time and look at what solution will best fit in with your particular business need.

[00:33:26] Kathryn: And if there are any business owners listening who would like to look at what options they have to support their own personal mental health, where would be the place that they should start looking?

[00:33:39] Julia: Again, there is such a huge range of supports available. It could be peer to peer. So linking up with a like-minded business. It could be going down the track of engaging with some formalised supports accessing mental health Better Access. There are organisations that provide Employee Assistance Programs. There’s a wide range of different providers across Australia. Some of the larger businesses in town are linking in with those EAP providers now, and that provides not only the business owners, but the team members as well, to be able to have access to virtual counsellors, whether it be by phone, Telehealth appointments, things like that. So there are a wide range, but again, it comes back to the identification and taking the first step. So it’s having the conversation that matters, I guess.

[00:34:32] Kathryn: So that conversation could be with a peer, it could be with a doctor, it could be with someone from Chamber, getting some direction about where to go?

[00:34:42] Julia: It certainly could.

[00:34:43] Kathryn: What advice would you give to someone who’s considering setting up a business and they want their business to be resilient and sustainable into the future, being able to navigate these sorts of tough waters that we’ve been needing to navigate over the last 10 years or so?

[00:35:02] Julia: Firstly, do your research, and set up a strategic plan slash framework for your business. Humans are incredibly creative. We have wonderful ideas and sometimes those ideas don’t actually translate that well into reality. So first and foremost is do your market research and make sure you have the time to plan properly. Do your due diligence and take advice. Spend the time and potentially some finances and get good advice before you start out. The normal rule of thumb is if you can make it through the first two years, then you have a good chance of having a sustainable and a thriving business model, but you need to know what your product is, and you need to be able to make sure that you have the I guess, internal fortitude to go through tough times. And if you start out with that mindset, then you’re already well ahead.

[00:36:05] Kathryn: What is your great hope for the business sector as we move into the future Julia?

[00:36:11] Julia: What an interesting question. What is my great hope? My hope is that we learn from the challenges that we’ve been faced with particularly over the past 10 years. And I’m not downplaying or meaning to sound like our community is unique because at the end of the day, every single rural community across Australia has been faced with similar challenges. But my hope for our community, for our business community is that we can learn and hold on to the learnings that we’ve taken through the past 10 years. It has been an incredibly rough and rocky road. The Southern Downs has shown that we are a resilient community.

[00:36:56] Kathryn: So being able to incorporate everything we’ve learned, embrace that and have that below our feet as a foundation so that we’re less vulnerable to stressful events in the future, perhaps.

[00:37:10] Julia: And less reactive, that we can meet all of the challenges that 2022 and 2023 and the future will bring to us knowing that we have proven that we can rise to meet the changing needs and continue to be a well-connected community.

[00:37:29] Kathryn: Julia, is there anything else that you’d like to share about the Southern Downs Region or the business sector in relation to disaster recovery, disaster management or even stressful event management?

[00:37:42] Julia: Oh, goodness. I can see how far we have come in the past 10 years from being heavily involved in not only the initial disaster managements with the floods back in 2010, 2011, to where our local disaster management team sits now. Our framework, our responsiveness, our communication with the community has grown so strong it’s such a positive thing. I’ll refer to the most recent flooding events. The responsiveness around getting information out to the community through the local disaster management group has been absolutely outstanding. And I’m not saying that 10 years ago, we didn’t do a good job because everyone pulled together, but I can see how we’ve taken those learnings and have developed far more robust frameworks and, and approaches. And that’s what I hope we will continue to grow and evolve so that the impact on the community when we are faced with the next issue, that our recovery time won’t be as long.

[00:38:47] Kathryn: How can people find out a bit more about the Warwick Chamber of Commerce or get in touch with you?

[00:38:54] Julia: Thank you so much for asking. So we have a fantastic website www.warwickqld.com.au. We also have a Facebook page, so Warwick Chamber of Commerce and obviously all of the usual email contacts that are located on our website. Our Chamber is very open about being able to provide ease of contact. So just reach out. We’re just either a click or a phone call away.

[00:39:22] Kathryn: Thanks for listening to the Speak Out Loud Stories of Strength podcast with me, Kathryn Walton. I hope this episode inspires you to get involved and to get connected with your community. You can find the transcript and any links mentioned in this episode, in the show notes and please share the podcast with your friends.

We acknowledge and pay respect to the past, present and future Traditional Custodians and Elders of this nation and the continuation of cultural, spiritual, and educational practices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Series Two of this podcast has been jointly funded under the Commonwealth and State Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements 2018.

Building and Nurturing Community at the Dalveen Community Hall

BUILDING AND NURTURING COMMUNITY (DALVEEN COMMUNITY HALL)
Transcript from the podcast “Speak Out Loud: Stories of Strength from the Southern Downs”

SEASON 2: EPISODE 3

GUEST: Nathan Parkes, President Dalveen Sports Club

PUBLISHED: 22nd February 2022

Dalveen Community Hall

[00:00:00] Nathan: When I moved here, I was told about the Friday nights at the Dalveen Hall. So I came along to meet the locals and enjoy a beer and a meal. I found it to be a great community. The locals are very welcoming and I’ve been coming to the hall ever since.

[00:00:20] Kathryn: Nathan Parkes joins me on the podcast today. Nathan is the president of the Dalveen Sports Club which is housed by the Dalveen Community Hall. The hall is a hub for this vibrant community that’s located between Warwick and Stanthorpe on the Southern Downs. There’s so much going on at the hall, so many opportunities to connect with locals and visitors, to get involved in volunteering and with community groups. And this community has some really innovative ideas that Nathan shared with me in this conversation. And I’m excited to share them with you too, so that you can also be inspired to take action. Hello, Nathan. And welcome to the podcast.

[00:01:03] Nathan: Thank you.

[00:01:04] Kathryn: Nathan, can you tell us what’s your connection with the Southern Downs and even with the Dalveen community specifically?

[00:01:11] Nathan: All right. Well, my wife and I, we did the tree change thing about 17 years ago, this coming June. So we both gave up careers in the city. I worked in construction and my wife worked in scientific research and we moved to the country so that our children could be raised in a country environment. I had a, uh, a good friend move here and he encouraged me to come along and have a look at some property in the area. And I fell in love with with the place. We moved here when our eldest boy was one. I now have three boys, all of which were schooled at the Dalveen State School and are now in their last years at high school.  So I’ve held various positions within the club and I’m currently the president of the Dalveen Sports Club.

[00:01:48] Kathryn: What is the hall currently being used for? It’s quite an establishment here. There are a number of buildings and a number of different functions.

[00:01:58] Nathan: Yes. Yeah. It’s quite a large area that the land itself is owned by the council. And on that land, we have the Dalveen Hall, and the oval. And also we have the Dalveen Rural Fire Brigade facility. So it’s a large area, numerous buildings. We all sort of work together. The Dalveen Sports Club supports the, the fire brigade and vice versa. So yeah, it’s, a great establishment and it’s an establishment that’s been funded by community. It’s been fundraised and built by the community for the community. I could confidently say the Dalveen Hall would be one of the most well utilised halls on the Southern Downs. So in terms of, of use, I’ve got a bit of a list here I’ll refer to. The hall is used for a number of things. We have CWA craft groups here every fortnight. We have CWA monthly meetings. They hold the Biggest Morning Teas and other fundraising events at the hall. The Sports Club hosts community dinners every Friday night except public holidays. It also has its holds its meetings monthly. We have a subcommittee of the Dalveen Sports Club called the Dalveen Film Society. They hold monthly meetings and bi-monthly movie screenings. We have another Sunday sewing group held every fortnight. The Wild Dog Management Group have their monthly meetings here. The Dalveen State School regularly utilise the hall and the oval for their school and inter-school sports. The Dalveen CWA have held a Christmas Tree here every year for the last 96 years. So that’s a celebration Christmas celebration that the CWA put on for the community. We have a group called the Darling Downs Drifters which hold three day events yearly. We have community meetings with councillors, the electoral commission hold their polling for federal and state elections. We have private bookings for functions. They can be birthdays, engagements, weddings wakes, Queensland Fire and Emergency Services hold training and public information sessions in the hall.
Other events, such as hosting the Darling Downs Tractor Trek which is happening later in the year, other fundraising events, and this year the Dalveen Film Society will be supporting the Apple and Grape Festival by screening two Italian theme films during the festival week. We’ve hosted recently a small horse festival show as part of the Drought Resilience Tour. And today it’s being used for free haircuts prior to the return to school and that’s been put on by the Granite Belt Neighbourhood Centre.

[00:04:13] Kathryn: That’s quite a list. No wonder you needed to have list in front of you there Nathan.

[00:04:17] Nathan: I know. I couldn’t commit all that to memory.

[00:04:20] Kathryn: There are many halls that serve as community hubs in the rural communities and the villages right across the Southern Downs region. And we were hearing about the halls and the rural fire sheds a couple of years ago, being used as hubs during the drought to distribute water to people who needed it. And then we were hearing about the halls during the bush fires as a meeting place for the community to share information and to share management plans as well. So there are lots of things happening in these halls across the region. Coming back to the Dalveen Hall, how else does the Dalveen Hall, this whole establishment here, benefit the community as well as the individuals who live locally?

[00:05:07] Nathan: Well, during the drought, most of the water distribution in the southern end of the Granite Belt was carried out through associations like Granite Belt Water Relief. I would say that our club played a vital part in sustaining the mental health of the local community by providing a community hub where people could come together to enjoy a drink and a meal and chat with other people going through similar situations. In terms of the other natural disasters like bushfire, the Dalveen Hall and the oval is recognised by Southern Downs Regional Council as a neighbourhood safe place. During the bush fires of 2019 we had a number of people turn up, but unfortunately we weren’t able to operate as a, a safe place because power to the village had been cut. A neighborhood safe place should be able to provide a place for people that have come together during times of natural disasters to share and receive information and feel safe. It was after this, that the hall committee got together with the Dalveen Rural Fire Brigade and decided to get to seek funding together for the supply and installation of backup generator power for both the shed and the hall in the event of power outages. And it’s hoped we will be successful in seeking grant funding to make this happen at some point in the future. In terms of the other community benefits over the years, the Dalveen Hall committee has been an active advocate for the community and serves as an unofficial, I guess you call it a progress association for the village. So the whole is the community heart of our village. And it’s home to an active and proud community. Council recently developed an urban design framework for the village in consultation with some key stakeholder groups like the Dalveen Hall and the fire brigade and the school. And also the Dalveen locals. So during the development of this urban design framework or UDF, a key message from the community was the desire for council to continue to improve and upgrade community meeting spaces and support local community groups. Through this framework, the hall has also advocated promoting Dalveen as the gateway to the Granite Belt, investigating the possibility of a new tourist drive commencing at Dalveen, developing heritage trail linking local Dalveen heritage sites, upgrading the toilets at Jim Mitchell Park, exploring the opportunity of installing coin operated barbecues in the park with those funds being invested back into community projects, investigating the potential to deliver additional community units to the town centre as part of the new planning scheme and that’s to allow our local residents to age in place, supporting the club in grant applications for the installation of power and water to the oval to allow for RV friendly camping outside of use by the Dalveen Rural Fire Brigade and council as a neighbourhood safe place during periods of natural disaster and supporting the club to build an amenities block on the oval for use in these times. Council, as part of their planning review, their planning scheme review have also indicated they’ll review subdivision allotment sizes around the village to create opportunities for people to move to the area and support the village’s existing infrastructure. And whilst these initiatives won’t happen overnight, the urban design framework has given the Dalveen community a voice with council and an opportunity to set its own future direction. A couple of years ago, the Dalveen fire brigade in conjunction with the hall fundraised to install a theatre system in the hall which could be used for fire training purposes, community information nights. The last 12 months has seen the formation of the Dalveen Film Society subcommittee and their success in gaining a grant for the installation of theatre curtains, reverse cycle air con and advertising to the value of about 40,000. So we’re now able to heat the hall during the cooler months, and it does get cold here in Dalveen and provide a more comfortable and pleasant experience for our visitors. The film nights have been incredibly well received across the district and they’ve sparked a wave of media interest. So we’ve had numerous interviews on ABC radio. We’ve had stories in local papers and magazines that have shone a positive light on the Dalveen Hall and the local community. We have the film nights are regularly sold out and they’ve been well supported. And we’ve recently received a grant again from council that will see a new front of house theatre curtain installed as well as some additional sound curtains to the walls prior to our Apple and Grape Festival screenings. So, it’s been a very important part of our community and it’s so much more than a hall. It provides that sort of community hub where people can come together and share stories and experiences and get things off their chest. We’ve had a terrible sort of period in terms of bush fires, drought, and now COVID-19 so, you know, for us locally to be able to supply, uh, to provide a place where people can come and just address any mental health issues they may have as you know, it’s a great facility. It’s a great facility and it’s really well used by the community.

[00:09:34] Kathryn: And it sounds like it’s a really important place for socialising and having fun, relaxing. It’s not all about the seriousness of what’s going on out there.

[00:09:45] Nathan: No. That’s exactly right. So predominantly, you know, we get together once a week on a Friday. We have a fantastic team of volunteers that come together and we have a volunteer cooking roster. They provide a meal, uh, which can be purchased. We have a licensed bar that operates, and we have a pool table and yeah, it’s, it’s a great friendly family friendly social environment that people can come and, yeah get together and enjoy each other’s company.

[00:10:11] Kathryn: Nathan, you’ve referred to back in history a few times in terms of the hall and the Dalveen community. Can you tell us a little bit more about the history of the hall?

[00:10:22] Nathan: I’ll have to credit my mother-in-law for this information because she’s part of the, um, Dalveen Historical Society. So she’s been doing quite a bit of research on the hall and the local, the local area. It’s not quite clear when the first Dalveen Hall was built, but the first Dalveen Easter Sports Day was held on the oval in 1882. It appears that this was also the birth of Dalveen Sports Club. The hall quickly became the hub for a variety of sports and sports related events. By about 1927, the Warwick paper dubbed Dalveen the home of sport. With the oval at the back of the hall and the memorial tennis courts alongside, the hall became a hub for sports and sport related events. The Dalveen Easter Sports drew participants and spectators from the whole district. A Sports Queen was crowned. And a dance was held in the hall at the conclusion of the event. Indeed, the hall gained a reputation actually for having one of the best dance floors in the Warwick district. With the formation of the CWA in the 1920s, the hall became a venue for a variety of functions with catering provided by the CWA ladies. The annual CWA Christmas Tree was held for the first time in 1925. With a picnic afternoon at the hall, the annual Christmas Tree has been held at the hall every year since bringing together families from the Dalveen community. Last Christmas saw the 96th CWA Christmas Tree at the hall with many more to follow. So also travelling moving picture shows in the Dalveen Hall were popular with the local community and beyond. While their popularity waned over the years, the recently formed Dalveen Film Society brought their echoes of the past alive with bi-monthly film nights in the hall last year. Sometime in about 1937 to 38 the Dalveen Hall, the original Dalveen Hall was destroyed by fire. The community quickly set about erecting, a new hall with locally donated timber which was milled free of charge at the Dalveen saw mill. Members of the Sports Club and the CWA helped the builder Jack Smith when needed. Jack Smith conveniently lived next door to the hall grounds. The final task was construction of the brick stand for the copper, just outside the kitchen of the new hall. The bricks were made at the Dalveen brick work and laid by a local brick layer. The fire under the copper needed to be lit early so that the hot water could be provided for tea and coffee, as well as washing up. The boiling water was carried into the hall in old kerosene tins. The new hall was opened in 1939 in time for the annual Dalveen Easter Sports Day. All through its history the Dalveen Hall has been a venue for weddings, entertainment, community meals, celebrations, weddings, birthdays, and funerals and wakes.

[00:12:47] Kathryn: That’s an incredible history isn’t it? Really fascinating bringing in, the local skilled people to help out with the volunteers, to get that back on track.

[00:12:58] Nathan: It was quite a, it was quite a village, actually. It had its own saw mill. And it had a brick works and yeah, it was, yeah, it was a very, very, um, very sort of vibrant community.

[00:13:10] Kathryn: Yeah, sounds like it still is a very vibrant community.

[00:13:14] Nathan: Very much, so.

[00:13:15] Kathryn: Even though we’re living in a different world in a way aren’t we with a lot of these goods and chattels get transported from further afield these days rather than each community supplying them to themselves. Wow. What are your hopes, Nathan, for the hall as we move into the future?

[00:13:34] Nathan: Well, I’d like to see the Dalveen Hall Committee to continue to advocate for the community, and provide a community hub where people can come together and enjoy each other’s company through the good times and the bad times. I’d also like to see Council continue to see the value in community halls and recognise their importance within the comm unity. And I’d like to see Southern Downs Regional Council continue to support, improve and upgrade these community meeting spaces and support the local community groups that, that use the hall. I’d also like to see the hall source a passive income into the future. And we’re looking at doing that as I mentioned earlier, by providing some RV friendly camping around the perimeter of the oval so that we can continue to provide the services that we do to the community at little cost.
So that’s been recognised as well in the urban design framework and Council are supporting us with that. We have some other things as well. Some, some future goals and aspirations. One of them is to seek some grant funding to upgrade our kitchen to a commercial standard. And, um, there’s also some talk about the possibility down the track of subject to Council approval um, building a drive-in movie theatre on the oval.

[00:14:42] Kathryn: Wow, that would be wonderful wouldn’t it?

[00:14:44] Nathan: That’d be just something a bit different and unique. And I think unique for this area. So, you know, we could alternate between once a month we could have screenings once a month. We could do one inside and one outside. So yeah, something just a little bit different.

[00:14:55] Kathryn: Yeah, it sounds wonderful and it’s really great to have those hopes and goals for the future to work towards and have that collaboration and those partnerships happening in the community.

[00:15:06] Nathan: Absolutely.

[00:15:07] Kathryn: Nathan, is there anything else about the community or the hall that you wanted to share before we wrap up?

[00:15:13] Nathan: I guess Dalveen’s, it’s a very unique place. I grew up in the country. I grew up in a sort of a town of 4,000. Dalveen’s quite a small little village, but it’s, it’s unique in the fact that we have a very sort of proud, active community that are very pro Dalveen. It’s a remarkable place to live. And it’s just nice to be part of that. It’s nice to be part of a community that really want to push things forward and progress things. It makes doing it quite easy. And it’s in, in this sort of environment, you know, in a small village, we have a number of organisations. We have the Dalveen Rural Fire Brigade. We have the P & C. We have the Dalveen Sports Club and other organisations as we mentioned, the CWA. The lovely thing is, is that when someone puts the call out, everyone puts their hand up and it doesn’t matter how many hats you wear. You’ll quite often find that, you know, you’ve got members of the CWA that are members of the fire brigade that are members of the sports club that are members of the P and C, you know, but everyone puts their hand up and nothing’s a problem.
So when it comes to organising stuff, it’s shared by a lot of people and it’s quite easy to do. And I think that’s something very unique and it’s something that, in these days, you know, life is busy, but we always manage to get things done and, you know, I love it. I think it’s great. I always used to be on the lookout for nice place to live. I moved here and I’ve never looked since.

[00:16:30] Kathryn: Thank you very much Nathan for sharing your story. I think that a lot of individuals and communities can be inspired by how Dalveen is really nurturing their community and protecting it into the future.

[00:16:42] Nathan: It just goes to show that you can achieve anything. I mean, if you look around here at the assets, on this block of land, they’ve all been provided for and fundraised by the community, and there’s a lot of infrastructure here, and, um, unique place, great place to live. And like you say, an inspiration around the halls, anything’s possible. You’ve just gotta, work hard and, and have a vision, I guess,

[00:17:04] Kathryn: And chip away at it gradually.

[00:17:05] Nathan: Chip away gradually, that’s correct.

[00:17:07] Kathryn: Nathan, if any listeners would like to follow up on anything you’ve said by contacting one of those organisations or finding out a bit more about the Dalveen Hall, where’s the best place for them to go?

[00:17:18] Nathan: Well, we don’t have a website at this stage. There is a Dalveen Sports Club Facebook Page. There’s also a Dalveen Film Society Facebook Page and a Dalveen Community Facebook Page. Uh, the Dalveen Sports Club also produces a monthly newsletter called the Windy Ridge which is distributed locally via the post office and email. Contact details for committee members are sign posted at the hall. Alternatively, you can contact the Sports Club via Messenger and Facebook, and we can give you the relevant information.

[00:17:46] Kathryn: Thanks for listening to the Speak Out Loud Stories of Strength podcast with me, Kathryn Walton. I hope this episode inspires you to get involved and to get connected with your community. You can find the transcript and any links mentioned in this episode, in the show notes and please share the podcast with your friends. We acknowledge and pay respect to the past, present and future Traditional Custodians and Elders of this nation and the continuation of cultural, spiritual, and educational practices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Series Two of this podcast has been jointly funded under the Commonwealth and State Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements 2018.

How to Connect with Nature

I’ve been spending a lot of time reflecting on how valuable nature is in my life and this article is to inspire you to think about how you can connect with nature to enjoy the many benefits that are freely available for your health and wellbeing.

You might be called to connect with nature by going on epic adventures off the beaten track far from the cities and towns. Or you might connect with nature in ordinary everyday ways such as the choices you make about what to eat for lunch, how to relax in the evening, how to spend your time with a friend, or how to decorate your sideboard. It’s entirely possible to connect with nature in ways that will improve your health and wellbeing that don’t even require you to be outdoors. And it’s important to remember that the way you connect with nature might be different to how others in your family or workplace or group of friends connect, and that’s completely okay.

Nature has always been essential

Throughout time and all over the world, nature has played an essential role in human health and wellbeing. Think about the lifestyle that your grandparents, great grandparents and previous generations lived.

In our modern way of living, many of us spend our days, and nights, inside buildings with straight edges, artificial light and air conditioning. Of course there are many advantages to this. You’re protected from the sun, rain, storms, heat and cold. We feel safe in our homes and workplaces (mostly). But it does lead us into a lifestyle that’s largely disconnected from nature unless you make conscious efforts to reconnect. I believe it’s vital to be connected with nature because we are, essentially, an integral part of nature.

The Adventure Therapy Project Nature Walk

The natural world has an amazingly holistic way of supporting humans

PHYSICALLY you can move and breathe deeply in the outdoors. There are physical challenges that support your growth as children and as adults – trees and mountains to climb, rocky or sandy ground to feel beneath our feet, fields to run through, places to play hide and seek, dirt to dig in, water holes to splash in. All these activities help your co-ordination, body awareness and control and sensory development. And then there are the other aspects of physical health like fresh food grown in the soil – that’s so important too!

MENTALLY nature presents interesting challenges that keeps your mind active with problem-solving, creativity and reasoning. There are opportunities to focus attention in nature and opportunities to relax and de-stress.

EMOTIONALLY nature is an ideal space for many people to feel nurtured, to experience a sense of renewal and emotional healing. There are many studies on nature that have identified some of the reasons for this and we’ll explore some of these in other blog posts. But it’s worth noting here that bringing an attitude of mindfulness to your time in nature opens up a whole host of benefits for your emotional health.

SPIRITUALLY nature supports you to make connections between your external and internal worlds. When you spend time in nature and intentionally bring your attention to your surroundings, something wondrous happens. You experience a sense of awe and respect for the natural world around you and inside you. It changes your relationship with the world you live in and with yourself.

Physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually we all benefit from connecting with nature. But there are other ways you can benefit too.

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Nature’s lessons

When you take the time to reflect, even the hardest life lessons are mirrored in nature. There are opportunities to learn about and incorporate the strategies you need to manage challenging times. After bushfires there comes new growth. At first it’s incredibly small but it’s there and it gradually grows. You can learn about patience, persistence, commitment and hope. Grief and loss is intimately connected with birth and growth. Things that don’t make sense in your logical mind can make sense when you experience them in the outdoors for yourself.

Be active or be still … nature doesn’t judge you!

One of the things I love most about nature is that she doesn’t judge anyone who ventures into her world, but she does give your inner child permission to run, skip, climb, jump, twirl, dream and ….. to be still. I challenge you to try it for yourself. Spread your arms wide and look up at the sky with a big smile on your face, breathe deeply and move your body just as you want to.

Or be still. So still that you can feel your heart beating and your breath at the tip of your nostrils. Still enough that you notice the delicate aromas around you, hear the trees whispering to each other and feel the breeze in your hair. Do you notice any judging from the trees or the birds or the breeze? Where else do you experience that kind of freedom? Nature truly is a place to feel fully alive whether it’s through stillness or activity.

Nature talks to you

I also believe that nature has ways of talking to you. Not in the usual way that you’re reading my words right now or if you were to listen to my podcast. Nature has a symconect with nature - fern unfurlingbolic language that needs no spoken or written words. You simply need to be there, immersed in a natural environment or in the presence of one of nature’s many gifts to feel supported, connected, understood and process your inner and outer life. As you observe, listen, smell, taste and touch your natural surroundings, you’ll discover wisdom there that can’t be explained with words. The rough bark of the tree reminds you of the tough shell you show the rest of the world. The pebble symbolises the strength and resilience you have. And the wispy clouds blown across the sky remind you that nothing stays the same.

How I connect with nature

For myself nature has a habit of calling me into her arms each day, reminding me that I’m part of a much bigger world. I spend some time most days walking, bushwalking, riding a bike, in the garden or simply pottering around the yard. Sometimes I have wonderful adventures on multi-day walks.

Some days I stay mostly indoors because I’m too hot or the flies irritate me too much. But I can always be with my pot plants on the verandah, watering them, talking to them, and nurturing them. I have sea shells and potted plants in the bathroom that remind me of the vast oceans and the rainforests. My big windows let the natural light in and capture my attention when the cockatoos fly over or a storm is on the range. I hear the birds setting off their alarm calls in the neighbourhood as a goanna prowls the paddock. And the poem about nature that I listened to in my morning meditation repeats its calming words in my mind as I go about my day.

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How do you connect with nature?

However you connect with nature, whether it’s time in the great outdoors or with nature’s gifts indoors, you can be reminded that you’re never alone and that nature’s embrace is always there for you.

You can use your imagination to visualise yourself in nature even when you can’t physically be there. Picture yourself at the beach breathing deeply in and out, being one with the waves as they glide across the sand. In the forest in your mind you can reach out to touch the rough bark of an iron bark tree, and recognise your own strength and resilience. Or you can find yourself walking across a dry pebbly creek bed and know that the challenges of today will become a strong path for you to walk on tomorrow.

You are nature

You are part of nature. I am part of nature. And nature is in both you and me.

I invite you to take a moment to think of the ways that you already connect with nature in the outdoors as well as indoors.

And what new way would you like to connect with nature this week so that you continue to strengthen your health and wellbeing – your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health?

Connect with me!

I always love to hear from you. Join my Grounded Inspiration newsletter or send me a message.

We’re sharing more ideas over on our private Outdoors is my Therapy Facebook Group so I’d love to connect with you there too!

You can also listen to the podcast episode that goes with this article!

daisy spokeDiscovering mountain biking as life’s ultimate parallel universe in her middle age, Kathryn Walton shares information and reflections that inform, inspire and empower women to a healthy and active lifestyle.