Communities come together

Written by Helen Carpenter 


September was National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and October is Mental Health Month in NSW, so it’s a prominent time to focus on the mental health and wellbeing initiatives in regional communities.  

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As the drought continues across the Eastern states of Australia, rural and regional communities are coming together to support the mental health and wellbeing of their community members. People who live west of the great divide have been hit hard by the prolonged period of extremely dry weather. Farmers and their families are a very resilient group of people however the current drought is causing increased pressure across the board.

The impact of the drought is far reaching and as farmers are required to spend additional money on fodder for their livestock, the flow on effect into their local communities results in economic downturn. Hay and grain for livestock becomes scarcer and harder to source, prices for feed continue to rise and the cost of transport increases relative to distance. With no immediate end in sight, the impact to the wider community is grim. People are faced with hard decisions that have emotional implications. Some families may need to completely de-stock and some may sell up and move out of the agricultural industry all together. The complex and confronting decisions have the propensity to lead to mental health issues if people affected are not adequately supported. 

In the shires of Weddin and Lachlan, located in the Central West of NSW, members from the community have formed different groups to support their community members. Active Farmers supports and encourages participation in exercise, health and well-being, the Cargo to Grenfell walk is held annually in March to raise funds for Beyond Blue (2019 marks its third year), and Grassroots Blueprint assists rural communities with mental and physical wellbeing aid. Grassroots Blueprint offers a variety of services.

Young people have been active in helping set these organisations up as they are driven by their concern and passion for supporting the mental health and well-being of their surrounding communities and rural areas. The three organisations (Active Farmers, Cargo to Grenfell walk and Grassroots Blueprint) have a vested interest in the local communities and have been structured with long term sustainability in mind.

Weddin Shire also has a Suicide Prevention Project team on the ground working within the shire to support members of the community to build capacity and raise awareness about suicide prevention.

I was lucky enough interview the people who co-ordinate these organisations and projects. Their work is vital in rural and regional areas and there are many others like them, delivering high value within our rural communities. Kim Broomby (Active Farmers), Sally Downie (Grassroots Blueprint), Sarah Knowles and Toby Baron (Cargo to Grenfell walk) and Chad White (Suicide Prevention Project) kindly afforded me the time to discuss what they’re doing to support the wellbeing of people in rural communities during the drought and into the future.

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Interview with Kim Broomby (Active Farmers

Profile of Active Farmers:

Active Farmers is a Not-For-Profit Organisation and Health Promotion Charity.

Active Farmers’ vision is to build stronger and more resilient farming communities in rural Australia and to advance health, social and public welfare in rural and remote communities by providing relevant programs such as group fitness classes for all levels and ages, nutrition, general wellbeing and financial planning workshops or consultations. They are also committed to providing remote access to mental health services, fostering social interaction, enhancing community connectedness, and building community resilience. The organization was started by Ginny Stevens in March 2015, “Concerned about the level of depression in farming communities, I developed a program for farmers to improve their physical and mental health. Through exercise and interaction, participants become more aware of their health and develop a greater sense of community. Active Farmers is all about ensuring clients are better fuelled and serviced to tackle the stresses of modern farming life. My philosophy is that the more people who understand the connection between being physically fit and well connected within their community and being mentally strong the better! Active Farmers is therefore going to create a large network of farmers and community members working together to improve both physical and mental health!” Active Farmers currently services 24 small farming communities in Queensland, New South Wales and Tasmania. It will grow to 28 by the end of 2018, welcoming Victoria into the network. Active Farmers aims to service 70 small farming communities by June 2020 and over 100 communities have expressed interest in the program.

Kim, can you please tell me a little about yourself?

I’m a partner in a farming business with my husband David. I grew up on a farm at Quandialla, while David grew up in Canberra. Together we run a variety of sheep breeds, trade stock and grow cereal grain crops on my original family farm at Quandialla. I have played and enjoyed several team sports throughout my life; however, due to distances, costs, children’s sports and niggling injuries, I’ve found the multiple styles of group exercise to be the most suitable, diverse and beneficial. We have five children ranging in age from 15-25 years. I’m a qualified personal trainer for Active Farmers, I manage the Quandialla Swimming Pool, run Aqua Fitness classes, Learn to Swim programs, swimming squad training and drive a school bus on a casual basis.

Why did you get involved with the Active Farmers?

I met Ginny during the winter of 2016. She had started Active Farmers in Mangoplah and Uranquinty and I was running a few classes in Quandialla as ‘Quandialla Fitness Group’. We spoke about the social and mental health benefits our clients unknowingly gained through exercise. Ginny shared her goal of expanding Active Farmers into other rural communities with Trainers with a shared vision. I knew Ginny’s dream of networking trainers and the benefits of group fitness classes would ultimately benefit many people in rural communities such as Quandialla. Our mutual belief in the social and mental wellbeing benefits of physical activity led to me signing a license agreement with Ginny in November 2016 to become an Active Farmers trainer. 

What does Active Farmers actually do?

We run group fitness classes in small farming communities. While the classes aren’t free they’re diverse and suitable for all fitness levels and people of any background, gender or age. They’re also a lot of fun! As we are in small communities, there is very limited access to equipment and gyms, so our classes fill the void. There are launch events, health challenges and ongoing newsletters each quarter. Active Farmers also run mindfulness workshops, nutrition workshops, co-ordinate mental health first fid workshops, and are aligned with Dokotela, which provides access to Psychiatrists and Psychologists online. 

What is your perspective of the drought and life in regional Australia?

Being farmers the devastation of this drought is very real for my husband and I. While we have been working to rebuild after the 2002-2008 drought the impact of another historical drought is extremely challenging. Within our communities I see frustration and heart-break experienced by agricultural families. They’re faced with the possibility of small yields and some may not have a harvest at all. They’re having to de-stock due to lack of feed, the disproportionate high costs of stock feed and the inability to produce next winters fodder supply. Unfortunately, once farmers begin to suffer from the drought and decreased income most of the rural towns consequently suffer due to the lack of injected local money. It’s a cycle of hardship that snowballs throughout the region and beyond. I’m deeply concerned about the mental well-being of my community; especially those directly involved in the agricultural industry. They are intelligent, strategic, caring, wonderful mates who are caught in yet another drought that threatens their livelihood. Being a farmer, I empathise and strongly relate to their struggles. On the other hand, the kindness and generosity of our community during these times is very heart warming and inspirational.

What does Active Farmers hope to achieve overtime?

My goal is to continue running group fitness classes in the four communities I service at the moment; Quandialla, Caragabal, Grenfell and Wirrinya. I aim to increase class participation, offer many different styles of exercise, provide important health information to the communities and provide workshops. Drawing on the funds of the successful fundraiser in July, I’d like to coordinate more social events and help build resilience. I hope we can develop fun social get togethers that are obligation free so people can enjoy the socialisation, fun and camaraderie. In the future we hope we can provide continued support to build stronger and more resilient regional communities in Australia.

Are you affiliated with any other groups?

I’m not affiliated with any other group, however, I’m a ‘gatekeeper’ with the Weddin LGA Suicide Prevention Project. This group is the Local Working Party in Grenfell, they undertake strategic planning to prevent suicide in the Weddin and Lachlan Shires.

What events do you have planned?

Currently, I’m in the planning stage of A Day On The Green at Quandialla. We hope to have a community event just before harvest time (we’re hoping there will be a harvest) with guest speakers, including Ginny, to share food, chew the fat and come together.


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Interview with Sally Downie (Grassroots Blueprint) 

Profile of Grassroots Blueprint:

Grassroots Blueprint ‘sticking to our roots, planning for the future’.

Sally, can you please tell me a little about yourself?

I’m 19 and I’m from Jemalong. I’ve grown up on a family dairy farm, where I now work. I love the dairy industry and I love cows. I’m the Central West Young Dairy Network Coordinator for Dairy NSW and a part-time University student by distance. I was schooled in Forbes.

Why did you start Grassroots Blueprint?

I started the organisation as I identified a gap. There seemed to be all these amazing opportunities for farmers and so many people and businesses wanting to be involved or wanting to interact with farmers. I observed farmers suffering from physical and mental health issues and not receiving adequate assistance. I recognised there were numerous services available but service access and appetite from farmers was comparatively low. 

I witnessed the saturation of miseducation that discouraged young people from perusing a career in agriculture. I personally believe that people underestimate the power of education and believe that further education and training can provide extensive opportunities to youth.

I was also conscious of a growing gap in the support for agriculture from the wider community. People seem to be ignorant about what ‘agriculture’ actually entails. There appears to be a lack of knowledge about what is involved in farming and there is seemingly a disconnect about the provenance of agricultural products given the context is not readily accessible within grocery stores. My intention is to narrow the gap of misunderstanding and disconnection by promoting agriculture. I’d like to encourage Australians to consider that the impact of Australian agriculture is vital and that it’s an industry which needs their support. Essentially, I want to make them conscious of the day to day decisions they make that affect Australian farmers and the industry as a whole.

What does Grassroots Blueprint actually do?

It’s all about being farmers together. We encourage them to talk and take pro-active action with their mental and physical health. We give them building blocks to plan a better future and we facilitate a range of events and initiate critical discussion. We coordinate free morning teas and barbecues for farmers and the community to bring them together. This sets up the opportunity for them to talk, interact with support groups and participate in collective, robust discussion about the future. We offer drought relief through toy drives and hampers but the primary reason for the organisation is to build a network that improves the health of farmers, offers opportunities for education and promotes agriculture. 

What is your perspective of the drought and life in regional Australia?

The drought is devastating. Everyone is impacted, every farmer, every regional and rural community business and member, every Australian. I’ve been amazed by the support and work that has been undertaken to help farmers. Everyone is pitching in, which is great to see. This drought will have a long and profound impact on our farms, our families and our communities and industry. I think it’s a good time to start a conversation about farming and the contribution farmers make to our country. In one sense the drought is bringing people together but simultaneously tearing people apart. It’s very hard to watch farmers and community members in such a state of helplessness. It’s certainly a pertinent time to take a proactive approach to mental health. It’s hard to put the devastation into words.

What does Grassroots Blueprint hope to achieve overtime?

In the short term we hope to bring people together. I’m also exploring drought relief as I want to connect with people and provide them with a network of support and opportunities during this difficult time. I aim to coordinate events focused on health and I’d like to be able to make services easier to access.

Mid-term we hope to set up a women’s group to ensure regional women in agriculture are supported. Women are the backbone of our families, farms, communities and are often farmers themselves. Women deserve the space to connect, to enjoy themselves, to learn and to be supported within their families and within the farming community. I’d like to form a discussion group focused on current issues and possible solutions. We also hope to grow the operations through financial sponsorship.

Finally, in the long term I’d like to be able to talk about potential agricultural opportunity at schools and to the wider community. I hope to have a sustainable financial model in place to support the business activities and I’d like the organisation to have a regular and connected network of farmers. I’d also like to continue to coordinate regular events in the Central West area.

Are you affiliated with any other groups?

The Salvation Army and Lachlan Suicide Prevention Project have been very supportive of the work I’m doing. I’m also working closely with The Muster Appeal which was set up by a couple from Sydney. We’re collaborating on a big barbecue and fund raising collectively. These connections have been a blessing as they’ve enabled our events to proceed. I’m currently seeking more formal, long term sponsorships and partnerships to meet financial requirements and promote Grassroots Blueprint on a large stage.

What events do you have planned?  

We have Condobolin Smoko on Wednesday September 19 followed by the Family and Farmer BBQ in Forbes on October 13, this is in partnership with the Muster Appeal. It’s a free barbecue and family fun day with music, jumping castles, face painting and competitions. We also have Women Connect launch in October where a group of women will regularly meet to talk, share a meal or coffee and participate in different activities such as interior design, beauty, sewing and cooking, pilates, and photography.

If you are experiencing personal difficulties, please contact Lifeline 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 224 636

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Interview with Sarah Knowles (Cargo To Grenfell Walk

Profile of Cargo To Grenfell Walk:

Cargo To Grenfell Walk (C2G) is a fundraiser event that takes place annually in March with the goal of raising funds and awareness for mental health, particularly in those living on the land. The event consists of a three day, 96km walk between the two rural communities of Cargo and Grenfell NSW via Canowindra and Gooloogong. In the months leading up to the event and during the event itself, participants, volunteers and the organisers go to extensive lengths to raise funds, which are then donated to a deserving charity at the conclusion of the walk. 

Sarah, can you please tell me a little about yourself?

The event is run by my partner Toby and myself. I grew up in the small country town of Grenfell in NSW and he was raised in the hustle and bustle of Sydney. Shortly after turning 18, I decided to embark on a whirlwind adventure and make the move to the city. I’ve been wrapped up in a busy lifestyle here for two years now, however, the rural skies and wide open spaces will always have my heart. 

Why did you start C2G?

A number of motives contributed to why we started C2G. In the beginning, Toby came up with the idea of a 96km walk as more of a personal challenge rather than a fundraiser event, however, the idea quickly evolved as we realised we weren’t the only ones who love an extreme physical and mental challenge. We decided to scale the idea, bring more people onboard and organise it for a good cause. We love that our event entices people from the city to experience the best of what rural NSW has to offer. As for choosing to target mental health, that was one of the easiest decisions for us right from the get go. Living day by day in a world where so many people are suffering in silence doesn't sit right with us and we are so passionate that we wanted to contribute to mobilising change and awareness in the space.

Why did you become involved in C2G?

It just seemed to be the perfect fit for me to work along side Toby in running C2G as we do work really well as a team. I have suffered heavily with mental health for a number of years, so we have really experienced the effects first hand, and believe this makes us extremely dedicated and invested in the cause. One upside to this first hand experience is that I know poor mental health is beatable. To me C2G can really be seen as as metaphor for beating mental health. I believe that there are times when its exceptionally gruelling and you want to give up but with the support of everyone around you and a huge amount of determination you can get there in the end by continuously taking one step at a time. I've fallen in love with this event and the feeling it gives me at its conclusion each year. Running a charity event as such a young couple can at times be very overwhelming and stressful but I couldn't think of a better team-mate than Toby and that inspires me to remain motivated and involved every year. 

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What does your C2S actually do ?


Prior to the event everyone involved works tirelessly to raise funds within our families, friends, colleagues, communities and networks. Every year we partner with a deserving charity who is able to receive our final donation and allocate it to work focused on beating mental health for those suffering in rural areas. This year we raised nearly $15 000 for Beyond Blue and were overwhelmed by the generosity of people on our online platforms and those who joined us at the hotels each night offering support and donations. The variety of business that donated goods and services and the large amount of locals who stopped off on the side of the road and handed our walkers cash donations was so encouraging. We are very proud that Beyond Blue can use the money we worked so hard for to change the lives of those struggling on the land.  

What is your perspective of the drought and life in regional Australia?

One thing I’ve have noticed since leaving behind the rural lifestyle is the lack of awareness from people who believe they aren’t personally effected by the drought and therefore, the lack of care they pay to it. Just like mental health, it’s something we all need to be educated on. I think that people are generally bred tough in the bush and have hard work in their blood. However, I also think that people can forget that support is available and if they are struggling they don't need to suffer alone. I hope that in the future, farming families who are emotionally struggling with the effects of the drought will reach out and take advantage of the services of organisations like those we partner with.  

What does C2G hope to achieve overtime?

Our short term goals over the coming years is to continue to build a well structured fundraiser event and focus on the expansion of our event. We hope to see significant growth in our C2G community including: participants, volunteers, sponsors and marketing platforms. During our event we not only set out to raise funds and awareness but to provide an unmatched experience where people from all different walks of life can come together for mental health, and can develop new friendships and memories that will last a life time. As for the long term, we hope to one day be an independent not-for-profit organisation, where we can direct our fundraising efforts towards services that C2G can provide independently in regional areas, rather then partnering with other charity organisations. 

Are you involved with any other groups

As we partner with different charity organisations every year we are lucky to make connections with people that share a similar passion to ours. In fundraising for a charity group we receive an abundance of on going support towards our fundraising event as well as resources that we can hand out during C2G including information books on mental health.  Currently, we are busily planning C2G 2019, which will take place in early March next year. The event will run over three days and we invite anyone to become involved in our 96km journey in any way they can - whether it be walking, volunteering, sponsorship or donations.

To read more about C2G, head to our website or check out our Facebook page "Cargo to Grenfell Fundraiser Walk" for regular updates on how to be involved. 

 Suicide Prevention Project


 In March 2018 the Weddin Shire, along with 11 other areas across Australia, were identified as areas with a high suicide rate. NSW received Federal Funding for two clusters; a Northern cluster encompassing, Bourke, Brewarrina, Cobar and Walgett local government area and a Southern cluster of including Weddin and Lachlan shires. The Suicide Prevention Project has already proven its value and funding has been extended to 2020.  The project is about leading conversations in communities to break down the stigma associated with suicide. It aims to get communities to start talking about the needs and wants of each individual community and how best to address the areas where issues have been identified.  It’s about networking and joining frontline stakeholders to members of the community and educating selected members within the community to be gatekeepers. Gatekeepers are the people that can be contacted by members of the community to receive confidential help and support when they are going through crisis. Gatekeepers receive expert training from the Suicide Prevention Officers.

The Suicide Prevention Project works together with frontline services, local communities and a regional advisory council. Each Project Officer works to implement the strategic plan within each community. The plan is based on the specific needs and existing support available in each community and training is also needs based.  The target groups identified in the Weddin area include Youth, Rural people and Indigenous people.

In the Weddin Shire local area the Suicide Prevention Project has successfully been activated alongside the local High School through a culturally immersed NAIDOC Day with a range of Indigenous activities to create a better cultural understanding among students and the community at large. The activity resulted in the idea of forming an AECG Group in the Weddin community to support Indigenous students in the community.

In late August the Suicide Prevention Project coordinated a morning tea in conjunction with Grassroots Blueprint to bring together local businesses, government departments and local charitable organisations.

Another morning tea, based on the first event, took place on September 12 for R U OK Day. I was held at Lions Parks with a yellow and involved an orange balloon release to raise visual awareness and the event was coordinate to encouraged people to open up and talk together.  Supplementary activities were organise at the local schools to inspire the youth to think healthy and talk to their peers or elders.

The Project Officer appointee for the Weddin Shire Area is Chad White, Chad moved to Grenfell in 2017 and has vast experience in various areas of Nursing. He has lived experience with suicide.  

If you are experiencing personal difficulties, please contact Lifeline 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 224 636