Bingara receives the “Yeah for the Day” in the Senate

February 9, 2012

Senator Williams addressed the Senate yesterday with regards to The Living Classroom below is the Hansard (verbatim copy of his speech) which provides an excellent summary of the project and a wonderful promotion of Bingara and the Gwydir Shire.

Go Bingara!

HANSARD – 136 SENATE Tuesday, 7 February 2012 CHAMBER

Bingara Living Classroom
Senator WILLIAMS (New South Wales—Nationals Whip in the Senate) (19:41):

I would like to talk tonight about a program planned in the small town of Bingara in north-west New South Wales. I will declare an interest: Bingara is a great little town. It has a magnificent local independently owned newspaper. I have to say that because my wife owns the newspaper and I could not say anything else!

Bingara has a lot of Greek heritage, including the Roxy Theatre. Those magnificent Greek immigrants that came to Australia many years ago set up the Greek cafes and so on. The Roxy Theatre has been restored, and so has Peters Cafe, a part of the Roxy Theatre building complex.

But I want to talk about a new program. Mr Acting Deputy President Back, I think you will be very interested in this. It is called the Living Classroom interpretive centre. If you ask, ‘What’s a living classroom?’ that is a justifiable question.

It is about setting up 140 acres on the common in the town of Bingara and it is about regenerative farming—looking after the soil by building the soil’s nutrition through composting, having water running the right way into lakes and making sure there is no soil erosion.

The plan is simply magnificent. It is the result of a group called Vision 20/20 led by people such as Rick Hutton, a well-known local identity, and Garry McDouall. It is supported by the Gwydir Shire Council under general manager Max Eastcott. They have decided that their town is not going to die. They have simply said, ‘Enough is enough.’ They were not going to let Bingara die, so they formed Vision 20/20, which is all about regeneration. Many other local business people and community representatives have joined them.

Bingara, as I have mentioned, is almost world famous for its Roxy Theatre and it is a big producer of agriculture. The agriculture industry in the Gwydir Shire is well known throughout Australia. There is wheat, barley, sorghum and cotton and several feedlots. There is a huge cattle industry and a sheep and wool industry with mutton and fat lambs. So they are now launching this program called the Living Classroom and last Wednesday I attended a forum there supported by many people.

What is the living classroom? The centrepiece is the interpretive centre. The interpretive centre will provide ongoing education programs for students and professionals as well as key organic infrastructure such as a market food garden, food forestry, and sanctuary gardens and pathways.

Major earthworks are near completion, including an innovative series of swales, which feed a system of lakes and ponds, hydrate the arable production areas and address longstanding stormwater problems. The bunkhouse student accommodation is near completion, as is the purpose-built trade training centre for agriculture, which enables extension learning opportunities for school students, particularly in this area.

One of the things they are going to concentrate on is composting. Mr Acting Deputy President, with your experience in rural Australia, you know how we have poured chemical fertilisers into the soil. Many chemicals are used today to control weeds and, of course, they have increased yields. But can it go on forever? We hear a lot about Nauru. I have never been there but I have heard that it is now just a big phosphate quarry due to the world demand for phosphate.

When I first started in the Senate, I was on a committee that looked at what we are doing in Australia with recycling. From memory, in Belgium there is about 32 kilos of waste per person a year. In Australia it is about 130 kilos. But 60 per cent of our waste is organic and can be made into compost. What we need to do is use that organic waste and put it into compost. Mr Acting Deputy President, you yourself know what compost does for soil. These are some of the programs that will be initiated and instigated in the Living Classroom program.

I have mentioned the Roxy Theatre and how Bingara is such a go-ahead town. Over my lifetime I have seen many small towns battle, dwindle and wilt on the vine. But Bingara is a really go-ahead town. It is situated on the Gwydir River—and there is plenty of water in that system at the moment with all the rain up there.

This whole program is dependent on funding from Regional Development Australia. They are next on the list. Let us hope that funding is forthcoming. The Living Classroom program will provide a valuable and much-needed central location for regenerative agriculture learning, and the program can be easily integrated to leverage opportunities of significant construction milestones for the interpretive centre and overall site works and other relevant events such as the Bingara Orange Festival and Myall Creek Memorial.

This is about learning as you go. They have taken 140 hectares in the local common. I can tell you it is not the best soil in Australia. It is not like the deep, rich, black soil out at Moree—which is obviously very wet at the moment as well. But, by adding compost to the soil and building up the nitrogen and trace elements and looking after it, you can turn it into far better soil.

It will have water ponds. One of the things they will be looking at is fish farming. We know that the number of fish in the seas has dwindled over many years of professional fishing and, to some degree, ordinary fishermen having a go with a line. The human demand for fish as a food supply for us is very high. They will learn a lot about fish farming. They will learn many things as they go along. They will probably learn a lot through mistakes—and so much has been discovered and learnt over our lifetimes from blunders and mistakes.

This is a really good initiative that will be an example to rural areas throughout Australia, and I am sure they will have visitors from around the world coming to look at this project and what they have learnt, what they can do and how they can look after the soil and look after the land and grow food. We know there will be huge demand for food coming in the future as the world population grows. This is a tremendous initiative. It has already kicked off, but if we can get this government funding to progress it further then we are going to learn so much about this whole project. It is going to educate so many people. It is going to teach us how not to do things.

We know we have made many mistakes on our farms over the years. We know that we have overfarmed in many instances. It is simply because farmers are trying to make a living. They are not making enough money, so they are forced to crop their soil too often, perhaps year after year. This is one of the problems we face in this country. We have great farmers who want to be green, but so many of them are too far in the red. And we know why. It is because of the costs, the droughts, the floods, the low commodity prices and the tremendously high interest rates of the early nineties. We must see our farmers making a good living, and then they can look after the environment better.

I know this Living Classroom program is going to be a wonderful initiative. We are going to learn so much out of it, and the people involved are going to teach people what to do. We have got the Catchment Management Authority, Gwydir Shire Council, TAFE and the University of New England involved.

Community organisations such as the local Lions Club were present at the meeting last week supporting it, and we have industry development partners and the agricultural sector involved. I think this will be a showpiece in years to come of what we can learn about our soil, what we can grow in our soil and how we can look after our soil, using many natural elements and not relying on chemicals so much.

The enthusiasm of the community is just magnificent. They have made a start. The earthworks are being done, and they will build the lakes. It will be 140 hectares of land that will be some of the most productive land in the future. I have no doubt about that. Because of the enthusiasm of the Bingara community and with the support of others, and especially if they can get some Regional Development Australia funding, this is really going to be a goer. It is going to be a showpiece. This is going to be simply a display of how many farmers will follow this into the future and what they will do. It will educate so many of our young farmers and present farmers, and it will be a showpiece of what to do for sustainable farming around our country and right around the world.

I wish them all the best. I congratulate Bingara; it is a really go-ahead community. And I thank the Gwydir Shire. The adult learning centre at Warialda has been a magnificent success. Bingara and Warialda are the two towns that make up this shire of 5½ thousand people, and they refuse to sit down, let life go by and see things wilt on the vine. This is a forward-thinking program that is going to deliver so much, not only for their local community but also for our country. As I said, international visitors will come to look at this place in the future and learn as well. I wish them all the best with their program.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012 SENATE 137 CHAMBER