Three recent Forums have thrown some bright light on the future of country towns.

May 14, 2012

The past three weeks have provided some interesting opportunities to see how small country towns are faring and how they can survive and thrive in the rapidly changing future.

Bingara and Warialda were well represented at the Sustainable Rural Towns Forum in Narrabri, at the Vision 2020 Dinner at the Roxy, and at the CED Resilient Regional Communities Conference held in Cessnock.

At the Narrabri Forum the theme of “localisation” was constantly mentioned by politicians and academics. This idea suggests that small communities will increasingly be expected to build themselves “from the ground up”, rather than be directed by Federal and State governments, “from the top down”.

Health, education, employment and social values were given as the aspects of a town that were most valued by its residents, and most sought after by those considering moving to a town. Towns that worked cooperatively, with clear goals and programs were considered the ones most likely to succeed.

At the Vision 2020 dinner, guest presenter Alex Dudley spoke of his experiences as a nature guide and wildlife photographer. Now based in Coolatai, Alex has spent “most of the year” in the last two decades in places like Kakadu in the Northern Territory and Cradle Mountain in Tasmania. Alex is passionate about wildlife and natural places. His theme was eco-tourism and its prospects within the Gwydir Shire.

Alex encouraged business people in country towns to “discover” the natural assets of their districts. “When you can talk to visitors with passion and knowledge about your district, you are more likely to have them stay a little longer. When they stay longer, they are likely to spend more money with you,” was his simple and meaningful message.

At the biannual Community Economic Development Forum held in Cessnock, the theme was Resilient Communities. A long list of excellent presentations and some amazing community case studies were given.

In a similar vein to the words of Alex Dudley, Professor Garry Eggar, spoke of folk in country towns as commonly being either knowledgeable or ignorant about their community, and being either passionate or uncaring about its future.

“Those that are both knowledgeable and passionate, I call the Embracers,” he said. “Those that are passionate but ignorant, I call Seekers. Those that are knowledgeable but uncaring I call Agree-ers, while those who are ignorant and uncaring I call Hecklers,” he said. “The challenge is to try and build both knowledge and passion within your community for it to thrive,” he explained.

Bingara and District Vision 2020 President, Rick Hutton, attended all three Forums. Of the Cessnock Conference Rick said, “The highlights for me were the Renew Newcastle initiative by young people to reinvigorate the Hunter Street precinct in Newcastle, the detailed explanation of the National Broadband Network and its opportunities in rural Australia, the Hepburn Group community wind farm in central Victoria, and a delightful presentation by Mr Ichimura from the small town of Obese in central Japan.”

“Often the theme of young people leaving country towns and not taking up leadership roles within the community was spoken about,” Rick said. “When asked if the same thing was happening in Obese, Mr Ichimura said, ‘not for the past 30 years, we find that when the older people are having so much fun, the young ones want to stay on, and join in”.

A full report from the three forums will be given at the next General Meeting of Vision 2020 on June 7. All are welcome to attend.

Submitted by Rick Hutton, President, Bingara and District Vision 2020.
Ph: 0428 255380