Drought may have been the dominating headline in the Murweh region for the past five years but the shire’s mayor says there are a lot of positives to balance that up with.
Underlying that are concerns about the impact that carbon farming schemes are having on employment and revenue, largely in the Paroo region further south, but expected to also deplete Murweh’s resources.
“When you pull up and chat to the farmers, you feel their pain,” mayor, Annie Liston, said.
“Drought relief is always needed, for the household things.
“They struggle to fill the dozer up to push some scrub so anything that lessens the burden of what they’re going through would be a bonus.”
Despite that, Annie says the shire’s rate base hasn’t gone down as much as might be expected, and small business people continue to try new projects in the town.
“I’m happy with how things are going.” she said.
“If I could put an order in, if I could have inches and inches of rain for my farmers I’d love that.
“There’s been certainly a downturn in our businesses because rural people haven’t got money, so our town hasn’t got money, but we had another coffee shop open today in Charleville, which is a positive.
“Plus the top Shell service station is closing down for a revamp.”
This weekend the town is booked out for the fifth annual Adrian Vowles Cup, where a record 20 teams have taken to the rugby league fields for U16 and U14 boys and girls competition, and featuring guests Petero Civoniceva and Steve Renouf.
The drive into Annie’s home in the mulga is sprinkled with quirky mannequins tacked to trees, which she explains as “conversation starters”, and it’s easy to believe her when she says she tries to turn negatives into positives.
And there are plenty when she starts to list them off – the $620,000 planetarium project designed to value add to the night sky viewing attraction at the Cosmos Centre, expressions of interest being called for work on Morven’s rail hub, cluster fencing projects and Western Meat Exporters’ diversification into sheep processing and its use of solar technology, and the opening of an innovation hub and videoconferencing facilities among them.
Even Charleville’s water and its storage tower are set to boost confidence, according to Annie – not only has well-known silo mural artist Guido van Helten agreed to undertake a feature on the Parry Street water tower as part of an RADF grant, but plans are afoot for local water to be bottled for Taiwanese consumption.
“We’ve also got rural health coming out – they’ve got 15 to 20 students and they’re looking for a building, plus accommodation for five staff and for these students, to do nursing and allied health.”
Annie didn’t believe unemployment was problematic in the region, crediting the Remote Area Planning and Development Board’s RESQ service with continual upskilling, alongside TAFE and QATC.
She said TAFE south west general manager, Brent Kinnane, had identified customer service as a need in Charleville and as a result had delivered two workshops and trained about 30 people.
“I’m continually hearing feedback about that and hearing how good it was,” Annie said.
She envisages that QATC will play an ongoing role as sheep begin returning to the landscape in the south west, when more pressers, woolclassers and shearers need to be trained.
“I will be telling QATC, there’s been another million dollars in cluster fencing invested by the federal government so we need to do more with shearing sooner rather than later,” she said, acknowledging at the same time that it was taking longer than people would like to get back into sheep “because of what the drought has done to them”.
A variety of programs, for both indigenous and non-indigenous young people in the region, were offering a lot but Annie felt there was still room for improvement.
She said, according to information from local law enforcers, alcohol and cannibas, rather than ICE, were likely to be the drug of choice, and a recent visit by federal Indigenous Affairs Minister, Nigel Scullion, gave her a welcome line into that office.
She wants to see businesses in small towns like Augathella, Morven and Charleville use social media to promote their wares and their services in order to maintain a presence locally.
“I really feel we need to jump on board ... so that people can go on there and buy what they want from our town as well.
“We need to be keeping up with the times and promoting what we’ve got.
“We’ve got a lot of smart people in the Murweh.”
Even Adavale, where Annie grew up and went to school for much of her primary years, and where her 93-year-old mother still lives, gets a mention for its online presence.
“Yes, people are down in the dumps a little, but if they could just get a bit of rain, that would brighten things up.”