I originally wrote this reflection in 2007 when I was a member of the National Rural Health Alliance Council. Things don’t seem to be any different now except that Western Australia is not currently in drought, but most of the eastern states agricultural areas have been. The biggest change since 2007 is the burden now placed on ambulance volunteers. There is a high dependency on transferring patients because of services not available locally, so much so that frequently outside help from a neighbouring sub-centre is called on.
As I think about the year past and look to the coming year it is with concern for those who live and work in rural and remote areas, with declining services, infrastructural facilities, plus the ever increasing difficulty in recruiting and retaining professionals.
Governments seem to have lost the meaning of the word ‘services’ to communities in rural and remote Australia; it is Government (both State and Federal) responsibility to provide services to people, why else do we pay taxes? It seems to me a service is a service where population numbers are high in the cities and large regional centres, but where the numbers are few services are viewed as a cost to Government, hence the decline in services to rural and remote areas.
The decreased ability to provide the range of health services to rural communities is becoming more common, with an increasing number of ‘visiting’ services. These are fine if the transport systems are in place to get people without a personal vehicle to and from services. Other Government services at risk are the state of national highways and now the closure of several country police stations in Western Australia. One wonders what will be left for the future in rural areas, where the food and fibre for the country and to export is produced.
The drought in Western Australia these last two years [2005-2007], and longer in some areas, has been of little interest to governments both State and Federal. The lack of rain in 2007 with its crippling effect and the long term repercussions for rural Western Australia doesn’t bear thinking about, especially in the wheat belt where it has been estimated [in 2007] that some 20 – 30 per cent of farmers will have to leave the land and walk away, some with very little. The drought and its effects seem to be of little concern to eastern Australia and governments alike, when we continually hear that New South Wales is still 70 per cent or more drought declared and no mention of the desperate state here in Western Australia. We are just too far from Canberra and I feel that State and Federal Governments have lost the ability to be connected to communities.
Why, you may ask, do I speak of drought and the devastation it brings when we (the National Rural Health Alliance) are a health group and looking at health solutions. Well there is a close link. I strongly believe that healthy communities are closely linked to a healthy environment, along with people’s ability to function within an environment that is solution focused, supported and knowing that others care through the difficult times. Drought is like any other natural disaster, but its effects are slow and insidious.
There are many great things happening in health in rural and remote Australia, but we hardly ever hear of the innovation and dedication of the health professionals who take the opportunity to work out in rural and remote areas and communities. We need to shout from the roof tops our successes and innovative methods of service provision. We do things differently by necessity and have wonderful results, and we need to have the flexibility to continue to be different, with the same good outcomes.
I would like to conclude with a quote from Henry Ford:
“You can do anything if you have enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is the yeast that makes your hopes rise to the stars. Enthusiasm is the sparkle in your eyes, the swing in your step, the grip of your hand, the irresistible surge of will and energy to execute your ideas.
Enthusiasts are fighters. They have fortitude. They have staying qualities. Enthusiasm is at the bottom of all progress. With it, there is accomplishment. Without it there are only alibis.”
This is the spirit that keeps us all going, the strong belief and enthusiasm for the future.
Irene Mills AM, from Dalwallinu WA, has been an advocate for the health of rural and remote people and communities for many years. She is a former member of the National Rural Health Alliance Council and Chair of Friends of the Alliance, also past President of the National Rural Women's Coalition. Irene currently Chairs the Western Wheatbelt District Health Advisory Council, is a member of the WA Country Health Care Safety and Quality Executive Sub-Committee, the Patient Experience and Community Engagement Program (PEaCE) Committee, and the Community representative on the State Emergency Tele-Health Service advisory committee. In her spare time she chairs the local Community Resource Centre along with gardening and travel. She believes it is more important now than ever, that consumers/community be involved in the planning and services available to their community.
Showcasing the diversity of life in rural and remote Australian, in the Friends 'My Place: where I live and work' series, members of Friends of the Alliance talk about their life and work and what's special about where they live.