Postcard from Central West Queensland
A week spent out west amongst country folk in gorgeous little towns, experiencing the strong bonds of community and listening to their stories of days gone by, present day challenges and hopes for the future, is simultaneously energising and tiring – the ‘lots of fresh air, dry heat, driving on open roads’ type of tiring though, which feels good.
This fabulous suicide prevention road trip organised by Dave Kerrigan (Kerro) of the Western Queensland Suicide Prevention Network has been a while coming due to COVID-19 restrictions, with our last trip back in October 2019. Travelling alongside Kathy (our GM Ops and Quality), Preston Campbell (of Rugby League fame, who does great work with his foundation) and Shami (from the Royal Flying Doctor Service), we visited Alpha, Jericho, Tambo, Blackall and Longreach in 6 days. It has been wonderful to have our boots back in the dirt and grassroots of small community towns out west, listening to people and gently opening up important conversations about emotional wellbeing and suicide prevention. Sadly, there were many a story of people who have taken their lives over recent years.
First stop was Alpha for an evening under the stars and a couple of days spent with the lovely men and some ladies too, of the Alpha Men’s Shed. Such a supportive place for them to connect, talk and create beautiful woodwork and restore old pieces to their former glory. Then we moved from Alpha through the other towns hosting community BBQs, toolbox chats with local Council workers, tea room conversations with staff at the hospital, meeting and chatting with some of the prisoners in the Blackall Workers Camp who have earned the opportunity to be there through hard work and a commitment to turning their lives around. The kids of Blackall flocked to kick a footy with Preston Campbell on the lawns around the only remaining Wool Scour of its type in the world, as part of a large community event made possible through the generosity of custodians of the historically protected site, Willow and Annie.
Our final day saw us back in Longreach at the Community Arts Centre where Heather treated us to freshly baked scones, locally made jam and cream, and we immersed ourselves into creating some art pieces on canvas for a project currently underway to recognise the community walking alongside the First Nations people of the area. Preston turned his hand to a striking piece of aboriginal art for Heather, while Kathy and I did our best!
It was heartening to hear that we are welcome, and that our offer to support the development of a Lived Experience Roses in the Outback Network would be helpful. The people of the central west deserve a commitment from us to come regularly and we look forward to planning the next few trips, tapping into the connections already made, and playing our role in building the capacity of these communities to recognise and respond to people in need early.