The rain is here but drought still affects communities in Orana region

The Orana region has one of the lowest wellbeing ratings in Australia. 

Disaffected youth are among our major concerns according to the The 2014 Regional Wellbeing Survey produced by the University of Canberra.

The survey paints a concerning picture of the wellbeing of Australians in drought-affected areas.

According to the survey's lead author Dr Jacki Schirmer, areas like Central Queensland and the Orana region in the central west of NSW are some of the areas reporting the lowest levels of wellbeing nationwide.

"While many factors influence wellbeing, amongst the regions reporting the poorest levels of wellbeing are those currently experiencing the effects of drought, in many cases in tandem with a downturn in the mining industry," Dr Schirmer said.

"In these drought-hit communities, most residents - not only farmers or mining workers - are reporting concerns about the future of their community, as well as lower levels of personal wellbeing, showing just how critical it is to understand how drought affects everyone in a rural community."

More than 12,000 people participated in the survey and responded to topics as diverse as their health, finances, the environment, community engagement, social isolation, crime and happiness.

"We found that people aged 65 and over were consistently happier than younger people, despite reporting some concerns about their finances and health," she said.

"By comparison, we found that young people, and those up to the age of 40 years, reported facing a broader set of concerns in their day-to-day lives.

"By comparison, we found that young people, and those up to the age of 40 years, reported facing a broader set of concerns in their day-to-day lives.

Jacki Schirrmer

"Younger rural and regional Australians are, on average, feeling less able to have a say and be heard, and feel less like they belong in rural communities, compared to older people. 

"They're less likely to find their landscape attractive, and were much more likely to report that many people misuse drugs and alcohol in their community and that there is a high crime rate."

The survey identified a need to bridge the 'age divide' by investing in making rural communities places where young people want to stay or come back to after periods of time spent studying or working in cities.

Dr Schirmer said bridging the divide requires finding ways to better include younger people and give them a sense of belonging, and of being able to have meaningful input and roles in rural and regional communities.

She also found that young people were not engaging with volunteering opportunities in their communities, due both to lack of time, but also because they felt they 'hadn't been invited or asked to participate'.

"Volunteering rates are higher in rural and regional communities compared to Australia's bigger cities and more than 50 per cent of rural and regional Australians report they had volunteered in the last 12 months, with most volunteering at least once a fortnight," she said.

"Many older people know organisations that depend on volunteers and they are willing to get involved, but it seems that to engage young people these organisations need to find different ways of reaching out and inviting new people to get involved."

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