Cradle to grave on the land: What rural communities need to keep residents for life

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Once encouraged to leave their rural communities to embrace the opportunities of the “big smoke”, many young people are returning or remaining in the small towns they have always called home.

But it is not as easy as turning up and settling in.

Wyatt Wrigley, a 23-year-old livestock agent in the southern Queensland town of Dalby, said affordability and opportunities were the main barriers for young people trying to establish themselves in the agriculture sector.

Agforce Young Producers’ Council president Helen Woodland said access to capital was the main issue faced by young people on the land.

“To generate the capital to get into a farm as a landowner, which gives certainty in business and future planning, it’s a significant amount of capital that’s needed to be able to get a foot in the door,” she said.

Woman in pink shirt smiles at camera with greenery behind herWoman in pink shirt smiles at camera with greenery behind her
Helen Woodland says access to capital is a huge barrier for young people wanting to progress in agriculture. (Supplied: Helen Woodland)

Lockyer Valley farm manager Mitch Brimblecombe, 24, said he wanted manufacturing to be supported in Australia to bring down the price of inputs and freight costs at his family’s Moira operation in Forest Hill.

“We need to do it cheaper, so if we can do it cheaper in Australia, we need to be supporting that.”

Can you grow old in the place you call home?

Grazier Bev Geissler has lived on her Biggenden property beside Mount Walsh National Park in the North Burnett for the past 52 years.

Now in her 70s, she said she would soon need a bit of extra help and hoped she could get that in Biggenden.

She said she was saddened by the prospect of having to move to another town to receive the help she needed.

A group of people sit around a table with food on it, smiling. A group of people sit around a table with food on it, smiling.
Members of the Kilkivan community don’t want elderly people to move away just because there aren’t enough beds in the town’s aged care home. (ABC Rural: Kallee Buchanan)

Biggenden only has 13 aged care beds and it is a similar situation in Eidsvold where there are only six aged care beds.

Wuli Wuli and Waka Waka man Barney Blucher’s sister occupies one of them and in a town where 30 per cent of the population is Indigenous, quality of life is connected to where you live.

Mr Blucher, who is on the town’s health advisory board, was worried that elderly people’s health and wellbeing would be significantly affected if they had to move from Eidsvold to a place like Bundaberg for care.

Fellow board member and Wuli Wuli woman, Robin Chapman, said everyone wanted to grow old at home, no matter where they came from.

“It seems, however, you come to your connection to the land,” she said.

“Whether it’s tens of thousands of years of culture or five generations of cattle grazing, most people want to stay in the community they’ve dedicated their lives to.”

Ms Chapman said she didn’t plan on going anywhere.

Three ladies smile at camera holding glasses of wineThree ladies smile at camera holding glasses of wine
Rosie Fitzgerald (left) worries a lack of aged care options in Kilkivan puts people’s health at risk.(Supplied: Cameron Douglas)

Kilkivan and District Community Care Association president Rosie Fitzgerald said people with similar wishes to Ms Chapman were keeping her town alive.

“There’s still a 90 odd year-old woman living in Kilkivan, who is volunteering regularly for the CWA and for the bowls club, and she shows no signs of abandoning that kind of contribution to her community,” Ms Fitzgerald said.

“Someone like that really deserves to be able to stay here.

“That sense of fear and dread [about leaving] means that they stay quiet about what they really need for far longer than is healthy or advisable for fear the family starts to push towards living elsewhere.”

Does the policy reflect the issues?

Ms Woodland said the only policy she had seen that targeted young farmers was the Coalition’s proposed $75-million Future Farmer Guarantee, under which a re-elected government would act a guarantor for 40 per cent of a commercial loan up to $1 million.

Two men and one woman in the centre all in their 90s smile at the cameraTwo men and one woman in the centre all in their 90s smile at the camera
Athol Bevan, Mavis O’Neill and Gordon McGill are all older than 90 and don’t want to leave their home town of Kilkivan. (ABC Rural: Kallee Buchanan)

At the other end of the age spectrum, the Coalition said it would fund a five-year, $19.1 billion plan to improve aged care with new home care packages, respite services, training places, retention bonuses and infrastructure upgrades.

Meanwhile, Labor released a five-point plan to commit additional nurses in aged care, fund more carers with mandated additional care, fund a pay rise for workers, better food for residents and more money for the sector overall.

But National Seniors chief advocate Ian Henschke said such policies would not fix the issues in aged care, nor address the challenges rural and regional people faced to stay in their towns.

“I find it fascinating that [aged care] has come up as being a number one issue in the election and yet the people that are involved with making policy don’t seem to be connecting with what the people want,” he said.

Ms Fitzgerald hoped people would be able to grow old wherever they wished.