Western Plains blog: Part 1

Feb 19, 2019 | 30 Years

Looking at a map, Dubbo, Nyngan, Collie and Coonamble, our destinations north west for the week, it seemed strange to head south for Goulburn and Yass
to get there, but that’s where we began.

I love a sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains. Of ragged mountain ranges. Of droughts and flooding rains. – Dorothea Mackellar

The landscape changed gradually from rolling hills that are still relatively green, to vast and open spaces, dry and dusty, scattered with cattle, sheep,
corn and cotton.

The first workshop was in Trangie, in the Bogan Shire, which boasts a surrounding population of around 2,000. Wendie and Petrea provided a workshop in
Trangie a decade ago when there was a great deal of grief due to accidents, suicides and serious health issues that ended people’s lives in a matter
of weeks or less. It was great to reconnect with several people who had attended that 2-day workshop.

We arrived at the Trangie Race Course, and along with participants, who all seemed to know each other, set up and dusted down the chairs and tables and
began the day. The women from the Bogan Bush Mobile who arranged for us to visit, rolled out an entire playground in a jiffy from the back of a van
for the children needing minding for the day. These wonderful young women travel to distant properties where several children might gather from neighbouring
farms for a day of interactive play and education.

While Petrea asked if anyone in the group was willing to share a little of why they were attending the day, the only response came from a man,

“I’ve been dragged here by my partner!”

Laughter broke out and we were off! While people were at first reluctant to share their thoughts, feelings or fears, as the day progressed tears and laughter
mingled. Our reluctant attendee stayed to the end and contributed his experience throughout the day.

No easy answers

Farming in this sunburnt country is challenging for even the most stalwart Australians who face drought or floods with fortitude and grit. Hungry animals,
fire, farming accidents, dwindling emotional and financial resources and loss of property are all recipes for depression, post-traumatic stress and

Parents talked about their worry for their children and how they could support them though their depression, despair or rage, or children who left looking
for a better life and who they knew would never come back to live. They talked about not knowing how they would continue to feed their stock with limited
financial resources and the heartbreak they felt, faced with such helplessness.

They talked about how often floods follow droughts and they spoke quietly, but with great compassion for the cattle who’d drowned in northern Queensland
and the heartache of their fellow farmers. There are no easy answers.

Something has to change

Control over our response to life is just one of the 4Cs we teach at Quest.

We can scream about what’s happening, write about it, cry about it and rail about it until, in the end we know that something has to change – and that
something is us. Knowing and acknowledging that perhaps we can’t fix it, change it or make it better, but we can change our response to what is happening
in our life.

The generosity of country people

The generosity of country people, even in times of extreme hardship, is always overwhelming.

Their laughter, their kindness, care and support for each other is both invaluable and incredibly inspiring in a town that is in extreme drought.

I was reminded of a time many years ago when I was again in the Bogan Shire. On a long stretch of road between Charleville and Nyngan someone in a car
behind, whom I had in turn been driving behind or in front of for several hundred kilometres, flashed his lights and indicated. We both pulled over
and got out. “I’m making a cup of tea,” he said, “do you want to join me?” He put the billy on and we sat under the trees, watching the world go by.

It was a great day and everyone left with encouragement, if not inspiration, to implement some self-care, to improve their emotional regulation and to
resolve conflict in more constructive ways.

Having difficult conversations

Many of you will be familiar with the recipe for having difficult conversations based around “I notice…”, “I imagine…”, “I feel…” Writing to their
sons, daughters and partners to talk about difficult issues was high on many people’s agendas.

At the end of the day as the wind kicked up blowing red dust across empty paddocks, we drove out into the bush to witness the sunset and perhaps spy an
animal or two. Bounding along beside us, skinny kangaroos tried to outpace the van. I thought of the well-fed wildlife of the Southern Highlands and
how out west, everything and everyone has been touched by this terrible and relentless drought.

Watch out for another instalment of the Out West trip.


Petrea King is facilitating a series of Your Life Matters workshops for rural communities in Nyngan, Trangie, Collie and Coonamble from 11-16 February, with heartfelt thanks to the sponsors and organisers involved. These workshops offer practical tools and strategies for self-care and skills for living well in challenging circumstances. 

Useful links

Communication toolkit: “I notice…”, “I imagine…”, “I feel…”

Quest for Life provides training workshops to support and inspire communities and organisations dealing with the trauma of natural disasters, cancer, chronic
illnesses, grief, anxiety and depression as well as self-care, building resilience and wellbeing.

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