Quest team members Keri Ahmet and Margie Braunstein left their homes for a drive through our magnificent countryside in late June. They were met by a multi-coloured sunset lighting their way to Coonamble for the first of four workshops in rural NSW. Margie shares her experience of connecting with communities across regional New South Wales via the Your Life Matters Out West workshops in Coonamble, Dubbo, Bathurst, and Lithgow.
“With great enthusiasm and delight, Keri and I left our respective homes on 28 June 2022 and met in Lithgow for a drive through magnificent countryside with a multi-coloured sunset lighting up our way to Coonamble for the first of four Your Life Matters Out West workshops in rural NSW.
A local participant, and traditional owner, welcomed us to country with grace and pride and acknowledged the Elders past, present and emerging.
We felt very welcomed by the Coonamble community, where we delivered a wonderful day in the local ‘bowlo’ – Coonamble Bowling Club. Nicky McKeown from Landcare hosted our event and did an excellent job enrolling people.
We met a lovely and engaged group of people from both the town and from rural properties who appreciated the workshop and gave us some beautiful feedback at the end of the day.
Like many rural towns, Coonamble suffered during the pandemic with concerns like isolation and lack of services being key issues along with the challenges of retail businesses closing and the trauma of the past drought and the mouse plague which threatens to return when the weather warms up in Spring.
We left with warm hearts and felt inspired yet again by the resilience and fortitude of ordinary Aussies with extraordinary hearts and spirits.
On to Dubbo next with another group of enthusiastic people at the Dubbo RSL. It was freezing outside but thankfully beautiful and warm inside.
Our workshops in both Coonamble and Dubbo were supported by coordinators Gaby and Lucy from RAMPH (Rural Adversity Mental Health Program) who attended the workshops and connected us with people from other agencies in the region.
Our participants were local farmers, town residents and workers from the mental health sector who reported issues of burnout and overwhelm in the face of unprecedented demand for their services.
We left with a promise to return and great connections made with people keen to attend and / or refer people to our residential programs.
Workshop three was in Bathurst. We never know what we will find as we travel around the country and the next day found us in chilly Bathurst with one of the more challenging venues we have used. Freezing cold and cavernous but with a warm and wonderful group who were happy to stay and wear their coats all day inside!
We met salt of the earth farmer, Murray, who told us of the mental, emotional and financial challenges of life on the land and who was very willing to consider meditation to ease pressure in his life. We also met Amanda who has been to a residential program and was delighted to attend for a refresher of the Quest teachings. We also had a special guest, Tommy the assistance dog, who brightened the day up and brought his ‘first nature’ to us all. What a treat!
It was a cold and challenging venue but an easy warm hearted group. Thank you Bathurst.
Our last day was in Lithgow where we met another group of brilliant people who have been confronted by recent events on top of the ongoing challenges living in the bush presents.
Our venue was the freshly renovated Maldhan Ngurr Nurra Lithgow Transformation Hub and was hosted by another fantastic RAMHP coordintator, Sonia, who brought a fabulous group together for our day together.
As always, Keri did a great job supporting people in breaks and manning the resources table. She was an asset to the workshops in more ways than one! Thank you Keri. Warm and kind as always…
Lithgow was severely affected by the 2020 bushfires and endured the trauma of being under threat for many months. Many people reported that they are still struggling to thrive post fires and COVID.
We heard many moving stories and were heartened to hear from local traditional owner, Aunty Judy, who established an aboriginal arts initiative for children in Lithgow to ease trauma using art and creativity. A coffee table book of local indigineous art is soon to be published as a result of this wonderful initiative.
Keri and and I bid farewell to the bush and to each other as we travelled separately back to our homes in torrential rain, just in time to miss severe flooding for the Hawkesbury / Nepean area.
Thankfully, we both arrived home safe and sound with deep appreciation for the people of rural Australia who demonstrated both vulnerability and a determination to keep going in the face of great challenge.
We felt very blessed and privileged to have brought Quest for Life to the people of the bush and look forward to what the future brings for Quest and our connection with rural and regional Australia.”
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