No one questions the fact that Dorrigo and surrounding regions have done it tough over the past year. The community has been battered from many directions. But as the members of this community remind us, they’re made of tough stuff up on the plateau.
Despite already understanding the concepts of resilience and pulling together to weather the storms, key community members gathered last week as part of the OzGREEN Resilient Communities Program. Unsurprisingly, the group comprised of a diverse representation of the Dorrigo community. However, the common thread was an understanding of the threats to the region and the need for true community cohesion in dealing with these threats into the future.
Jeannie Veitch (on right) and Karyn Sherman (photo credit Jay and the Trees Photography) are the Dorrigo facilitators for the program. Both have the credentials and experience in the field, but more importantly, a desire to give back and help in any way possible. We chatted to them following the first Dorrigo session to explore their reasons for becoming involved and the general feeling amongst the volunteers at the outset of this crucial community-driven program.
Jeannie what motivated you to become a facilitator on this pilot program?
I volunteer in a number of community organisations (NCN Dorrigo Plateau coordinator, Macksville Food Hub, Depression and Anxiety Recovery Program [lifestyle-based], SES volunteer) and have a passion for helping the community.
In 2019-2020 I experienced a confronting realisation, as I volunteered to help our Dorrigo Plateau community through the worst bushfire season I had ever seen in this area, I had absolutely no idea what I could do to help those in serious need and dire circumstances. I needed to learn more, give more and be ready to help in anyway I could. I needed to network to have resources available to assist those I came into contact with.
Since then I have taken any opportunity given to me to educate myself, connect with other community-minded people and to help in whichever capacity I could. I live in the best part of the world and I care about the people, they are strong, caring and hardworking. However, everyone needs support, ‘no man is an island’ penned by John Donne, the 17th century poet is as relevant today as it was then. Together we are a force to be reckoned with.
Karyn, do you have the same passion about the Dorrigo community.
Yes. I had pondered for a while on ways to become more involved in community that I could manage with my current commitments. As Jeannie said, the bushfires were a confronting realisation. The property of friends and family were burnt or in danger, and we lived under constant threat and vigilance for a prolonged period of time. I witnessed the strength in the community rallying together at that time and admired their swiftness in response to changing circumstances. While I was thinking ‘what can I do’ others were acting.
I saw the OzGREEN Resilient Communities Program as a good fit for me. It aligns with my values and skillset. Group facilitation is a part of my work and I also have an Advanced Diploma in Group Facilitation. So I realised I had skills and experience to offer.
Jeannie what is your primary concern for your region in the Shire with regards to resilience or sustainability?
Dorrigo is primarily an agricultural dependent area of the shire and our small township relies heavily on tourism to augment the support given by the locals. The farming community suffered greatly in the fires and the local township businesses have struggled to remain open during the pandemic shutdown. Some businesses were unable to weather these difficult 12 months and have sadly had to close.
The devastation of the bushfires last fire season and the impact of COVID – 19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on our economy and the overall mental health of our region. Adults and children alike, see smoke rising from across the hills and the panic begins to rise. We’d had no time to recover from the fear and sorrow at the loss of homes, businesses, crops, domestic animals, native animals, and habitat when we were isolated from the support of our neighbours, family and friends due to COVID.
I’m very concerned about our community’s ability to combat the sorrow and loss it has experienced in the last 12 months.
Karyn, you are now working with a group of Dorrigo locals on the program. Can you give us a sense of the group’s primary concerns?
At our first meeting last week we discussed Climate Resilience both in general and in relation to our local community. This sparked a lot of discussion which was both inspiring and heart warming. The group discussed, amongst other things, the threat of climate change to all living species and a desire for government at all three levels to act to find solutions to this issue. The primary causal factors were also discussed, which the group saw as capitalism, greed and over consumption.
Of course the purpose of this program is to bring these overarching and quite overwhelming concerns back to the local level. The real question is what can we do in our region to address these concerns?
Karyn, the group were asked to calculate their individual ecological footprints on the night. What did this activity reveal?
As expected, the group had lower ecological footprints than urban averages. This is the dilemma for many regional communities. Despite their lower ecological footprints, they are often impacted to a greater degree by the effects of climate change, ie bushfires, drought and floods, as compared to urban dwellers and primary polluters.
Jeannie, what are you hoping to achieve in your region as a result of being involved in this program?
My hope is for the community to come together to support each other as we build a plan and a hope for the future. We are a tough lot, these marvellous Dorrigonians, we care about each other and the world around us. We have an incredible amount of talent, knowledge and ability here on the Plateau and I hope this program can encourage everyone to feel valued and welcomed.
I want anyone interested in building a resilient, caring and supportive community to come along, have your voices heard and be a part of planning our recovery from the disasters that have befallen us and help create a framework to enable us to face the future with greater certainty and knowledge of a cohesive and considerate community.
And Karyn, what are you hoping to achieve?
To be honest I’m not attached to an outcome. I find this approach best serves me and enables me to assist the group to achieve their purpose. My aim is to facilitate the group to reach the outcome they want and am confident it will reflect my own environmental values. I am confident through the process of deep listening to everyone involved a true percolation of ideas can occur. This is a grassroots approach to finding solutions, which I believe is the best way.
For more information about the OzGREEN Resilient Communities Program that will be occurring across the Shire CLICK HERE.