Our Town is a mental health funding initiative that will ultimately see two SA towns receive 10 years of funding and support. The travelling team is more than halfway through this very picturesque and enlightening journey.
First stop: Mid Murray
The tour started on the River Murray in Mannum. Visitors are drawn here by the relaxing and idyllic river lifestyle, however, this is only part of the story for this region. The problems of being in a council area with such a large geographic footprint were soon apparent. The Mid Murray council area includes 220km of the River Murray and stretches to the eastern slopes of the Mount Lofty Ranges and almost into the Barossa Valley. This causes major challenges for the provision of health services, particularly for those without transport. Other factors including prolonged drought are also impacting on people’s mental health.
“In the township of Sedan a men’s shed has been established after the community of 150 lost four men to suicide in 12 months.”
MID MURRAY WORKSHOP PARTICIPANT
Second stop: Barossa Valley
The second stop was the Barossa Valley, known internationally for its wine and tourism. As the tour moved through the backdrop, the neat rows of green vineyards, the team learnt about just how ingrained alcohol is in this community. This can have a flipside as people who are struggling may think that they need to hide those feelings and may use alcohol as a form of self-medication.
“The Barossa is a wine-based economy – people are paid in alcohol and you can be offered a drink from 11am.”
Third stop: Kimba
Third on the list was the small township of Kimba on Eyre Peninsula, where the beautiful silo art is a reason to turn off the highway. Kimba is a community which tries to encourage tourists – such as the grey nomads – to linger longer as a way to bring new dollars into its community amid continued drought. It’s also a place that has largely missed out on full-time GP services and has only recently secured a doctor for three days a week.
“People may not realise how difficult it is to live in a community without a doctor.”
Kimba Area School Librarian
Fourth stop: Cummins
Next was the town of Cummins further south on Eyre Peninsula. Cummins receives average rainfall and is not in drought. The road is busy with grain trucks and things seem good. However, this town is trying very hard to turn around an undercurrent of mental health issues. However, there were also tales of community strength. There was the story of Michael whose wife had taken her own life in 2016 when their baby was just 13 weeks old. ‘I was overwhelmed with support,’ he said.
“It might not look like it from the outside but there are families in crisis.”
Fifth stop: Kangaroo Island
The team then ventured across the water to Kangaroo Island. It came across very quickly that those living on the island had always felt very isolated from the mainland and had developed a ‘can-do’ attitude. Kangaroo Island is also a visually stunning tourist destination, which means dollars for the community and work for locals. However, the island’s isolation and the fact that there is no public transport and a long-term stigma around mental health issues can lead to further isolation for anyone suffering.
“We’re the little bit dangling off the end (of SA) and we have always looked after ourselves…We have always punched above our weight but we do need help.”
Long-term Kangaroo Island resident
Sixth stop: Pinnaroo
The final destination so far has been the Murray Mallee town of Pinnaroo. The visit came in the middle of harvest in a place where a series of bad years have taken their toll on the mental health of local farmers. A lack of mental health services for teenagers is another major issue. Despite these hardships, people in Pinnaroo look out for each other and come together in droves to make their town better. They have created a tranquil wetland just off the highway, and an active art group provides alternative options for people to connect.
“If I had a wish it would just be to have two normal years where nobody has to worry.”
Pinaroo Stock Agent