Dr John Ashfield
Rural and remote communities are at the centre of the mythology and cultural ethos of Australia. Most of us have indulged nostalgic and sentimental thoughts of the outback and life in the bush – helped along perhaps by a film we’ve seen. But the reality of life for many people in rural and remote Australia is quite another story – and one that needs to be told.
Life in the country is increasingly characterised by social upheaval and change, deepening isolation due to dwindling communities and fewer property holdings, ghettoization due to cheap housing and an influx of often ‘broken’ individuals, and rising mental ill-health, suicide, and alcoholism. Many people are lonely, feel forgotten, and see options for themselves and their children diminishing.
Add to the mix, an ageing population of farmers and pastoralists (whose average age is now 58 years), and the emerging sequelae of more than a decade of drought, recent fires, widespread flooding, and the rush of bank foreclosures (unpublicised because the media has moved its attention to more dramatic themes), and yes, life in the bush is no picnic.
But people in the country are pretty tough, they are trying to retain the life, health and dignity of their communities – and in some instances are succeeding brilliantly – defying disadvantage and discouragement with innovation and ingenuity.
The fifteen themes in Living Outback draw out the reality of life in rural and remote communities, in order to highlight their needs and struggles, but as well their successes and dogged determination to somehow shape a new way forward – a new future for themselves.
Themes selected are core concerns identified by community leaders, health professionals, and by community members themselves. Breaking open these themes will contribute to a whole new discussion that needs to be had about what can be envisaged for country communities, and how present and future challenges can be tackled.
As part of the Learning Works community learning strategy, PBA FM in Adelaide is to be congratulated for undertaking the Living Outback project, and, through the Community Radio Network, giving radio stations and listeners right across Australia the opportunity of sharing in the lives and stories of people living in rural and remote communities. These are people whose lives are often merely imagined, but rarely exposed in such a frank and illuminating way as this series achieves.
A mental health educator and practitioner with over 20 years’ experience working in rural and remote communities, Dr John Ashfield continues to be a high profile and passionate advocate for improved mental health services in these communities. He has been involved in the design and development of a range of State and National preventative mental health and suicide prevention initiatives.
Dr Ashfield is author of the book: Taking Care of Yourself and Your Family: A resource book for good mental health, and a number of other books and publications focusing on psychology, mental health, and men’s health.
Currently a Director of the Australian Institute of Male Health and Studies, Dr Ashfield is also a Director of the human service training organisation You Can Help, and is an Adjunct Senior Lecturer with the University of South Australia. See also New Male Studies