The Gwydir Local Government area in the centre of ‘Fossickers Way’ in northern NSW has been struggling with severe drought for several years.
In 2018, the Council received $1m as part of the Drought Communities Programme, with a further $900,000 announced in November 2019 due to the ongoing drought. This opportunity unleashed the region’s creativity, with the benefits being shared by all.
Mayor Cr John Coulton said the program has given the whole Shire a much-needed boost.
“This was exactly the kind of economic stimulus package that we needed,” he said.
“Council had already consulted the community in 2017 to see what projects were needed, or what was desired most, and their suggested priorities. We chose projects for the first funding round that would employ local people, and also have an ongoing benefit to the community. We made an additional contribution from Council funds and tried very much to build things of a lasting nature.”
While construction arrangements were being set up for the 16 approved projects, several individual farmers and farm workers looking for work approached Council about their participation. Cr Coulton said local contractors already had their own teams so this group of farm workers was included as a ‘flying squad’ to work on some of the smaller projects.
“We had a bit of talent there, as farmers are pretty good at most things,” he said.
“They had flexibility to work their own hours as some were feeding stock and had obligations at home; they were a fluid and flexible gang of workers.
“One of the projects they did was a wildlife barrier fence around the Warialda airstrip. With it being so dry, kangaroos were on the airstrip - it was dangerous with planes trying to land in amongst the ‘roos.
“That project worked really well; we’ve now got an asset that will probably last for a hundred years and we were also able to give income to people who were struggling on the land.”
Cr Coulton explained the Drought Communities Programme has provided some of the Shire’s smallest communities with facility improvements they had not previously thought possible.
“Solar panels for an irrigation pump and a bore were installed at the Warialda Rail sportsground meaning the cricket ground can now be watered and general aesthetics improved,” he said.
“While that could be viewed by some as a luxury, Council didn’t think so. We saw it as an essential and beyond the capability of the club itself so we enabled that work to happen. These small village clubs are their social hub.”
He said all 16 completed projects are well received by the community, and he is looking forward to getting the next round of Drought Communities Programme projects underway.
“We’ve got extremely efficient project managers who made sure each of the first round projects came in on or under budget, which is a terrific achievement,” he said.
“We’re fortunate to have received a further $900,000 from the program and we’re again trying to spread it over the whole Shire, in the little communities as well as towns. Council’s made its determination on where the money will go and it’s back with the Government for approval.”