NIRRA Newsletter July 2011
Welcome to the second NIRRA newsletter for 2011!
RIRDC and CCRC Project ($700, 000)
We are pleased to announce that a consortium of NIRRA members, including researchers from the University of South Australia, University of Canberra, Charles Darwin University, consultants who are NIRRA members, and researchers at the ANU were successful in securing research funds to examine the challenges rural communities face to longer term socioeconomic viability.
The project has initially been supported by the Cotton Communities CRC and the Namoi CMA for 12 months, where the consortium will undertake proof of concept testing on their research model. The project takes up the thesis that to sustain themselves, communities are faced with the need to constantly adapt in the face of change, be that change driven by competitive economic pressures demanding ever greater productivity, globalism, technology development, or climate change.
This project proposes to undertake four things: (i) examine the social aspects of adaptive capacity, (ii) map the structure of the main economic flows in the three study areas, (iii) conduct an analysis of social wellbeing in the communities of interest, (iv) develop and test a decision support tool which communities can use to assess the likely impacts of further changes to the socio-economic basis of their community.
There is strong interest that other research partners will join us to extend the project beyond its first year – we’ll keep you posted on our progress in this regards. All in all, the development of this project demonstrates the practical benefits of participating in NIRRA and utilising the opportunities which arise to network and collaborate, and to develop and apply trans-disciplinary methodologies to benefit people living in rural and regional Australia.
Visioning the Rural Future – Scoping Study and Workshop
In a landmark study, NIRRA is investigating what the future holds for rural and regional Australia. The study explores topics including:
• What makes a town or region sustainable?
• Successes and failures of government policy initiatives (such as drought, NRM, water, decentralisation, health, employment, and more);
• The role of industry in regional development;
• A range of environmental, social, and cultural issues in this space;
• The aspirations of rural and regional communities and individuals for their future.
As part of this project we will be surveying opinion leaders across the field to canvass what people see are the critical issues for country Australia, and what information is needed to inform the development of relevant social policy. Members of NIRRA may be contacted as part of this project
Later this year, the ANU Coombs Policy Forum will also hold a workshop to canvass the issues developed in the paper. Participation in the workshop will be by invitation only. Anyone interested in attending should submit a half-page expression of interest outlining their interests and expertise in the field. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Farming Futures Scholarships
Three promising young scholars have been awarded for their research into sustainable rural and regional communities. In a joint project between the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) and NIRRA, scholarships were awarded to Honours students Alexander Readford, Michelle Knight, and Pele Cannon to undertake research projects on the topics of:
• ‘Social Impact Assessment, Adaptive Capacity and Mine Closure: A case study of Kandos, NSW’ (Alexander Readford - Honours completed in 2011);
• ‘Why choose to change? Unpacking the influence of socio-cultural factors on farmer decision-making’ (Pele Cannon); and
• ‘Threats to food production in Australia: An exploration of food producers’ perspectives’ (Michelle Knight).
The scholars were recognised by Dr Mike Kelly (Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries, and Forestry), and ANU Vice Chancellor Professor Ian Young at a recent event.
(Right: Alexander Readford presents a copy of his Honours thesis to Dr Mike Kelly. L to R: Dr Anthony Hogan, Ms Pele Cannon, Ms Michelle Knight, Dr Mike Kelly, Alexander Readford, Prof. Ian Young.)
Call for NIRRA members to host sponsored seminars
In the past NIRRA has held monthly seminars. This worked well, but it’s now time for a new format in order to broaden the network and the exchange of information beyond the Canberra based community. The new format will provide sponsorship for up to 3 seminars per year convened at universities or other relevant institutions outside of Canberra, on themes that relate to:
• The Murray Darling Basin Plan;
• Initiatives underway in farm forestry and carbon management;
• Management of coal seam mining on agricultural land;
• Action to mitigate the impact of bio-security threats;
• Education in regional and rural Australia;
• Food security;
• Carbon mitigation in the context of a broader debate on energy;
• Integration of the triple bottom line into all aspects of projects.
NIRRA Member Profile – Jen Cleary
Each issue we will be profiling a different NIRRA member. This issue we start with Jen Cleary, from the University of South Australia.
Name: Jen Cleary
Current position: Senior Research Development Manager, Centre for Regional Engagement, University of South Australia
Current research project: My PhD thesis title is: "Cash Commodities and Cultural Icons: The two-world story of Australian bush foods." I am investigating the ways in which desert bush foods span two socio-cultural worlds of niche industry, and as an important part of the everyday lives of Aboriginal peoples in central Australia. I'm trying to understand these different perspectives in order to help work out ways that desert Aboriginal women, who harvest bush foods, can benefit from participation in the industry in ways that are acceptable to them, and which value and respect the vast knowledge they have of the food they harvest.
Why bush foods?: Just prior to starting with the University of SA, I managed a national research project on bush food industry development with the Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre. I learned much more about the abundance of food that grows in the desert, and it was while in this role that I decided my PhD should be in this area.
Most memorable ‘rural’ moment: Having a small python fall out of a tree onto my swag in the middle of the night, while doing field work in the desert. I didn't know it was a small python at the time, and was very grateful for my fully enclosed swag!
Favourite rural spot: Our family shack on Spencer Gulf. We have the water at our front door and the desert at the back. The Flinders Ranges provide a stunning backdrop. It is a beautiful part of South Australia and we escape there most weekends.
What is your own history with rural and regional Australia?: I was born and raised in regional and remote South Australia. As a result, I've developed a deep place-based affinity and I suppose, identity with this part of the world. I have always had a strong interest in regional, rural, and remote Australia and much of the work in other areas of my life is related to better understanding remoteness. I'm pretty passionate about the desert and desert people, and I've always been fascinated with the diversity of desert landscapes. I consider that RRR Australia continues to contribute much to Australia, and that goes beyond our economic contribution. Part of our Australian identity lies strongly in the bush. Australians who travel overseas don't necessarily talk about our capital cities for example, they're much more likely to tell tales about the bush, even if they've never been there. I chair the Regional Development Australia Far North SA Board, which covers an area of around 800,000 sq. km, and which contains much of the mineral wealth in SA. I'm also a member of the Outback Communities Authority Board, which has governance responsibility for the unincorporated areas of South Australia. Both roles provide an opportunity for me to contribute to debates, discussions, advocacy, and policy development in RRR Australia, both locally here in SA and nationally.
What are the three biggest issues facing rural and regional Australia: I think a major challenge lies in understanding exactly what constitutes rural, regional, and remote Australia. We don't have a good understanding of the differences between them, and policy tends to be driven by a homogenisation of all of them as 'regional Australia.' This in turn leads to 'one-size-fits-all' approaches. When policy makers talk about doing away with one-size-fits-all, I am concerned that while they may be differentiating between 'urban' and 'regional' Australia, they are not recognising each of the three R's that actually constitute regional Australia.
Secondly, because we are experiencing constant change, I think it is critical that our RRR communities have the capacity to adapt, whether this is to capitalise on opportunities or to mitigate challenges. There seems to be an abundance of 'leadership development' programs offered in 'rural' Australia for example. However, how targeted are these? What specific skills are potential leaders being asked to develop and can we know which are those that are critical to adaptability? This community adaptability is of particular personal interest, and is something that together with colleagues, including some within NIRRA, we are excited to be working on.
Thirdly, and this is related to the two previous points, I am concerned about the idea that prosperity for regional Australia is perceived as an almost automatic outcome of increased minerals and mining activity. I think sustainable regional development requires two things - diverse economies and diverse populations - these support each other. While there is much wealth generated in the mining sector, we need to make sure that some of that wealth supports other forms of sustainable development also. Having all our eggs in one basket makes those regions where mining is prominent particularly vulnerable, I think. What happens when the mining stops? Will dependent communities have the necessary other economic acitivies that can mitigate the fallout, and the diversity of skills needed to support them? I think regional development policy needs to recognise the importance of diversity and actively work towards supporting and achieving it.
(Image credit: Jen Cleary in remote NT. Photo by Pennie Scott.)
Updating your NIRRA Profile
Remember to keep your NIRRA profile up to date, with new phone numbers etc. Start with your profile, add a photo (this is a new option) and check through the membership profile to ensure that it provides a clear list of your research interests and how you can be contacted.