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Byron Shire
December 4, 2022

Locals talk about the R word, and practical solutions

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Leading Australian Resilient Communities program participants. Photo supplied.

The Australian Rural Leadership Foundation recently held an intensive program in Lismore digging into what resilience might actually mean in practice, for the future.

Participants in the Leading Australian Resilient Communities program identified issues and challenges they want to focus on for community led initiatives, including attracting foot traffic to flood affected CBDs; a ‘brains trust’ of locals with expertise, influence and networks to help with flood recovery and future challenges; and identifying community resources and skills to tap into, in the event of future challenges.

Prue Blennerhassett. Photo supplied.

For Alstonville business owner Prudence Blennerhassett, this needs to includes young people and the issue of homelessness. She said she embraced the collaborate leadership approach offered by the LARC program.

‘One of the reasons I really wanted to come here is that I am profoundly aware of the power of diverse thinking and diverse opinions and life experience coming together and starting with a seed of an idea, being able to kind of build on that and see where that goes,’ she said.

‘And it’s one of the things that I enjoyed the most, not having to have a final idea myself but actually be able to be a part of the process of creation.’

Lismore-based communications specialist Rachel Quilty is keen to use leadership skills toward strategic planning for the region.

‘Where I want to connect in with different groups is economic growth of the region, ensuring we have adequate social infrastructure, specifically public rail transport, a return of that.

Rachel Quilty. Photo supplied.

‘I’m really supporting the regional growth insofar as you know, some of the
commentary has been around supply chain and making sure that we’re resilient in that area, supply chain resilience.’

Economic recovery

Owen Trembath, a finance manager in Lismore, says his immediate focus is on economic recovery from the floods – the devasting impact on small business and flow on effects.

‘The CBD has early green shoots of recovery but unless we have consistent foot traffic across extended periods of time, we’re at risk of not being able to offer enough employment and training opportunities for young people, income for struggling businesses trying to recover and commence operations, and even the ones who have been able to reopen relatively quickly may not be able to sustain things in the long term if they’ve got three and four empty shops sitting beside them,’ said Mr Trembath.

‘So, we have to come up with some ideas, not only to replenish our spirits internally but create opportunities and concepts that make it attractive for people that come, live and work there, or to come in and visit and see that good things do spring out of adversity.’

Grafton-based Aboriginal Landcare officer, Michael Kennedy, challenges the over-use of the phrase ‘resilience’ in the wake of disaster-related events. He says people need to reflect on how it applies to them and their circumstances.

Michael Kennedy. Photo supplied.

‘I see so many issues that do affect my community, and especially over the past couple of years with fires, the numerous floods, COVID and seeing how those impacts have affected not just myself but my community in detrimental ways,’ said Mr Kennedy.

‘Loss of housing, loss of jobs, family breakdowns, or the social welfare issues that come with it too. So, it’s taking some time to try and take a breath, to take that reflective step which we haven’t had time to do in the past three years either.

‘Let’s look at the total impact and how we can take steps forward… like a triage of needs, so that we can take those small steps of recovery and during the process work on adaptable ways to building resilience, so we can minimise the impacts through that next event.’

The LARC program is funded by the Australian Government’s Building Resilient Regional Leaders (Pilot) Initiative grant on the back of recent challenges faced by regions such as drought, bushfires, COVID and the floods including the Northern Rivers.

The second intensive program for these leaders is taking place in February 2023.

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