Country towns building a future

Seven Victorian towns have taken their futures into their own hands. The towns are Dunolly, Maldon, Wedderburn, Newstead, Talbot, Bridgewater/Inglewood and Carisbrook. Through the Federal Government's Regional Assistance Program, the town communities formed a regional management team.

The team comprises two representatives from each town taskforce, two from La Trobe University, two from the Community Employment Council and one each from the three Shires involved, Central Goldfields, Mount Alexander and Loddon.

"The regional management team has worked in conjunction with the Councils whenever possible," said Allister Gray from the Community Employment Council. "The philosophy is to enhance what is already being done."

For example, Newstead is supporting a federation project. This is a live production staged in the courthouses of the towns covering historical court cases in the area. The aim of this project is to encourage arts in the local area.

At Wedderburn, a shearing school has been established. The team undertook research and found that there is a shortage of 1,000 shearers in Victoria. The school runs three courses a year in shearing, wool classing and rouseabout. The team is looking at duplicating the shearing school in Central Goldfields and Mount Alexander Shires.

Maldon is holding a wine and jazz festival in November. There is also the long term whistles to paddles project, which involves building a train line from Maldon to Echuca as a tourist venture, a very big and expensive project.

In Dunolly, there will be a special night to discuss a bigger picture for the town. There has already been a town breakfast, a tree planting and cleaning of gardens.

"The benefits of the regional management team include breaking down barriers between towns and shires, and providing a flow of information for research projects and enable towns to learn from each other," Allister Gray said.

"The towns have discovered that there is power in joining together. Lobbying in numbers is more compelling.

"Politicians of all parties have taken an interest.

"When it was originally being planned, a grant came in to help the five towns. This was supposed to be used for a number of small projects. The regional management team looked at the grant but decided not to take it as the group was looking at the longer term and sustainability.

"The Minister, Tony Abbott, allowed the regional management team to do it their way. So the team hired consultants and started applying widely for grants.

"The group has now applied for $1.8 million of grants. It has definitely achieved far more than originally thought. It is a tremendous experiment with benefits into the future."

For further information contact Allister Gray, telephone (03) 5468 1405.