Community pulls together

Article image - Community pulls together Council staff, army and police organise food drops for COVID-19 positive families.

As Australia makes its way slowly but surely along the Prime Minister’s ‘roadmap out of COVID-19’, many communities tally the costs and reflect on the lessons learned from yet another once-in-a-hundred-years crisis event.

Working within a small rural remote council has its challenges. But it also comes with many benefits.

Every staff member is not just a council worker, but is also an important member of a close-knit community through social, sporting or cultural ties.

This was brought home for the staff based at the Wilcannia office of Central Darling Shire Council, New South Wales, as they worked shoulder to shoulder with community volunteers, medical staff and emergency services as Wilcannia had become the latest COVID-19 Ground Zero.

Within days of being put into a state-wide lockdown on 14 August, the community rallied to support a suddenly growing number of
COVID-19 positive residents. This included the staff of Central Darling Shire.

Administration staff were now grocery warehouse managers and delivery people, getting a crash course on how to properly kit out in full personal protection equipment; directors were triaging vaccination clinics, quickly learning medical terminology, recording systems and reception; and satellite office staff, most working from home and hundreds of kilometres away from the centre of the action, were fielding calls from media and concerned members of the public.

The Far West Local Health District led the response, ensuring testing clinics were up and running, getting COVID-19 positive people and close contacts into secure accommodation for isolation, which included marshalling a convoy of motorhomes placed at Council’s Victory Park Caravan Park.

But behind the scenes, parks and gardens staff, gangers, roadworkers, office staff, directors and the general manager were all on the ground, ensuring these sites were ready to house whatever infrastructure was needed.

Central Darling Shire covers a landmass the size of Tasmania and is around 900km from Sydney. With four towns and three Council offices, most of which are two hours’ drive apart, the challenges are unique. The Shire has a total population of less than 1800 people and is in the Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas’ (SEIFA) top quintile for disadvantage.

Despite a total staff load of 50 people based throughout the Shire and across all areas of Council operations, Central Darling Shire works to build a strong collegiate community within its staff, and the growth in technology platforms has assisted with this.

A sense of community within the organisation set the foundations for staff to support each other, treat new and changing roles as a learning experience and bring that to the wider community.