Thank you to the Mayor of Dubbo Councillor Shields, the Honourable Mr Grant, distinguished guests, and to you all for welcoming me and my wife so warmly today. And thank you to the Tubbagah people from the Wiradjuri Nation for welcoming us to their country.
Sixty-four years ago my grandparents, The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh, were right here visiting the War Memorial. So, it’s a great pleasure to be able to visit this area now and be able to report back how much life has changed in the Great Western Plains Region since then.
Today we are here to meet as many of you as possible and to get an insight into some of the challenges and rewards of life in this thriving regional centre.
Coming out here brings back memories of 2003 when I spent some time jackarooing on a small, 16,000 hectare property near Roma in Queensland – from chasing cows through the bush and getting chased by countless bulls, it was a fantastic experience and I certainly perfected the great Aussie salute!
But the best part about visiting country Australia is the people. You are the salt of the earth – honest, hardworking and as tough as they come. And that resilience, sense of humour and commitment to the land are the qualities that make you unique. You are the backbone of this country.
We were told there are about 80,000 farm businesses in Australia, employing around 310,000 people. Australian farmers produce almost 93 percent of Australia’s daily domestic food supply – so you are vital to this country and in a very practical way.
The rich traditions of the Australian outback are legendary. You have a lot to be proud of.
But I know that life has not been easy. You have just lived through two years of drought.
And despite recent welcome rain, it’s going to take a lot more, and a long time, to recover.
It must be hard not to lose hope when you endure so many dry months end on end – knowing that you are powerless to do anything about it.
This morning we visited Mountain View Farm and learned about the reality of trying to feed your sheep and livestock when the hay is coming from interstate.
We have learned about the knock-on effect of drought on the community and families.
Livestock and crop losses, financial hardship, job losses, intergenerational issues, concerns over the future and the lack of time for rest and relaxation can take a huge mental and emotional toll on farmers and their families. People in many farming communities generally don’t seek the support they need for multiple reasons – because they are often more isolated, their social networks are smaller and there is still a stigma surrounding mental health.
We know that suicide rates in rural and remote areas are greater than in urban populations, and this may be especially true among young men in remote regions.
But outside of all that, here’s what I also know; you are one huge community. And with that comes an unparalleled level of internal support and understanding. All you need to do is to ask for it – and your neighbour, your peer, your fellow farmer is literally right around the corner. The chances are they may well be suffering too and will relish the opportunity to either listen or talk themselves. And as I said earlier, you are all the toughest people out there – the most persistent, the ones who can weather the storm – or the drought.
But you need to know that part of being strong and tough is having the courage to ask for help when you need it. You must not silently suffer. You are all in this together.
And if I may speak personally, we are all in this together - because asking for help was one of the best decisions I ever made. You will be continually amazed how your life changes for the better once you put your hand up. It’s not easy and there are no quick fixes, but it’s about being the best version of yourself for you and for those around you.
Initiatives and support services such as the Australian Men's Shed Association, the Royal Flying Doctor Service which we visited this morning, and Headspace are working hard to help those who are struggling.
Your culture of "mateship" and reputation for looking out for each other ensures that when people are ready to ask for help, they will be heard.
Hardship also brings out the best in people and we have been impressed and inspired by the stories of farming communities, and the wider Australian community, rallying to support each other through this time.
And there's a lot to celebrate here in the ‘City of Smiles’. Dubbo, I am told, is now a popular tourist destination renowned for its zoo, festivals, boutique wineries – and the Old Dubbo Gaol!
The quality of life and shared values of the people here in rural and regional Australia are very special.
Meghan and I would like to thank you Dubbo for inviting us here today - and for sharing your stories. And the rain was a gift!