Rural life offers challenges and opportunities

28 FEBRUARY 2014

As Australian urban areas rapidly become overcrowded, marketing campaigns use images of relaxed lifestyles and bucolic pastures to sell dreams of country bliss to fatigued urbanites. But is rural living as idyllic as it seems?

As Australian urban areas rapidly become overcrowded, marketing campaigns use images of relaxed lifestyles and bucolic pastures to sell dreams of country bliss to fatigued urbanites.

But is rural living as idyllic as it seems?

A group of Charles Sturt University (CSU) experts, led by Dr Angela Ragusa from CSU's School of Humanities and Social Sciences, have investigated the 'rural realities' of country life in Australia in a book titled Rural Lifestyles, Community Well-being and Social Change: Lessons from Country Australia for Global Citizens.

The book investigates the realities and opportunities offered by moving from urban to regional Australia, particularly in such areas as ageing, disability, service delivery and social isolation.

"Rural Lifestyles presents readers with evidence of the key issues facing rural communities and individuals, and insights into rural amenities, geography, identity, culture, health and governance which impact wellbeing and lifestyle satisfaction," Dr Ragusa said.

"The book offers ideas from various experts in the humanities, social and natural sciences to encourage a holistic approach to developing solutions for a complex social world."

In his preface to Rural Lifestyles, CSU Vice Chancellor Professor Andrew Vann wrote about his own move from urban Britain to rural Queensland, and the challenges and opportunities presented, and he was enthusiastic about the move.

"In regional Australia, I have found people matter, individuals matter and there is a much greater opportunity for a sense of genuine contribution to community and to feel you have made a real difference," Professor Vann said.

"Regional Australia is critical to the health and wealth of the whole nation and we need to ensure that rural and regional communities are involved in setting policy and determining solutions that affect their future."

Rural Lifestyles will interest students, researchers, professionals and policymakers involved with non-profit and government organizations and interested community members.

Some specific topics addressed in the book include:

The authors analysed the causes and consequences of population decline in rural Australia using changes in the NSW Lachlan catchment in the early 1900s to provide lessons for rural areas across the developed world. The economic depression of the 1930s, the Second World War, the march of farm mechanisation, and a drought lasting several years conspired to accelerate change in the 1930s and 1940s in the Lachlan. "The outcome was dislocation and severe hardship for some less mobile pockets of the population, particularly the older members of society, at a time before the introduction of government-provided social security," said Dr Tierney. "There have been continuing anomalies, such as why some towns in the Lachlan continue to prosper while others nearby have disappeared, becoming 'localities' on the map. It makes a fascinating case of rural decline."

The NSW Riverina region has a long history of resettling migrants. For example, the resettlement of Italian and Punjabi Sikh migrants around Griffith is regarded as model of multiculturalism success in Australia. More recently, the city of Wagga Wagga has become home to a significant number of African families, arriving predominantly on humanitarian visas. Each national group experiences settlement differently due to a wide range of factors related to the migrants' origin and the host community. Dr Mungai interviewed four groups of recent migrants - African and Burmese migrants in Wagga Wagga, Afghans in Griffith and Bhutanese in Albury - on their experiences of, and needs for, re-settlement in the Riverina. The findings of this research will help settlement services better understand the gaps to provide more effective services to migrants in regional Australia.

This chapter demonstrates various uses of communication technologies to increase socialisation among seniors in rural and regional Australia. Dr Burmeister outlines two studies carried out in regional NSW and Victoria to investigate how links between seniors can increase social interaction, quality of life and the well-being.  The first initiative was introducing technology at a rural retirement village at Baranduda in North East Victoria, and the second initiative was introducing rural and regional seniors to online social interaction in Wagga Wagga and Uranquinty in southern NSW. Both cases illustrate that technology can improve seniors' well-being and decrease social isolation. Dr Burmeister also sought the motivations of retirement village staff, peer trainers and seniors who were novice Internet users for the projects. Dr Burmeister highlighted the value of peer training, accessibility, and the need for novice senior Internet users to more time to learn to use communication technologies.

Rural Australia shows a high need for health care, including mental health services.  In contrast with metropolitan areas, however, rural and remote Australia has fewer specialists, worse health care access, and faces greater socioeconomic and geographical challenges. Challenges include longer travel, waiting lists for services, and greater exposure to environmental risks. Mental health nurses provide invaluable skills and services that supplement, and often replace, health care gaps in disadvantaged communities. Living and working in rural and remote communities, however, pose challenges and, as a profession, they struggle in workplaces challenged by systemic and demographic changes and inadequacies. This chapter outlines the issues mental health nurses face as healthcare providers to help improve healthcare delivery, occupational satisfaction, and rural communities more broadly, by revealing how the dynamics of power, status and control can affect the well-being of people and places.

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