Shades of Brown “Out West”

Out West for the weekend….. about 4 hours west of where I live in Northern NSW, Australia.

I have just completed some research in the same region about the emergent mental health problems of young rural people… I was looking forward to the drive, as an opportunity to reflect on the full cycle of the research project. I have been bunkered down in my office writing up the research report, so an opportunity to reconnect with the breath of the study region was especially appealing. But, what I saw, made me think more….. about how much mental health prevention, promotion and recovery supports are needed in drought affected rural communities.

It occurred to me that the colour of depression is brown…shades of brown. And the insidious slow slide from green to brown is exactly what happens to the collective mood as well. A heaviness sets in that is hard to shake off… perhaps the ‘black dog’ in the bush is actually a ‘brown cattle dog’…

In good times – things look good, and feel good and then slowly, very slowly the shades of brown start to set in, and the creep of the dry brown continues on the land, and in the mind.

Watching the stock trying to find a blade of grass, wandering in search of something to eat  is a sad creeping feeling…. and that same creep surges into the small towns and villages on the farming fringes. The shades of brown; the moods of brown seep into the main streets, and downturns in the retail and hospitality sector appear obvious… the $2 shops thrive with mountains of plastic crates for sale,and the boutique stores fade away, some to empty shops and dilapidated signs. The bubbling social hubs of clubs and pubs where ‘everyone’ gathers starts to lose some pizzazz…. and the towns start to look sad…. it is hard, very hard.

I couldn’t help but notice in one town that the only thriving sector seemed to be the great big and polished-looking police station, with lots of police… and that made me think too…

I saw a proliferation of smashed windows, boarded up  buildings, wire mesh over windows and doors, more prominent then before…. the broken window phenomenon escalating…. community hope and well-being in downward spiral… I suspect.

Drought has set in, a few rain showers here and there are just not enough….the landscape was looking dry, the only green was found in the prolific thorn bush… not good for anything. We spotted a paddock full of nothing but thistle…. the Plains were sparse; some of the stock thin, and plenty of road-kill kangaroo along the way.

A few reflections that put my research back in to perspective for me… the need to advocate for sufficient mental health care for rural people is crucial….

When the stock needs to be grazed in the ‘long paddock‘ and drovers watch and live with their stock on the roadsides to take advantage of the remnants of vegetation on the road side verges….it is a sign that times are tough. The difficulties seep through all layers of rural society. And when it does, that is when local communities need their local nurses…. to take the time to listen, to pay attention to the burdens of the shades of brown, to care… to monitor mental health of the local people, to intervene in time to make a difference

I am cheering on the rural nurses from Out West… they are important social capital in rural communities…. they have a big job ahead I suspect…

some photos…

cattle onthe roadgatelucerne slashedsheep grazing along roadside

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