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Collaborate and create trust

By Lisa Yorkston, Hub Communications Coordinator
6 December 2021

SQNNSW Drought Hub staff at Red Cross event. Local collaboration, actively planning and working together, and being present in the community were among the strong messages heard at the Queensland Red Cross Drought Resilience, Relief and Recovery Forum in Brisbane on 2 December.

The Australian Red Cross is an important Network Partner for the Southern Queensland Northern New South Wales Drought Resilience Adoption and Innovation Hub, and the event involved stakeholders from across the state.

The Hub’s Wellbeing and Employability Research Fellow, Dr Jennifer Luke, was part of the organising committee for the 2 December event, and members of the team attended both in-person and online as a host of speakers provided their gems of knowledge.

Dr Luke was among those in the room who workshopped potential next steps for the group.

“From the feedback, it’s really clear that people are very keen to see a lot more collaboration and coordination going forward amongst organisations, as well as staying focused on listening to communities and providing assistance or partnerships where requested,” Dr Luke said.

“This was excellent to hear, because that is exactly the role of the Hub, to help create those linkages, and build momentum.

“All of the participating organisations highlighted the existing local capacity, local knowledge and local events that can help the Hub drive drought preparedness and innovation, and that’s really exciting.” 

Respond in the right way

In providing an overview of the current understanding of climate change and its potential impacts in Australia, Professor Brendan Mackey (Director of Griffith University’s Climate Action Beacon) highlighted both physical and community impacts, specifically social vulnerability.

“People are now realising, that how we respond to these extreme weather events, should be to consider how to reduce the risks, but you can respond in ways that are maladaptive and increase the risk,” Professor Mackey told the online and offline audience.

Collin Sivalingum, Queensland State Manager, Red Cross Emergency Services says the organisation has stats that show that extreme events can cause increases in domestic violence and divorce, among other negative impacts on residents and the social fabric of communities.

“I often hear the stories … about the impacts (drought) has mentally has on people every day, looking out the window, looking at the stock, looking at the land, talking to their friends,” Mr Sivalingum says.

Queensland Drought Resilience Coordinator David Brown and Program Advisor Dr Robert Mellor reinforced the message of working with community.

Keep the stories going

“We learn from disasters but then we forget them. How do we keep those lessons, stories going?” Dr Mellor asked.

“Even Roger Stone said to me a few weeks ago that drought has to be measured through impacts, and those impacts impact in a number of areas. And that means there are no experts.”

Professor Stone was instrumental in establishing our Hub, and contributed extensively to the Australian Red Cross not IF … but WHEN drought report.

Dr Mellor says what Professor Stone means, is there is no single expert useful alone when it comes to tackling drought and its impacts. The response is instead best as a collaborative effort.

Deliver what will be used

Up in the Torres Strait, drought relief came in the form of desalination plants to provide communities with water, but as Pip Schroor, Regional Resilience Coordinator, Torres Cape Indigenous Council Alliance (TCICA) Inc told the attendees, they weren’t what the community wanted.

Ms Schroor says residents prefer to buy water rather than drink the desalinated water, because of local beliefs about its quality, leaving the treated water to be pumped back out to sea.

Prepare in the good times

While it’s understandable that people don’t want to think about drought once it breaks, Selena Gomersall, Chief Advocacy Officer, Outback Futures says that’s exactly the time to invest in building capacity, wellbeing and economic resilience.

“It’s only in the good times that we have enough reserve … to work together to engage, motivate local community,” she says.

Droughts are not a rapid onset disaster

There are a host of frameworks in place for rapid onset natural disasters, says Mike Lollback, Manager, Member and Advisory Services, Local Government Association Queensland but the drought space is “somewhat different”.

He told attendees there’s a need to look at the “entire aspect of what is a drought”, including the economic losses and social pressures.

“Is it appropriate to prepare the way my granddad did in the 1950s, or in the way my father did?”

As Associate Professor Jacki Schirmer, Health Research Institute, University of Canberra says, the drought cycle isn’t happening in isolation. Rather, it happens at the same time as challenges in your personal life, or even other disasters such as bushfires and pandemics.

“Need people to know it’s okay to struggle, that it’s okay to ask for help,” Professor Schirmer says.

Know your demographics

As Jaimee-Lee Prow, Community Development Officer, Blackall-Tambo Regional Council says, if you want to be heard, you have to know how to reach your people.

“A large portion of our graziers, primary producers, small business and community members are over the age of 65 years, and they are totally oblivious to social media and to applying online,” she says.

This can mean eligible people are missing out on valuable assistance, whether that’s financial, upskilling or community connection.

Work with local people and organisations 

Ms Prow says to think of trusted residents and local community groups as the backbone to deliver programs and events.

It’s important to listen to the locals and give them what they need for projects and events to connect, respond, recover and plan.

“Events and projects led by trusted locals are a valuable way to connect, respond, recover and plan ahead,” Ms Prow says.

“While some are of the belief that the community barbecue or the local arts and cultural workshop are a bandaid solution to relieving the impacts of drought, those from rural communities would actually beg to differ.

“We come from significantly isolated areas. These types of community events, particularly during drought, are a necessity for creating touchpoints, social check-ins, networking opportunities, and they keep our communities connected. And some of the most brilliant ideas for future proofing are sprouted through general chitchat of like-minded people.”

As well as watching Ms Prow at the Red Cross event (link below), you can also check out this video from FRRR about how local organisations and activities have responded to drought.

Planning is critical

Along with the importance of local connections and prioritising spending in local communities and economies, Ms Prow also had another important message: “You don’t need to be strong to survive a bad situation, you just need a plan.”

This message was reinforced by Vern Rudwick, Director Drought Policy & Response, from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. 

“You do need a good understanding of the community and the people. Planning makes all the difference.”

QDAF recently announced its revamped drought assistance. NSW DPI drought resources are also available. 

Watch the presentations/further reading

You can read the Red Cross drought discussion paper not IF … but WHEN report online.

FRRR released its Heartbeat of Rural Australia report in September 2021, exploring how not-for-profits and community groups in remote, rural and regional Australia are faring after two years of constant disruption.

Full recordings from the Red Cross event are available on Vimeo. If you are searching for a particular speaker:

  • Stream 1
    • Collin Sivalingum, Queensland State Manager, Red Cross Emergency Services
    • Prof Andrew Smith, Pro Vice Chancellor (Sciences), Griffith University
    • Brendan Mackey, Director - Griffith Climate Action Beacon, Griffith University
    • David Brown, Queensland Drought Resilience Coordinator, Red Cross
    • Dr Robert Mellor, Program Advisor, Red Cross
    • Travis Bover, Assistant Secretary, Future Drought Fund, Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment
  • Stream 2
    • Elishyia Ray, Queensland Emergency Services
    • Pip Schroor, Regional Resilience Coordinator, Torres Cape Indigenous Council Alliance (TCICA) Inc 
    • Selena Gomersall, Chief Advocacy Officer, Outback Futures
    • Mike Lollback, Manager, Member and Advisory Services, Local Government Association Queensland
    • Jaimee-Lee Prow, Community Development Officer, Blackall-Tambo Regional Council
    • Vern Rudwick, Director Drought Policy & Response, QDAF
  • Stream 3
    • Associate Professor Jacki Schirmer, Health Research Institute, University of Canberra
    • Collin Sivalingum, Queensland State Manager, Red Cross Emergency Services
  • Stream 4
    • Collin Sivalingum, Queensland State Manager, Red Cross Emergency Services
    • Dr Geoff Woolcock, Senior Research Fellow, University of Southern Queensland
    • Belinda Drew, CEO, Community Services Industry Alliance