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Wetlands, hometowns and woody weeds

Wetlands, hometowns and woody weeds
You're so vanitas, by Annika Carleton, 2023, in The West Australian Pulse exhibition. Photo: Christophe Canato Photography.
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Anna Rogan
Anna Rogan Tallarook, Victoria
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Wetlands, hometowns and woody weeds. Welcome to our newsy newsletter keeping you up to date with regional headlines that matter, plus other delightful things from life beyond the city.

Regional news round-up

Wetlands protected, development rejected

A proposal to carve out 58 hectares of Moreton Bay wetlands in south-east Qld to build a $1.3 billion residential and commercial complex has been rejected by federal Environment and Water Minister Tanya Plibersek.

First proposed eight years ago, Walker Corporation’s Toondah Harbour project has been opposed by a long-running community campaign backed by scientists and conservationists. The proposed development site, which is protected under the international Ramsar convention, is a critical habitat for the endangered eastern curlew and home to dolphins, dugongs and several species of marine turtle.

The Australian Conservation Foundation said the announcement was a “landmark decision for nature and people”. Full story.

Newsletter partner

The dust has been blown off the Tourist Hotel in Narrabri, restored recently as the Art Deco jewel of NSW’s north-west. Now with a gastro pub menu, new wine list, and boutique accommodation, it’s a food lovers’ destination. Open daily, the hotel is the perfect place to relax, unwind, and celebrate special events. Upgraded rooms combine 1930s glamour with modern luxuries, creating an ideal place to stay while visiting the region. Surrounded by shops, dining and a cinema, the Tourist Hotel is the place to be in Narrabri. Discover more.

Retail mayhem

Retail stores in regional towns are shutting up shop as difficult business conditions and cost of living pressures continue to affect Australia’s retail sector. A few notable cases: the sole farming supply store in Comboyne, NSW, closed recently, while earlier this year Hastings Co-op announced it would close four of its retail stores across Comboyne, Kew and Wauchope. 

Locals say stores such as the Hastings Co-op provide more than just supplies—they are an essential part of the cultural and social life of their communities. "We're going to be missing one of the planks of our lifestyle," said Comboyne avocado farmer Gordon Burch. 

CreditorWatch’s February Business Risk Index found that 95% of the more than 400,000 businesses that opened in Australia in the 2022-2023 financial year failed (full story). Data from ASIC shows insolvencies in the retail sector have more than doubled in the past two years. 

But the National Australia Bank's latest business survey suggests that conditions may be improving. "We do think the period of slower consumer spending will continue a bit longer. Our expectation is it'll improve more in later 2024," senior economist Brody Viney said.  

Meanwhile, the National Retail Association is seeking support for small and medium-sized businesses in next month's federal budget, with CEO Rob Godwin warning "retailers need help, and they need help now". Full story.

Gender-based violence

Hundreds of residents marched through the streets of Ballarat last week in a rally against gender-based violence following the recent deaths of three local women. Full story

Ballarat rally organiser Sissy Austin says residents marched with the hope of “reclaiming the narrative of the town, reclaiming the streets and the bushlands”. Full story.

The rally was held during a week of shocking news of two knife attacks in Sydney. Investigators say women may have been targeted in the Bondi Junction attack. Full story

Meanwhile, in Alice Springs, the Marra'ka Mbarintja Men's Behaviour Change Program is working with perpetrators of domestic and family violence to stop violent behaviour. 

Co-manager of the Family Safety and Social Services division at Tangentyere Council, Marie Corbo who oversees the program, said, “Shaming men into change is not actually going to work … So I think we're also giving them hope and we're giving them practical strategies.

"We're just one part of a whole solution to this … We've got to work with the courts, with the police, with everyone, around supporting women and children's safety and working with men to support them to make the changes that they actually need.” Full story.

New chapter in 3000-year-old story

Groundbreaking research into 3000-year-old pottery shards found on a remote Great Barrier Reef island has challenged the long-held belief that Aboriginal Australians did not make pottery. The archaeological find not only changes our knowledge of indigenous art traditions but connects Aboriginal Australians to a network of ocean-going communities across Papua New Guinea, the Torres Strait and Pacific Islands. The archaeologists involved in the research say it has opened “a new chapter in Australian, Melanesian and Pacific archaeology”. Full story.

Hometown first, tourist town second

A sign saying "Hometown not tourist town" greeted travellers to Denmark, one of WA’s most popular coastal holiday towns, during the Easter long weekend. Denmark’s population can quadruple during busy holiday periods, and tourism generates an estimated $66 million a year in the town. 

Locals behind the Denmark Sustainable Tourism Action Group installed the sign to protest against unsustainable tourism growth. Group member Helen Spencer says tourism affects the diverse habitats surrounding the town and creates significant challenges for residents. “Resources are stretched,” she said. “You can't get parking, you have to queue, food shelves are empty, issues with telecommunications and there are lots of inconveniences." Full story

Murray-Darling summit

A first-of-its-kind meeting brought together more than 100 state officials, farmers, environmentalists and Aboriginal Australians this week to discuss how to return 450 gigalitres of water to the Murray-Darling Basin. The summit aimed to break deadlock on disagreements around key issues including irrigation entitlements, First Nations engagement and buybacks. Full story.

Weeds and maggots

A virulent weed that plagues NSW Hunter Valley farms, called invasive native shrub, could become fuel for Australia’s largest modern biomass generator. Verdant Earth Technologies plans to transform the former Redbank coal-fired power station into a bioenergy hub powered by the woody weed. CEO Richard Poole said bioenergy is "an untapped opportunity in Australia … Anywhere where you're burning anything it should be put into a power station to create electricity." Full story.

Meanwhile, ACT farmer Olympia Yarger is giving new purpose to another overlooked resource: maggots. Yarger’s company, Goterra, has devised a groundbreaking system where black soldier fly larvae are farmed to produce rich fertiliser for crops and protein-rich feed for livestock in a process that improves food security, diverts waste from landfill and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Full story.

Editor’s note: If biotech excites you as much as it does us, keep an eye out for Galah Issue 10, which features a raft of brilliant regional ventures.

This week's newsletter is sponsored by the Tourist Hotel

Tell us about it

How does tourism affect your town? Are tourists an assault on peaceful country life, a vital source of income for local businesses, or something else? How do regional towns benefit from tourism without compromising the unique culture and conveniences of life outside the city? 

We’d love to hear from you. Tell us about it by replying to this email or leaving a comment on this article on Galah digital.

Galah goss

Issue 10, it’s happening

I asked managing editor Helen Anderson for the goss this week and with stunning editorial precision she said, “Issue 10, it’s happening.” Indeed, the business of pulling together the next issue of Galah magazine, which will be published in July, is well underway. Helen has been wrangling 35 stories to completion and Galah’s creative director, Giota Letsios, has begun the art and magic of page design. The theme for Issue 10 is invention in all its forms, and like all previous issues of Galah magazine, it’s full of candid and insightful stories about life beyond the city. If you'd like a copy of Issue 10 when it's published, subscribe to Galah magazine here.

Good use of a kitchen bench

Galah editor-in-chief Annabelle Hickson had a delightfully meandering conversation with All the things podcast host Cherie Hausler touching on emojis, AI, dealing with criticism, sex on kitchen benches and the podcasts they’re listening to, including one of my personal favourites, Where should we begin? You can catch Annabelle’s All the things episode here.

See you on the other side

For the next two Sundays, Michelle Crawford, who long-time Galah readers already know well, will be donning the newsie cap once more. I’ll be switching hats as co-chair of regional food and wine festival Tastes of the Goulburn, which happens next Saturday, 27 April. Come visit us in the central Victorian town of Seymour, and say hi.

Mums love Galah 

It’s true. Mums comprise 70% of our subscribers. So, if you’re looking for something she is sure to love this Mother’s Day, the Galah Shop will deliver. 

For mums who live far away, we’ve bundled the new Galah Book with our latest Issue 09 in beautifully wrapped gift packaging and we can post straight to her. 

For mums who love a deal or are new to Galah, round out her collection of back issues with a 2-for-1 bundle including a selection from Issues 06, 07 and 08. 

Or, to remind your mum just how much you love her, give the gift that keeps on giving with a Galah Gift Subscription. Mum will get a year of Galah magazine - that’s three jam-packed issues - delivered hot off the presses and straight to her mailbox.

What's on

Glen Innes artist Jamie-Lee Garner's ceramic work features offcuts of vintage beach towels. Photo: Jim A. Barker.

Artisans of the New England

Photographer Jim A. Barker spent 18 months travelling thousands of kilometres capturing 75 painters, sculptures, potters and creators living and working in the NSW New England region. Barker’s Artisans of the New England photographic series shows at the New England Regional Art Museum in Armidale until 26 May. Read more.

The West Australian Pulse

WA's talented young artists are celebrated in a yearly showcase taking the pulse of young people and offering a window into their private, social and artistic concerns. This year’s exhibition features 60 works by 2023 Year 12 visual arts graduates from 36 schools across WA that explore mental health and social pressures, gender and culture, environmentalism and technology. Catch The West Australian Pulse at the Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, until 6 October. Read more.

Bundanon Artists in Residence

Applications are open for Bundanon's 2025 Artists in Residence program for visual and performing arts, literature, dance and music, and environmental and scientific research. Artists and researchers are hosted in purpose-built studios and rehearsal spaces on Bundanon’s secluded homestead site. Join an information session on 23 April to learn more. Read more.

In the flock

Valley Lipcer, the creator of Roundabout Theatre’s Understory.

Valley Lipcer, theatre maker, creative producer, director, performer

As artistic director of Roundabout Theatre in northern NSW, Valley Lipcer creates theatre for young audiences and transforms public spaces into new worlds of community, exploration, imagination and play. Lipcer’s latest work, Understory, engages young people in science, nature and magical realism as they find clues, solve riddles, climb through portals, and listen to chattering mycelium, grumbling rocks and whispering trees in Lismore Botanical Gardens.

Of all the hats you wear, which do you enjoy the most?

Theatre maker. Particularly the very beginning of the creative process when there’s time to experiment, play, improvise and dream as big as I want. 

During 25 years of theatre work, what’s your most memorable performance?

In my 20s I travelled the world with a street theatre company called Strange Fruit. I performed on top of four-metre-high sway poles at hundreds of art festivals, mostly in amazing old city squares. I loved those sites and how the show was transformed by the architectural backdrop, the skies and the different audiences.

Any memorable shows you’ve experienced as an audience member?

One work that I still think about very regularly is Afterlife by French and Mottershead. I experienced the work through headphones with a small group on a tiny boat at night, listening to a graphic account of how a body decays in the ocean after death—amazing.

What can grown-ups learn from young people?

Kids remind us how to play and enjoy our imaginations. When my kids were younger their questions to me about the world were so pure and interesting and poetic. They taught me how precious curiosity is and the amazing places it can take us. 

Any final wise words to share?

Stay curious, embrace wonder, play and be gentle and kind to yourself and other beings—human and non-human.

One last thing

Swimming upstream

Two hundred kilometres is a long way to drive for a swim in a pool. So the swim team at the remote Weilmoringle Public School in north-western NSW trains in the muddy brown waters of the Culgoa River instead.

"They swim against the current, so that gives them the strength,” says Weilmoringle principal Robyn Watson.

And if the river isn’t flowing? “We have 35 waterholes between here and Bourke, so they head down to one of the big waterholes and go for it," says Watson.

The Weilmoringle primary school has just five students—four of them make up the swim team (the fifth is still learning to swim) and three of them competed in the state public school swimming championships last week (the fourth had broken his wrist). 

A 20-strong cheer squad from Weilmoringle joined the students as they travelled 650 kilometres to compete in the relay race at Sydney’s Olympic Aquatic Centre, where they proudly finished in sixth place. Read more.

In other heartwarming swimming news, Halls Creek residents in their 70s and 80s recently had their first swimming lessons. 

The Kimberley has the highest drowning rate in regional WA and First Nations people account for a third of drowning deaths. So, after a community elder told the town’s Kimberley Language Resource Centre they wished they could swim, Royal Life Saving West Australia and Lotterywest joined forces to send a swim instructor to make their wish come true.

Residents completed lessons in basic swimming and water safety and can now enjoy the local community pool and participate in water therapy sessions. Read more.

What’s new(s)?

We’d love to hear about the news, events and people that should be making the headlines in the Galah Weekly newsy. Share what’s new(s) in your neck of the woods with us at newsie@galahpress.com