Drought relief advocate seeks to help Mid North

Drought relief advocate seeks to help Mid North


Life & Style
RURAL ASSISTANCE: Burra community engagement officer Barb Button says it is vital to look at existing resources when setting up support schemes in regional towns.

RURAL ASSISTANCE: Burra community engagement officer Barb Button says it is vital to look at existing resources when setting up support schemes in regional towns.

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Adelaide-raised Barb Button never dreamed she would settle in the Mid North, but in the five years since making the move to Watervale, she has become a key figure in providing drought support for people in her region.

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Adelaide-raised Barb Button never dreamed she would settle in the Mid North, but in the five years since making the move to Watervale, she has become a key figure in providing drought support for people in her region.

Moving for love and a tree change, Barb took on the role of information officer with the Regional Council of Goyder, based at Burra, moving into the role of community engagement officer two years later, and hasn't looked back.

"Community wellbeing is so important to me," she said.

As part of the role, Barb has been involved in a variety of projects including grant funding, regional health planning, and working with volunteer groups across the Goyder region.

But she has become much more involved with farming communities since the end of last year, in the face of providing support in the ongoing drought.

"Unless people are up here and have travelled through the area, I don't think people get a real picture (of how bad the drought is)," she said.

The biggest resource we have is the people out in these regions. - BARB BUTTON

"Even if there is a good year, it's still going to take time for people to recover, and sometimes the recovery can be as hard as dealing with the drought itself."

Created by PIRSA, the Eastern Drought Group - of which Barb is a member - aims to bring people together to discuss the issues and effects of dry times and support a community-led recovery group, and Barb said effective drought support relied on developing relationships and using existing community assets.

"The Eastern Drought Group has been an amazing way of finding out what's happening, and not making assumptions about what we think the farming community and broader community is wanting," she said.

"It's no use coming in and doing an event that isn't backed by the community, so it's about having those conversations at a local level, and being in contact.

"The biggest resource we have is the people out in these regions."

Barb was a driving force behind the 'Day in the Dust' drought relief concert held in Robertstown earlier this year, which she cites as a highlight of her career so far.

The event attracted more than 500 people from across the Goyder region.

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"It was amazing just having a moment to sit back and see everyone enjoying themselves, socialising, dancing, and having a break from the worries of everyday stresses," she said.

With planning and working together being such an integral part of Barb's job, she said kindness and a genuine nature remained key, particularly in difficult times.

"You need to share an element of yourself, no matter what role you do," she said.

"How you are towards other people is what I see as most important."

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About two decades ago and with a Disability Studies degree under her belt, Barb Button jumped at the opportunity to be part of a SA rural outreach program supporting the inclusion of children with disabilities living in rural areas.

She said this is where she first became passionate about providing community support.

"We got to go everywhere. That's when I started to realise just how much people come together to support each other in regional communities," she said.

Moving to Watervale, I could drive and people would wave to me, and I had no idea who they even were. - BARB BUTTON

"When you see families going through a disability diagnosis with their children, the community really rallies around them to support that family, and that makes such a difference."

Since settling in Watervale five years ago, Barb said the country hospitality was one of the most enjoyable parts of regional life.

"Moving to Watervale, I could drive and people would wave to me, and I had no idea who they even were," she said.

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She said the stories told by locals were always fascinating to hear.

"People in regional areas tell really good stories about the history of their towns, and stories about what they love about their towns, and that's how we retain the history of those areas," she said.

The number one lesson though was simple: take an interest in the weather.

"I learnt very quickly that I needed to get a rain gauge, because talking about how many millimetres (of rain) you got is how you start conversations," she said.

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