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Craft sessions help soothe Qld outback women's harsh drought reality

By Chrissy Arthur, Friday March 14, 2014 - 14:34 EDT
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Some women drive up to 100 kilometres for a chance to stitch or knit as part of the craft group. - ABC

With Queensland's drought now the most widespread on record, mental health in remote areas has become a big focus for authorities.

While services are being gradually expanded to reach remote communities, one outback district says simple measures are making a big difference to helping residents cope with the vagaries of weather and rural downturn.

The sounds of sewing and laughter in an outback hall signals another craft session underway for a group of isolated women in central-west Queensland.

Ann Godber started the gathering.

"We felt we needed to get out and talk to each other, instead of just talking to our husbands all the time," Ms Godber said.

The tiny town of Stonehenge, south-west of Longreach, has only a handful of residents.

But every second Wednesday, some women drive up to 100 kilometres for a chance to stitch or knit as part of a craft group.

Ms Godber says it helps the women to forget problems of the dry and isolation.

"We have it on the same day the Flying Doctor comes, so that people if they are coming to to see the doctor they can also come and do craft," she said.

"At least they can come to town and do their craft and forget about feeding stock or whatever for a while, and then they are right when they go back again."

Jill Mazdon heads up the mental health team at the Central West Hospital and Health Service.

She says people are now turning up and asking for help, who have been directly affected by the natural disaster.

"The drought has been going for a while and it is only very recently that our service - and I can only speak for our service - has been helping people who are struggling because of the drought," she said.

"Their stress levels are such that they are in crisis - they are in a mental health crisis.

"They are busy, they are doing what they need to survive the drought.

"Everybody has a breaking point and everybody has a point where we actually need something outside of ourselves."

She says people on the land are traditionally strong and stoic.

"They cope with a lot on a day-to-day basis, but it is a protracted period, and the ongoing day-to-day, it might be a cumulative thing and they just hit that point," she said.

Back in Stonehenge Hall, Joyce Lewis from Bogewong Station is sewing clothing for premature babies.

The clothes are sent to Townsville on the east coast, more than 900 kilometres away.

She says it is hard for some station women to get away from the drought workload and into town for the craft session, but men are coming to understand the need.

"A woman's mental health is really important and this really goes a long way to providing mental health support," she said.

"It's really good to laugh - that can have a huge impact on your frame of mind.

"The lady can go home in a little bit better mood and help spur the husband on I suppose.

"The community support here is exceptional - I have never come across it anywhere else - nowhere, not like we have got here."

Ms Mazdon admits it is more difficult to get rural men together but she says it should be encouraged.

"Often when people get together that old saying 'a problem shared is a problem halved'," she said.

"One of the things overall - from a mental health perspective - humans are very social creatures.

"The connectedness to others is a thing that helps people to stay well, in good times and in bad."

Leonie Nunn says she is not able to get to every craft meeting, but it has been helpful for local women.

"It is a place I can come to where you are just completely oblivious to everything else that is going on at home, or in your life," she said.

"We don't talk about drought or 'woe is me' - we get on and create, and enjoy one another's company.

"You are not focusing on the negative - it is a really positive experience."


© ABC 2014

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