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Students offer $1m solutions for Karoonda East Murray to thrive beyond drought

Anita Ward and Laura Collins, Thursday December 12, 2019 - 14:14 EDT
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Karoonda Area School students are helping to shape their community's future. - ABC

A rural South Australian council is asking a group of school students for input on how to spend $1 million to ensure their region not only survives but thrives, beyond the challenging drought conditions.



At the last Census, the population of the Karoonda East Murray council district in the state's Mallee region was 1,100 and about 130 of those were young people.

Regional areas often fear losing their young people to bigger towns or cities due to a lack of study or employment opportunities, but this council is facing that head-on.

It has decided that the region's young people, who account for more than 10 per cent of the population, should have their voices heard as to how the funds should be spent.

The $1 million, from the second round of the Federal Government's Drought Communities Program, is designed to economically stimulate farming communities and encourage rural residents to stay local.



How would kids spend $1 million?

Karoonda Area School Year 10 student Tom Mickan said students of all ages came up with many ideas for the think-tank, consultation-style session.

"We split into four groups and then they gave us an event to plan, with no limits and with as much money [as we wanted] and we all sort of said what we thought what the money should go to and we all discussed it," he said.

"Then we became council representatives or governors and we picked what we thought was the best idea from each of them.



"An idea was a truck stop to get more people in and fuelling up in Karoonda and then a playground, which would also bring more people in and just be exciting.

"We [also] had a little event ."

He said he saw a bright future for his town and was proud to have provided ideas that could one day come to life.

"[I hope it will] be a place to be proud of, where people come in from all over to see our attractions.

"It would be awesome to look back in 20 or 30 years and think, 'My friend had a part in that', or 'I had a part in that'," he said.

"I'm just hoping it will still be a really family-orientated town where families can thrive, where they can all get jobs."



Students hope council will 'drought proof' community

Year 8 student Max Loller said his family experienced drought in the past and the funding was an avenue to implement change beyond the fences of the family farm.

"I think it was 2005 or 2006 that was pretty tough [for our family], but now we've got feedlots and stuff, whereas before that we didn't," he said.

"So everything has changed a lot and people have tried to drought proof themselves.

"Hopefully the council will take this $1 million and try and drought proof the community."

Year 6 student Jess Kerr was also well aware of the drought and its impact on all members of the family.

"My dad he did go through drought quite a few years ago, so, just doing it again, it's a bit hard," she said.

"So, this money, it will help heaps."



She envisaged her hometown would be a better place to be in 20 years and that farms would be "thriving".

"It would be great for most of the employment to stick in Karoonda so then there's more families, more people and it just grows."

'They are the future': Principal

Karoonda Area School principal Mike Clark said it made sense to invite young people into the conversations to enable them to help shape the town's future.

"The reality is they are the future and their ideas are those that will either drive this community forward, or not.

"In regional communities it's important we keep the youth because if we don't, they [the communities] die — it's as simple as that.

"To have a relevance in a community, young people need to be heard."



Kids learn resilience from farming

Karoonda East Murray Mayor Caroline Phillips said it was a "no-brainer" to bring young local people into the discussion.

She said they were optimistic about their community and its future because they understood it.

"A key word to describe them would be resilient," she said.

"A lot of them are coming from farming families so problem solving is really key there.

"I think these sorts of life skills are coming through with the kids as the drought is challenging but it is a way of life where we are."

Cr Phillips said ideas raised during the discussion would be taken to the wider community for input.

"Coming out of the consultation I think there was at least five key projects that I just went ,'Wow, they are great ideas, we need to implement them'."


- ABC

© ABC 2019

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