At last we have a reprieve from the heat of recent days and celebrate temperatures in mid to high 30C compared to the 40C three days running. Night temperatures dropped slightly yet not enough that anyone got a restful night’s sleep. Mostly we head into work feeling as washed out as we did when we left the day before, so today is a good day as I head north and west through beautiful countryside to start the day with my first appointment at 9am.
My lunch bag and work satchel hang from my shoulder, water bottle and breakfast smoothie in hand. It is 7.45am and I leave home heading west for the day. One day a week I work in the local government (LGA) area of Cessnock, the heart of Wine Country in the Hunter Valley. I’m celebrating the escape from the office and administrative work that seems to suck up more time than I spend with clients. However, today I spend a whole day providing counselling and advocacy for parents who are substance dependent in country New South Wales, The Hunter Valley, a region renown for its wine production.
It seems fair that the industry ought to fund services that support recovery from alcohol dependence – but it doesn’t. Instead the work is funded under the Australian National Drug Strategy which has three pillars: supply reduction; demand reduction and harm minimisation. My counselling work is funded under the third pillar – harm minimisation – which means we can be totally focussed on parents’ goals around the substance use rather than coercively dragging them towards abstinence.
The bottom line – if they want to reduce their use of whatever their substance is then that becomes our collaborative goal, should they want abstinence then we focus on helping them achieve that. Sometimes harm minimisation is as basic as identifying ways to reduce harm to other family members; strategies to protect others from domestic violence, reducing the risk of bloodborne viruses from sharing or using ‘dirty’ needles, or simply providing education about their drug of choice. Harm minimisation in all its manifestations is funded by the state health department to whom we are accountable.
Down to the end of Palmer’s Road, turn right at the roundabout and head towards The Gap. The caravan park at that junction has been home to many parents whom I have visited. Parents who found themselves unable to afford private rental and were not eligible for social housing. It may have seemed like the end of the road but they too eventually move on to better and less remote housing options. Like many rural villages and towns public transport is minimal and community support services non existent.
Blue skies hover above low cloud and after last night’s rain it is humid. The air conditioning in the vehicle is tonked to 5 to help stop me arriving at my first visit hot, sticky and bothered. The wind tousles my hair and as the kilometres slip by it is all I can do to stop myself singing – to an audience of one.
It is a good day. It feels like I got the ‘get out of jail free’ card. Just one day a week my focus is for clients, their children, or the smiley-faced barista at Maccas. She doesn’t have to ask for my order because she knows how strong the coffee needs to be, that I always have a mug and the ice-cube plopped into the long black so I can drink it on the run.
Before smartphones came with cameras that take better pictures than my DSLR, I confess I hardly noticed my surroundings. But the convenience of these nifty devices means there is no excuse to be unaware of the photo opportunities that are mine every day.
The forty minutes it takes to drive to Cessnock, is both scenic and historically interesting. as the road meanders through small towns that flourished once with agricultural pursuits, private industries and farming. The first town I come to is Kearsley, that in by gone days may well have been a thriving community with the Kearsley Hotel, established in 1922, as its social hub. Nearly a century later the pub still offers accommodation, food and beverages, and now has a bottle store on site. However, I haven’t seen many small town hotels that can boast an on site barber shop. I like the idea of a stop at the barber for a quick tidy up before heading into the day; is it unisex I wonder.
The building next door is reminiscent of Kearsley’s early settlement activity in 1850 when much of the outlying land was used for agriculture, dairy farming, grazing, saw-milling, coal mining and timber-getting. As has happened to so many rural towns in country NSW, multinational companies with coal-mining interests have all but quashed farming activities of places like Kearsley. As employment opportunities dwindled so too did the population until today when there are just 750 people who call Kearsley home.
The town does have a primary school which is thriving. Between 8 am and 9.30am, and 2.30 and 4pm each day school zones operate around the state and motorists are expected slow down to 40kms while children travel to and from school. The day I pass through the town is quiet and I crawl past the primary school at the required speed.
Further down the road the fire station advertises the need for more fighters. The NSW Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS) is now the world’s largest volunteer firefighting organisation. The geographic area of NSW is 800,630 square kilometres, which is approximately 10.4 percent of the Australian land mass. In Kearsley’s early days coordinated firefighting would have been almost nonexistent, and many landowners would have been forced to defend their own properties.
Through the school zone and I approach the road to Cessnock, the centre of my outreach work for the day. Kearsley grows smaller in the rear vision mirror and once more green pastures seem to guide the road onwards.
To be continued/ …