Our Place – Riverina and Murray

JohnRaffertyRCE2

Dr John Rafferty Project Team Leader

The launch of the Our Place – Riverina and Murray project and showcase of the projects’ achievements so far on Monday, August 18 at the Albury-Wodonga campus was certainly well attended.

More than 55 people were present including community members from Holbrook and Albury, a large contingent from the Albury Wodonga Community College and Albury’s Bhutanese community, Office of Environment and Heritage and Albury City Council staff, and CSU’s Albury Head of Campus Professor Julia Coyle who gave the official welcome.

launchOurplaceRCE

At the launch of Our Place tour of campus Pic John Perri

South-West Regional Manager for the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH), Mr Graeme Enders launched the project which aims to assist communities to protect their local natural environment and to live more sustainably.

He said the Our Place project provided a program, in partnership with Charles Sturt University, to go to local towns and communities, get people together, and discuss what is important to individuals and the community, what are the issues that are being faced, and how OEH and/or the University could be of assistance in shaping a response.

“More importantly, for us as government, if we don’t have that conversation then very often we can miss the very productivity, the innovation, the bright ideas that people have that need to be brought into solving problems which could be to do with energy, water, local vegetation or animals, or just the sustainability of communities and how people work together,” he said. “We are quite hopeful that Our Place will provide a mechanism for some of that conversation and dialogue to occur and along the way that should make our programs more relevant.”

He said the best place to start for building agreement on what are the important aspects of our environment is with the communities that live in that environment and who really are the best long- term custodians of their local environment.

The three communities where Our Place discussions have been held in the Riverina are Deniliquin, Albury and Holbrook. ILWS researchers involved are Dr John Rafferty (project team leader), Dr Helen Masterman-Smith, Dr Shelby Gull Laird and Dr Jillian Dunphy.

“One of the things we have learnt along the way is that the larger structured grants that government has traditionally provided are sometimes a little bit difficult to access for smaller communities,” said Mr Enders. “Our Place provides an opportunity to provide smaller grants that are more targeted and more relevant to what people are actually doing and to get a bit of momentum going and to build some skills.”

Dr Helen Masterman-Smith pic John Perri

Ms Karen Paroissien, Senior Project Officer, NSW Office of Environment and Heritage with Dr Helen Masterman-Smith Pic John Perri

Dr Helen Masterman-Smith then described the processes involved in the community consultations which included conversations and building relationships, forums, surveys and community workshops.

The key lessons learned were:

  • Lots more community knowledge, passion and activity than commonly released
  • Practical barriers limit understanding and engagement with each other
  • Difficult to address barriers without a common sense of purpose and understanding
  • For participants, sustainability is about everything and everyone.

Dr Masterman-Smith said the results of the surveys and the fact that over 100 people indicated that they wanted more dialogue and engagement with the project painted a picture “of communities champing at the bit, wanting to get on and do things.

“And then the question is what is getting in the way?” said Dr Masterman-Smith. “The usual thing that people say is that people need to be educated. But what we’ve found through this project is that it is much more than that. Certainly there are some educational opportunities but the real barriers are beyond those sorts of considerations.”

Group tour of CSU campus at the project launch

Group tour of CSU campus at the project launch Pic John Perri

She said the big barrier was practical support. “People are time poor, and broke,” she said.

Dr Masterman-Smith said a big take home message was that “communities want to drive responses, they want control over issues, they want to have a big say and they want the resources to make things happen.”

To this end, funding has been provided through the project for seven small community-based projects:

  • Simply Greater Future Fair and Holbrook Community Markets
  • Deniliquin Community Gardens Project
  • Deniliquin Community Recycling Project
  • Albury neighbourhood e-group project
  • Restorative Indigenous Garden, Koori Kindermanna Preschool/Woomera Aboriginal Corporation, Albury
  • Backyard Habitat Club project, Albury
  • Climate Impacts and Adaptation Citizen Science project, Albury

The day’s activities included a tour of the Albury-Wodonga campus led by Dr Rafferty.

Background

Learning Communities

CSU has been successful in obtaining over $800,000 worth of funding for an 18 month project that aims to promote higher education in low socio-economic communities using sustainability education as a platform.

The project, Learning Communities,  Rafferty, J., Scott, N., Masterman –Smith, H., Laird, S. (2014-2015) has been funded by the Federal Department of Education through its Higher Education Partnership Program, Component B which aims to promote higher education in low socio-economic communities. The amount of funding available to CSU through this program is based on the number of CSU students from low socio-economic backgrounds. The project is administered through the Institute for Land, Water and Society (ILWS). The Regional Centre of Expertise Murray-Darling (RCE-MD), which is currently hosted by ILWS, is a partner on the project.

At launch of Our Place project Pic John Perri

At launch of Our Place project Pic John Perri

The RCE-MD is a consortium of key regional stakeholders within and across the Murray-Darling communities that supports and promotes sustainable development through the integration of research. It is the fourth such centre to be established in Australia and is acknowledged by the United Nations University. CSU is one of the partners in the consortium which is anchored within ILWS.

ILWS members involved in the project are Dr John Rafferty, Dr Helen Masterman-Smith, Dr Shelby Gull Laird and ILWS business manager Nikki Scott, the project manager. Also involved is Marie Sheehan, who recently finished her PhD. They will lead a small team of people who will work with communities, schools and students, particularly Years 5 and 6 in Primary School, and years 10 and 11 in Middle High School.

“The Australian curriculum points to sustainability as a key priority area to integrate all subjects,” says Dr Rafferty. “So we are using that as our platform to educate and skill students around sustainability but at the same time our main goal is to get the students excited about higher education opportunities. We are living in a changing environment…we are going to need teachers, physiotherapists, scientists, agronomists, engineers and alike who can adapt to work within a new environment.”

Among the resources available to the Learning Communities program is a Mobile Learning Centre (MLC) that facilitates a range of hands-on educational experiences concerning water and energy conservation. The MLC (a large towable van/trailer) is being retrofitted and will include a class set of iPads.  The intention is to expand its scope beyond water and energy. The trailer is managed by the Institute and once the learning Communities project is finished can be used for other projects in the future.

The Program will involve professional development for teachers, liaison with communities, developing on-going partnerships etc.“We have funding to put into the communities which we could use for things like incursions to  universities, visiting professors, setting up an on-going research activity, mentoring program etc,” says Dr Rafferty.

The RCE-MD is aligned with the Institute’s Environmental Justice and Governance for Social Change SRA. “This program certainly complements and enhances existing research program within the Environmental Justice and Governance for Social Change SRA,” says Dr Rafferty.

The project began in July and will run for 18 months and will involve schools and communities in North-East Victoria and the Southern Riverina.

Dr Rafferty sees opportunities for other members of ILWS to be involved in the community engagement aspect of the project.

“If we are working with a school in North-East Victoria and that’s a major area for a bird study for example, what better opportunity for a scientist working on birds to come in and talk about their research. Or if we are working in a community where there is a water study what a great opportunity to get the kids of the school involved and tie it into the curriculum and have a great link with the research. It is a true good news story for opportunities for the Institute.”

The Program will involve professional development for teachers, liaison with communities, developing on-going partnerships etc.“We have funding to put into the communities which we could use for things like incursions to  universities, visiting professors, setting up an on-going research activity, mentoring program etc,” says Dr Rafferty.

The RCE-MD is aligned with the Institute’s Environmental Justice and Governance for Social Change SRA. “This program certainly complements and enhances existing research program within the Environmental Justice and Governance for Social Change SRA,” says Dr Rafferty.

The project began in July and will run for 18 months and will involve schools and communities in North-East Victoria and the Southern Riverina.

Dr Rafferty sees opportunities for other members of ILWS to be involved in the community engagement aspect of the project.

“If we are working with a school in North-East Victoria and that’s a major area for a bird study for example, what better opportunity for a scientist working on birds to come in and talk about their research. Or if we are working in a community where there is a water study what a great opportunity to get the kids of the school involved and tie it into the curriculum and have a great link with the research. It is a true good news story for opportunities for the Institute.”

About ilwscsu
The Institute for Land, Water and Society is one of four Centres of Research Excellence within Charles Sturt University, Australia. Its principal focus is on integrated research which contributes to improved social and environmental sustainability in rural and regional areas.

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