Cattle bellowing in the background at the Bairnsdale saleyards’ prime sale yesterday made a good backdrop for visiting Minister for Mental Health, Martin Foley, to announce a grant of $395,000 to fund mental health and wellbeing programs for East Gippsland and Wellington communities, known as the Outer Gippsland Area.
Using the catchphrase “We know we can’t make it rain” repeatedly, Minister Foley said the funding was to design, deliver and coordinate services through eight key mental health and community organisations.
“This $395,000 investment in our mental health frontline services is all about doing things differently,” Minister Foley said.
“We will take advice from people, the community health services, the Royal Flying Doctor Service and others about how we get the conversation to the people who need it most and who, sadly, are the people least likely to ask for some help.”
When asked if the Rural Financial Health Counselling Service (RFCS) was one of the eight agencies, it was explained that RFCS was funded federally, and this was state money available from this week for a 12-month period.
The eight partnership organisations are: Gippsland Lakes Community Health, Central Gippsland Health Service, Lifeline Gippsland, Orbost Regional Health, the Royal Flying Doctor Service, Yarram and District Health, Omeo District Health Service and Relationships Australia Victoria.
Bruthen dairy farmer, Peter Jennings, said the main issue was getting the services to the farmer.
“The problem is the farmer hasn’t been coming to the services,” Mr Jennings said.
“The RFCS do a great job and they get out to the farmer, more for financial reasons than mental health reasons.
“We’re going into our third year of drought now. The first year we used up all our fodder reserves, then the next year we had to buy fodder and used up all our cash reserves, and now we’ve got to the point where it hasn’t rained.
“I think the drought’s not over until our haysheds are full again, and to get the haysheds full you’ve got to have a spring, you’ve got to have excess feed…
“It’s become a very chronic dry period, you can only hold your breath for so long, but in the end you can’t hold it forever.”
Gippsland Lakes Community Health chief executive officer, Sue Medson OAM, said the outer Gippsland area covered Heyfield to Yarram and up to Mallacoota.
“Farmers are busy keeping their farms going, we need a different approach to counselling,” Ms Medson said.
“The last thing we need is farmers going out of business.
“There is an emphasis on innovative responses which are currently being developed through consultation with farmers and other key stakeholders.
“The funding is for one year, so part of the plan is to work with communities to try to build capacity to support each other, as well as some direct counselling, education and connectedness activity.”
PICTURED: State Government Minister for Mental Health, Martin Foley, speaks with Bruthen dairy farmer, Peter Jennings, Outer Gippsland drought/fire health and wellbeing coordinator, Andre Zonn, and Gippsland Lakes Community Health chief executive officer, Sue Medson OAM, yesterday about the $395,000 announcement.