A born and bred local ruminates on growing up in Taree and where the area is going today . . .
A child of the early 60’s I was born at the Manning Base Hospital, the middle child of four born to my parents Joan and Lynn Stanfield, living at Forster. Mum and Dad built our home at One Mile Beach in the late 50’s, it was one of the first in the area and still sits proudly overlooking One Mile today amongst all the modern, architectural designer properties.
As a kid in Forster my life was idyllic, spending my days surfing, water skiing, fishing and exploring the coast and the sandy tracks that would later become bitumen roads.
By the 70’s, my parents, secondary school teachers, transferred to Wingham and Chatham High Schools. Vowing they would never teach at the school their children attended, my siblings and I continued our education through Taree West Primary and Taree High School.
Most of our extra curricular activities, even whilst living at Forster, took place in Taree. We were all heavily involved in ballet, singing lessons and sailing, so Taree was far from a foreign culture shock for us as a family. I will never forget the day my parents drove us for what seemed miles, out of the Taree township through bushland with very few houses, to our new home. It was a burnt out, completely denuded 40 acres with no house. Dad had decided to build our house here and we lived an ‘alternative’, self-sufficient life on the property while he did so. Our home for many years was a caravan, no power or running water. But just as the bush regenerated itself, these days it’s a private sanctuary for native flora and fauna, so did we.
As a family we leant how precious turning on a tap and having running water was. We carried water from the nearest mains water pipe, some distance from our house site. We rigged yokes across our little shoulders with a bucket on either end and made return trips filling our buckets, the more water we spilt the more journeys we had to make. We learnt to economise on power by quickly learning our car battery, which provided electricity for lighting in our caravan at night would quickly go flat. Major dramas ensued trying to start the car the next morning to get to school. We also learnt tolerance and respect for each other, living in such close quarters together.
We were all very busy kids, when we weren’t attending school or the myriad extra-curricular activities, we helped Mum and Dad build the house. Carrying bricks, mixing cement, tying reinforcement rods to make mesh filled any spare time.
Even back in those youthful days, I knew the importance of our community. I participated in many community groups. I had straddled the proverbial ‘sea change to tree change’ and thrived.
I travelled extensively around Australia on family holidays and as a young adventurous adult around the world. Whenever I came home I always felt that unique sense of belonging. I cherished the beauty and freedoms of our region. I was after all, a child with a foot in each camp. One foot in the Great Lakes and one foot in the Manning Valley.
As a business person in both Taree and Forster, a Licensed Travel Agent, Senior International Travel Consultant, Qantas Corporate Travel Manager and Taree Airport ground and check-in staff, I witnessed the demise of our once great dairy and manufacturing industries and the ensuing loss of employment and skills impact on our areas economy. I watched as tourism moved beyond the usual Newcastle miners holidaying at Forster-Tuncurry for the great fishing, which I observed as a kid, to now. The Great Lakes area is bulging at the seams with international travellers with the Manning Valley welcoming tourists from far and wide to marvel at our beaches and environmental treasures to be explored. From the mountains to the sea, our region had reached maturity as had I, but we had lost our economic balance.
I have represented this place I call home with passion, wherever and whenever I travel. I see myself as an ambassador of our region, as we all are. I stand up for our community. Over recent years I was deeply involved in the protection of our land, air and water, fighting against AGLs CSG proposal in the Gloucester Valley. These days I am standing up for our democracy and keeping our Council LOCAL, pushing for transparent community consultation and engagement. The latest battle front is MidCoast Council’s plan to centralise to ‘the big tin shed’ aka the ex Masters warehouse. This proposed move for some 340 administration staff, highlights the lack of reasonable community consultation and the Councils underhand and secretive ways of handling this matter. If this issue concerns you, join the Facebook page NO MidCoast Council MOVE TO MASTERS and engage with your community.
I see the future for our community as leading and directing our Council, to restore balance; focusing on our attributes; strengthening our custodianship of our magnificent and diverse environments and sharing it with the world. Building economic stability by encouraging modern manufacturing industries and diverse Agri businesses, promoting our region as a clean, green area of production. All these opportunities will provide employment and encourage new technology and business ideas to set up shop in our growing region. Improving community connectivity through education, sport and leisure activities builds community wealth, ensuring our community’s health and wellbeing is provided for now and into the future. I do not see value to our community by our current Council building an ‘ivory tower’ for themselves at the expense of failing to prioritising more important benefits to our community.
I have seen political ‘argy bargy’ from all levels of Government, down playing and even ignoring our region for too long. The Manning Base Hospital and Allied Health services in our region are grossly underfunded and staffed. Recently I had the unfortunate experience of the extraordinary difficulties of getting timely and at times urgent doctor appointments and tests for my now ageing parents. Just last week my dear Dad (in his 80’s and a pensioner) needed an urgent Iron Infusion at MRD. Initially, I couldn’t get an appointment till after the end of January, thankfully because of the seriousness and my assertiveness, I was able to secure an earlier appointment. Further, my Dad needs surgical exploration to investigate the life threatening medical issue, again I was informed the earliest consultation appointment with the specialist surgeon would be the end of the month. Again I had to fight for my Dad’s wellbeing. I am told this scenario is not unique to my Dad and is in fact common place. The health of our loved ones is emotional enough without having to worry about lengthy delays of exploratory and treatment intervention. Coupled with the Health funding crisis we also have the issue of deplorable and dangerous roads and bridges resulting in our region having more than our fair share of vehicle crashes, leading to devastation of family and loved ones’ lives.
These are prime examples of the chronic underfunding to our region. We have been left behind without adequate funding. We have been forcibly amalgamated into a Mega Council of 10,000km2. We are an ageing population, our now vast community must strive to demand better and encourage young families and businesses to make a ‘Sea or Tree change’ to become valued members of our area. That won’t happen unless we have adequately staffed and funded health services and safe roads to travel. Our magnificent diverse environment will capture their hearts as visitors but we need them to feel like they could stay and make a life here. We must all find our voices to speak out, both positively and constuctively. We must all demand our elected officials, at all levels of Government to uphold their primary purpose, which is to represent and fight for adequate funding for us all.
There’s a saying, “the standard you walk past, is the standard you accept”. Let’s all do our bit to make our towns and villages vibrant, productive, healthy and welcoming places.
Katrina Stanfield (Pearson)