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SURAT - CHANGE FROM THE GROUND UP SURAT – CHANGE FROM THE GROUND

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					SURAT - CHANGE FROM THE GROUND UP

This is an edited version of a paper delivered by Marlyn McInnerney at
the 2000 Positive Rural Futures Conference in Cooktown.

                                       Contents
       SURAT – CHANGE FROM THE GROUND UP
       LESSONS WE HAVE LEARNED FROM POSITIVE RURAL FUTURES
       CONFERENCES
              Key role of local Councils in rural development
              Community Economic Development
              Rural development models
       SURAT - 1996
              Population – 380
              28 Houses for sale or empty
              Businesses deserting town
       THE SOLUTION - GOOD COMMUNITY ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
       PRACTICES
              Develop your Community – Economic Development will follow.
              Find, Nurture and Support Community Builders or “Animateurs”
              Embrace change – be flexible
              Be opportunity obsessive
              See your community as a product to market – make it the best!
              Recognize and support sport, cultural, service and social groups
              Recognize and audit skills
              Facilitate Skill Raising
              Consult with the Community
       Successful projects
              The Raw Water Project
              The Cobb & Co Store Changing Station
       Other improved or new infrastructure
       CONCLUSION

SURAT – CHANGE FROM THE GROUND UP

by Marlyn McInnerney, Community Economic Development Officer, Warroo Shire
Council

The community we live in is Surat, a small town about 80 kilometres south of
Roma in Southwest Queensland. I work for the Warroo Shire Council as the
Community Economic Development Officer, and live with my husband and three
children on our wheat and cattle property 30 kilometres out of town. In 1996, our
town was dying, and today we are doing so well we are almost having trouble
keeping up with the growth!

What I wish to speak about today are the lessons we have learned from previous
Positive Rural Futures Conferences (in Biloela in 1998 and Goondoowindi), and
how we applied them to our own community and achieved some outstanding
results.

LESSONS WE HAVE LEARNED FROM POSITIVE RURAL
FUTURES CONFERENCES
I will quickly go through the main principles of community economic development
which we learned at previous Rural Futures conferences from internationally
renowned speakers such as Agnes Gannon from Ireland, John Wise from New
Zealand, John Allen from Nebraska, U.S.A. and our own Peter Kenyon from
Western Australia.

I will then show you step-by-step how we applied these lessons to our community
and built up our community – the people, the infrastructure, the festivals and
events, the community spirit. This is the main point of this presentation – that by
developing our community first, the population rose – people moved into Surat
and then, and only then, economic development followed.

I will tell you about our strengthened local businesses, our new businesses in
tourism, and our new agricultural enterprises – which all started after we
improved the town and the population increased. The people did not return for
jobs – there were very few jobs when they came back – but the people were
there when businesses expanded and started. Now we have increased
employment.

So - how did this happen?

There are several factors that contributed greatly to our success – one, the
community decided that it didn’t want to die, and two, the Council got behind the
community and decided to financially underwrite the resurrection of the town
(with help from State and Federal departments!) As a result, our population has
increased by approximately 26% in three years in a region that is generally
experiencing negative or very small growth; we have attracted over 1.6 million
dollars in funding for projects and improved infrastructure; and we have new
businesses coming to town and local businesses growing.

Key role of local Councils in rural development

Several speakers at Biloela in 1998 mentioned the key role that local Councils
play in rural development. Graham Larcombe, Director of National Economics Pty
Ltd, emphasized the “central role for local government”, noting that local or grass
roots initiatives are usually more successful than top-down plans. I believe that it
was John Wise, a development facilitator from New Zealand, who said that local
Councils are so important to the process that if you weren’t working well with
your local Council, you might as well stop whatever you were doing and just
concentrate on getting them on board, because you weren’t going to get very far
without them.

Every community has a different story, but in our situation, it is certainly true
that the Council’s leadership and financial support for community economic
development has been a decisive factor in our success. I will detail that for you in
a moment.

Community Economic Development

But what is community economic development? And how do you achieve it?

In 1998, our Council sent a team of four people from Surat to the Biloela Positive
Rural Futures Conference to find out. The Council and the community had already
undertaken some major projects, but none of us knew whether we were on the
right track or not. What we really wanted to know was the most effective way to
utilize our limited energy, time and resources to achieve the outcomes we want –
the outcomes everybody wants - a community with a good economic, cultural,
recreational base – with good schooling for our children, good medical services –
in short, a place in which we can make a living and have a good quality of life.

We were looking for ideas, tips, examples, models and direction. I think that we
half hoped that someone would say to us - “There, there, you’ve done a good job
so far. You can rest now and we’ll take over.”

This was not to be.

Agnes Gannon from Ireland, who is a consultant to the European Union,
explained community economic development this way :

“Community economic development can be seen as a process whereby the
community is actively involved in mobilising their own resources and in activating
their hidden potential in order to create wealth, employment opportunities and
well-being for the community...”

Each of the other speakers gave a similar message.

They all said that each community must work out its own vision, and then find
the resources, within itself and with other partners, to achieve its own goals.

Rural development models

To put this in context, we gradually worked out, over the Biloela and Goondiwindi
Conferences, that there are, or have been, several schools of thought, or models,
in the rural development field.

   1. Chasing Smokestacks – trying to attract outside industries to your town.
       A popular strategy in the 1970’s and 1980’s, according to John Allen, the
       Director of the Centre for Rural Communities Revitalization and
       Development in Nebraska, U.S.A. This strategy has fallen from favour as
       the outcomes were often “less than desirable”.

   1. Dependency on Government – Mr. Bruce Fleming, General Manager of
       the Office of Rural Communities, outlined the dependency on government
       that grew from the 1950’s to the 1980’s. Other speakers talked about the
       dangers of “top-down” development where government departments
       dictate what will happen and where, without consultation. Noel Pearson
       has emphasized how debilitating this sort of dependency can be.

   1. Develop the Community and Economic Development will follow -
       This is the current model.

The point was that a lot of people have been trying very hard for many decades
now to figure out the best ways to go about rural economic development. All of
the studies that have been done, and a great deal of anecdotal evidence and case
studies, point to the fact that, as Graham Larcombe said, “local communities have
become key players in economic development”, and that where local communities
take the initiative and decide to develop themselves, economic activity follows.
This is not to say that local communities cannot ask for input and investment
from government and from private enterprise, but the initial energy and vision
and the on-going leadership and ownership, must come from the local
community.

Peter Kenyon quoting from McKnight and Kretzmann:

“All the historic evidence indicates that significant community development only
takes place when local community people are committed to investing themselves
and their resources in the effort. That’s why you can’t develop communities from
the top down, or from the outside in.”

The effect that this information had on us was twofold – perhaps the slightest
tinge of regret that some benign deity (read expert or government department)
wasn’t going to come along and tell us exactly what to do, and hopefully, do it all
for us, mixed with excitement that we were on the right track after all!

First, I’ll just fill you in on where we were at in 1996.

SURAT - 1996

Population – 380

In 1996 there were approximately 380 people in Surat. In 1991, there had been
469 people and in 1986, 504 people were counted. The population had been
steadily declining since the wool heydays of the 70’s, and the drought of the early
90’s and collapse of the wool floor precipitated a deepening crisis.

28 Houses for sale or empty

There were at least 28 houses for sale, quite a few of them empty. Houses were
not moving at all, and banks were reluctant to lend people money to buy a house
in Surat because houses had very little if any resale value. A serviced lot cost
$3000 and no one wanted them either.

Businesses deserting town

In one year we lost Primac, Dalgety’s and the National Australia Bank (NAB), all
on the main street. Dalgety’s and the NAB owned the buildings they were in. The
café closed.

Retail outlets struggling

As the population left, the retail shops, such as the grocery stores and
newsagency, began to struggle, and some of them considered closing or
amalgamating. The paint was peeling on the shopfronts, windows were boarded
up. The main street was looking bedraggled and we were on our way to a ghost
town look.

Surat State School

The local School, Pre-School to Grade 10, was down to 75 students from its high
point of 150 students in the 1970’s. There were questions raised about the
viability of the high school (Grades 8, 9 and 10). As many of you would know, in
a small town, when families are deciding whether to stay or move on, the health
of the local school is a crucial consideration.

Possibility of Council amalgamation

Another threat was the rumour of amalgamation with neighbouring shires, which
would remove the major industry in the town at that point, which was the
Council’s road-building program.

In general, the town was declining rapidly. The surrounding properties, especially
the wool-growing places, were at a low ebb. There didn’t seem to be much hope
anywhere. We desperately needed to stabilize and hopefully increase our
population.

So what did the community and the Warroo Shire Council do to turn this situation
around?

THE SOLUTION - GOOD COMMUNITY ECONOMIC
DEVELOPMENT PRACTICES

In essence, we followed the precepts of good community economic development
practices as outlined by speakers at the Positive Rural Futures Conferences -
which were:

   •   Develop your community – economic development will follow
   •   Find, nurture and support Community Builders or “Animateurs”
   •   Embrace change – be flexible
   •   Be opportunity obsessive
   •   See your community as a product to market – make it the best!
   •   Recognize and support sport, cultural, service and social groups
   •   Recognize and audit skills
   •   Facilitate skill raising
   •   Consult with the community

Develop your Community – Economic Development will follow.

It became clear that chasing smokestacks was not an option, and neither was the
hope that the government would come in and fix everything. But this was not to
say that other businesses or industries wouldn’t eventually come to our area, or
that government wouldn’t be willing to help out with funding and resources.

What all of these distinguished Australian and international speakers were saying
is that each community or region must work out its own plan or “vision”, start the
ball rolling, utilize its own people and resources, and then it would find that
government and private help would be forthcoming.

Find, Nurture and Support Community Builders or “Animateurs”

Most of the speakers called this process “capacity building”, where you are
helping your community and individuals in the community to develop the capacity
to handle change, to recognize and grasp opportunities, to manage complex
projects and businesses.
Agnes Gannon said, “Community economic development is about three things –
people, people and people.” and John Wise from New Zealand came up with the
term “Animateurs”, which is, I think, somewhere between animator and amateur.

We really liked John Wise’s examples of “animateurs” and how they fit into the
community economic development process. He suggested that each development
officer or facilitator work with and support several “animateurs”. Animateurs are
key people in your community who may not be high profile but who get things
done. After the Biloela Conference, we went back to Surat looking for animateurs
- people who are enthusiastic, positive, energetic, are good networkers, like to
involve other people in their projects, and can see how their project fits into the
larger picture. We found quite a few, and in a minute, I will tell you about them.

John Wise proposes that most successful community development projects have
in common a “driver”, a person who not only wants something better for the
community but who has the vision, passion and commitment to do something
about it.

I have heard speakers quote “Community leaders are men over 50, community
builders are women under 50.” I think the point that they are trying to make is to
look beyond the obvious community leaders to the people working in the
background, perhaps the people excluded from community work due to
commitments such as childcare, or due to habits of excluding people.

When we returned to Surat, we looked around and found many “drivers” or
“animateurs”, and many of them were mothers with young children. We found
people with great ideas and great energy working very hard in the sport clubs,
the cultural associations, the P&C, the service organizations, and we also found
people who had not yet found a place to make their contribution and we
encouraged them to join in. Encouraging runs the gamut from simply inviting
them along, to:

   •   coaching,
   •   mentoring,
   •   supporting,
   •   finding part-time payment for them,
   •   nominating them for appreciation awards
   •   sharing with them the satisfaction of another fabulous project completed!

Here are three examples from at least a dozen great “animateurs” we discovered
in Surat and District. My criteria for an “animateur” is someone who works hard
for the community, is enthusiastic and innovative, and has some understanding of
how what they do fits into the larger picture.

   •   Angie Walsh

Angie is the Co-ordinator of the Surat Aboriginal Family History Group. When I
met Angie five years ago, she was shy and quiet. Angie is still a little bit shy, but
when you get to know her, you realize that she has brilliant networking skills, and
her organizational abilities are not far behind. When I mentioned to her a few
years ago that there might be some funding available to assist Aboriginal groups
to do family research, she was immediately interested, as she had always wanted
to find out more about her grandfather. From that small beginning, Angie and the
Surat Aboriginal community have developed a wonderful and very well regarded
museum exhibition entitled “Houses and Humpies” which they plan to tour in
2001. Angie was also involved in the Aboriginal Student Support Parents
Association which organized an Aboriginal garden at the school, which is
becoming one of our cultural tourism attractions. Currently, Angie is working on
bringing more health services to Surat for Aboriginal people. And the most
exciting part is that Angie ran for Council in the last Council elections and she is
now Councillor Walsh of the Warroo Shire Council! This is someone who three
years ago was too shy to go to Museum or RADF meetings!

Angie understands that her projects are important in themselves, and that they
add to the community economic development of our town and area by:

   •   Contributing to cultural tourism
   •   Contributing to good relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal
       people
   •   Contributing to the capacity building of other Aboriginal people as they
       participate in these projects and take on more and more responsibility

   •   Jenny Darlington

Jenny Darlington got involved in the community in a big way as part of a group of
about five volunteers who set up the Art Gallery and Museum displays for the
Grand Opening in August 1997. For the three months before opening, Jenny
worked approximately 20 hours a week as a volunteer and 40 hours a week in
the last frantic weeks. Jenny was responsible for producing hundreds of enlarged
photographs for the displays. After the opening, Jenny repeated this feat to
organize the Hospital History Exhibition in February.

Jenny and Angie and all of the other potential “animateurs” are part of the reason
that we like to bring opportunities to town, such as our Internet Access Centre,
because we know that some or all of these community builders will jump at the
chance to try new things.

Jenny, for instance, came to the Internet Access Centre as a volunteer to help run
the children’s game sessions when we first opened in June 99. Shortly after that,
she started coming to check on dog breeding sites, as that is one of her hobbies.
Soon she decided that she would like to have a website for herself, and enlisted
the help of the Access Centre’s techno whiz. He gave her a hand, and next, she
decided to create one on horses and ponies. She taught herself to use HTML
coding and built a website herself. Currently, on Thursday afternoons at the
Access Centre, she is teaching children how to create their own websites, and
next term will branch out to teaching adults. This is somebody with little or no
previous experience on computers, never mind programming.

Jenny, like Angie, understands how her activities fit into the larger scheme of
things, how the Museum is an important symbol for the community, how Internet
technology could provide some real opportunities for people who live in the bush,
and why we all need to learn these skills as soon as possible.

   •   Les White

Not to leave the men out, we have Les White, the Manager of Parks and Gardens
for the Council. Les is responsible for all of the public spaces, including the
riverbanks and the entrances to the town, and thus, it is to Les’ credit that we
have done so well in the Tidy Towns competitions.
Les is one of those people who are crucial to the well-being of small rural
communities – as he is a volunteer Ambulance officer, First Aid Officer, State
Emergency Service – you name it, he does it.

Les is the “driver” or “animateur” behind a relatively new project we have going –
the Riverscape Project. Les’s group, the River Action Group, is working in with the
Surat Business Network, who are simultaneously organizing a Streetscape
Project.

Les understands that an environmentally appropriate walkway along the
riverbank, with interesting signage and artwork, will be a tremendous asset to
Surat and will attract residents and visitors alike.

There are many more “drivers” and “animateurs” in our area. The job of the
Community Economic Development team is to recognize them and assist them
with resources – funding, networking with other groups, sometimes mentoring,
information, and access to help from Council.

Embrace change – be flexible

Almost all of the speakers emphasized the necessity for change, and, rather than
wishing for the good old days, it is better to “master change”. As Agnes Gannon
says. “Change is about the future, it is about flexibility, it is about vision and
creativity, it is about unseen development”. It is about “living in a constant state
of uncertainty” and therefore requires different skills, like the ability to run with
hunches, to use “intuition, innovation and vision”, to look at “inclinations and
probabilities rather than at certainties.”

While your economic development team might be able to run with change and
constant uncertainty (only just, sometimes), as we all know, there are many
different types of people in this world - fortunately, or everything would fall apart
- and there will be detractors. Half will feel threatened, half will be just plain
unbelieving. Therefore, it is crucial that you have positive results.

Be opportunity obsessive

All of the speakers emphasized that you must always be on the alert for new
opportunities, you must, as Peter Kenyon said, be opportunity obsessive.

Part of being opportunity obsessive is putting your hand up for funding for your
projects. Vicki Dickman, who was at the time working for GrowZone, gave us tips
on how to access funding. As I mentioned previously, in the Warroo Shire, we
have accessed over 1.6 million dollars in the last three years towards much
needed projects and infrastructure. When people see projects and infrastructure
happening, it raises confidence, and encourages people to contribute to the next
project.

There are two parts to being opportunity obsessive:

(a) Be READY for opportunities by positioning yourself properly

   •   Assertively seek funding, development, new residents and any other

opportunities
(a) Be READY for opportunities by positioning yourself properly

   •   Have appropriate and useful organizational structures in place
   •   Vicki Dickman’s description of the sub-committee structure of the
       Chinchilla Melon Festival Committee helped us
   •   Have people geared up to take advantage of opportunities (on-going
       process)

Agnes Gannon has said: “ A significant obstacle to productive capacity
development is the lack of preparedness of many communities to change, to be
creative and to take risks. Too often communities are blocked by jealousies and
tensions and lack the vital sense of unity. Their everyday problems mask their
view of the community perspective. It is important that such communities are
enabled to step outside their conditioned prisons of perception to ignite a can-do
attitude to their development.”

It is for the above reasons that popular events in Surat, such as the Battered
Bugle Festival, the Hospital Auxiliary Fete, the annual Christmas Lights
Competition and the Business Network Christmas Dance, are so important – to
bring everyone together in common cause and with common pride in our
community, and to break down barriers between individuals and groups.

   •   Assertively seek funding, development, new residents and any other
       opportunities
   •   Seek tourists & visitors
   •   Seek retired people & new residents
   •   In the past three years, we have submitted approximately 48 applications
       for assistance with about 30 different projects. We have attracted over 1.6
       million dollars in funding for our cultural, sport, I.T., Youth, Housing and
       Economic Development Projects and Infrastructure.

See your community as a product to market – make it the best!

Peter Kenyon urged us to make our community the best – to become a best
practice culture – improve everything from customer service to physical
appearance. Some of this had already been done before we went to the
Conferences, but the Conferences helped us to appreciate how important this
was.

Recognize and support sport, cultural, service and social groups

I was very interested in what Noel Pearson has said about the role of government
workers “creating pathways through the maze”, and I think in my role as
Community Economic Development Officer for my Shire, people from the
community come to me with what they want and that’s what I try to do – I try to
help them through the maze. Then, in turn, I go to the various department
people and ask them to help me through the maze. And I just want to say that
there are some really good people working in those departments, in the
Department of Primary Industry (DPI) and in State Development etc, and for
really developing your community on the ground, two Queensland departments
I would have to say are just excellent are Arts Queensland with their various
cultural project funds, and the Office of Sport and Recreation – the unsung
heroes of community economic development.

We recognize that the sport, cultural, service and social groups not only perform
the functions they were designed for, they are also very important training
grounds for people to develop a variety of skills, such as project management,
financial management and leadership skills. Therefore, we support them with:

   1. Assistance with grant seeking

   •   Festivals Australia for Cobb & Co Battered Bugle Festival in August each
       year
   •   Office of Sport and Recreation for better playing surface for tennis courts
       and for coaching for juniors for various clubs in our Shire
   •   Arts Queensland for Regional Arts Development Fund monies for various
       cultural projects, and for funding for the Museum and Art Gallery for
       projects each year.
   •   Community Gaming Machine Fund for the Pottery Group, for the RSL
       Community Centre, for the Swimming Club etc.

   1. Providing Information and Assistance

   •   Pass on information about resources, ideas, events other people are
       having, which comes from government sources, media and networks
   •   Help to connect groups and assist with networking

   1. Helping to Start Groups

   •   Surat Business Network. After Biloela – Peter Kenyon urged us to
       recognize the importance of local business vitality – that existing
       businesses create between 60 – 80% of new jobs, providing most of the
       investment for new community economic initiatives.
   •   River Reference Advisory Committee – a community consultation
       mechanism
   •   Surat Access Centre Information Management Committee

Recognize and audit skills

We have done this through a process of:

   •   Cultural Mapping – carried out in 1998 and 1999 by Regional Arts
       Development Fund (RADF) Committee
   •   Surveys - sent by our Internet Access Centre in 1999 to ascertain
       computer training needs
   •   Word of Mouth and Observation – keeping an eye out for people with
       skills, sometimes skills they don’t even know they possess, such as social
       skills – as Peter Kenyon, quoting Rosabeth Kanter, said, “Communities
       need social glue – a means for social cohesion, a way to bring people
       together to define the common good, create joint plans, and identify
       strategies that benefit a wide range of organizations and people in the
       community.”

Food is also helpful as a way of bringing people together.

Facilitate Skill Raising

We have done this by:

   •   Workshops
We have held workshops on everything from How to Start an Art Gallery through
painting, art and crafts to How to Improve Your Business (at a Business
Breakfast) and How to Think Outside of the Box. We send volunteers and staff to
Museum Skills workshops and conferences, OzHost sessions and a variety of
other upskilling session. We are currently waiting to hear about an application for
funding to deliver Leadership courses to our community groups and Council on
the ground in Surat and the rest of the Maranoa.

   •   Internet Access Computer Training Centre

The Access Centre is our major attempt to raise skill levels in our Shire. We
received funding from Networking the Nation to set up and run the Centre for two
years. We are also part of the GrowZone On-line project, which means that we
can offer people the Internet at $2.85 per hour rather than $6 or $7 an hour from
the alternative sources.

Consult with the Community

Consult with the community as often as possible to determine your general
overall direction, and to reach a consensus on individual projects as they occur.
Attend as many meetings as possible. Show your face as much as possible and be
available to the public. Examples of our community consultation include:

   •   Future Search Workshop in 1994 and 1999
   •   River Reference Advisory Committee
   •   Sports Advisory Committee
   •   Youth Council
   •   Surat and District Development Association (SDDA)
   •   Community Link articles seeking feedback
   •

Successful projects

Two examples of community projects we initiated in Surat using the precepts of
Community Economic Development were:

The Raw Water Project

In 1993, the Ratepayers Association approached the Council to request the
provision of raw water (water in its natural state, prior to any treatment) for use
on gardens. In 1994, the raw water was available. In effect, the Council, at the
request of the community, gave the individuals in the community the tools to
create a beautiful town. People used to denigrate Surat when they drove through,
a dry dusty, unattractive town. Some people used stronger words when
describing Surat in those days. Now they rave about it – the Courier-Mail recently
called it an “oasis” and we won a Gold Medal in the Tidy Towns competition,
partly due to our beautiful gardens. More than that is the pride that people feel in
their individual and collective efforts in the gorgeous atmosphere they have
created.

The Cobb & Co Store Changing Station

In 1995, a Future Search Workshop was held in Surat, and from that workshop,
citizens formed the Surat and District Development Association (SDDA). One of
the main themes that emerged from the workshop was the desire to capitalize on
Surat’s heritage features, such as the fact that the Surat-Yuleba run in August
1924 was the last Cobb & Co Coach run in Australia. In 1996, the SDDA
approached Council to apply for Rural Living Infrastructure funding to renovate
the building which housed the original Cobb & Co Store and develop it into a
Museum. This was a very big ask for the Council, for it meant that the Council
would have to match funding and would have to commit considerable resources
to the project.

After much discussion and several community meetings, Council decided to go
ahead with this development and applied for the funding. While waiting for the
funding, several businesses pulled out of the main street. Rather than letting the
main street collapse, Council bought up half the southern side of the main street,
and expanded its Museum plans to include an Art Gallery and an Inland Fish
Aquarium.

In the end, the Museum and Art Gallery Complex cost approximately $700,000 to
develop, $250,000 of which was contributed by the Rural Living Infrastructure
Program over two years, sponsored by the Queensland Department of Local
Government and Planning. The Warroo Shire Council’s share was $450,000 over
three financial years, which is a tremendous vote of confidence on the part of the
Council in the future of the town and the Shire. The Complex now costs
approximately $110,000 per annum to run and has two full-time staff.

The Complex, which includes a Museum, an Art Gallery, the Shire Library, a
25,000 litre inland fish aquarium and the Visitor Information Centre,
accomplished several goals for the community and the Council:

   •   It established Surat as a cultural tourism destination
   •   It revitalized the main street
   •   It increased the profile of Surat and the Warroo Shire Council with outside
       agencies
   •   It increased the confidence of the community in that if they set out to do
       something, it could be done, and
   •   It increased the confidence of residents, potential residents and potential
       business people that Surat was a good place to invest.

As Mr. Lennie Waud, Jr, a former resident who returned to Surat to build a million
dollar motel the year after the Museum opened, stated – “If the Council was
going to invest that kind of money into a prestigious tourism attraction like the
Museum, then I thought, this is the place for me to invest my money and build
my motel.”

I believe that the Council investing in the Museum Complex was probably the
most decisive factor in the recovery and success of our town. The message that
was sent to residents, business people and outside agencies was – “We believe in
our community, we know we have a good future here, and we’re prepared to sink
money into the place – this is a good place for you to invest as well”.

Other improved or new infrastructure

Other improvements put in place in Surat included:

   •   Council putting attractive pavers down the main street
   •   Council Foreman improved riverbanks and entrances to town
   •   assisting Playgroup to access funding for a Day Care Centre
   •   assisting RSL to access funds to update and improve Community Centre
   •   Council applied for funding for Playgrounds for the five communities in our
       Shire.

This infrastructure improvement had many purposes. Besides sprucing the place
up, the infrastructure is intended to support people in the community, because,
as John Wise has said, it is the individuals who actually make development
happen.

SURAT – Year 2000

Today the situation in Surat is completely different:

   •   Main Street Alive!

Our main street is alive and bustling with retail and project activity, new cafes,
and healthy businesses!

   •   26% Population Rise

We had 56 more adults registered for the local council elections this year, plus
the school population is now over 100, which is a net increase of 25 children. All
in all, we estimate that our population is now approximately 480, an increase of
100 people in the last three years.

   •   At least 15 new jobs in town and area

There are seven more jobs at Surat Pet Meats than there were in 1996, one extra
teacher at the school, one and a half jobs at Betty’s Roo Works, three to six at
Narridy Paulownia Tree Plantation and five to seven at the Wylara cotton
enterprise. The Morocco cotton enterprise projects that it will employ ten to
fifteen employees on a long term basis in the near future.

   •   Local Businesses Expanding

Surat Pet Meats, Betty’s Roo Works

   •   New Businesses Starting

Lenny Waud’s Cobb & Co Country Motel, Amanda Thompson’s Vogue Coffee
House, Fay Patterson’s Wagon Wheel Café, Glen Nielsen’s Primac/Elders

   •   Rural Businesses Kicking In

Wheat and Cropping; Cotton at Wylara; Tree Plantations at Narridy.

These rural businesses, especially the Cotton and Tree Plantations, are providing
quite a few of the new jobs – but even these industries were influenced by the
lovely town – Greg Hale, the owner of Wylara, a cotton place which employs five
to eight people, said that a big part of the reason that he decided to buy Wylara
and set up his operation there was because he and his wife liked the look of the
town and the community. They were looking for a place to settle and retire once
they get the place up and running and hand it to their son.
   •   40 Houses Sold

Since Surat is such a small town, we are in the fortunate position of being able to
track the real estate market and determine how many houses were sold, who
bought them and why.

I’ll go into detail in a minute, but in general, my estimates are that from 1991 to
1996, there was very little movement in the Surat housing market, other than
people trickling away. Since most people couldn’t sell their houses, they would
continue to own the homes, and then either rent them or just leave them empty.
As a result, housing prices in Surat were incredibly reasonable, with the average
price at $25,000.

From 1997 to 2000, there has been phenomenal movement in real estate in
Surat. There are approximately 156 houses in Surat and 10 units at the Waroona
Retirement Home. I have done a rough count, and so far, I have counted about
40 families who purchased homes in that time. Of those, 24 families came from
out of town, and locals made the remaining purchases.

What I find fascinating about these figures is that of the 24 families who came
from out of town, only three families are what would be considered new people.
All of the rest are either returned residents, who grew up or used to live in Surat,
or relatives of current residents.

The breakdown is as follows:

Returned Residents 8 families

New Residents with relatives in town 5 families

Related or Returned Retirees buying houses 4 families

People working in district decide to buy in town 4 families

Related or Returned Retirees to Waroona 3 families

Local first home buyers 6 families

Local Investors 8 families

Residents Buying Other Homes 3 families

Entirely New People 2 families

Entirely New Retirees 1 family

The Warroo Shire Council is now bringing in houses from Blackwater to meet the
housing demand. Council called for expressions of interest for the 12 houses and
received 20 replies. Again, in such a small community, with housing prices still
relatively low, builders cannot make a profit, so Council has to take the initiative.

I think that these figures illustrate the point that so many speakers at these
Positive Rural Futures Conferences make – which is that many of the resources
you need are already there in your town – in this case, firstly the pull of family
and the lure of the “hometown”, and secondly, that when you build up your
community and work on issues like community pride and confidence, people do
sit up and take notice. They say things like: “This looks like a town that is going
ahead – I would like to live in this town and take part in this excitement”.

The main point about the population increase is that it occurred between the
Grand Opening of the Cobb & Co Changing Station Complex and the first six
months of 1999. Most of the new agricultural and other new businesses did not
start until well into 1999. The population did not return for jobs. The population
increased and then the businesses and employment expanded.

Rumour has it that there are now several parties planning to build motels (one
with a Conference Centre!) in Surat and at least one group seriously looking to
establish a truck stop here. These groups are all local people using local money.
So it is true that each community has the resources within itself to develop itself
– but it is equally true that each community might need a helping hand from its
Council and from government funding bodies to get started.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, I would like to emphasize two things – that, as Graham Larcombe
and John Wise stated at the Biloela Conference, local Councils play a crucial role
in rural development. They may well be the determining factor. Certainly in our
case, the Warroo Shire Council, acting on requests from the community, took on
a leadership and facilitation role for community economic development and
provided the initial funding to get everything going and to increase resident and
business confidence in our community. If Council doesn’t back its own
community, who will? But if, as in our case, Council demonstrates faith in the
community by investing in it, business, government and individual residents feel
more confident about investing as well.

Secondly, the Positive Rural Futures Conferences in Biloela and Goondiwindi were
extremely important for our development team who weren’t sure what steps to
take next. The knowledge we gained reassured us that Surat and the Warroo
Shire were on the right track, and gave us useful criteria to use when deciding
the best way to utilize our time, energy and resources. There are so many great
things that can be done! We constantly ask ourselves:

   •   Will this project contribute to capacity building? Will it help individuals and
       groups to have better skills to deal with change and innovation?
   •   Will this project make our town and Shire a better product, make it a more
       attractive place to live in and do business in and to visit?
   •   Will this project/activity position us to take advantage of opportunities?

The third and most important point that I wanted to make was that our case
study of our small rural town illustrates that if you develop your community first,
economic development follows. After the people in our community developed our
Cobb & Co Museum Complex, our beautiful gardens, upgraded our infrastructure,
developed exciting festivals and events and other projects which all made Surat
an attractive, lively, welcoming town, we experienced an incredible influx of
people (a 26% rise in population) and following hard on the heels of all these
people – a substantial expansion of economic activity.
As many other speakers at these Positive Rural Futures Conferences have said,
Community Economic Development is about putting your community first, and if
you do, economic development will follow.

I will leave you with the motto I have over my desk. It’s by Theodore Roosevelt,
and he said:

DO WHAT YOU CAN,

WITH WHAT YOU HAVE,

WHERE YOU ARE.

In the end, I think that about sums it up. Thank you for the opportunity to speak.

by Marlyn McInnerney, Community Economic Development Officer, Warroo Shire
                                 Council

				
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Description: SURAT - CHANGE FROM THE GROUND UP SURAT – CHANGE FROM THE GROUND