Wednesday, 2 December 2020
RuffTrack Farm, Yates, Ms Robyn, OAM, Macquarie Electorate
It is not every day that a group of teenagers does you the honour of naming a young kid only a couple of days old after you, but that's what the boys at RuffTrack Farm did for me when showing me around their property with their goats, sheep, horse, ducks and assorted other animals and, of course, dogs. Dogs are possibly the key ingredient of the youth charity that takes the most vulnerable young people from the Hawkesbury between the ages of 13 and 17 and gives them the tools, skills and confidence to set their own direction.
You have probably seen video of dogs jumping high up the K9 Super Wall into the arms of their young owners. That's the result of a deep bond that's developed between dog and teenager. There are 24 dogs, and the bond starts with the cleaning out of the dog poo every morning from the enclosures and learning how to care for and groom the dogs, and then training them in dog sports and sheep herding. They raise the money to cover the food, the upkeep and the vet bills by visiting schools and agricultural shows with their animal program and performing dog show, which due to COVID have, of course, all been cancelled. The adults who work with them, like Dave Graham and Georgia Cherrie, are volunteers. They're connected with the Hawkesbury PCYC, the Hawkesbury Jets basketball club and Hawkesbury's Helping Hands—all playing a part in shaping a different future for these kids, who have had, without exception, a really tough start. They may have been in constant contact with police. It may be drug issues, family violence or school suspensions. RuffTRACK takes up to five people from each of the Hawkesbury high schools.
On my visit, the boys invited me to hear their morning discussion about how their weekend had gone. I was really privileged to be asked to sit in the circle. The teenagers were articulate, able to discuss their feelings and identify the things that were making them feel good or not so good. Jesse, Jonno and Bryson showed me round the farm, talking about how being one of the RuffTRACK boys had changed their lives. They had Penny the horse come running over towards us. They were gentle with the tiny kids and explained in awe to me how fast the ducklings were growing. I get that these won't be perfect kids. Who has perfect kids? They'll make mistakes. They'll make bad choices. But these are really impressive young men, and I can't help but think that Dave and the environment he has created and the bonds that they create will give them the best shot at a better life.
I asked them if they were happy for me to speak about RuffTRACK in parliament, and you bet they were. So I'm going to finish with a sample of their words of wisdom. Fifteen-year-old Blain says: 'RuffTRACK has helped me out with a lot of life situations like how to get out of toxic relationships.' Jon says he's learnt to open up about stuff that he wouldn't have been able to otherwise. Rory and Bryson add: 'Dave and the support adults have been there for me.' For Whyatt, Ashton, Kie and Ajay, it's the brotherhood bonds with the lads and the connections with people. And the last word goes to 14-year-old Joseph: 'My favourite thing about RuffTRACK is everyone here and my dog.'
The founder of Cancer Wellness Support, Robyn Yates, lost her own battle with motor neurone disease on 27 November. I first met Robyn about a decade ago, when her vision to support people experiencing cancer was already well underway. In 2005 she leased a space in Katoomba and opened the first op shop to fund her work. Now there's a second op shop, in Penrith, and the community based model provides more than 5,000 subsidised therapies a year. This includes counselling, lymphoedema management, massage, yoga and art therapy. That's the vision—providing affordable subsidised therapies to people living with cancer, their carers and families, throughout the Blue Mountains and Penrith Valley regions.
To mark the organisation's 15th birthday, the Leura centre was named the Robyn Yates Centre earlier this year, and I've been pleased to assist with improvements to that centre. In spite of her own ill health, Robyn stayed active and involved in the organisation and in other community groups. I thank the chair of Cancer Wellness Support, Bob Reid, for highlighting Robyn's own words on being awarded an OAM. She said:
The thing that really floats my boat is when I see a person transformed from someone who is anxious and vulnerable when they come in the door. And then, when they start accessing our services or going to groups, they regain control and confidence and can actually see a future for themselves. Blue Mountains Cancer Help tries to offer a sense of hope. It's empowering to discover there are many things you can do to improve your healing capacity.
Vale Robyn Yates OAM.
It is becoming clearer that the Morrison government's promise of $200 million to duplicate Richmond Bridge is not going to cut it. The RMS has refused to brief me on the latest options it has prepared, and the Deputy Prime Minister doesn't seem to care that the federal representative in the electorate where millions are going to be spent in years to come is completely excluded from the process. The issue wasn't even on the national agenda until I began highlighting the traffic problems back in 2010. It was the then infrastructure minister, now Leader of the Opposition, Anthony Albanese, who provided the first funding to look at the options for the poor drivers who are just stuck in traffic trying to get across the river. A decade on, barely a cent extra has been spent from the original $20 million we committed. The latest information stakeholders have shows that the only bridge you can get for the current $200 million is one that has minimal improvement in flood resilience. That is not what people want.
It's time the federal government recognised that a budget bridge isn't what this community wants or, more importantly, needs. We need a proper crossing, one that require more funding, so that the roads and approaches can be flood resilient. We face a high chance of flood and fire and, in the interest of protecting lives, the Hawkesbury deserves more than a bargain basement bridge!
Australiana Pioneer Village has celebrated its 50th birthday, a testament to the volunteers, known as Friends of Pioneer Village—otherwise known as the Village People. The village was looking its finest for the celebrations, and Costa Georgiadis was there to give crowds tips and techniques on their gardening and their chooks. The land on which the village is situated was farmland, recognised as essential to the survival of colonial New South Wales, and it was one of the earliest grants made in Australia, registered in 1797. Bill McLaughlin, an industrial chemist, bought the property and began to plan a pioneer village. Owners of many historic buildings in the 70s in if the district jumped at the chance to have their building preserved in the one place, and 12 of buildings were used to establish the village. It opened in November 1970, and I was one of many school groups who visited it through the 70s as one of our, I think, year 3 school excursions. But, in time, the village fell into disuse, and it reopened after a long community effort on 26 January 2011. So it celebrates a 10th anniversary in a couple of months. I want to thank all of the volunteers who made the 50th possible—the committee, the people on the gate and in the cafe, the train drivers, the tractor drivers, the mowers and the cleaners, Bowen and Clare for the music. You helped create an absolutely lovely celebration.
I want to give a shout-out to the shopkeepers, cafes and restaurants of Leura who are signing up for the Zero Waste Leura target. This is a target on food waste—to have zero food waste. The Blue Mountains council is on board, and I'm thrilled to see that the initiative started by James Howarth, of the Leura Garage, a year ago is going further. I spoke about this initiative a year ago. James has this incredible composter that sits within his restaurant. It takes the food waste and it turns it into something that you can actually dig your hands into and smell, because it doesn't smell revolting. Over this year, they've worked out how to take that waste, convert into compost and use it on the community gardens in Blackheath—thanks to the Big Fix. That is working so well that the rest of Leura is looking at this and saying, 'Hey, we want to do this as well.'
The Leura Village Association is on board, supported by the New South Wales EPA and Sustainable Futures. This team of people is, over the next 12 months, going to be working through the process to see how this can happen for an entire village. The vision at the end of it is to have the waste reused back into the gardens that run through Leura Village. Leura is famous for its gardens festival. This is one of the fantastic ideas that's coming from the community—ground-up, you could say—and being supported by government agencies who know that we need to care about the environment and that local community groups can make a significant difference. I was also pleased to see proprietors from The Carrington in Katoomba at the launch in Leura. Wouldn't it be great to see this sort of thing stretch beyond Leura to all of the villages of the mountains?