‘Dream big’: Town unites to forge prosperous future
ONE thing small town specialist Peter Kenyon has learned from living his life in rural areas is that the sun does not forget a village because it's small.
Mr Kenyon, Rural Aid co-founder Tracey Alder and their team descended on Monto on Thursday, January 30 to help plan the town's future.
Things aren't what they used to be for Monto, but life moves on, and Mr Kenyon discussed pathways forward and opportunities for the town.
His opening address for Monto's community planning event featured both pragmatism and optimism.
Mr Kenyon and his Rural Aid team wanted to promote the importance of community spirit while harnessing it to create a lasting legacy.
"Monto's got an incredible history - you have 92 organisations operating in this town, with only 1200 of you guys," Mr Kenyon said.
"You've got some amazing heritage - your town hall would have to be one of the best Art Deco town halls I've seen in the country.
"You have an amazing ag industry, particularly cattle, beef, and dairy.
"There's a whole pile of opportunities."
Mr Kenyon said 70 per cent of small inland towns were dying and he believed it was the sense of community that was keeping the other 30 per cent alive.
"The 30 per cent are growing, and what I'm interested in is the half full bit of the glass," he said.
"What is it that we can do to start to reverse that depopulation?"
His words of wisdom were delivered along with recognition of the harsh realities Monto was facing.
"I'm a realist, and I recognise that times are changing," Mr Kenyon said.
"I was told by someone today that when they first got into the dairies many years ago there were 400, and today there are three.
"That shows the tides have changed, and that has changed from the '60s."
Mr Kenyon acknowledged the township had dropped from a population of 4000 to only 1200 over several decades.
"In the coming weeks we'll have three more empty shops, how do we reverse that?" he questioned.
"We once had a railway line, that's not going to come back anymore.
"We once had a council, that's not going to come back.
"One of the 80 year olds I was speaking to today told me they couldn't even buy a cotton reel anymore.
"We don't want to go to Bundaberg to get what we need.
"We even have people talking about school numbers for teachers and students had dropped."
The statement of facts resonated with those in the room, as a sense of resilience began to appear throughout the three-hour event.
Peppered throughout the planning event were success stories of towns which had beaten the odds.
Mr Kenyon cited the town of Tirau which has experienced a revival through its use of corrugated iron art.
He also mentioned a town in the middle of the Flinders Ranges with a population of just eight which has created an enterprise that employs 27 people.
Mr Kenyon's home town of Marble Bar in Western Australia even used their extremely hot weather to lure tourists in.
"This is about creating a legacy for future generations," he said.
"We want this place to be not just for us, but for our children, and for our grandchildren.
"How do we build a future and a sense of resilience?
"How can we create a legacy so this town can live on?"
Throughout the evening, numerous conversations and activities were held as the audience brainstormed ideas for Monto's makeover.
The ideas were divided into four categories: retain/keep, change/modify, regain, and start/create.
In groups of five, the participants changed tables frequently to talk with one another about how they could make important changes.
An abundant list was compiled by the end of the evening, and each participant was given eight votes on what they thought was important to the town.
The ideas with the most votes were as follows:
- People (regain)
- Better roads (regain)
- Use the rail corridor (regain)
- Medical services (retain)
- Respect for heritage (retain)
- Tourism industry - point of difference/murals (start)
- Display local collections in appropriate location (start)
- Agricultural training facility (start)
- Trail bike industry, including children (start)
- Community home/hub microbusiness (start)
- Dentist (regain)
- Change bypass road to bring traffic into Monto (change)
- Improved signage (change)
- Shading for parks (change)
- The Rex (regain)
- Bitumen road to Bundaberg and Gladstone (start)
- Guided tours (start)
- Historic photos of town hall and tours (start)
- A birthing facility (regain)
Inspirational quotes were shared throughout the evening, helping inspire the audience to think about what the future means for Monto.
Mr Kenyon however finished on one quote that gave those in attendance something to contemplate: "Dream big, start small, act now".