UNICEF NSW Youth Drought Summit concludes and presents recommendations to public

SPIRITUAL SOURCE: Merewether's Tameka O'Donnell, a Barkandji woman from Broken Hill, says the big dry has cultural implications. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers
SPIRITUAL SOURCE: Merewether's Tameka O'Donnell, a Barkandji woman from Broken Hill, says the big dry has cultural implications. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

A summit of 88 drought-affected young people has delivered its list of recommendations starting off with a request for drought-affected communities to have formal channels to communicate with ministers making decision on drought policy and for governments to enter agreements with Aboriginal communities on how water systems are managed.

Tameka O'Donnell, a 25-year-old nurse at John Hunter Hospital who participated in the three-day conference in Lake Macquarie, said the latter point was of great importance to her as a Barkandji woman originally from Broken Hill. The nearby Darling River has been the location of multiple fish kills.

WE WILL KEEP FIGHTING: William Thomas, 15, of Tullamore near Condobolin. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

WE WILL KEEP FIGHTING: William Thomas, 15, of Tullamore near Condobolin. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

"Barkandji means river people. The river is the life that flows through us," Ms O'Donnell said. "I am distressed about the state of the Darling. Although it's been dry before it's never been like this, how prolonged it has been," she said. "I grew up spending time with family on the river, learning how to hunt, fish and cultural practices. Younger generations are missing out."

The summit requested for the prioritization of the protection of cultural practices and sacred sites in water management and a review of Aboriginal water rights.

"Our people nurtured these resources, now we do not have the control to do it," Ms O'Donnell said.

Other recommendations made by the young people included access to mental health nurses and psychiatrists in every rural hospital, employment schemes for farmers seeking work off their properties, programs that foster greater understanding between urban and regional-based youth and a HECS-style scheme for drought-affected families struggling to pay boarding school fees.

Olivia O'Reilly, 16, who lives on her parents' dairy farm in Mummulgum in far-north NSW said she wanted it to be more clear what mental health services were available to "everyone" in her town, which was affected by bushfires this week.

The Bundjalung woman said financial pressure on the farm had taken a toll on her family's well-being.

"I think we're not more distant and we're not communicating much," she said. "I mainly worry about my parents. Sometimes they don't open up about how they are struggling."

A fiery discussion took place between the participants and representatives of the Department of Education, the National Farmers Federation, NSW Health and shadow minister for water Cessnock MP Clayton Barr, and shadow minister for agriculture Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon.

UNICEF Australia chief executive Tony Stuart admonished the state and federal governments for not sending ministers to the event.

WIlliam Thomas, 15, from a large cattle, sheep and cropping property in Tullamore urged the other participants to keep fighting to have their voices heard.

"We are a generation that won't give up easily but we shouldn't have to fight for everything," he said.

"Australia is a global leader in farming and agriculture and our generation wants to be global leaders in drought response and planning."

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This story 'We won't give up': Young minds reveal plan of action on drought first appeared on Newcastle Herald.