The proposal to establish a Rocky River Development Fund, made up of local capital subscriptions, to support the development of local value-adding businesses, is worthy of merit.
It is no secret that the towns of the Rocky River have fallen on hard times and that worse could follow. Changes in Government attitudes and practices have seen the closure of many government and semi government facilities and offices and the winding down of others. Railways, schools, gaols, the Army, Councils, Health Services and departmental offices have all been “rationalised”, to the extent that the local economy has been severely and adversely effected. At the same time, commercial and industrial organisations have followed the example set by government and “rationalised” their businesses as well, with the result that the availability of jobs in towns and adjacent regional centres, such as Port Pirie, have declined.
One example of this business practice is in the bread baking industry, where a multinational company acquired the family bakeries in Port Pirie, Port Augusta and Whyalla, which, at that time, employed over 200 workers between them. The local bakeries were closed down and the bread manufactured in Adelaide and Melbourne. As a result of these developments, the multinational may be making more profits and the CEO getting more bonuses, but our bread is no better and it is no cheaper. On the contrary, when the social costs of losing more than 200 direct jobs in the region, plus the jobs lost indirectly, are taken into account, it can be seen that our bread is costing us a great deal more indeed and that the “rationalisation’ of the bread baking industry has had a negative impact on the region as a whole.
During the last twenty years, while these sort of events have been taking place, there has also been a decline in rural income, with farm buildup occurring as a result and, therefore, fewer people engaged or employed in farm related activities. Any upward movement in interest rates will be likely to accelerate that process, as farmers sell out in response to pressure from banks. At the same time, many of the younger generation brought up on the land are turning their backs on farming as a way of life, having been witnesses of the stress and hardship of family farming in the current economic environment. We shouldn’t expect that environment to change. Indeed, without a dramatic change in the paradigms and practices of farmers themselves, the family farmer may be threatened with extinction, to be replaced by large multinational agricorps, relying on new technologies and global marketing and distribution networks.
One thing that we should have learnt from these events is that we cannot rely on government or big business to develop local economies, since it is unarguable that they have been the instruments of the economic degradation of the rural economy generally, as well as that of the Rocky River District. Nor should we indulge ourselves in blaming and finger pointing and being bitter towards Government and big business. Rather, we should accept that their interests are different to ours and that, if our children are to be able to live here, if our schools and hospitals are to survive, then it is up to us to build an economy that will provide the assurance of that sort of future. It is quite certain that, without local initiative, enterprise and hard work, there will be no future for us, other than a steady decline as our young people leave for the cities, to find work and build lives.
In South Australia, regional brands of value added products are emerging in the Riverland, Kangaroo Island and the Fleurieu Peninsula. They are capturing market share in the new food markets of the cities, where people with high disposable incomes, such as the double income no kids – DINKs – think that they can live forever and that eating organic products is the way to do it.
In the Rocky River District, there is an opportunity to capitalise on this new market trend. To do that, it is necessary to understand the changing food market and to develop products to satisfy it. In many instances, that will mean building on an existing product, such as honey, and adding value to it. Currently, for example, local honey is sent in bulk to Melbourne, where it is processed and packaged for distribution. The processors and distributors get the lion’s share of the profit out of the product, not the grower. Why can’t that processing and distributing be done right here where the product is produced in its raw form? All that is required is the initiative, some money and a marketing plan. The former must come from individuals engaged in the industry, the money and marketing can be supplied by the proposed Rocky River Development Fund. At least that is the vision.
That approach can be applied across the board to a range of local products that, currently, are bulked off out of the district without any value being added to them and, therefore, without any local jobs being involved. Grains, poultry, fruit and vegetables, honey, wine grapes and olives are all produced here. It is only our own limited vision that is stopping industries developing around the adding of value to those products or the development of new products to meet the new niche markets. If we can only cast aside the tendency to dwell in the past and be immersed in negativity about the raw deal rural Australia has had from governments and big business, then anything is possible. It is happening elsewhere and it can happen here.
In the Editorial of our first edition, we said;
‘Around Australia, country people are once more taking responsibility for their own lives and futures. The Rocky River Standard is proud to be part of that new wave.’
There is evidence of that everywhere in Australia. People in the bush are getting together, pooling ideas and resources, and working as communities to get businesses going, creating jobs and a future in the process. The Rocky River Development Fund is a vehicle to help that happen in our District. It is worth getting behind it.