Just before the Wimmera meets the Mallee, resting on the edge of the Little Desert, is the township of Dimboola. The 1000 townsfolk are widespread across the land that sprawls Victoria’s Western outskirts. Wheat grows the colour of dusty gold out there. The agricultural region was barren for a time, enduring years of parched drought. What would come in the years that followed was heavy rain. Downpours. The Wimmera River rose and the creeks cascaded up and over the banks. The once suffocated farmland was now a swampy bog. Soaked like wet wool that takes a long while to dry.

There was resilience hovering on the outskirts, though.

Many Dimboola locals have lived in the region for generations, their roots loyally laid. The population is mostly aging now, but sprouts of young growth jut out of the now hydrated soil and look determined to grow.

Hannah Young is the mother of two young children. She said that the Dimboola playgroup is providing a valuable and worthwhile service to the families in her town. 

“Being the parent of a young child can sometimes be an emotionally isolating experience and our location means that we are also geographically isolated from many services and opportunities that people in larger towns and cities have access to.”

The Monash Medical Model is a relatively recent tool used to assess disadvantage in the allocation of health resources and on a scale of 1-7 (with 7 being the most disadvantaged), Dimboola comes in at 5.

In spite of this, Dimboola is buoyant.

Hannah said any shortcomings prompt the drive and the desire to offer a meaningful, engaging, challenging and safe playgroup for Dimboola. 

“Since our re-launch in 2015, as a committee and a service we have continued to go from strength to strength.

2017 is shaping up to be their most successful year yet.

The African proverb, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ is readily sought. Hannah is making efforts to further build social connection. Lending a hand. Sharing hardships and lessening the gloomy clouds that can hover.

A regular barbeque has been a wonderful tool to gather the community in an informal setting; a relaxed place for adults to shoot the breeze while the children play. The informal approach is a less intimidating way of encouraging new people to join playgroup.

Alongside steady improvements to re-energise the playgroup environment with renovations and revamps, new ideas of connectivity have inspired.

The playgroup runs regular excursions to the local nursing home, which is of huge benefit to the livelihoods of both young and old.

“The benefits of intergenerational relationships between children and the elderly are well documented and we believe that this experience helps to alleviate the isolation and loneliness that can be associated with living in supported care whilst also providing the children with a new experience and is something that we all look forward to,” said Hannah.

Small alterations have been made. Alterations that contribute to the colour and features woven through the fabric of the community. There is bonding. There is warmth. 

Regular family fun days with a focus on education surrounding literacy and healthy eating creates positive notions that families share.

The playgroup is trying to strike a balance, providing educational services while not preaching or pushing commitment. Hannah hopes that people just want to come, naturally.

So far, this seems to be the case.

“This year we have listened to the wishes of our current and prospective families and are now offering three sessions a week including our usual time which runs concurrently with our local Maternal and Child Health nurse’s visiting times.”

The playgroup has also included an early morning session to allow for parents to drop older children at school or kinder and then attend a session and an afternoon session for babies under one in response to a local baby boom.

There is flexibility.

Hannah said that this variety enables more people to attend at least one session a week and/or attend with a friend to build their confidence and enhance their experience of playgroup. 

“We are building on this to include sessions from other allied health professionals such as a podiatrist and a dietician in the upcoming months which we think will be really helpful to provide our parents with information they may not otherwise have access to.”

And the best bit? A cubby house is being built. A multi-level cubby house and a fort!

The money was raised thanks to the local community and, Hannah said, the tenacity of the committee. 

These hardworking parents are not just building a playground of dreams for their children, they are making their town homely. They have endured the elements, the drought, the flooding rains. It can be challenging, but at the end of the day, living in rural parts of Australia is worth more than any one thing. It is about the beautiful landscape, the wonders of nature and- the people.

“Turning up to playgroup was the best decision I've made as a parent,” said Hannah.

Guaranteed, if you need a hand, someone from playgroup will turn up. In your hour of need, those friendships endure all types of weather.

Article by Sinead Halliday