UNICEF NSW Youth Drought Summit sends a clear message: action now

Makaala Dodd, 16, from Uralla, speaks at the drought summit.
Makaala Dodd, 16, from Uralla, speaks at the drought summit.

Nearly 100 young people from regional and remote NSW unleashed their thoughts at UNICEF Australia's first Youth Summit for young people living with drought.

And they want action.

The summit delivered its list of recommendations - beginning 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, is a Barkandji woman originally from Broken Hill.

"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.

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

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

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.

A 12-strong steering committee took participants through the three-day agenda at Lake Macquarie as they looked at the current drought policies and discussed potential solutions to the big dry.

"Young people on our steering committee gave really clear advice that the participants would benefit from being out of drought-affected areas. We've heard from the participants themselves they are eager to spend some time close by water," UNICEF Australia's head of policy and advocacy Amy Lamoin said.

Just some of the participants from left clockwise: Paris Crouch, Catherine Mitchell and Luke Richards, Mikala McLean; Courtney Ramsay and Elly Byriell.

Just some of the participants from left clockwise: Paris Crouch, Catherine Mitchell and Luke Richards, Mikala McLean; Courtney Ramsay and Elly Byriell.

Lamoin says UNICEF organised the summit because young voices are missing from the national conversation on drought.

A number of them introduced themselves in there on words, right here.

Pat Blomfield is from Gunnedah and with Elly Byriell, of Breeza Plains, helped organise the summit.

"We're not looking for sympathy," Pat said. "We're looking for better solutions."

The 16-year-old is the fourth generation of his family to work on the grass-feed beef farm at Caroona.

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But with little grass left, the farm is now relying on the leaves from Kurrajong trees to feed the cattle.

Elly and Pat both are planning to continue their family's businesses.

"It's what you know, what you do and what you love," Pat said. "Even though it's tough, I wouldn't have it any other way."

Pat Blomfield and Elly Byriell said it was hard seeing the grass of Gwandalan. "You wish it was at home," Elly said. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

Pat Blomfield and Elly Byriell said it was hard seeing the grass of Gwandalan. "You wish it was at home," Elly said. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

Time also was spent discussing how to navigate well-being, self care and mental health at an individual and community level.

The NSW Youth Drought Summit quite deliberately ensured much time was spent on the subject of mental health.

"[It] has broadened my perspective to different situations faced by the youth of the drought," 14-year-old Caitlin Blanch said.

"We have met with the Minister for Mental Health, Regional Youth and Women. We also had a panel of different people who have educated us about their occupations and how that relates to the drought ...

"Mental health has been a big factor of this experience and has taught many about its importance."

The participants of UNICEF's NSW Youth Drought Summit during a panel discussion on youth leadership. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

The participants of UNICEF's NSW Youth Drought Summit during a panel discussion on youth leadership. Picture: Jonathan Carroll