When Dr Brad Hodge and Dr Pam Harvey received news this month that their new subject needed to go online, they made a few phone calls, booked a car, and headed off on a regional road trip that’s about to shed light on some little-known aspects of country life.
They just made it too, before physical distancing became the norm.
Their Rural Community Engagement subject aims to get first-year health students thinking about what it means to live and work outside the cities.
“In particular we want them to get excited about the possibilities that exist in the regions that often don’t exist in the city and to realise that working and living rurally is often a really exciting possibility,” Brad says.
Initially, Brad and Pam planned to take their students to Rochester, Echuca and Heathcote and introduce them to the locals.
“With all of the challenges around COVID-19, we can no longer take students there, however we can still give them a bit of a taste of what these towns are like,” Brad says.
The pair filmed interviews and highlights from their day on the road to share with students and showcase the region’s colonial development, art, tourism, food and wine offerings. Footage includes a tour of Echuca’s river history, “with a few murder, mystery and scandal tales threaded throughout,” says Pam.
“We wanted to find the ‘Echuca under its sunny veneer’ and I think we found it. Smugglers, bodies in basements and a tunnel you should never enter alone…
“And talking about murder and mystery, we tootled down to Rochester to discover they were in the midst of celebrity happenings. The day before, they had opened Iddles Lane, a tribute to the Iddles family with a focus on Ron Iddles, Australia’s greatest homicide detective. The locals are so engaged with their history and passionate about their town. We were overwhelmed with their stories.”
A trip to Heathcote wouldn’t be complete without calling into a winery… all in the name of research of course.
“We ended up heading to Lou de Castella’s vineyard and he showed us his hobby set up while his dog scampered around us,” Pam says, adding, “scampered is maybe the wrong word, as he was a large Labrador cross so thumped is probably more accurate!
“We also made sure we filmed the pink cliffs, which are eroded areas of Heathcote that had been scoured through gold mining. And we got shots of the hospital, which has a beautiful old original section.”
Pam says the subject will also have a practical element, requiring students to complete problem-solving projects based on community needs.
“For example, students with a Rochester brief will either work on redesigning the RV parking area to make it more habitable and to encourage people to stay a few more days, or consider how to improve the path along the river so more locals can enjoy that gorgeous place.
“We hope students will make email contact with the key community members we met and, maybe, go and see for themselves what these communities are like.
“We were very invigorated by our trip. I think that will help convey to students that smaller rural towns are dynamic and interesting places to hang your hat.”
Brad is an ideal person to advocate for rural and regional working and living. He says moving to the country from the eastern suburbs 17 years ago was one of the best decisions he’s ever made.
“There is no question that being stuck online and not having the opportunity to do things like visit the history centre at Echuca and the bakery at Heathcote is a bit of a loss to the students, however we feel that by providing this down-to-earth, real-world glimpse, students will still be inspired to visit once this has all calmed down,” Brad says.
“Plus, we are going to see if we can set up some video conference calls for our students once they have started their projects. This will give them the opportunity to talk to locals about their ideas and adjust their projects accordingly. We think this is a really exciting opportunity.”