Winter 2017

South Australia’s Riverland

Cathy Beaton

View looking up river to a bridge.
Berri. Views to the bridge across the Murray River to Loxton.

Cathy Beaton’s work with the St Vincent de Paul Society to date has been focussed mainly in the Riverland area. In 2016 she was elected as Regional President for the Riverland/Yorke region, and in 2017 became the Society’s South Australia President. She shared a personal account of her work in the region.

The South Australia Riverland covers an area of nearly 10,000 square kilometres along the Murray River.

Situated northeast of Adelaide, the region is rich in agriculture and horticulture and, thanks to massive business and infrastructure investment in the area, it is prospering.

It’s a welcome turnaround from the millennium drought of 2000 to 2010 that sent many people broke and forced them off their land. But as Cathy knows, the need continues for emergency relief providers like the St Vincent de Paul Society, Life Without Barriers, Uniting Care, the Salvation Army and Lutheran Care.

An underbelly of poverty and homelessness in Berri, where around 11,000 people reside, includes people who have relocated from Adelaide.

‘There are a lot of people from the city that actually go to regional areas because it is easier for them to get assistance,’ Cathy explains.

‘When you belong to a smaller network, you are less likely to feel lost.’

One man she has come to know well is in his late 40s, and living on the banks of the river.

‘He made a decision that he just couldn’t keep up with normal life, in the normal sense of a house, a car, and living in a suburb,’ she says.

‘He knew he was never going to get work.  And that the system was working against him.

‘So he made a decision that he would camp on the river. Where he has a tent, bedding and a gas burner, and doesn’t need to pay rent.’

The man is unable to work because he suffers from emphysema. He is eligible for a disability pension, but this isn’t enough for him to live in a house and pay household bills.

Fortunately he does have access to a mobile phone, enabling him to contact people like Cathy and her husband in an emergency. In one such instance his car became bogged during heavy rain.

‘He was desperate. He couldn’t get out of where he was. Because of his emphysema he couldn’t walk more than 100 metres,’ Cathy recalls.

‘We took a four-wheel drive out to where he was, walked down the river flat, and gave him some food.’

‘Sometimes he will say, “Bring some jumper leads out. I’m stuck.”’

‘We think of it as helping a friend out. He just likes the thought of knowing that if anything happens, he can ring us and someone will be there.’

Cathy is chairing the panel, “How do we inspire people to join our cause,” at the October Congress in Adelaide.

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