About an hour and 20 minutes from Launceston, on Tasmania’s northwest coast, the Society’s Tasmanian state president Toni Muir resides with her husband Tony, in the busy coastal city of Devonport.
Born and educated in Launceston, Toni has been committed to the work of the Society for almost 30 years. As well as being a member of the Society’s National Council, Toni also sits on the National Rule Review Committee.
Toni says major challenges in Devonport and at the nearby port city of Burnie include a high number of people battling mental illness and unemployment.
Burnie was once a thriving woodchip export port, and in its heyday The Pulp (the pulp and fine paper mill) saw around 1200 workers enter its gates each morning, until it closed for good in 2010.
Other closures along the northwest coast in the last decade include McCain’s vegetable line at Smithton, Tascot Templeton Carpet factory, the Wesley Vale board mill, Swifts King Island abattoir, National Textiles, K&D Warehouse and dairy giant Murray Goulburn.
‘What we are seeing now are the people who received a pay-out or entitlement, and have now used all that up. And they are faced with the uncertainty of no employment in the future,’ Toni says.
This roll call of lost jobs is bringing about emotional and mental strain, further heightened by a lack of affordable housing.
‘Rents are high and we are finding people are paying three quarters of their income on accommodation,’ Toni says.
An absence of crisis accommodation on the northwest coast means many people are living rough—from bunking down with relatives or friends until they wear out their welcome, to sleeping outdoors.
‘It’s hard to get a true idea of just how many people are in this situation,’ Toni says.
She’s now keen to see an expansion of Vinnies soup vans across the state. Aside from Louie’s van in Hobart, there’s one in Launceston and others in the southern region.
With any luck, there will soon be one in Burnie too.
Toni sees the October congress as an opportunity to listen and learn from the Society’s companions.
‘I hope to be challenged by what they tell us about how we can better serve them, what we can do to make a real difference, what we need to change to meet their needs,’ she says.
‘I want to see what we are not seeing. It’s always a challenge to step outside my comfort zone. I want to know if I am up for it, and to take a risk or two.’