That's the Spirit

That’s the Spirit is a project prompted by, but not about, drought – borne of a need for an injection of positivity in sometimes overwhelmingly negative times. The project, funded in part by the NSW Department of Health, and in part by NALAG itself, is about giving voice to just a small sample of the many positive people doing positive things to keep small communities alive and kicking, as they’ve done and will do for generations. It’s about that indefinable thing we call “the spirit of the bush”. We hope you enjoy meeting these people from a diverse cross-section of our western communities as much as we enjoy helping tell their stories.

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*Many of the interviews in this project were conducted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and the introduction of social distancing measures.

Project Stories

Phillip and Di Ridge - Bourke NSW

The Ridge family has long been part of the rich history of Bourke and the far west region, having ridden the highs and lows of the wool and sheep industries’ fortunes for generations. Phillip and Di Ridge are keepers of the family flame at the iconic Jandra Station, where the couple has raised four sons. While they continue the family tradition of contributing to the district’s social and economic fabric, Di has also helped put Bourke on the culinary map with a gourmet business she built from humble beginnings on the banks of the Darling River.

Greg and Tania Moody - Hermidale NSW

Greg and Tania Moody are farmers from Hermidale, where they run a tight ship both at home and in the community of which they are active members. Their son and his wife are part of a new generation breathing life into a small community that, like farmers in the region, is tough and used to getting going when the going gets tough.  

Christopher "Burra" McHughes - Brewarrina NSW

Christopher “Burra” McHughes is barely into his 20s, but he’s already an accomplished photographer, a seasoned “firie” and a shining example for young people in the communities he serves as a founding member of the NSW Rural Fire Service’s first Indigenous State Mitigation crews in Brewarrina and Bourke. A Ngemba Gamilaraay man, Burra is dedicated not only to his Aboriginal heritage, but to the community as a whole and to strengthening bonds between traditional and modern cultures. 

Tourle Family - Toongi NSW

Scott and Liz Tourle are fifth generation farmers and graziers at Toongi, near Dubbo, where they not only continue to adapt in an ever-evolving evolving industry but are active contributors to their small community. And now their sixth-generation children – Kennedy, Sam, Tom and daughter-in-law Courtney – are taking the baton.  Jen Cowley shared a cuppa on the family’s verandah for a yarn about life on the land and what it means to have a sense of community.

Aileen Bell - Coonabarabran NSW

Now retired from her long-time position as the Warrumbungle Shire’s economic development and tourism manager, Aileen Bell is a passionate Coonabarabran local, who has served the community in both a professional and personal capacity. Aileen is a dedicated Rotarian who has been involved with countless local organisations and causes and, as Jen Cowley found, is keen for people to understand what a welcoming place her hometown is.

Megan O'Connor - Balladoran NSW

Megan O’Connor’s roots run deep in the small communities of both Tooraweenah, where she grew up in the shadow of the Warrumbungles, and Balladoran, where she has raised the fourth generation of her family to call the district home. Through a business run from the family farm, the accomplished caterer has carved out a happy niche giving visitors and locals alike a taste of the region she loves.

Wayne Harrison – Bourke NSW

After some four decades on the airwaves of the west and far west, it’s fair to suggest Wayne Harrison is the voice of the region he’s come to know and love through his “day job” with Bourke’s community-based 2WEB Outback Radio. A passionate advocate for regional media, Wayne believes the strength of small communities like Bourke lies in the way people care for one another.

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Ruth and Dick Carney – Narromine NSW

Widely known to many across the region as Uncle and Aunty, Dick and Ruth Carney are long-time Narromine residents, proud elders of the Wiradjuri nation and respected members of the regional community. The couple has been married for 56 years and both have been involved in many community activities and organisations, including proudly co-ordinating and training four decades’ worth of local debutants.

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Ross Earl - Bourke NSW

As general manager of Bourke Shire, it’s part of Ross Earl’s job to promote the region, but it’s his passion for his community, its people and the local organisations of which he’s a part that makes him such an effective advocate for the iconic Aussie town. That’s the Spirit’s Jen Cowley spent some time “out back o’ Bourke” with the town’s affable GM.

Joan Jeffrey - Hermidale NSW

At 80, Joan Jeffrey decided it was time to hang up the keys to the school bus she’d been driving for the Hermidale school for 48 years. But after half a century behind the wheel, the spritely octogenarian misses the children and still fills in from time to time.

Rebecca Moxham– Coonabarabran NSW

Now approaching the end of its third decade as a prominent fixture on the regional equine calendar, the North West Equestrian Expo – known affectionately and widely as the “Coona horse expo” – is so much more than a sporting event. Rebecca Moxham is secretary of the expo’s committee whose members collectively embody the culture of community involvement for which the town is renowned.

Days for Girls Group – Coonabarabran NSW

The Coonabarabran chapter of global women’s health initiative, Days for Girls, gathers every few weeks in a humble hall where the production of sustainable menstrual care kits for women and girls in third world countries and remote communities in Australia is just one aspect of the project. Over a cuppa and some seriously good baked treats, the group tells how the regular get-togethers connect them with not only women in third world countries but with each other.

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Steve Mudford – Gilgandra NSW

His chosen profession has taken champion shearer Steve Mudford all around the world, both as a competitive sport and a career. Now he’s more dedicated than ever to the iconic Australian industry that he says is still vitally important and has much to offer coming generations.

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Fay Chapman – Coonabarabran NSW

For the past two decades, Coonabarabran’s aqua-fitness group has been helping to keep local bodies and minds healthy and active. Fay Chapman is one of the founding volunteer instructors, and says the group is as much about connectedness and wellbeing as it is fitness.

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Angie Armstrong – Buddabadah NSW

Angie Armstrong is essentially a city girl turned passionate country advocate; a dedicated “foodie” and tourism entrepreneur who, together with fourth generation farmer husband Michael, is developing a tourism hub at Callubri Station, an historic working farming and grazing operation at Buddabadah (between Nyngan and Tottenham) that has been in the family for 140 years.

Amy Naef - Gilgandra NSW

Artist Amy Naef doesn’t believe in helplessness, no matter the scale of the challenge. It’s a mindset she credits with having grown up in a small town, and it’s what drives the creative single mum to take “action through art”.

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Cleaver Family – Nyngan NSW

The name “Cleaver” is synonymous with Nyngan’s renowned Duck Creek Races, but the farming family – Lyndal and Rowen (“Spike”) and their four children, including Tom, who is helping to run the family business – are also, in many other ways, deeply invested in keeping the social and economic fabric of their community strong.

Patty Mitchell - Trangie NSW

By her own admission, Trangie’s Patty Mitchell has “been around a bit” and has her finger in a number of local pies, including the inaugural Trangie Truck and Tractor Show, held in the middle of a roaring drought in 2019. She spoke for many Trangie-ites in describing the town as a “friendly, humble place” that pulls together when the chips are down.

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Stacey and Michael Wells-Bud - Hermidale NSW

It’s been more than a decade since Stacey Wells-Bud left the lush green of the UK for the wide brown land down under, and four years since she and her husband Michael moved back to his old home territory of Hermidale. Along with the family’s farming operation, the pair has added a couple of new balls to the juggling act in the form of a baby daughter and what they call a “one stop community hub” – the Hermidale Pub.

Kate Davies - Purlewaugh NSW

At the age of 50-ish, Kate Davies answered the call of agricultural adventure and left the family farm at Purlewaugh near Coonabarabran to take on a four-month stint as a “tractor driver” in Myanmar (formerly Burma), an experience she says helped expand her own world view and hone her skills in the business of farming. She’s confident in the future of agriculture in the hands of the coming generation, including her own son, with what she says is “a wider vision and more portable skills in a connected world”.

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