That's the Spirit: Emily Ryan - Coonamble NSW
Emily Ryan says her ambition is to engage young people with their rural communities, but this civic-minded, Coonamble-based primary school teacher doesn’t just talk the talk, she walks the walk, taking on an exhausting number of different sporting and community roles in the pursuit of professional and personal goals. Emily talked to Jen Cowley about the strength of community spirit that keeps Coonamble kicking.
Jen: You’re a primary school teacher, but you wear a number of community hats too, yes?
Emily: This is my second year of teaching at Coonamble Public School.
I love my career and I’m really glad I went down that career avenue. I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, but just wasn’t sure what field I wanted to be in. Agriculture was one that really sparked my interest when I was younger, but I went with primary teaching because my main goal is to increase engagement with younger kids in rural communities.
I suppose that’s why I sit on so many boards and why I do what I do in the community, because the overall goal is to engage youth in rural communities.
Jen: Are you Coonamble born and bred?
Emily: I was born in Gulargambone and my family moved to Coonamble when I was one. I really love where I live and what I do.
Jen: You had the opportunity as a young teacher to go pretty much anywhere. Why did you choose to come home to Coonamble?
Emily: I was at uni doing my degree in early childhood and primary and my dad got really sick so I moved home after one year and did my study by distance education so I could look after the farm while Dad underwent treatment. He’s all fine now, and really healthy, but I just kind of settled back in and got really comfortable back where I was.
I really think kids can relate to people they know and who have had similar experiences, and who know their families and what they’ve gone through without them having to actually voice that. That’s really important thing, and it’s something I try to tell new teachers who come to Coonamble. The best advice I can give is to get to know the kids first, teach later.
Emily Ryan, Coonamble NSW
Jen: People often say they are passionate about certain things, but you actually put your money where your mouth is when it comes to youth engagement. You walk the walk as well as talking the talk.
Emily: I try, anyway. I’m the sports coordinator at school at the moment and I run a lot of events through that role. I try to get kids out to as many sporting opportunities as I possibly can. I only stayed in school because of sports so I can relate to many of the kids who aren’t academic. I figure that giving them opportunities to encourage them to want to stay in school and strive towards something is important. That’s what I aim for at school. Outside school, I run the junior judging program at the show. That has about 70 students who attend each year from around the district. The program not only engages the youth with learning a new topic, they also get to learn about agriculture which is what keeps our community alive. We really need to promote that as much as we can and prepare young people who will be the future farmers and agronomists.
Jen: You’re a Rotarian, and were the youngest ever and first female president of Coonamble Rotary, and you’ve taken on the role of assistant district governor for Rotary. With everything else you do, I’m not sure how you sleep, but how do you see Rotary’s role in your community?
Emily: I think Rotary and our other community-based organisations are the backbone of our community. We also work really closely with Lions and Quota, and that really helps everyone. We’ve just supported two young boys to go to RYAG (Rotary Youth Agriculture Group) to develop their skills in sheep husbandry – they’re
engaging with and learning so much more about that industry; we’re also sending some young people to the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards which, as the name suggests helps develop leadership.
Apart from the youth perspective, Rotary is there to support anyone who’s sick or wants to take advantage of a sporting opportunity or who doesn’t have the financial resources to pursue education or look after their health. We help as much as we can.
We are really lucky that the community supports our projects, and we fundraise the money to give back to the community. Without service organisations like Rotary, Lions and Quota, our community would be much poorer in terms of opportunities to develop especially for young adults to, for instance, go further in their career or sporting aspirations.
Emily Ryan, Coonamble NSW
Jen: It’s all part of keeping that fabric of Coonamble strong too.
Emily: It is, and I think Coonamble is one of the strongest communities we have in the region. I have never seen any other community that locks up their shops and stands in the middle of the street for any funeral that goes past.
We are strong, we are resilient. With all the different challenging times we’ve had, we’ve been able to bounce back because we’ve come together.
If there’s a fundraiser for, say, someone who’s sick, every man and his dog turns up to help. People are always willing to contribute even a little bit of money to help keep that person or that community group alive.
Recently, Quota International folded, but our local club is going to keep going independently – I think that really goes to show how strong our community is, because there’s something that’s folding internationally and Coonamble is going “Nah, we’re not giving up, we’re still here, we’re still kicking along”.
I reckon most other community groups across Coonamble would be the same – they’d keep kicking until the very end. I
That’s our town’s slogan: Keep Coonamble kicking!
It reflects who we are, and our Chamber of Commerce and our shire (council) really supports that philosophy by doing what they can to support everyone.
Jen: Sport is an important part of the fabric of the Coonamble community, and you’re quite involved with sport, aren’t you?
Emily: I’m involved in rugby league. I play tackle for Castlereagh and I also play league tag for Coonamble Bears. I also play a little bit of (rugby) union. I also play netball and touch football.
Jen: Why is it important to keep sport strong?
Emily: Socialising is vital – it’s important for everyone to get out and about. No matter what gender or demographic, people get caught up in their own little world and if they don’t get out and about, whether that’s playing sport or just going out to the pub on a Friday night or pizza at the Golfie on a Thursday night, then they get stuck in a rut. That’s usually when you see negative things start happening in a town, when people aren’t engaged.
We have such active and energetic sporting clubs in Coonamble, and I think it’s one of the region’s strongest communities in terms of sports.
Even just with the sports I play, I train three nights a week. And with the (rugby) league, we get in the bus and make it a big social event in every town we go to for every away game. I’ve never learned so many songs (laughs)!
Jen: Some of which you can repeat, some you can’t! You are also active in the show committee and you were Coonamble show girl as well. Tell me about the importance of the show girl movement.
Emily: The show girl movement is definitely not just a beauty pageant, it’s about being passionate about your community and having a goal and knowing where you want to go in life. It’s about being able to put that into your local town or into a community you can see yourself living in. The show girl movement is really important because not only does it acknowledge the important role women play in rural communities but also the importance of the agriculture show movement, which is the backbone of regional communities. Without the agricultural show movement in rural Australia, we honestly would be pretty down in the dumps because the local show that happens annually is something that lifts people’s spirits, it drags money into the community, showcases the local industries and it also engages kids.
A lot of people think families only come through the gates to go to the show rides – that’s so far from correct. There’s a real thrill people get from contributing and showing something in the pavilions, like the school art, for instance – all the kids do some art to put in the show.
That’s the beauty of the local show in a small town – everyone in the community can have a piece of it, it belongs to everyone.
Jen: What would you say to people who perhaps have some misconceptions about life in a small town like Coonamble? What would be your elevator pitch to someone that doesn’t know much about your town?
Emily: Don’t judge it before you try it. The (national) media is really good for only publicising the negative, and people hear those negative things and judge accordingly. Don’t knock it until you get here and give it a go, and you have to give it more than a week. Give it a couple of months and really engage yourself in the community.
You have to earn respect in rural communities – that’s the way we all roll. If you give respect you’ll get it, and if you have a crack and get involved, you never know what gems you’ll find hidden in a rural community.
NALAG's 'That's the Spirit' hardcover book features a selection of excerpts from the stories gathered from Western NSW during 2018-2020.
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Emily Ryan, Coonamble NSW