That's the Spirit: Geoff Smith - Narromine NSW
Geoff Smith came “home” to the west nearly two decades ago and says that although his career took him to the nation’s capital for most of his working life, his heart never left the bush. Since settling in Narromine, he’s dedicated his time to helping address the drift of young people away from agriculture, through a skills-development project he established under the Rotary umbrella. Geoff talked to Jen Cowley about why he has great faith in the future for rural youth.
Geoff: I’ve been in Narromine for 18 years – I spent my first 21 years growing up in Dubbo and then I was in Canberra for 30-odd years.
I class myself as a local here. I never really settled in Canberra. I always said that when my professional career was finished, I would come back to the central west – I didn’t know which part, but I had a good look around for 12 months and, to cut a long story short, I settled on Narromine. All that time, my heart remained in the bush – it never left.
The bulk of my career was in the finance/banking industry but I just eventually got sick of being a desk jockey and headed back out west, back to the bush.
Jen: Narromine is home now, but what it is that attracted you to settle back here?
Geoff: It was like Dubbo when I left it 50-odd years before. It was a small country town with a really good atmosphere. I looked at all the western towns and I felt at home in Narromine. That’s why I bought a house here and I’ve never looked back. I’ve never regretted one day that I’ve been here. It still reminds me of how Dubbo used to be many years ago.
Jen: What makes it feels like home?
Geoff: The people. Western people. I’ve always said western people are the greatest. They are totally different to folks in the coastal cities and they’re certainly different from the people in Canberra. I just felt at home here, had a calling to come back here. As I said, I’ve never regretted it, not one day of it.
Geoff Smith, Narromine NSW
Jen: You do quite a bit in and around the community. What are some of the things you’re involved with?
Geoff: Ever since I came back to Narromine, I’ve been heavily involved with the Uniting Church here, I’m presently the secretary of the Church Council. Apart from that, most of the other things I do around the community are associated with Rotary, whether through a Rotary project or a Rotary connection. One of the first things I did when I moved here was join Rotary. I felt very comfortable with the Rotarians here.
My greatest pride and joy is the success of the agricultural camps I have run here. One is called RYCAGS (Rotary Youth Cropping, Agronomy, Grain and Seed). That’s a week-long camp I run for Year 9-10 agriculture students and it’s to do with cropping. I’ve run eight camps so far but the last two haven’t been able to go ahead because of drought. The results we’ve achieved are just astonishing. Some of the kids who have been involved have gone onto uni, some have gone on to TAFE and some have stayed on the farm. That was the whole objective, to keep young people on the farm or keep them involved with agriculture. You could see school-leavers were moving away to the mines or to regional cities like Dubbo, Bathurst and Orange. The farmers are getting older and they didn’t have their children coming on to keep the farm going. I saw that the schools weren’t teaching much about cropping either. I saw a void and ran with it and it’s been an absolute success. I also took on (a similar project) for cotton, called RYCOTT (Rotary Youth in Cotton). It has also been a huge success, although it too has been stifled by the drought.
Jen: Why is it important to invest in rural youth?
Geoff: The youth is the future, particularly in the Narromine area which is a real food bowl for NSW and the rest of Australia. We grow a lot of crops, sheep and cattle and wool in this region. The versatility of agriculture here is enormous, because there’s a great cotton industry as well. You gotta have food and you gotta have fibre to feed and clothe Australians and the rest of the world. When I came back to the district, I was just seeing these poor old farmers getting on their tractors at 70 and 80 years of age when they didn’t have their children to help them. There was a need, a crying out for these kinds of skills. I could see that the future of agriculture was great even though we had the drought, because after drought will come an absolute boom. We just need these kids to be aware and be up to speed so when the good times come, the oyster is at their feet ready to pick up.
Jen: Do you still have faith in the future of small communities like Narromine?
Geoff: Yes, I do. It’s the village atmosphere, that small town vibe. Where people can trust everybody and know everyone, to a great extent, and they all pull together rather than how it is in the bigger regional cities like Dubbo, Orange, Bathurst, Tamworth, Wagga. They have the centres for their needs – medical centres, shopping centres, home-maker centres – they’re isolated to a degree. Little towns have a village atmosphere where members of the community tend to get more involved with everybody else.
Geoff Smith, Narromine NSW
Jen: Do you think that’s something people are craving, that village vibe? Do you see the pendulum swinging back towards a need for community?
Geoff: Yes, I’ve seen it the past five years for sure, particularly out here. There are so many people who commute to Dubbo from Narromine, in fact I have three or four neighbours who just do that. They work in Dubbo but Narromine is where they want to live and stay. Affordability is better, they’re happy with the schools here, - we have a good education system here, a good medical system, a good hospital. Those services are here. They don’t want to go to Dubbo where you don’t know your neighbour to say g’day and I think that’s happening all over regional Australia. There just seems a push towards that need for closer community ties and that’s what I love about a small town. It’s a shame that big cities do draw the young people away from the really small towns, but I think a town like Narromine, with 4000 people, can survive.
Jen: What are some of the misconceptions about living in a small community and how would you address those?
Geoff: We don’t have some of those bigger department stores that people like, and some might see that as a bit of a drawback, but we’re only half an hour away from Dubbo where there are those options, so you jump in the car and in half an hour you’re at those big shops if that’s what you want.
People think they don’t have a wide range of choice, but there are plenty of places here in Narromine. Might be nice to have another supermarket, though, but our supermarket here really does look after us very well. The staff are great and the shelves are pretty well full all the time. I think we really have it over the cities.
Jen: Do you think it is important for people in the community to step up, stand up and get involved?
Geoff: Oh yes, because it’s their community. Certainly, there are people who just sit back and say, “Oh, I’ll leave it to so-and-so to do because she’s good at this or that…” but I think they should stand up and say, “I want to have a little say in this. I want to stand up and make my voice count, because I’m part of the community. It’s my community. My kids grew up here. My husband/wife works here and I want my voice heard.”
Sometimes that can be hard in a small community because when everybody knows everybody people might not want to stand up and speak up because they don’t want to make a goose of themselves. But with a bit of encouragement and persuasion you can get people in a small town to come together for a common cause and it’s good to see people put their hand up.
Jen: What would you say to people who are considering moving to a small community, why Narromine? Give me the pitch.
Geoff: It’s about the people who are here, they are very community minded. They support the town, particularly in the sporting fields – we have so many strong sports here. We have all-round facilities for winter sports, summer sports, a gym, and we have a great swimming pool for the summer.
Most things here are on a smaller scale, but I think that makes things very peaceful, very quiet. The crime rate is pretty good, and it’s a safe community.
I just think Narromine has a lot to offer, particularly if you have young children.
I believe it’s a great place to raise a family – all families around me are really happy and they’re all involved school sports and other sort of sports. It’s a good sporting town, especially for youngsters who are sports orientated. There are a lot of opportunity for kids to get involved.
NALAG's 'That's the Spirit' hardcover book features a selection of excerpts from the stories gathered from Western NSW during 2018-2020.
Geoff Smith with fellow members of the Narromine Rotary Club.