Imagine living so remotely that an ambulance can take 4.5 hours to reach you, in a small community built on timber and gold, surrounded by ancient forests on the banks of the Snowy River.
Sue Collins, one of two coordinators at Tubbut Neighborhood House, has lived in this area, which includes the isolated border communities of Bonang, Tubbut, Deddick, Delegate River and Bendoc, since the early 1980s.
“We’re technically in Victoria but we get our power and water supplied by NSW and we have a NSW area code attached to the phone numbers, so who knows which state we really belong to?” laughs Sue.
Understandably, making time to do routine health checks is hard when you live remotely and the community has addressed this for the last fifteen years by holding an annual day when health services come to them – The Big Bonang Arvo – which will be held on 31 October.
The nearest Victorian doctors are two hours away down Bonang Road, a challenging drive which includes “dodging logging trucks”, says Sue.
Sue has learnt the hard way that when it comes time to ring 000, it’s important to request an ambulance from NSW.
“The first time I rang an ambulance, I didn’t ask for a NSW one and it took the Victorian ambulance four and half hours to get here because they had to saw their way through all the fallen trees on Bonang Road. It must have been after a storm.”
Bonang is only 19 km from the NSW border and Sue says that accessing a doctor in Bombala is generally easier for routine checks but that wait times can be weeks, with only two doctors currently working there.
The Neighborhood House is funded through the state government, a common feature in regional Victoria.
“Don’t you have neighbourhood houses in NSW?” Sue queries, adding that the community service is the last remaining after the general store closed 10 years ago and the tiny school just last year.
This year, a team of health professionals at the Big Bonang Arvo will be on hand to do skin checks, blood pressure checks, routine women’s health tests and to answer any health-related questions for the roughly 50 people who come in from small communities in the area.
There will be a physio and counsellors available, as well as representatives from the Orbost Library and Parks.
“In past years, Orbost Regional Health has coordinated the event but this year Tubbut Neighbourhood House has taken it on, with the assistance of Birgit Schaedler who has liaised with many of the services attending,” explains Deb Foskey, president of Deddick Valley Isolated Community Group.
Deb is concerned about the future and the health of her community.
“Our communities will be raising the need for more coordination and better delivery of health services with the NSW and Victorian Cross Border Commissioners,” she says. “The Big Bonang Arvo doesn’t make up for the lack of a bush nursing centre or regular visits by counsellors and other health practitioners, but it is an important event in the local calendar, providing access to doctors and allied health services.”
Despite a lack of services, Sue and her family love living in Bonang.
“We lost the policeman at Bendoc so now we rely on the young fella at Delegate but he’s not always there,” Sue says ruefully. “We’d love to have police services as well as health services because we’ve had a few incidences of people being a bit silly with firearms. But we love it here, it’s so beautiful.”
Everyone is welcome to attend the Big Bonang Arvo. A free lunch, prepared by the Bonang Hall Committee, will be served at 1:00 pm, with services available from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm, on October 31.
“No matter which side of the border you live, you are welcome to attend. Ring Tubbut Neighbourhood House for more information,” Deb says.
For further info, contact Lisa and Sue on 02 6458 0295 (Wednesday to Friday) or Birgit on 0419 590 592.