Blog | Older In The Country

A Conversation with COTA SA in Port Augusta

1/9/2015 - COTA SA

pt augusta signVisit highlights pros and cons of country life

Family and community life, great opportunities for volunteering, participating in the arts and living in peaceful neighborhoods - these are some of the things that older people love about life in the country, according to older people in a conversation with COTA SA held recently.

COTA SA chief executive Jane Mussared and project officer Jan Wheatley went to the regional industrial city of Port Augusta to meet local people and learn about their needs as they grow older, as well as the things they love about their lives.

"Too often there is an emphasis on what is lacking in the country for older people, such as isolation and access to a full range of services, and while we heard those concerns, we also learned that there are things about growing older in the country that are highly valued," she said.

"We are planning more COTA SA country visits to gather more feedback and compare the experiences of people living in a range of settings," she said.

Jane and Jan met with 30 people at the Institute Theatre, including two who braved a cold and early start to drive for two hours from the tiny town of Cowell.

"The thing that really struck us is that most people really love where they live and have made a conscious choice to stay in their home towns rather than move to other areas," Jane said.

"The discussions were fun and lively and we had really good conversations about how busy many people were, as choir members, part of walking groups, as volunteers for the Christmas Tree Festival, Meals on Wheels or the Arid Lands Trust or doing gardening or minding grandchildren."

Jane said COTA SA's conversations in Port Augusta and other country areas reflected findings from other sources, such as the recently released health and happiness survey, part of Australia's long term Household, Income and Labour Dynamics study. It found that people who lived in towns of less than a thousand people and those in bigger regional towns tended to be more satisfied than people living in larger cities.

COTA SA's visit to Port Augusta came soon after a major announcement that has enormous implications for the region. The major employer, Alinta Energy, announced in early June that it would bring forward to 2018 or earlier the planned closure of its coal-fired power stations in the city and the outback supply mine at Leigh Creek. This is expected to result in the loss of about 440 jobs in the region.

"Those closures are certainly top of mind for the people we talked to in Port Augusta," Jane said. "They are worried about jobs for their sons and daughters and grandchildren and many worried that their extended families will be broken up when some are forced to move away for work.

"Many people have several generations of their family living in the area and they value that closeness to their children and grandchildren."

"But they were also being quite creative about how the region could respond, for example, one of the ideas was to make the most of Port Augusta's central position in Australia and make it a base for fly-in fly-out and agency workers in the mining and energy industries."

Other concerns identified by the group in Port Augusta were the scarcity of suitable housing for older people who want to downsize from the family home with its large garden, the isolation experienced by some, access to transport, access to specialist health services, the lack of home maintenance services that can be accessed through aged care packages and the burden of red tape on volunteer organisations.

COTA SA is now preparing a report of the conversations.

"We will provide it to local Members of Parliament and relevant government ministers and we will use it as part of our advocacy role to help improve the health and wellbeing of older people, wherever they live," Jane said.

"We will also send the report to the people who took part in the conversations and intend to make a return trip to Port Augusta as a follow-up early in 2016. We are also beginning to plan other regional visits for 2015 and 2016."

This article was also published in the Australian Senior