Robinvale demonstrates the power of community and a bit of celebrity

Robinvale demonstrates the power of community and a bit of celebrity

The remote community of Robinvale sits between Swan Hill and Mildura, with some 8,000 people who live and work in what is Victoria’s food bowl. Agribusiness and horticulture are the main revenue source for the community, which gives rise to a seasonal and transient workforce with almost three-quarters of the community having a culturally and linguistic diverse background (CALD). Robinvale has its share of alcohol and other drugs issues, and mental health problems which often carries some stigma.

The Robinvale Network House educates and builds community programs. Their House Coordinator, Carolyn Martinussen is proud of the support people bring to the community through the organisation but she recognises the impact of stigma in a community.

"In a small community, the ripple effect of a person and/or family hurting through mental health, drugs, or suicide is devastating. Many of us know the person and their family,” she says.

The stigma of mental health or drug use presents and when there is an element of shame, problems arise.

“A lack of knowledge about where or how to access services was becoming an increasing issue in the community. Following several suicides, we decided it was time to proactively address these issues. To assist in continuing the conversation, and to complement and promote available services, Robinvale Network House planned the Be SAFE Mental Health Forum.”

The forum helped to reset attitudes about mental health, drug use and suicide, with the goal of decreasing the stigma for each topic.

“Through FRRR's In a Good Place program, funded by CCI Giving, celebrity Osher Gunsberg visited the community to speak about his struggle with mental illness.”

Kickstarting a conversation around mental health and drug issues had the support of Headspace representatives and health staff from Robinvale District Health Services.

From Robinvale, Euston, Mildura, Balranald and Swan Hill, 200 people participated in the Be SAFE Mental Health Forum and listened to Osher's story.

Carolyn Martinussen said that the most valuable part of the evening was the unscripted questions from the floor, which lasted for an hour.

"I've been in my role for nearly 20 years having organised many projects and programs in that time. Almost every person thanked me for organising this event. The Chairman of Robinvale Network House told me his social media feed was full of comments about the event".

Be SAFE is an example of small communities becoming empowered by working together. The local council donated use of the Community Centre and an AV technician to oversee sound and video on the night; volunteers set up the venue, and the local primary school stepped in with a data projector.

Flyers were produced and circulated, and social media was put to very good use despite no marketing budget. Local media outlets provided coverage including: Sunraysia Daily, local ABC Breakfast radio, and a podcast with Councillor Jade Benham and Osher Gunsberg.

The Vale Podcast “Conversations in Cars” was recorded on the trip from Mildura to Robinvale for the event. Osher also posted on his social media streams about the event and the Robinvale area.

"What a night we had in Robinvale, last night,” he remarked.

“Thank you everyone who drove so far to come to hear me speak. ⁠I was so grateful to speak about mental health here, and thanks for a superb Q&A afterwards.”

Most importantly, local Mental Health First Aid training has increased since the event, and members of the Robinvale community and surrounding areas are candidly discussing depression, attempted suicide, self-medicating, the need to speak up and acknowledge the caring role of partners.