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Break down barriers to access citizenship testing, calls WDA

August 13, 2020

WIMMERADevelopment Association has reignited a campaign to bring citizenship testing to the region. 

The association’s Wimmera Settlement Services is calling on the Wimmera Southern Mallee community to support its advocacy for ongoing funding to develop and deliver citizenship application support and test preparation for its eligible clients. 

It also advocates for a visiting service, once or twice a year, that would enable regional migrants to plan their preparation for the testing, and enable organisations working with migants to support larger groups to prepare for their tests.

Wimmera Settlement Services settlement officer Sara Barron said the long-running campaign arose again in light of the proliferation of COVID-19 remote service delivery. 

“Regional citizenship training and testing remains an ongoing challenge and there are significant barriers to citizenship training and testing for eligible visa holders in our region," Ms Barron said. 

“This includes a lack of local support and training to prepare applications and to prepare for the citizenship test; and excessive distances to testing sites. Nhill’s closest testing sites, for example, are a four-hour drive away. 

“Ad-hoc testing dates and times have often meant extremely early starts – as early as 3am – and multiple journeys for family groups.” 

Wimmera Settlement Services has advocated for local citizenship testing since 2012. 

A mobile regional testing model, brought to Horsham in 2014, saw 34 people sit the test 20 from Nhill and 14 from Horsham - with 32 successfully passing the test

Regional testing delivered through designated Department of Home Affairs’ offices has since replaced the former model.

This is not working for our region. The closest testing sites are in Ballarat, Bendigo, Shepparton and Mildura,” Ms Barron said. 

There are significant wait times for testing at these sites, and high numbers of potential new citizens in the region unable to access them.” 

Ms Barron said there was strong demand for citizenship testing in the Wimmera Southern Mallee. 

In 2018 WDA supported the Centre for Participation to secure Fostering Integration funding to run a pilot citizenship training course. This has 17 people enrolled, with four more due to join in Februarypre-COVID-19 suspension,” Ms Barron said. 

The course is also highlighting the challenges of online registration for many of our migrants, and the high need for support. 

There are people awaiting their citizenship test dates, having lodged their applications several years ago; there are also people still waiting for the outcome of their citizenship test, which they sat over a year ago.” 

Wimmera Settlement Services discussed the matter with Member for Mallee Anne Webster earlier this year.

Sewing group has connectivity ‘stitched up’

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August 26, 2020

A SEWING group for migrant communities of Horsham is using technology to meet despite COVID-19 restrictions. 

Wimmera Settlement Services’ Harmony Sewing Group and Centre for Participation’s English language program collaborated to bring sewing classes online this month, in response to the latest round of stage three restrictions.

Coronavirus restrictions forced the group to cease meeting in March. 

Phuong Duong Ha led the first session, sharing her mask-making expertise and leading her teacher Cecile Vence and settlement officer Sara Barron through the simple first steps of sewing aface mask.

“It was hard to teach online. Everyone had different skills. Showing how to wind the bobbin was difficult. But it was also fun,” Phuong said.

The Harmony Sewing Group, which formed last year, links migrant communities to volunteers with expertise in craft, patchwork, quilters and other creative avenues. Social connection and community cohesion is at the heart of the project.

Wimmera Development Association’s Settlement Services along with Horsham-based The Maker’s Gallery and Studio and Wimmera Regional Library joined forces to form the group

Ms Barron said participants are making masks for friends and family, though some might also use it as a project for microbusiness course through the Centre for Participation. 

“It’s so important to keep everyone connected as best we can,” Ms Barron said. 

“We will continue to run the sewing group online through the Centre for Participation conversation classes for term three, and may decide to run it as a separate class.

It was amazing to see how far Phuong had come with her sewing skills. We are all very mixed abilities and as a student who is not very good at sewing, it’s not easy to follow instructions online. However,some of the women actually managed to make a mask.” 

WDA Settlement Services and the state government fund Harmony Sewing Group.Paw Po sewing group at Nhill donated sewing machines to the Horsham group. 

Ms Barron said people wanting more information about the Harmony Sewing Group, or wanting information about activities to support migrants in the Wimmera SouthernMallee, could phone her on 5381 6504

Upskilling opportunity for committees, boards

August 10, 2020

THEWimmera Southern Mallee’s community leadership development program is offering people a unique learning opportunity. 

Leadership Wimmera has teamed with the Australian Institute of Company Directors to offer two governance training programs to the region’s current and aspiring committee and board members. 

It will offer a two-day Governance Foundations for Not-for-Profit Directors – a governance fundamentals course for non-profits discussing duties and responsibilities; strategy and risk; and finance.

It also offers a five-day Company Directors Course - designed to strengthen the governance skills and knowledge of directors and senior executives. The course will enhance the effectiveness of directorship and corporate governance for organisations, and equip participants with the knowledge and confidence to be better leaders in directing for performance.

An information session on Wednesday, August 12 will detail the learning outcomes and registration requirements of the course best suited to applicantsDates and costs are being finalised ahead of the information night. 

Leadership Wimmera program manager Jessica Grimble said attendance at the information night was highly recommended. 

“People will hear, first-hand, from representatives of the AICD what course is the best fit for them,” Ms Grimble said. 

“In such a challenging time, strong leadership and strong governance is vital. These courses will be delivered to Wimmera people only, and will ensure board and committee members are equipped with high-level knowledge to support their organisations and clubs to navigate their day-to-day, and their futures.” 

The information session is on Zoom from 7pm for about an hour. A recording will be available for those unable to attend.

Ms Grimble said people could register for the information session here.

She said people could contact her for more information via This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The Wimmera Development Association-auspiced Leadership Wimmera began in 2002 and the program has supported about 600 people to develop their personal and leadership skills. Ongoing opportunities to learn and develop are offered through the program’s Graduate Network.

Supporting the sustainability of community sport

August 4, 2020

SPORT contributes more than $18 million to the Wimmera Southern Mallee economy.

A Wimmera Development Association COVID-19 Community Sport Report identifies the financial and social benefits that sport brings to the community.

It also provides four recommendations for sporting club committees that aim to help clubs not only survive the effects of COVID-19; but to emerge stronger and better positioned for a sustainable and viable future. Key recommendations include the need for strategic planning, strong financial management, diversification and volunteer management.

The report shows most committees of management consist mostly of volunteers.

Wimmera Regional Sports Assembly, as part of its ongoing COVID-19 webinar series, has engaged subject matter experts to present on each of the four topics.

Former Wimmera Regional Sports Assembly board member and consultant Katherine Colbert will deliver the first presentation – focusing on strategic planning – on Monday, August 10 starting at 7pm.

Wimmera Development Association executive director Chris Sounness said strategic planning was crucial to the long-term success of sporting clubs.

“Having a member-endorsed strategic plan, with an articulated vision, ensures clubs are well situated to embrace new opportunities and funding streams while working in-line with the club’s overall purpose,” Mr Sounness said.

The webinars occur fortnightly; people can register via https://wrsa.org.au/covid-19/

Call for understanding, calm in changing environment

August 5, 2020

THE Wimmera’s peak economic development body is calling for patience, understanding and consideration as the region adapts to renewed restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Wimmera Development Association is working with support services, state government departments and economic development officers at councils to ensure businesses receive and understand what stage three lockdown orders mean for them. 

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced the changes to restrictions earlier this week. They are effective from midnight on Wednesday, August 5. 

Wimmera Development Association executive director Chris Sounness called for patience as people adapted to the changing environment. 

“Many businesses adapted quickly before, and they will do it again. But for many, it won't come without its challenges,” he said. 

“We will see impacts that weren’t as evident the first time around. 

“The region desperately needs rain and this is adding strain to the agriculture sector that has, until this point, performed strongly. 

“For many industries, this is a complex time. The ripple effects of stage four restrictions in Melbourne flowing onto the Wimmera Southern Mallee is not insignificant. 

“I encourage people to spend locally and support local businesses if you can – look local before you look online, support local and give local the best chance of emerging strongly from this period.” 

The state government and some councils are offering grants for businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic

Mr Sounness encouraged businesses and individuals to access the following services: 

  • The Department of Health and Human Services provides real-time updates online. With relation to businesses, economic development officers at councils are assisting to disseminate the latest information relating to the stage three lockdown 
  • The Rural Financial Counselling Service can assist businesses and individuals access government packages while helping people to understand their financial position and prepare budgets or action plans; phone 1300 735 578 
  • Uniting Wimmera’s support line – 1800 195 115 – can connect people with a range of support agencies and services locally

Mr Sounness warned the region should not rely on its location and “luck” to avoid further impacts of the pandemic. 

“The impacts of this lockdown – whether it’s changes to working and schooling environments, restricted movement and access to friends and family, or even wearing a mask – is not necessarily a six-week prospect. It impacts everyone – and impacts everyone differently,” he said. 

“I encourage businesses to make themselves aware of the financial and wellbeing support available to them. Looking out for the mental health of our community during this period is paramount and a little kindness could go a long way.” 

Individuals and businesses breaching lockdown orders face hefty fines. 

Connectivity opens doors

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 EXPLORING the ongoing opportunities of working remotely is among the recommendations stemming from a region-wide connectivity survey

The Wimmera Development Association-lead survey of mobile and home internet connectivity across the Wimmera and southern Mallee showed while connectivity was at times strained as more people began working and learning from home, it opened doors for connectivity in other ways. 

Executive director Chris Sounness said the association would seek to document the possibility and costs of connecting people and organisations via video conferencing ongoing

“This period has been undoubtedly challenging – but it also shows that working and learning from home can be done, and that has built autonomy and trust between employers and employees. Leaving the door open to remote working provides flexibility; it also opens doors to connect people without the onus of hours of travel for meetings or education opportunities,” Mr Sounness said. 

“This also opens further opportunities to attract skilled professionals to the region – people who are seeking a lifestyle change but wanting to retain their current employment and don’t need a physical office-front in the region. 

“We need to rethink our views on working or meeting via video conference in the wake of this period.” 

The association’s home internet connectivity study asked participants to complete a speed test three times during a 24-hour period.

Results showed that living in an urban area did not guarantee better internet speeds compared to those of rural customers, and many people were seeking alternative or upgraded services that were fit for purpose. The survey showed many people paid for internet speeds they did not receive. Results also showed that the COVID-19 pandemic has likely seen traditional “peak times” for internet use evaporate as demand relating to working and learning from home was spread across a longer period.

The mobile internet survey asked participants to complete a single speed test. 

Results show residents have limited choices when it comes to providers and that has more impact than location when it comes to cost and connectivity. Larger providers did not guarantee superior service. 

Mr Sounness said poor connectivity added stress and frustration at a time that already posed extreme challenges due to restrictions relating to the coronavirus health crisis. 

He said advocating for improved infrastructure, in line with the Wimmera Southern Mallee Regional Digital Plan; advocating for greater education for consumers – including connectivity process and available providers; and tapping into a growing market for alternative providers were among the other recommendations stemming from the survey. 

“We have people paying for a service, but not truly understanding what the services offers them in terms of speeds. Many could also have improved service if they knew more about the connection their provider or the NBN offered, or something as seemingly simple as the position of their router,” he said. 

“There is a growing market for smaller providers in the region – who, with the right interest, are willing to discuss partnership opportunities.

“There are many different ways to solve our connectivity problems across the Wimmera and southern Mallee.” 

The show must go on, for some

ORGANISERS of half of the events cancelled in the Wimmera and southern Mallee due to COVID-19 social distancing restrictions plan to reschedule their event for later this year. 

A Wimmera Development Association survey of 40 events cancelled between mid-March and May 31 also shows that more than 40 per cent of organisers have cancelled their 2020 offering altogether and will turn their attention to 2021. 

Some event managers expressed concern that their events may not re-commence at all following the effects of the pandemic including potential loss of volunteers, momentum or sponsors.

The survey, conducted in April, forecasts that event cancellations cost the region more than $23 million in economic contribution during the March to May period alone. 

This affected almost 60,000 participants with almost 30,000 day trips and more than 35,000 overnight visitors staying in the region about 75,000 nights forfeited. 

More than 1000 people were involved in organising the events with 96 per cent of them volunteers, providing about 16,000 hours of labour, project management and administrative support. 

The survey did not include the impacts of postponed seasons for sporting clubs and leagues and business-related events.

Wimmera Development Association project manager Vernetta Taylor said many event organisers also shared their concerns for the community’s mental health and wellbeing stemming from the cancellation of events. 

“It was important to reach out to event organisers to get an understanding of the impact that cancelled events, due to COVID-19, has had on our communities – financially and socially,” she said. 

“Our local events are a part of what makes our region a great place to live.  The economic fallout is obviously very significant however the social costs are also substantial.

“It is important that event organising bodies are supported, so that our many events can return to ensure a vibrant community, that attracts visitors from near and far.” 

Wimmera Development Association will present findings to survey participants and other interested parties via video conferencing on Thursday, July 2; the forum opens at 12.15pm for a 12.30pm start.  People can register here

Time to 'Unearth Amazing'

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A NEW marketing campaign is encouraging people to explore their own backyard. 

As coronavirus travel restrictionsease, Unearth Amazing calls on people across Victoria to ‘unearth amazing’ experiences within the Wimmera and southern Mallee

The campaign began on Sunday, June 14 and includes television and social media promotional videos showing the diversity and unique nature of the region. 

It marks the end of a four-year journey to attract visitors to the region through the Wimmera Southern Mallee Tourism Collaboration and Destination Management Plan project.

Wimmera Southern Mallee Regional Partnerships initiated the project and Wimmera Development Association manages it, working with the board of Wimmera Mallee Tourism and other key stakeholders, including Grampians Tourism, in building visitationof the region.

Wimmera Southern Mallee Regional Partnerships chairman David Jochinke said the campaign came at an important time. 

When was the last time you explored your own backyard?” Mr Jochinke said. 

“Our region offers many wonderful experiences and this campaign encourages local people to unearth the amazing that lies within the Wimmera and southern Mallee. 

When they share those amazing experiences with their family and friends,ithas flow-on benefits for communities and businesses,and creates more tourism opportunities long-term. That’s a win for everyone. 

“It’s important we gain the support of locals as the tourism industry rebounds from the impacts of the coronavirus shutdown that we recognise has been difficult for many other industries, too.” 

Leveraging the Silo Art Trail has been a key focus of the work. Work at Albacutya Silo Art will  begin soon and its addition will help connect the east and west parts of the art trail, along with Lake Tyrrell. A number of the silos have an augmented reality feature available, adding to the immersive experience the trail offers its visitors. 

The Wimmera River Discovery Trail, based at the northern part of the Wimmera River, is underway and will be ready in late 2021. The Harrow Keeper of Indigenous Cricket is in the planning stages and will recognise a part of Indigenous sporting history.

Wimmera Development Association executive director Chris Sounness said collaboration was key in bringing the project to life. 

“It’s great to see the various stakeholders – including Wimmera Mallee Tourism, Grampians Tourism and the state government – collaborating on such an important project to get the result we set out to achieve,” Mr Sounness said. 

People can access www.visitwimmeramallee.com.aufor more information on Unearth Amazing – including road trip itineraries.

Tourism operators and local businesses can participate in the campaign by including the hashtags #VisitWimmeraMallee #UnearthAmazing and #SiloArtTrail on social media posts. People are also encouraged to share tips and local recommendations via the Wimmera Mallee Tourism or Silo Art Trail Facebook pages. 

Through this project, Wimmera Mallee Tourismhas strengthened relationships with Grampians Tourism, Mildura/Murray River Tourism, Lucindale Tourism and the Great Southern Touring Route and is working closer with Visit Victoria.

Supporting leaders as coronavirus restrictions ease


RESILIENCE, a collaborative mindset and confidence in change management are some of the outcomes community leaders can gain from a series of online forums this month. 

As coronavirus social distancing restrictions ease, community leaders likely need to adapt their practices and planning to recognise changing times. 

Wimmera Development Association and its long-running leadership development program, Leadership Wimmera, will host a community leaders series of lunchtime forums during June. 

The series begins on Tuesday, June 16 addressing the topic: What is community leadership? Northern Grampians Shire Council chief executive Liana Thompson and Uniting Wimmera executive officer Josh Koenig, also a Horsham Rural City councillor, will share their leadership journeys and what community leadership means to them. Register here.

On Tuesday, June 23 at a forum discussing collaboration, Wimmera Health Care Group’s Amelia Crafter will share how the organisation worked with health officials, governments and the community to fund and build the Wimmera Cancer Centre, based in Horsham. Register here.

The final forum, on June 30, will discuss how people and groups can create a “new normal” in changing environments. Jo Bourke will share the challenges and successes of the Wimmera-Mallee Pipeline project that changed the way rural properties access water. Register here.

Christine Kotur will lead the discussions. Ms Kotur provides expert professional services in the fields of strategy, governance, leadership development, complex inquiries, reviews and facilitation. She is a highly regarded independent chair, company director and strategic advisor to CEOs, senior executives, board chairs and directors, councillors and committees

Services, business models and policies are reshaping right now, by forces beyond our control,” Ms Kotur said. 

“It’s time to pause, get on the balcony and draw down every lesson, experience, story, idea and good advice you heard probably thinking you’d ‘come back to that later’. Come back to that knowledge now. 

People will need strong community leaders more than ever and that means we can’t stop learning.”

Wimmera Development Association executive director Chris Sounness said Ms Kotur was an outstanding presenter whose experience with and learnings from government inquiries and Royal Commissions had earned her immense respect. Ms Kotur is Leadership Victoria’s Leader in Residence. 

Chris is one of the best in the business in understanding how communities move through crisis. She will share what helps communities bounce back better than ever, how others reinvented themselves, and why some really struggled to pull through,” Mr Sounness said. 

He said the association was offering the forums at no cost as a way to support the community as it responded to the health crisis. 

COVID-19 is no different to any crisis in the community – people need to stand up. Our challenge at this point is to define how we, as a region, emerge post COVID-19 and keep working together for the best possible outcomes for our community and our people, Mr Sounness said. 

Chris Kotur believes that local leaders stepping up can lead to successful communities; if leadership is left to governments or other parties then recovery is far harder. 

“Our forums are all about local stories and local leadership, sharing ‘warts and all’ their experiences so others can learn from them.” 

The forums will run via Zoom and open at 12.15pm for a 12.30pm start. Recordings will be available.