SMALL communities across rural and regional Australia must continue to stay positive, realise their worth as “everyday people”, and never leave their mates behind.
That was the view the Australia Day ambassador to Nundle, John Harper, shared in his keynote speech at the local celebrations.
Mr Harper, the founder of the depression-fighting community self-help program Mate Helping Mate, said towns and villages must work together for their communities’ strength and individuals’ mental health.
The Riverina-based farmer attended the event in his shearer’s clothes and moccasins, and said he was “extremely honoured to be an Australia Day ambassador”.
“I’m an ordinary bloke – look at me, I’m no different to some other joker walking up and down the street,” he said.
“Australia is built on jokers like me. A leader ain’t worth a cracker unless he has followers, and when it all comes down to it, it’s everyday people that build Australia … that’s the greatest strength of Australia.”
Mr Harper said that although mental ill-health was a complex topic, “negative thinking is the tip-over point, and at the end of that may well be suicide”.
He urged people to stay connected as a way to stem negative habits of thinking, which often didn’t reflect the real situation.
“When you isolate and withdraw and don’t socialise, and you have negative thinking, problems get bigger and you get smaller,” he said.
“The beauty of Australia Day, the beauty of Lions Clubs and other groups, is that you come together and you talk about things and you see reality.
“It doesn’t mean there’s not a problem here, it just means you deal with reality.”
Mr Harper finished his address with a role play involving some of the local schoolchildren.
In a physical analogy of how depression caused people to be “left behind”, one boy was “stuck” (in a chair).
Mr Harper said sometimes it took friends to “pick up” that person, chair and all.
“We do it with our own kids and our families; the challenge is for everybody, in pushing Australia forward, to realise the old values.
“We never left our mates behind, the Anzacs showed that.
“We never do; it’s one of the great things about Australia.
“Let’s keep this in mind: look, listen, and if you’ve got mates falling behind, let’s carry them.”