Madlands and Anna Rose in Albury Wodonga

Anna Rose is just getting in to her school talk. “Do you eat food?” she asks the audience of about a hundred school students, and hands shoot up. She smiles. “We all eat food,” she say, “which is why climate change affects all of us.”

Albury Wodonga. A place familiar to me from family trips to visit friends here, from long journeys to Sydney or Canberra from Adelaide or Melbourne. Here the Madlands tour concluded the regional Victoria leg. Having decided that we didn’t want to compete with skiing or the winery walkabout taking place on June 9th and 10th, we arrived on the Queen’s Birthday for two days of community engagement.

a group photo of those of us on anna rose's madlands book tour, about to leave albury wodonga

The Madlands tour team just before our return to Melbourne

Preparation for our time in Albury Wodonga had been promising. We made contact with an active local climate group, WATCH, and they were assisting us with promotion and invaluable local knowledge. In addition, schools were called, local councillors were emailed, and I was soon on first name terms with local Chambers of Commerce. In the weeks before our arrival we received media coverage in the local Albury Wodonga News Weekly and on ABC Radio Murray-Goulburn. In one exciting moment I called the local TAFE to let them know about our forum only to be told they had already heard about it.

During our two days in Albury Wodonga we spoke at four local schools: Albury High School, Wodonga Senior Secondary College, Murray High School, and James Fallon High School. We participated in a workshop with WATCH (Wodonga Albury Toward Climate Health) and the local AYCC chapter. On Wednesday evening, we had our community forum, and students who’d heard us speak only a day before had a chance to come, learn more, and meet local AYCC organisers. It was also great to receive coverage in the local paper, The Border Mail and the Albury Wodonga News Weekly as well as on the local televesion stations, Win and Prime.

Our time in Albury Wodonga was well spent. At each of the schools we were struck by the interest and enthusiasm of the students. It’s also a wonderful moment to see young people coming alive to the reality that they are powerful, that they aren’t alone and that, together, we can make a different. Ellie the climate elephant was also a great hit, reminding local students that our future is at stake and that young Australians can’t let themselves be ignored.

a photo after our school talk for madlands at wodonga senior secondary college, near Albury

A photo with Ellie and the students from Wodonga Senior Secondary College.

Meeting the local AYCC volunteers was another great experience. Lisa Wellman-Tuck, Martin Dickens, and Alicia Peters, are local students who are building the AYCC in Albury Wodonga. Getting to know them reminded us all of the AYCC’s true strength – the passion and commitment of its far-flung volunteers. The AYCC’s mission is to build a generation-wide movement to solve the climate crisis and the AYCC Albury Wodonga chapter is an example of this in action.

Of course, organising in a community like Albury Wodonga has its challenges. While farmers and environmentalists have a great deal in common, both in practice and in theory, an ideological divide often gets in the way. In this area, activism is often seen as a luxury or as a hobby for an elite – not as a necessary way of preserving the land and water which we depend upon. Hopefully the Madlands tour can help the AYCC group here to grow further – if the enthusiasm of the high school students we met is any indication, there’s plenty of interest out there!

Our experience in Albury Wodonga has made it clear that it’s simplistic to suggest that regional Australia doesn’t support action on climate change. While speaking to students here we’ve heard questions about how the carbon price will function, about how sea level rise will affect Australia, and bigger questions regarding the way our economy is structured. But underneath this uncertainty and confusion is a real awareness that climate change is an issue that matters to all young Australians. After all – who doesn’t eat food?

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