Five hundred kilometres northwest of Brisbane, and two hundred kilometres west of Bundaberg, right at the gateway to Cania Gorge National Park lies the quiet rural town of Monto. Primarily an agricultural hub, this picturesque town houses a population of 1,156 people, a golf club, a swimming pool, spectacular scenery, and at the heart of this small community, LiveBetter’s Monto Neighbourhood Centre.
We recently caught up with the Neighbourhood Centre Coordinator, Bobby Redgard, to learn more about Monto – the town, the people and of course, the Neighbourhood Centre.
Bobby, who lives in nearby Mundubbera, has been working at the Monto Neighbourhood Centre for the past four years. The centre primarily services the town of Monto, but in times of need, such as drought, flood, or pandemic, they can service the whole of the North Burnett regional council area – a region that spans 19,700 square kilometres.
“Monto is a great little community, very friendly. We’re a resilient mob, and we have to be because we don’t get a lot of funding out this way. If we see something that needs doing, we just get in and get it done.”
Monto Neighbourhood Centre offers support, guidance, and assistance – it’s a real community ‘sat nav’. The centre runs a range of (mostly free) programs including youth support, meals delivery, social support groups, emergency relief, Centrelink services and hosts visiting services.
“A big role of Monto Neighbourhood Centre is social connection for people who are at risk of disengagement,” says Bobby.
Over recent years the communities of the North Burnett have been through their share of hardship and have had to dig deep to maintain their fighting spirit. In response to this, in 2021, Monto Neighbourhood Centre led the community to apply for grant money to fund a short film – a film that tells the story of the incredible strength of this rural community.
“We workshopped ideas with the community, looking at how we could best showcase our communities, particularly our resilience in the face of adversity. I applied for the grant- but it was a community effort.”
The grant was funded through the Tackling Regional Adversity through Integrated Care Funding through Queensland Wide Bay Health, and Bobby and her team were integral in leading the community as they developed ideas for the film during the projects’ initial workshop phase.
The community then contracted a production company from the Sunshine Coast, Pluggers Production, to help turn their concepts into reality.
“The production company is from the Sunshine Coast, but we were really pleased that the film maker was local to the Bundaberg area. He really got our communities,” explained Bobby.
Back then the world was still swinging in and out of lockdowns – and trying to make the film was not without its challenges.
“It was a really hard thing to navigate. It wasn’t always fun!”
But then, it’s not the first time that Monto and the communities of the North Burnett have been called upon to show their mettle, and that is what this film is about – the resilience of this small community in the face of adversity. The film talks about drought and flood – but ironically it was a pandemic that made filming a challenge. But this small community was not easily bowed, and the end result illustrates the very strength and resilience that made a project like this such a success.
“I am so proud of the final outcome! It’s a great little film. And although it was filmed in ’21, it’s still relevant – to our community, and to communities everywhere. For the past five years, it’s been pretty intense. The film really retains its relevance.”
Keenly aware of the difference a neighbourhood centre can make to a small community, Bobby would love to see LiveBetter establish neighbourhood centres in other regional areas.
“When you have a question, you don’t know the answer to, you go to a Neighbourhood Centre, and they help you find what you need. We often know what it is people are looking for before they do…”
“Many people in our communities are from a low social economic demographic. They’re workers, but their income is low. They live two hours from real services. We help connect them with the information and support they need.”
Bobby is reluctant to take all the credit, mind you.
“I’ve got a great team. They’re all young, but they’ve got the passion and willingness to learn. I’m very proud of what they’ve been able to achieve. They’re wonderful and they keep me young!”
Bobby was recently one of 32 participants selected to complete the Leading Australian Resilient Communities program. The program aims to build a network of leaders who can “drive the positive change they want to see”, and Bobby, with her passion for her community, is well-placed to get behind that particular steering wheel!
And no doubt the community of Monto will reap the benefits.