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Thursday / June 13.
HomemitwocentsAs I See It: The Rural Challenge

As I See It: The Rural Challenge

Over the last couple of months I have had the good fortune to be involved with cricket coaching clinics in rural NSW. I say “the good fortune” because as a country boy myself, born and bred in Wagga Wagga, it is always refreshing and reinvigorating to get out of the big smoke and into the wide open spaces and fresh air.

The countryside in late winter was looking lush and green, a far cry from the burnt, brown and grey look that the ‘Bushies’ have endured through several years of drought. The late summer and early winter rains don’t take long to refresh the arid soils. Of course, the green and flourishing scene brings smiles to the farmers’ faces and ultimately gives their kids a smiling outlook on life, and sport.

Some of the children I coached were the sons and daughters of people I had played with, or against, many years ago. The battles between Riverina (Wagga, Griffith, Albury, Narranderra and all points in between) and Western Area (Dubbo, Forbes, Bathurst, Orange, Mudgee, et al.) were always hard fought but very friendly, if you know what I mean.

Each match was played with Test match intensity – we all imagined ourselves in the middle of the Sydney Cricket Ground or Adelaide Oval or the MCG rather than Ex-Services Oval or Temora Recreation Ground! The matches also got you out of school for a few days, which was a bonus.

Some less appreciative students thought that a school room was preferable to the middle of a western plains cricket ground in 40-plus degrees of heat, but the weather never seemed to be a problem unless it rained and took us indoors, then we wished we were back in school. There is nothing as dreary as a cricket ground during rain. Fortunately for cricketers it is rarely wet in that part of the country in summer, and until just recently in winter either, as the drought stretched beyond half a dozen years.

The local coaches were a combination of school teachers, cow cockies and local businessmen dads. They all had such a wonderful enthusiasm for the sport and this reflected in a number of ways with the kids. Firstly the country kids were, without exception, very polite. They listened intently, asked questions and did their best to put into practice the knowledge that we were trying to impart.


I related the story to the groups of how I could still remember Ian Chappell visiting Mount Austin High School in Wagga 35 years ago. I could recall listening intently to the then Australian captain who I had only seen on television from far away Meccas I could only dream of visiting. Every word was like cricketing gold, and that fleeting visit was one of the inspirations for me to play for Australia. These days, the television and the internet enable a much more extensive and sometimes intimate knowledge of what sporting heroes are doing, but there is nothing like seeing your heroes up close and personal.

I would always ask the kids what their parents did for a living and am happy to report that one young all-rounder was happy to tell me that it wasn’t important what his mum and dad did, but that his uncle was a very important man in Dubbo because he was an Optometrist! He got an extra ten minutes in the nets.

My main colleague on these trips was the former New Zealand opening batsmen Bruce Edgar (who coincidentally had been my first wicket in Test Cricket!) Bruce looked after the batting side of the specialist coaching and he too enjoyed the openness and manners of the country people. Bruce has been living in Sydney for five years after coming from Wellington, N.Z. for his work and had not seen a lot of country Australia. The sprouting crops reminded him of New Zealand’s wet and productive primary produce. I’ll have to take him back in summer for a look at the “wide brown land”.

Rural Optometry

The major rural centres generally have at least one Optometry practice but there is still a shortage of professionals in many country areas. I know of one city Optometrist who travels three days a week to the central north of NSW, and that is to service good sized country towns.

I would encourage new graduates, and old, to look at spending some time in the country. The people are wonderfully friendly; the environment is easy for kids; no traffic jams; fresh air and terrific community spirit. As the country people deserve a full service from telecommunications companies and medical professionals, they certainly deserve comprehensive attention to their vision needs.

October is a big month for Optometry Giving Sight and as an ambassador for the World Sight Day Challenge (WSDC); I’d like to say a huge thank you to all Optometrists, staff, companies and students who are taking part in the Challenge on 8 October.

It’s fantastic to see so many Australian optometrists supporting the WSDC. It’s a great way to involve staff and patients while raising funds for a cause close to all our hearts.

Funds raised from the WSDC 2009 will be directed to programs in indigenous Australia, Sri Lanka, East Timor, South Africa, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, India, Peru, Nicaragua, Mexico and Papua New Guinea.

Funds raised from the WSDC 2008 have already helped give sight to thousands of people in indigenous Australia, Sri Lanka, East Timor and Africa.
It’s not too late to participate – World Sight Day Challenge celebrations will take place throughout this month, so if you haven’t registered yet just visit: www.givingsight.org

Thank you again! (Particularly to all the country Optoms around Australia.)