Letters to the editor

Fix roads urgently

The Great Ocean Road is indeed great, but it’s not a loop, it defies logic that the Federal Government funds the Great Ocean Road tourist journey from Melbourne to the 12 Apostles yet not the exit roads back to the highway to Colac. Why would you fund 90 per cent of a tourist route?  Masses of cars and buses exit the Great Ocean Road at Princetown or Port Campbell and head towards the highway, Melbourne-bound at dusk.  They drive through Simpson. The self-drive tourists drive through our towns where kids catch the bus, kick the footy and farmers move cattle or tractors. The tourists are very bad drivers. Very, very bad. They drive at 130km/h one minute and upon seeing a koala they stop, in the middle of the road for a photo. Then also forget which side of the road they’re meant to be on. We’ve had two head-on crashes in the last three weeks involving multiple people being ferried off to hospital.  Everyone here is nervous while driving. We know it is just a matter of time before there’s a mega crash involving any combination of tourist bus, milk tanker, school bus or tractor and there will be 50+ dead or injured. We’re already familiar with the noise of one air ambulance. I acknowledge that deciding which road to fix first is like picking the cleanest dirty shirt, none of them are good. But for what it’s worth; the most valuable thing for people is human life. Everything else is secondary to that. Right or wrong, I suspect there’s a massive voter backlash on the horizon for our local Liberal politicians who enjoy some of Australia’s safest seats. People are now angry. Personally, I’d fix the Great Ocean Road exit points. That’s purely because of the risk of massive loss of life, but I’m sure every reader has a story to tell. 

Simon Illingworth, Port Campbell

Break grip of drugs

I deal with ice users on a regular basis. It’s an ugly drug that not only harms the person using it but will destroy anything that is decent about their life. The very people that once protected them slide fearfully away not knowing what to do. I have sat with grown men and watched them cry. They once were proud of the toned muscles which they had but now they are reduced to skin and bone scarred by the fierce itching from the drugs. With bleeding scabs and skull like face, staring eyes reminiscent of something from a concentration camp, they sit there looking through me with teary eyes. I know you are still in there even although you refuse to acknowledge my existence I will try to reach you. You who are out there on the drugs need to know we can still help you. Reach out as others have and do not let illness, crime or death take you from the people who love you. There are many people who can refer you on to agencies and start you on your road to recovery.  It won’t be easy but it’s there for the asking. Lifeline is a good starting point. The Salvation Army and WRAD.  Any church will assist to get you help as will any police station. Reach out and help stop the epidemic which is strangling our cities. It starts with you.

David MacPhail, Warrnambool

Reinvigorate uni campus

While it is pleasing that Deakin has been forced to maintain some commitment to its one, truly regional campus, we must as a community keep up the pressure. This Deakin plan must be explained and presented as a clear pathway to saving people's jobs and growing this campus. Instead it appears the  "plan" is doing the exact opposite with more jobs and courses gone. A number of questions must be answered urgently: Is the $14m promised to aid a transition to another provider now being used to pay for Deakin to cut staff and reduce activity on our campus further? Will it be used to pay off debt when Deakin, a not-for-profit organization, has reportedly $500 m in the bank?  That's half a billion dollars. There has been no commitment to campus-specific marketing for Warrnambool. There is already promotional material available. I have seen it.  Why not use it – now? Is it reasonable for Deakin to sell the golf course and surrounding land, unless the proceeds will be directly spent on growing the Warrnambool campus? How can it be that Deakin executives have kept their jobs despite a campus nearly going under on their watch? It is crucial that we continue to discuss and progress the many possibilities that could grow our campus. The $14 million promised by the Federal Government should be used to further invigorate this campus by subsidising student costs, especially with residences only 26 at per cent occupancy, after a $10 million expansion paid by the Federal Govt only four years ago. Other ideas include: pay industry-based higher degree by research projects; create a renewed international student program aimed at our sister cities in China and Japan; design Warrnambool-only courses that draw on local academic and community expertise; foster city, industry and business partnerships and placements; investigate the possibility of a school operating in conjunction with the university at Sherwood Park aiming at becoming a national education research leader; national agriculture and research centre and many other positive, future-thinking options. We should build on the strengths of this institution. Smaller class sizes, the close and supportive relationship between students and their teachers, our location and the many benefits of living in a beautiful regional, coastal city are just a few of the reasons to choose to study at Deakin Warrnambool. If we let it dwindle further, only to finally be shut down, the social and economic effects felt by our city will be profound. That’s not something I will stand by and let happen, will you?

Tony Herbert, Warrnambool

Mental health – take action

December last year my family’s lives were changed forever. My uncle very publically lost his battle to bipolar. A missing person for three weeks, his face (the worst photo imaginable) was plastered across newspaper articles, Facebook posts and radio updates in a desperate plea to help find him.  Articles quoted “he suffers a medical condition that requires daily medication”, “unwell man” and “health concerns”. Not once did they mention the words mental illness, bipolar or poor mental health. Why? Is it such a dirty word? Should we as his loving family be ashamed? Should the public form their own opinions of said illness? Should this just be another topic swept under the carpet, too raw and awkward to discuss?

I’ll tell you why – because of stigma. For generations we have it ingrained in us that mental illness is embarrassing, a sign of weakness or the insane. As a loving niece, I am not ashamed, nor was he.

As a young individual challenged by bouts of anxiety, I am not ashamed. As a leader stepping out to make a difference to others in this situation, I am not ashamed. In loving memory of my uncle, I am going to stand up and make a difference. Let’s remove the stigma.

Mental illnesses are not dissimilar to cancer, diabetes or heart disease. They follow the normal process of diagnosis and management, usually with medication. Some will recover completely, some will stay in remission, some will live with it well and some will lose their battle. But why is it so much harder to deal with? Why is it publicly shamed? Why is there brilliant new cancer centres opening year after year but those challenged by mental health are kept in the dark, with no access to adequate service outside of large metropolitan and regional areas or told "our service is not available after 5pm" and "we can't help you".

This is not an easy topic. There is no easy solution. I appreciate everyone’s efforts in raising awareness for mental health through campaigns like Liptember, Movember, speak out and the like, but let’s be frank, we are pretty bloody aware of the devastating impacts poorly controlled mental health illnesses have. Let’s not raise awareness, let’s take action. If 1000 people donate just $5 to this worthy cause – we will have enough funds to make a change to those who are challenged by poor mental health and those who support them. 

We (Head Out) are developing an App (mobile friendly website) that will be a calendar of events throughout the Great South Coast that have known benefits to our mental well-being (inlcuding events run by mental health agencies & community not-for-profit events).

The site will also be a resource/tool/collaboration of information for everyone and anyone to use. It will educate the user on things they can do to get themselves and/or a friend or family member in a better head space, as well as contact details of agencies they may require when the going gets tough.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) estimates that more than $7.6 billion is spent on mental health services in Australia each year. Despite this, the numbers are climbing rather than falling, with more people feeling isolated.

We know that simple things like getting out in our environment, exercising and socialising can do amazing things for our mental wellbeing. It could be just what your mate needs to get out of that dark place. But how do you find out what's right for them? What's happening in your local area? And who to contact when things are bad?

We all need to #headout. Mental health is about wellness, not illness. Please help us normalised the spectrum. 

Jessica Fishburn, Caramut