A HISTORY-making federal election, one of the most energised grassroots movements in the Border region, and a helluva lot of political noise.
With the year it’s just had, it would hardly be surprising if the electorate of Indi wanted to kick back and relax for 2014 and let the attention turn elsewhere.
However, it appears Voice 4 Indi, the community movement that helped see independent Cathy McGowan topple Liberal Sophie Mirabella for the seat, has no such plans.
As the group begins to make preparations for the Indi summit, tentatively scheduled for the first half of the year, Voice 4 Indi president Alana Johnson says they are still encouraging people to keep having their say and shape the future of a changing electorate.
“I keep saying to people that being involved in the federal election campaign was really just one strategy,” Ms Johnson said.
“Voice 4 Indi has a much bigger and much more long-term focus, and that is that the traditional form of leadership — where you expect a person in a position of authority like an MP to look after you — is really becoming irrelevant.
“We’re just mirroring the change where people are saying they want to have more change and more control.”
To that end, Ms Johnson and co are using social media application Twitter, one of the biggest tools of Ms McGowan’s campaign, to ask people what is their wish for Indi in 2014?
While the hashtag #IndiWish has been slow to start, the responses shared so far reveal the range of concerns among Indi residents from all walks of life: healthcare, internet, transport and young people all rate a mention, most of which were raised in Voice 4
Indi’s kitchen table conversations.
Ms Johnson said she hoped some of Indi’s young expats, perhaps home for Christmas, would teach their older counterparts how to use Twitter and other new technology to share their “wish”.
“When we talk about people having a voice it needs to manifest in lots of different ways ... and the digital world is becoming a big part of that.”
The group is planning on hosting Twitter chats with local identities, and plans to collate the “wishes” to bring people together and take action.
And as for Ms Johnson’s own wish?
“My wish has to be that many, many, many more people find their voice and know there’s a place for it,” she said.
Erin Monteith, 28, West Wodonga
"My #IndiWish ... is for people to have better access to specialised medical tests, equipment and specialists without having to travel."
I’ve lived in Wodonga with my parents and younger sister for 19 years. I graduated from La Trobe University in 2009 with a Bachelor of Behavioural Science and then studied art online, while too ill to leave the house.
I’m on a disability support pension and am an online volunteer, when I’m well enough. Dad works full time but Mum is my full-time carer.
My sister and I are both chronically ill. I have a genetic connective tissue disorder called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which means I dislocate multiple joints per day, and associated chronic pain and arthritis, and other chronic health conditions.
I need help with most daily tasks, often can’t leave my house, use a wheelchair most of the time, and have to visit lots of doctors and have lots of tests — some locally and others in the city.
We have to travel to see some of our many specialists, and to have specialised medical tests done, and we have met many other people over the years in a similar situation.
It’s difficult for people who are already unwell to travel. Public transport can be hard for some sick people to use — I stopped being able to manage it without a lot of help a few years ago — and if a stay in the city is needed, most people will need to find and pay for accommodation.
For a while, specialist appointments in the city were a fortnightly thing for our family, and one of our parents would have to either drive to Melbourne and back in a day, or stay overnight to rest before travelling back the next day.
The trip takes an extra toll on sick people and their families — especially for those who have to travel often.
I think it would help if we could find ways to attract specialists to rural areas, and then keep them here — along with funding specialised equipment and tests that these specialists need to do their jobs effectively.
I’d also like to see greater access to community events, buildings, parks, etc. for people with disabilities. Wodonga has been really good in that but I’d love everywhere to be as accessible.
I think the future for Indi looks very bright. For the first time, I feel like everyday people are being listened to — and that’s fantastic!
Broede Carmody, 20, Melbourne
"My #IndiWish ... is an electorate where young people have as many opportunities as their urban couterparts."
I’M 20, I grew up in Wodonga and moved to Melbourne to study journalism in 2011.
There, I found the disparities between young country and city people.
Less than 60 per cent of those aged 20-24 have finished year 12 in parts of Indi, in Melbourne it’s closer to 80. And less than 20 per cent of people aged 20-39 have a degree.
The city has many more universities and those who don’t go to uni have more work opportunities, so it’s also not surprising Indi’s in the bottom half of the index of socio-economic disadvantage.
It’s about better education, getting more Indi people into university and for them to be able to afford it.
If all those who moved away came back, think of what they could put back into the community.
But usually there’s not enough incentive to return. I would like to one day, but I probably need to stay in the city to build my career.
One thing the country has over the city is the sense of community. We saw that with Voice 4 Indi, the headspace campaign, and things like the local markets and events.
People tend to accept things, but the federal election taught us it doesn’t need to be that way.
People power can inspire young people to do good.
Matt Thomas, 49, Benalla
"My #IndiWish ... is for a train to get from Benalla to Melbourne quicker than the one that took Ned Kelly there!"
I grew up at Sandy Creek and then Wodonga, and then moved to Benalla 16 years ago. Our four kids — 22, 20, 18 and 17 – were raised here, and I work for an electricity distribution company.
As a kid I used to catch the train from Wodonga to Melbourne and it took three hours.
Now my kids take it from Benalla and it takes four hours.
It was always fairly reliable, it’d get there within five minutes of the scheduled time.
Now, it’s nothing for the XPT to be 40 minutes late.
I understand the problems ... but the rail is atrocious, it affects everything.
For example, my daughter plays elite-level netball in Melbourne so we have to drive down regularly. If the trains were reliable she could get there herself.
The kids have to move to Melbourne for uni or work ... if you could get to the city within an hour or two a lot of the disadvantages would be removed.
Benalla is an ageing town, it seems to me all the young people have left town to do other things.
It used to be that these towns were good government towns, but now what’s there to replace that?
Diane Shepherd, 54, Indigo Valley
"My #IndiWish ... is for a family-style internet connection for a reasonable price."
I live on a beef-grazing farm about 24 kilometres from Wodonga.
I’m a teacher, I’ve taught at schools in Wodonga and Beechworth, and was one of the original Voice 4 Indi members. I’m a mother of four adult children — 28, 25, 22 and 20.
When everyone comes home at this time of year, we are all trying to use a very limited 15GB internet service that keeps dropping out and doesn’t handle the demands for university, social networking and information seeking, let alone my normal use of the internet for my needs.
It’s not as if we use it for anything exciting like movie watching or iview, just the basics.
My daughter’s partner had to buy a dongle to ensure he could Skype his family on Christmas day as I couldn’t guarantee that we would have any internet left.
There’s quite a few young people coming back to the area who are doing exciting things or keen to start a life here again after living in the city.
They are used to high speed and large downloads in the cities and they have grown to rely on them as part of their lives.
They come back expecting the same level of service and my worry is if we don’t have that, we won’t keep them.
I have tried to get answers and assistance but I just can’t find the solution. I just want to work out how I can make it work for my very connected, and very reliant on internet, family.
I think Indi’s future has already started in that so many people are so much more empowered to make things happen.
I expect to see people getting more involved, seeking solutions and working together for change.
Karen Rourke, 39, Wangaratta
"My #IndiWish ... is positive mental health and hope for young people."
I’m from Sydney but moved to Wangaratta eight years ago.
Coming from a city environment where you always have a sense of anonymity it took some getting used to — I’m married to a Wangaratta fella, so when we moved back people would stop us on the street to say hello, my husband knew so many people.
But I love it here and even my parents liked it so much they retired here. I’ve worked in community relations for more than 20 years.
I made my wish on a personal note. We’d just received terrible news that my husband’s extended family had lost someone just before Christmas (not from Indi).
He was 21 and even though he came from a loving caring family, this young boy struggled.
It highlighted how at such a joyous time of year for many, there are people who feel very vulnerable or who are lonely or alone, across our country and across the world, and tragedies occur at a time of year when we are celebrating life.
So if I could have any wish — not just for Indi — it would be that young people can feel hope, because with hope you have the basis for a future.
You can get through anything.
In Indi, I think people are working hard to address it all the time ... and I think the community will be pleased to have headspace in Albury-Wodonga when it opens, and connectivity of services.
Mental health in our society is similar to cancer in its commonality — most people know someone, or know of someone, who is affected.
And it’s something that as a community and a country we have to be constantly aware of, even when we have great programs and services in place, because from social media to our face-to-face interactions, the responsibility and opportunity rests with all of us.