Monday, April 18, 2011

Mums speak out


What does a Blue Quandong tree have in common with families of the Far North?


Imagine a grand Blue Quandong tree in the Daintree Rainforest.
Blue Quandongs are the giants of the rainforest. They are an integral part of the canopy layer, hiding the sun from the plants below it.
Imagine that the strong, thick roots of the tree are our major capital cities, our parliament, our leaders – standing firm for centuries, with long, deep roots to be nurtured from a variety of sources and minimal threat to its endurance.
Now imagine the Far North is the canopy, reaching out for attention, open to the elements, at the mercy of the wind, being swayed to and fro by a transient lifestyle, and its fruits there for the taking.
As the wind picks up, branches drop and so the canopy changes with the times.
We wave for attention to the roots down below, but don’t get as much nourishment as the branches below us.
Perhaps my analogy is a little exaggerated, but Cairns is feeling neglected.

A short survey of mums this week showed that the downturn in tourism is having an effect on everyone. One of the biggest challenges living in Cairns was summed up by one mother: “The general depression blanketing Cairns at the moment... local morale seems to be low and Cairns is lacking buzz.”
Another mum said: “The cost of living is a challenge... my wage is less than I could earn in the metro cities, and rates and petrol are more expensive than Brisbane.”
“People’s attitudes should change more because unless you are a paying tourist, the locals are a bit insular,” said a mother of four who has lived in Cairns for 19 years.
“Cairns-ites like to think that they are living in an international city but when something is needed, or things go wrong, they fall back on ’we are just a little town’.”
Another mum wished for more positivity among locals and better community spirit: “I’d love to see more support for new ideas... there are a lot of knockers out there.”
Some mums wished there was a cultural and social hub for Northern Beaches families, since the city has Muddies, and the southside has Sugarworld. And covered sports centres were high on the list.
Safety was a big concern for a number of families.
“We don’t always feel safe in the city, so don’t really go in there much,” said a Redlynch mother, who has lived in the area for the past 10 years.
Another replied: “There are too many tourists and visitors to be confident that your children will be safe in any location unless closely supervised.”
Medical services rated well by most mothers, however, top of the wishlist, were more private practices and specialist physicians.
A mum of three kids, who has lived in Cairns for 22 years, said: “I have experienced no problems with any services, apart from the need to be able to see into the future, so you can make a doctor’s appointment today and visit in a week’s time when they (children) are sick!”
“Public transport is not really convenient or affordable,” said one mum, who has lived at Trinity Beach for four years.
“Retail, restaurant and trade service could be improved – we are not service focused and more effort should be spent on training staff and lifting expectations,” said a Clifton Beach mum of four.
But it’s not all bad news for Far North families.
Every mother I interviewed said Cairns was ideal for raising children because there was so much to do.
“There are a huge number of activities for families,” raved one mother of three from Redlynch.
“I am constantly surprised by the choice – cooking classes, art classes, music of all types, mother’s groups, family nights, child-friendly restaurants and clubs, the activities at the library are excellent – I think we are spoilt for choice, and when I hear people complain that they don’t know what to do in and around Cairns with kids I’m bewildered.”
“There is so much to do here, and most is free,” said an Edge Hill mum of two. “Most services in Cairns are of a very high standard. As a single working mum, I depend on after school care and vacation care and it has been seemless.”
While all mums were happy with childcare options in Cairns, others wished for more non denominational private schools so that the city offered a greater choice in education.
One of the biggest challenges faced living in the tropics was the distance from family.
However, every woman I spoke to has created a support network of friends around them.
One mum, 38, said she has “a solid reliable network of good people we can call on in any type of crisis or time of need, or just for friendship.”
And this is where my Blue Quandong rises to the challenge.
If we’re all just swaying branches trying desperately to hold on to our jobs, our happiness and our future in this Far Northern outpost, the best way to carry on is to keep our chins up and stick together.

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