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Dropping Off The Edge: Victorian country town Maryborough confronts long-term disadvantage
By Caleb Cluff and Larissa Romensky
Maryborough, a Victorian town of 7,500 people, was once a centre for regional agricultural produce and one of the largest manufacturing and rail towns in the state.
But downturns in manufacturing, rail, and farming have seen the town fall on hard times.
It remains as one of the top five disadvantaged communities in the state, unchanged since 2007, according to the latest Dropping off the Edge report.
Six residents talk about what it is like to live in the town:
Maryborough Education Centre principal David Sutton said most problems in Maryborough centred on unemployment and disadvantage.
"For many years, there was not a willingness to stand up and say, 'there are some issues in this community and we need to work together to address them'," he said.
Mr Sutton said in his 26 years in the town, he has noticed a shift towards diversity and a less judgemental attitude.
The newly-appointed principal acknowledged low levels of literacy were not confined to school children.
"Maryborough has traditionally low levels of tertiary education for adults, and that can hold young people back," he said.
"A high level of literacy gives people lots of options; it gives people choice in their life and an understanding of the world."
Mr Sutton said there were two key areas that would encourage a positive outcome and create choice — tertiary education and transport.
"If they could have a [tertiary] campus here, that could act as a sort of bridge to wider things," he said.
"The train service is one service out, one service in, each day."
Twenty-six-year old Brett Gloury struggled to read and write until the age of 20 and spent years being ashamed and afraid of being bullied or judged.
"It was a secret I kept inside," he said.
As a child Mr Gloury experienced severe speech delay and it was not until he was in kindergarten that he began to speak.
He continued to struggle with reading and writing throughout his schooling despite speech therapy.
He said it "hugely" affected his life, especially his self-esteem.
Mr Gloury was training as an apprentice spray painter when he was confronted with the depth of his problem.
"That's when it came down to 'Oh, s***, I can't read, I can't write properly'," he said.
He sought help from his teachers who assisted him, and he began to read automotive magazines.
"Without that, I knew I wasn't going to be able to get through work, through sitting a driving test, through day-to-day life, without those skills," he said.
"I needed to be determined because I realised I wasn't going to get too far without it, and I wanted to succeed."
Trained as a sewing machinist, Kaz Hughes worked at the Maryborough Knitting Mills until their closure in the 1990s.
"When that closed down I went to Maldon and did some contract sewing work from Bendigo," she said.
She returned to Maryborough and worked from home as a contractor before the clothing industry took a downturn.
Ms Hughes said the willingness to work is there, but the industries no longer exist or people are overqualified.
"There's a lot of cleaning jobs, lower basic jobs; people have qualifications for better jobs," she said.
"I've now been out of work for 23 years.
"It's still a struggle, and it has been for as long as I've been in Maryborough.
"It's frustrating, it's depressing, and it whittles down your confidence."
John Williamson's family has farmed Lochinver, near Carisbrook, since 1891.
A staunch member of the Uniting Church, a former councillor and an advocate for disadvantaged education, Mr Williamson said decisions made in the past still affected Maryborough.
"A bale of wool in the 50s bought a lot, whereas now it's declined."
"People couldn't get jobs after the railways turned down, they couldn't get a job at Patience & Nicholson or Maryborough Knitting Mills, and then the knitting mill closed," he said.
He said this translated into intergenerational unemployment and lack of motivation.
"Kids don't know it's important to get out of bed, get dressed and be able to front up for a job," he said.
As a councillor in the late 1980s, Mr Williamson saw farms sub-divided into poorly-serviced five, ten or twenty-acre blocks, in the hope of making new townships.
"It was my view that these developments should not have been allowed; they should have been discouraged. But they had already been subdivided, and there was little the shire could do."
Chenoa Hughes worked at a fast food outlet in Maryborough until the birth of her son a year ago.
"The hours were really long ... I'd have to say it's not the best place to work," she said.
As a young mother in Maryborough, 21-year-old Ms Hughes said she found a lack of transport isolating.
"It's hard getting up at 7am just to be on the platform to catch the train, and then having to catch the last train back, and it doesn't get in until 6pm at night," she said.
She said she found meeting people in Maryborough difficult.
"Finding other people that I get along with and finding something to do with having such a young son," she said.
"I'm always home all the time. It makes me feel like a loner, to be honest.
"Sometimes I'd like to be somewhere else — but this is where my family is."
Former Carlton football player Garry Higgins grew up with hidden family violence.
"As a young eight-year-old I can recall quite vividly standing between my mum and dad many, many times," he said.
"I remember that terrible feeling in your stomach or chest, when dad would start on mum, you knew what eventually it was going to lead to.
"It was all done behind closed doors, it was a little bit shameful, I suppose."
Now Mr Higgins is leading a public campaign against family violence in Maryborough and he wants the whole community onboard.
"What we've done here in Maryborough is accept and acknowledge that we've got issues — which is okay in itself — but the good thing about what has happened here is that we're actually doing stuff about it," he said.
Published August 10, 2015
Written for ABC news By Caleb Cluff and Larissa Romensky
Hendra - understanding the virus
Fruit bats and their relationship to hendra virus is the focus of the latest research to better understand the spread of the virus.
In particular, scientists want to know how the virus is retained by the mammals, why it transfers through species, and how these 'spillovers' can be predicted.
Immunologists are already warning that infectious diseases are on the increase around the world. They say hendra is a part of that problem, but suggest it must be kept in perspective.
The director of the Australian Animal Health Laboratory is Professor Martyn Jeggo.
"We in Australia are facing right now the issue of hendra virus - but on a global basis we've seen major outbreaks of FMD, we saw SARS at the turn of the century, and we've obviously had the issues around the influenza and the risks to humans of a human pandemic."
Professor Jaggo says the current work on hendra involves bringing together three distinct pieces of the puzzle, from the very basic science to the very applied science.
"Those working in the wildlife, the wildlife ecologists; the wildlife environmentalists, with the traditional animal health veterinarians who work with the livestock species; and those that work with human health."
"We certainly need to look at the safety of the current anti-serum that is available from Queensland, and that's one clear piece of research.
"We need to do all we possibly can to get this vaccine onto the market; that there is a regulatory process to go through which can't be fast-tracked, which has to be done properly; but we can certainly do some of the studies in terms of demonstrating effectiveness and safety in the horses - I think that can be done, speeded up, so that's one area.
"Thirdly, we would need a test to separate a vaccinated horse from a naturally-infected horse, a so-called diva test - differentiating vaccinated from naturally-infected horse - that needs to be developed as well.
Professor Jaggo says there needs to be work done on the case of a farm dog which was infected with the virus. He says cats are also of interest.
Beyond establishing the scientific facts, research will also focus on bat behaviour and environment.
"We need to focus on slightly more adaptive research around bats and trying to continue to focus on why these viruses live with bats so comfortably, and what we can learn from that - is it applicable to other hosts?"
"The other area of work, and in a way you can split it into two camps: the macroscopic work - the issues in the field, the epidemiology - versus the microscopic work, which is the type of thing we do here, which is looking at the virus in the host and at the cellular level.
"We want to know the triggering factors", he says.
"What are the factors that make bats shed more virus, that make bat populations move from A to B and is it always the black bat? There are four different species of flying fox.
"There's the so called black species and there's the brown species and there's the other two. Are they all equally as prone to hendra virus and do they all shed as equally?
"We've got many challenges facing us around emerging infectious diseases in general, and so where do you target your resources?
"Realistically, hendra is still a rare event, hendra is still a rare disease.
"It's not common, and so how much effort do we put into hendra versus whooping cough, or versus influenza?
"I think those are the challenges that faced us ever since the disease first occurred in 1994, and so I think we put a reasonable amount of effort in, given the rarity of the disease and its importance."
"Horses get many other diseases, and where do you prioritise?"
Dr Deborah Middleton is a registered specialist in veterinary pathology and leads projects within the Transforming Animal Biosecurity research area at CSIRO's Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) in Geelong, Victoria, Australia.
She concurs with Martyn Jeggo about the need to look at hendra with relation to its place within a larger picture of virology. She too adds that hendra is still a very rare event.
"I mean, when you look at the numbers of flying foxes in Australia, and the number of horses in Australia, the number of 'spillover' events that we see is still very, very small; so the risk of any individual horse contracting the disease is very low.
"People need to remember it's a poorly-transmissible disease, and so what that means is if you have a sick horse, and you're aware that hendra virus could be in the differential diagnosis, then you need to take appropriate hygiene precautions, and you will immediately reduce the risk of contracting the infection.
"It's a disease of low incidence, but very, very high impact."
Dr Linfa Wang is known colloquially as the 'bat virus man', but his studies are anything but colloquial.
"We have been studying bat viruses for 15 years.
"Hendra in '94 was really the trigger, and I would say hendra marks the new beginning, not only in Australia but internationally, of bat-borne viruses.
"But about three years ago we made a decision. We're getting more and more bat viruses.
"Some of them are highly lethal, like hendra, SARS and nipah - yet, among bats, we know they carry many more other viruses, and none of them seem to be causing disease in bat populations... so we really started research into [the] bat itself.
"But if you go through the literature actually there's very little research has been done in the fundamental bat biology, bat immunology or the virus/bat interaction.
"As a scientist it's exciting, because what we do is pioneer work, so that's the positive sort of side.
"The negative side is if you get into research into bats, basically you have to start from ground zero.
"'Why are bats resistant to virus?' is an interesting question, but I think it's going to take five to ten years, if we are lucky, to get some useful answers.
"This [the CSIRO team] is what we call a multi-discipline team; we cover a lot of areas - for example we started as a virology team... and then we discovered the immunology importance, so I hired a leading immunologist... and we collaborate with Deborah Middleton, who is a veterinary pathologist, so she actually looks at the animal's side for the disease, the lesions; and also now we are starting into genomics, trying to do the bat genome sequencing.
"With a genome sequence or blueprint you can do a lot of research, let's face it, that you cannot do without this kind of information. So it will be a huge breakthrough once we have that bat genome.
"As a scientist working in this area , there are really two broad areas we try to look at - one is that is it possible that we have a new virus which is more transmissible and easier to spill over into other hosts... the other possibility is that, again as I said, we have a very limited understanding of the bat population, the bat dynamics - how that contributes to virus levels and spillover.
"We tend to focus more on the virus, and the preliminary data suggests, first of all, that not a single virus is responsible for all this disease outbreak.
"Hendra is a species, at a virus level, which is different from other viruses; but within that species, we already know for a fact there are many different strands or variations, so genetically they are 0.1 per cent different; but one thing we already knew from past data is that hendra is not a 'flu - it's genetically stable.
"There are variants in the bat population, but each variant is relatively stable.
"It's sort of a difficult concept in science."
Published September 13, 2011
Written for ABC Rural