Limestone Coast’s Lifeboat program a lifesaver for community mental health

On a Tuesday evening at Mt Gambier’s City Hall, men and women are chatting on couches as sunlight streams through the windows.

At mental health support group Lifeboat SE, formality is noticeably absent. There are more than a few laughs. You can speak if you want to or just listen.

Here, everyone’s story is different. Some have lost a family member, others have been through divorces, dealt with failing businesses or struggled with post-natal depression.

For Matthew Brookes, the public face of the Lifeboat SE group, these meetings are a way for people to break the ice about a deeply private subject.

Lifeboat SE meets every Tuesday at Mt Gambier’s City Hall. Photo by Kate Hill.

From personal experience, Matthew understands how difficult it is to ask for help when you’re in the grip of anxiety or depression.

“It’s a fact that one in five people will experience mental health issues at some stage but a lot of people just don’t want to talk about it,” Matthew says.

With a relaxed mantra of ‘come and chew the fat with a mate’, the group is taking a community approach to a serious issue affecting regional communities – mental health.

A couple of years ago, life crept up on Matthew Brookes. A change of management at work left him uncertain and mulling over his future.

Then having to deal with being first on the scene of a fatal car accident was closely followed by a scary incident close to home – he rolled the car with his wife and three children inside.

Mt Gambier man Matthew Brookes is a founding member of Lifeboat SE. Photo by Kate Hill.

Although no one was injured, it was a shock for the 52-year-old, who confesses he ‘shut up shop’ and stopped talking to his family and friends, instead just wanting to sleep away the day. Stress and worry developed into anxiety and depression.

“I thought I was big enough and ugly enough to handle anything that was thrown at me, but it just got on top of me,” he says.

For a bloke who freely admitted he ‘wouldn’t walk into a meeting’, he knew he needed something else to keep him on track following more traditional forms of treatment.

A group of people began to meet up regularly and the concept of Lifeboat SE began to take shape. The group takes an early intervention approach by helping people manage stressful situations before they become a breeding ground for bigger problems.

The support group is open to all … no matter occupation, gender or circumstances. Photo by Kate Hill.

They talk about the importance of sleep, exercise, socialising, having hobbies and taking care of yourself.

As Matthew says, “there’s no captain on a lifeboat, it’s just a crew of people surviving together”.

“We want to give understanding to the community that it’s okay to talk and give them some tools to understand what’s going on and how to support each other,” he says.

Recovery is different for everyone and Matthew knows he’ll be managing his condition for years to come. When he feels low, he’ll head out camping with his family, take a long walk or catch up with another Lifeboat member for a beer and yarn.

“Everyone’s ride is different,” he says. “It takes a whole community to look out for each other.”

To find out more, visit The Junction or Lifeboat SE’s website.

If you or someone you know is going through a tough time call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

It’s all about the talk: Lifeboat’s meetings are a place for conversation. Photo by Kate Hill.

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The rise of Mt Gambier’s Metro Bakery and Café

Two years ago, Mt Gambier’s Metro Bakery and Café was named the nation’s best bakery/patisserie at the Restaurant & Catering Association Awards.

Toni Vorenas heard the whispers from the crowd as the unsuspecting squad of South Aussies walked on stage.

“Everyone was saying ‘What’s Metro? Where on earth is Mt Gambier?” she laughs.

Just ask any Limestone Coast local and they will point you in the direction of this main street eating institution in the heart of the Blue Lake city.

Expect queues; the business now takes up five premises in order to cater for demand.

Aside from the lure of the baked treats and goods, Metro Bakery is a vibrant and quirky hotspot for wall art.

“When we opened at the end of 2009, it was my husband Theo’s dream to have a little coffee shop,” Toni says.

“We started from scratch and had no hospitality experience – Theo was a mechanic and I was a teacher – and we had a single room with one table, one coffee machine and five sandwiches on the menu.

“Now, we’ve expanded into the two shops beside us and one behind, added a bar, two commercial kitchens and an outdoor dining area.”

There’s also a second smaller venue, A Slice of Metro, at the eastern end of town, for customers on the go.

A former deputy principal, Toni counts many of her students among their 44 staff, but Metro has also attracted talent from much further afield, including three Filipino pastry chefs who have worked in Paris, Dubai and Sydney’s Star Casino.

Metro Bakery and Café owner Toni Vorenas with some of the delectable sweet treats.

“We advertised all over Australia for chefs without success, so then we turned to an immigration company,” Toni says.

“We are so lucky – they came with enormous skills and they are teaching them to our local kids.”

The Metro ethos is ‘one family’, and the staff are incredibly close. Toni and Theo have nurtured the sense of camaraderie with their strong focus on wellbeing.

“Last year we paid for yoga lessons, and this year we funded 10 weeks of boot camp; it’s not just about knock-off drinks, and that’s the old teacher in me,” Toni says.

“They have become one another’s closest friends.”

Desserts almost too good to eat. Photo by Frank Monger.

The sense of family extends to the customers, many of whom visit daily for a coffee fix, meal or take-away sourdough loaf.

Metro is the regular meeting spot for book clubs, park runners, mothers’ groups and live music fans, with a growing number of performers stopping by on their travels from Melbourne to Adelaide.

They all contribute to the Metro vibe, which Toni and Theo sum up by the Greek word ‘Kefi’.

It’s a vibe so powerful that many staff, including Toni, have the word tattooed on their skin, such is their devotion to this magnetic place they have created.

“Kefi means spirit and passion for life – that moment when you let go of everything that isn’t important and embrace everything that is – family, life, love, and joy,” Toni says.

“That’s what we encourage here.”

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Annie’s Story keeps lost language and local culture alive

An Aboriginal elder from South Australia’s Limestone Coast is reviving the lost language and culture of her ancestors by launching a unique ‘talking book’ for children.

Annie’s Story; Growing up Strong on Boandik Country honours the incredible life of Annie Brice, the great-grandmother of the book’s author, Aunty Michelle Jacquelin-Furr.

Born around 1849 at an Aboriginal campsite in Penola, Annie was the daughter of a Boandik woman from Mt Gambier.

Her father was a freed convict from Van Diemen’s Land who worked for Penola founder, Alexander Cameron, on his sheep station.

Taught to read and write by Cameron’s niece, Mary MacKillop – who went on to become Australia’s first Saint – Annie’s life was also richly-coloured by dreaming stories, hunting, gathering, cultural protocols and other traditional ways of living.

Michelle wears a possum skin cloak she made with her family. Symbols on the cloak’s underside show the life of Annie using universal symbols common to many Aboriginal nations throughout Australia.

Michelle Jacquelin-Furr first recorded Annie’s fascinating story with symbols burnt into the soft skin of a striking possum fur cloak similar to those once worn by the Boandik people.

Her new book adds another chapter to her family’s fascinating geneaology; written in English and translated into Bunganditj by Michelle’s daughter, Brooke Joy, readers can also listen to an audio version spoken in the native language by scanning the QR codes that appear on each page.

Michelle says it is important to hear words once used fluently by Boandik people brought back to life.

“The isolated communities in Central Australia and WA have kept their language, but here it all stopped (after European settlement) and they lost their culture,” she says.

“It’s important that we start reviving the language, so that we can make the young ones more confident and proud of their past.”

Michelle would like to see Annie’s Story used in every SA school as part of the curriculum, and she has been sharing her book in classrooms across the Limestone Coast since it was launched as part of NAIDOC Week 2018.

Michelle shares stories with local school students.

This year’s NAIDOC theme is ‘Because of her, we can!’, recognising the essential role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in communities, families, and the nation’s rich history.

Mother of 13 children, Annie Brice, is part of this incredible legacy.

“This proud Boandik woman grew up on the land, cared for country, and passed on cultural knowledge and stories while also working and bringing up a family most of her life as a single parent,” Michelle says.

“Without her strength, resilience and fighting spirit, her descendants would not be here today to share her courageous story and keep Boandik culture alive.”

To order Annie’s Story,

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Small online venture boxing up luxury on Limestone Coast

With her impeccable style, bubbly personality and passion for sparking joy, Katie Fox is a Mount Gambier woman on a mission to deliver happiness to the world – one luxe gift box at a time.

The popular make-up artist’s new online business Little Pink Fox ticks every box on the ultimate pampering wish-list.

Her distinctive pink packages filled with her own vegan body whip, hand-poured soy candles, crystal earrings and sparkling wine recently won the People’s Choice Award at the Limestone Coast’s inaugural eNVIes live pitch night hosted by Flinders University’s New Venture Institute (NVI)

Katie Fox at Flinders University’s New Venture Institute eNVIe awards.

Katie says the program handed her the tools and connections to refine her business model and broaden market reach.

“Joining this accelerator program was one of the best decisions I’ve made for my business; I learned so much, the guidance from the teachers and mentors was truly amazing, and the classroom camaraderie from everyone who went through the program was fantastic,” she says.

After 15 years working in fashion, the style guru switched her career focus to professional make-up and hair styling, and promptly became one of the Limestone Coast’s go-to girls for special events and photo shoots.

It was while working behind the scenes at weddings when Katie came up with the idea for her latest business venture.

The bridesmaid gift boxes feature candles, sparkling wine, jewellery and other wedding preparation essentials.

“I have worked on hundreds of weddings, and I have seen stressed out brides struggling to find the perfect gift for their bridesmaids, and I thought ‘I could do this – I could create the ultimate gift box for bridesmaids,” she says.

After launching last Christmas, she quickly realised the growth potential despite some strong competition.

“In a market this size, there is always room for unique, beautifully packaged gifts; Australians spent more than $11 billion on Christmas presents last year and attended an estimated 119,000 weddings, but it’s husbands and commercial businesses who have also embraced the click and send concept,” Katie says.

“Everybody wants the easy way to purchase the perfect gift.”

Katie Fox runs her own online gift and accessories business from the Limestone Coast.

Buoyed by positive feedback, Katie is now exploring wholesale markets and extending her range.

A Happiness Box is among the products in the pipeline, complete with inspirational cards and a short book containing tips on how to sustain a positive mindset.

Katie is planning to pay it forward in the community which has thrown its support behind her, and will donate part of the proceeds to Lifeboat South East, a group for people suffering stress, anxiety or depression.

The next NVI program intake is in September/October. Click here for more information.

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Diversification the name of the game for Daryl

Port MacDonnell’s Daryl Prunnell is a man on a mission.

He wants to improve the economic growth of South Australia’s South East and encourage the next generation of critical thinkers to stay in the region.

Daryl has a plan to transform a redundant crayfish factory and adjoining land into a fish and rock lobster farm, with additional plans for complementary accommodation, a restaurant, research and development and educational facilities on the site.

Recently, his entrepreneurial thinking and enterprising spirit have seen him win silver at the inaugural Limestone Coast eNVIe Awards.

The win will take him and fellow eNVIe Award winner and Mt Gambier headwear accessories design Ashlee Kalantarian, to Silicon Valley, Austin and New York City to visit other innovative thinkers, learn how to pitch business ideas, and take part in networking opportunities.

Member for Barker Tony Pasin, left, with Limestone Coast locals Katie Fox of Little Pink Box, Ashlee Kalatarian of Ashlee Lauren Designs, Daryl Prunnell and Professor Clare Pollock of Flinders University.

The award marks Daryl’s completion of the Venture Dorm program, a course that provides hand-on training for people who want to build and market new ventures.

The Venture Dorm program is run by Flinders University’s New Venture Institute on the Limestone Coast and aims to foster early start-ups and business innovations.

Daryl, who moved back to Mt Gambier from the Northern Territory with wife Irma in 2012, sprouted his aquaculture idea three-four years ago.

“We bought the old factory about four years ago, and when the blocks of land next door came up for sale we bought those as well,” he says.

“During winter, the blocks get inundated with rainwater and groundwater, and I made a comment one day that it was so wet you could grow fish in there.

“Then I started to think – well, actually we could do that…”

Daryl Prunnell has a plan to develop a fish farm featuring rock lobster and Atlantic salmon that would showcase local produce to tourists. Photo courtesy of The Border Watch.

Daryl has been undertaking a diverse range of farming practices on their 40ha property, including running pasture-fed free-range chickens for eggs, as well as cross-bred lambs, Black Angus cattle and bees.

“The fish farm is another diversification for us,” he says.

“Back in Darwin I was a very keen fisherman. I was up there during the boom construction period, where everyone had the big toys and the big salaries and the charter companies had enough business to run two charters a day.

“At this time I saw the incredible damage that was being done to the fish populations and the waterways, so I feel like a sustainable fish farm with an educational facility would be popular and beneficial.”

Heading to the US in March 2019, he says he’s looking forward to “meeting and spending time with people who think outside the box”.

Until then, he is hoping to keep the train moving, with funding and investment opportunities coming up.

“Our next step is to commission some concept drawings and have costings completed for the first stages of development,” he says.

“I hope that by March we will be progressing very well, and I would like to think we will be up and running by Christmas 2019.”

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Mt Gambier theatre company immerses audience inside dark and dangerous world

A gripping theatre production that uses virtual reality technology to immerse audiences inside the world of ice addiction will premiere in Mt Gambier next month.

The stage of the town’s Sir Robert Helpmann Theatre will host an insight into how lives are destroyed by methamphetamine, a drug considered rife in some regional towns across the country.

Mt Gambier-based Gener8 Theatre will present In The Pines, a fictional, yet confronting performance that involved extensive community consultation and incorporates the use of virtual reality (VR) headsets.

Director and producer Jamie Harding says the use of VR headsets has created a highly immersive and synced experience that’s “never before been attempted in Australian theatre”.

‘In The Pines’ will premiere next month in Mt Gambier.

“In the first half of the performance, the audience sits in a circle on stage to replicate the 360-degree experience,” he says.

“Then in the second half, the audience puts on VR headsets and steps inside the film – they’re like a fly on the wall.

“We take them on a journey they’re not going to expect.”

In The Pines, originally named Cold As Ice, has taken three years to pull together and aims to create open community discussions around the impacts of ice addiction.

The scourge of ice continues to affect communities across the country and is often referred to as an epidemic.

Jamie says he was unaware of how prevalent ice addiction was until he held a week-long community forum in 2015 to discover common themes and stories from locals in his town.

“We discovered that ice was a major issue and from there we started to research and found out that it was a national problem,” he says.

“I thought it was vital to then interview people about it, so we spoke to more than 60 people, including parents of ice addicts, prisoners and police officers, about the drug.

“This show has been a great vehicle to drive discussion about the issue.”

John Crouch, left, and Jamie Harding with the VR gear.

Working alongside fellow accomplished actor and local high school teacher John Crouch, Jamie adopted a creative team to help take the issue to the stage.

He says he was inspired to incorporate VR into the performance after watching a VR production in Adelaide about the 2005 London bombings.

“The audience was taken on a trip on the London Underground, so it put you right there – it was really haunting,” Jamie says.

“There was something about it that really had me. I walked out onto North Terrace and something shifted inside me, it made me look at the streets of Adelaide in a different way.

“I joined the dots and realised that I wanted to immerse the audience inside my (In The Pines) story and get them to the point that I experienced.”

In The Pines features a cast of six actors. The plot centres around a married couple who make decisions that “draw them into a new and dangerous world”.

A scene from ‘In The Pines’.

Jamie describes the production as a “psychological thriller” that also explores how the economy of drugs can affect unsuspecting parts of a community.

In The Pines has already been shown to local audiences in its development stages to gage community feedback.

The show will premiere in Mt Gambier on August 23 with hopes of taking it to Adelaide and on tours of regional South Australia and the rest of the country.

Jamie says it’s his mantra to “turn the gaze to regional works” and to ensure country theatre productions make it to the spotlight.

Born in Naracoorte and growing up in Mt Gambier, Jamie says he was always passionate about the arts, becoming involved in the town’s now defunct Mainstreet Theatre Company after finishing high school.

Above: Audience reactions to development phases of In The Pines.

“I got to see the inner workings of a professional regional theatre company, I was like a sponge,” he says.

“It gave me the confidence to audition for Flinders University’s Drama Centre, so I gave it a go and never looked back.”

Jamie was lured back to Mt Gambier by John Crouch and together they worked on the Ruby Award-winning Colour Darker Than Black.

Jamie is also the artistic director at Ovation Centre of Performing Arts which has a presence in both Mt Gambier and Adelaide.

He wants to ensure young creatives realise that regional towns can also be thriving hubs full of creativity and culture.

“I want to inspire young makers and artists and have them realise they don’t have to move to the big smoke,” he says.

“Their stories can be told on state, national and why not even international stages.

“You can make it in the regions.”

Jamie thanked Arts SA, the Australia Council for the Arts, Country Arts SA, and various other groups that have provided funding and support.

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Mt Gambier volunteers helping cancer patients cope

A volunteer-driven support group in Mount Gambier is helping cancer patients and their families deal with the daily pressures that come with a cancer diagnosis.

Securing accommodation or travel expenses when travelling to Adelaide for appointments and providing food and petrol vouchers are just some of the small ways the Mt Gambier Cancer Support Group has been lending a hand over the past 37 years.

The group, consisting of unpaid volunteers who dedicate their time to fundraising and to supporting cancer patients, has been around since 1981.

Established by the late Rhonda Phillips, former director of nursing at the old Mt Gambier Hospital, the support group has helped dozens of Limestone Coast locals doing it tough.

Mt Gambier Cancer Support Group members fundraise throughout the year to help support locals and their families deal with the challenges that come with having cancer. Photo courtesy of The Border Watch.

Chairperson Lorraine Musgrove has been a part of the community group for almost three decades and says such support groups are essential for regional towns as many patients must travel to Adelaide for treatment and appointments.

“We give the clients lots of information, where to stay and how they can get to treatment in Adelaide and it makes the world of difference,” she says.

“Adelaide is a five-hour drive away and for some people, they aren’t used to going to the city, can’t drive or haven’t any relatives down there. So it can be a huge challenge and very daunting.

“Knowing we can help make their journey a little easier in whatever way needed it very rewarding for our group.”

The Mt Gambier Cancer Support Group funds taxi fares and other travel expenses and assistance by hosting a number of fundraising activities throughout the year.

Its biggest fundraisers are the Kevin Sporer Country Music Afternoon in June, two major raffles, and manning the gate at the local footy club’s junior matches.

Local businesses also pitch in, Lorraine says.

“We are very lucky and we can’t speak highly enough of the businesses and the community for all their donations to the group,” she says.

Support group member Joan Osmond, left, and chairperson Lorraine Musgrove alongside the wig cabinet. Photo courtesy of The Border Watch.

About two years ago the cancer support group established a wig cabinet at the Mt Gambier Hospital’s oncology unit, allowing women who have lost their hair to chemotherapy to borrow a new hairstyle for a while.

Support group volunteer Jeannette Breda says women can lend the wigs, caps, beanies and scarves at no cost.

“We started having wigs donated to us by women who didn’t know what to do with them once they finished their journey with cancer,” she says.

“So we had a wig cabinet built for us at the oncology unit where women can donate their wigs once they didn’t need them anymore.

“Cheap as Chips also donated the mannequins so we can display the wigs in the cabinet.”

Over the years the group’s fundraising initiatives have helped it purchase surgical instruments and even a chemotherapy chair at the local hospital.

Assistance has also been given to the Cancer Council’s Adelaide lodges at Eastwood and Kent Town.

The support group consists of about 20 volunteers who meet once a month at the Naval Association’s Mt Gambier clubrooms.

“If you go around the room with our members, you’ll find that they have all had family members with cancer and we’ve supported them through that journey,” Lorraine says.

“Unless you’ve been down that road, you don’t fully understand a cancer patient’s needs.”

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New entrepreneurship hub to boost innovation on the Limestone Coast

Entrepreneurs and businesses in South Australia’s second largest city – Mount Gambier – will be given a leg up when a $1.5m innovation incubator opens in 2018.

The hub called eNVIsion Limestone Coast will be delivered through the eNVIsion accelerator program led by Flinders University’s New Venture Institute (NVI) at Tonsley.

To be located in Mount Gambier’s town centre, the regional incubator will give emerging entrepreneurs and business people “the tools to get started”, while creating jobs and increasing exports.


eNVIsion Limestone Coast is expected to open in Mount Gambier’s town centre in early 2018.

The hub will feature co-working spaces, workshops, and access to acceleration programs, large file sharing, video conferencing, and content streaming technologies.

It will also be connected to the high-speed broadband GigCity network, helping to “break down regional barriers to create a thriving business ecosystem”.

While supported by Flinders University, eNVIsion Limestone Coast also received funding from the three tiers of government.

Overall investment in the project, expected to launch in early 2018, is about $1.5m.

NVI director Matt Salier says the innovation incubator will help entrepreneurs, business leaders, researchers and industry professionals to compete in national and global economies.

The regional innovation hub will be a place for business owners and emerging entrepreneurs to connect with industry leaders and launch their ideas.

The regional incubator will be a place for business owners and emerging entrepreneurs to launch their ideas.

He says innovation incubators generally have links to angel investors and global ‘launching pads’, like those NVI has in Austin, Shanghai and Singapore.

“We have been talking to the local council about the needs of the community and all of the wonderful opportunities down there and where they see growth,” Matt says.

“The agriculture and seafood industry – these industries are already there and very much having a global focus.

“We are confident our incubator can assist more from these and other industries to succeed in the same way.”

Matt says interest from potential eNVIsion tenants is already strong.

“We have networks all over the world whether it’s in Asia, the US or Europe, we are bringing that capability to local businesses and working with great people already, like (local design studio) Hello Friday,” he says.

“These are the types of businesses that are able to compete from wherever they are.”

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