Making a difference with the mob out west

In April EWON arranged a week-long outreach trip to Wilcannia, Menindee and Dareton, holding Bring Your Bills Days with a range of service providers in each location. As the main energy provider for the region, Origin Energy also took part. While there we also participated in the Tenant Support and Education Project Power and Water Usage Workshops put on by Mid Lachlan, Aboriginal Housing Management Corporative.

The events were a great success with around 180 people attending across the three communities. All of the 120 people who completed a survey said they found the workshops enjoyable and the information provided as useful. A significant amount of debt was waived at the Brings Your Bills Days, directly by Origin Energy or via EWON casework with other retailers. We also gave people advice, signed them up for rebates and directed them towards support services to help them with a range of non-energy issues.

A personal perspective

We headed out of Broken Hill at 6am for the two hour drive to Wilcannia - looking out for ‘roos, emus and wild goats made getting to work that little bit more challenging than usual. 

This was my second trip to Wilcannia in as many years and as before, the drive and distance to Wilcannia were worth our time. A highlight of the trip was the grateful look on the face of a worried mum and grandma, whose electricity bill debt was keeping her awake at night. Following a brief chat about her situation with Origin Energy, the debt was waived. Origin staff did more than that – they personally introduced the customer to another service provider who could help out further.  I’m sure I was not the only person holding back a tear or two when this lovely lady left, head high, sharing her story and encouraging others to have a real chat about their energy bills. 

Price alert
If you are planning on visiting Wilcannia, call by the IGA where cordial is $9.20 for a two litre bottle, spaghetti is $3.57 and tins of baked beans are $2.50 – not the $1.00 per can we pay in Sydney.  You’ll find the baby formula is over $33 and tissues are almost $4 – no wonder it is so hard to pay your electricity bill!

Word travels fast out bush
We were not expecting to be so busy in Menindee, but word had got around about our visit. Like in Wilcannia, many community members who’d received some assistance from one or more of the service providers, got on the phone and spread the word. We were told there was a Rainbow Day school concert starting at 2pm so to start the BBQ lunch early and get on with business. And so we did, and we were flat out right up to 2pm. 

The road trip from Menindee to Dareton includes around 100km of dirt road, so as well as wildlife, dust and corrugations were on the agenda.  We arrived in late afternoon, I won’t name the other drivers who took a wrong turn and also enjoyed the sights of Mungo National Park. 

Together we can make a difference
Finishing in Mildura, with my staff I shared dinner with representatives from most of the service providers who had travelled with us from Broken Hill to the Wilcannia, Menindee and Dareton communities.  It was an honour to share stories and laughs with a great bunch of Aboriginal people who are all committed to making a big difference for their mob.

I’d like to thank the State Debt Recovery Office, Legal Aid, NSW Fair Trading, Aboriginal Legal Service, Centrecare - Wilcannia Forbes, the Anti-Discrimination Board, financial councillors and Energy Accounts Payment Assistance (EAPA) Scheme providers for taking part in the Bring Your Bills Days. And, I pay my respect to the traditional owners of the vast land we travelled safely on, elders past and present and the current generation who hold the key to the future.