The Drive North-West: Delivering Food for Life in Rural Australia
An eager, unruly anticipation filled the airspace of my 2005 Honda Odyssey as I turned onto the Pacific Highway, the start of an 8hr drive to the country town of Walgett in North-West NSW. The jammed audio eject button meant it was just me and Sinead O’Connor’s reggae (yeah she dabbles in dub)record, “Throw Down your Arms”, tracking through the rolling hills and stretching plains of outback NSW.
A slow evening light was setting in as I arrived,and after 8hrs of solitude I was pleased to see the team, Melinda Wimborne UNSW Makerspace Network Manager, and Jasper and Lucy also from Impact Engineers. After the abandoned plans to be here in June, and much deliberation and planning online, the excitement was palpable – we’d finally made it.
Impact Engineers, originally founded by a group of UNSW alumni back in 2017, had been working in the community of Walgett, NSW with the Dharriwaa Elders Group and the Walgett Aboriginal Medical Service (WAMS) since 2019. Our focus had developed into delivering food security after severe drought had left the community garden in dry and non-productive conditions.
After a few experimental iterations the team had settled on a suitable wicking bed, one that could store 200L of water, and here before our eyes at 8am Monday the 28th of September were 52 of them, stacked high and ready to be set up.
Our job for the day was threefold. First, match our theoretical layouts to the on-the-ground ones, deciding where the beds would be laid. Then to begin setting up the beds and accompanying shade structures (it can get REAL hot out there). And finally, working alongside the WAMS staff on the construction themselves in the future.
Humanitarian engineering occupies an important role in society; it is inscribed with the technical know how of development, allowing for innovative solutions to complex socio-technical problems. Here in Walgett, by delivering drought resistant garden beds we hoped it could revitalise an important community space. The entire team up there on that Monday felt unified and energised to help, a show of solidarity with what is a beautiful and historic Australian town!
As the day drew to an end, we were treated to a beautiful outback sunset, fairy floss clouds strung up like unraveled ribbon across the sky. A tranquil soundscape of chattering galahs backed a horizon flecked with ancient, drought hardened gums. A smile seemed to stretch from Mel across Jasper and to Lucy as we looked back at the day's work. Twenty-four wicking beds set up, all encased in their parabolically-pleasing shading structures. We had even managed to fill eight of the beds with soil and plant a few veggies.
A big shout out to the UNSW Engineering Makerspace team, this trip and this project would not have been possible without their support and guidance along the way. A big shout-out also to the behind the scenes team and academic leads in the engine room. We are hopeful to squeeze in another trip before this year is out and lay the groundwork for a flourishing community space in the years to come.