Regional drought resilience – behind the approach to planning in the Wimmera

Reg DR Planning Vic Wimmera-steampunk-259 2000px
Reg DR Planning Vic Wimmera-steampunk-259 2000px

For the Wimmera community, resilience is about preparation and creating resilient communities as a whole.


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Wimmera-Southern Mallee was one of the three Victorian regions for which a plan was developed in the first year of the Regional Drought Resilience Planning (RDRP) program.

Agriculture Victoria, a partner in the Victoria Drought Resilience Adoption & Innovation Hub, is co-ordinating developing these plans across the state. The RDRP program is part of the Australian Government’s Future Drought Fund (FDF).



Chris Sounness, CEO of the Wimmera Development Association, said, “The FDF Regional Drought Resilience program for the Wimmera Southern Mallee, I think, is all about preparation. Resilience is about preparation, not the response.”4 Reg DR Planning Vic Wimmera-Cathy-043 LR

Dr Cathy Tischler (right) is Team Lead for the Horsham Research Hub, based at Vic Hub partner Federation University’s Wimmera campus.

She said, “A lot of the resilience work that’s been done to date has focused on the land and to an extent agriculture, which I think is really important. But we’ve got to challenge our thinking in that space a little bit more and look at how we create resilient communities as a whole. I think we’ve actually got to do more to prepare all the people in our communities for times of climate variability.”

Chris said, “The biggest challenge in our community isn’t actually the farming systems. We have 23 small towns under 1,000 people, and they’re the ones that are most impacted because when the drought hits, the farmers spend tend to spend less money locally.”

Cathy, who is also is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow, said, “Small business owners are very independently resilient, but we also felt that small businesses experienced significant hardship through the Millennial Drought and other drought periods in our recent past. We felt that they were largely expected to get on with business on their own, and a number of them spoke about other businesses that had had folded up and left the area during times of drought.”

6 Reg DR Planning Vic Wimmera-Chan Uoy-153 LROriginally from Cambodia, Chan Uoy (left) moved to Dimboola three years ago, having owned a restaurant in Melbourne’s Docklands. Today he operates small business Dimboola Imaginarium, housed in the former National Bank building, which was built in 1909.

Chan said, “The next drought is around the corner. We know that. So as a business owner we’ve had to diversify. So for example, we’re not just a gift shop, we are also a wine bar, and we are also accommodation. So we have to be flexible and versatile to adjust to the circumstances, the crisis and the environment.

“Also, as a community member, you need to support each other, boost morale and have community engagement, and create activities so that people can forget the hardships for a while.”


Community vibrancy


Cathy said, “A really important consideration for us going forward is how do we maintain the vibrancy and the diversity of business in our community when we’re experiencing periods of drought and we’ve got that localised cash flow tightening?”Chan said, “My first time coming to Dimboola from Melbourne, I really thought, where is everyone? How do I bring customers to a sleepy town?

7 Reg DR Planning Vic Wimmera-steampunk-259“The goal was to create something really quite bold, quite out there, quite imaginative.

“So I came up with a ‘steampunk’ event. Dimboola was a 19th century railway town. It’s got the architecture, it’s got the intimacy of the streetscape to host a street party. We had nearly 4,000 people; we had three stages, 12 bands. We had a multicultural flash mob from the Wimmera Development Association. So 55 different cultures performed the Time Walk flash mob. That was quite phenomenal according to locals who had lived in the Wimmera all their life. Ultimately the event was about creating joy for the community.”

He said he got the inspiration for a steampunk festival in Dimboola following the style of event’s success in small country towns in northern Queensland, New Zealand and as far away as Finland.

Wimmera Development Association’s Chris Sounness (below) said, “We want our kids to think it’s a great place to live, grow up, but also that they can see some educational opportunities and they can see some great career opportunities locally.”


Preparation and Plan B


3 Reg DR Planning Vic Wimmera-Chris-026 LRChan said, “I think the Drought Resilience Plan is really important for the area because you need a backup plan. You know, when you’re too dependent on agriculture – which is what the region is all based on – you need Plan B.”

Chris said, “Our Plan clearly articulated how we can build that resilience in our towns. Drought, I suppose, is what brings to the surface some of the underpinning challenges our communities face. And often we try and tackle those challenges in the middle of drought, which is actually possibly the most challenging times to tackle it.

“And that’s why this program I’m so excited about, and the funding from the Federal Government, because it’s actually doing the preparation work, tackling it when we’ve got a chance to think about it, rather than actually under the pressure of trying to respond.”

You can find more on the first three Regional Drought Resilience Plans here, and watch the video of this story below:


Regional Drought Resilience Planning in the Wimmera, Vic from DAFF Future Drought Fund on Vimeo.