REAL AUSTRALIA

SunRice job cuts hit hard in Riverina's rice bowl

Voice of Real Australia is a regular newsletter from Australian Community Media, which has journalists in every state and territory. Sign up here to get it by email, or here to forward it to a friend. Today's newsletter is written by The Irrigator journalist Talia Pattison.

A rice crop growing in Leeton.

A rice crop growing in Leeton.

In Leeton, they say once you've had a taste of the channel water, you'll never leave.

I came to Leeton, in the Riverina area of NSW, at the beginning of 2009, and I've worked at the town's newspaper - The Irrigator ever since.

The name of the newspaper itself is an ode to the irrigation farmer, and tells how reliant this area is on irrigators and water.

PRODUCTION: Busier times at Leeton's SunRice factory.

PRODUCTION: Busier times at Leeton's SunRice factory.

Leeton is a town known for its rich agricultural diversity right in the heart of the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area.

The MIA includes other regional centres such as Griffith, Yanco, Whitton and Yenda. From above one will see the land criss-crossed with channels that deliver water from the river system to farmers for their irrigated crops of all varieties. But it's rice that Leeton is best known for.

In good times it is thought the region contributes around $5 billion to the country's economy. We are vibrant and diverse in so many ways, but agriculture and our people are the biggest feathers in our cap.

I myself was not born and bred in Leeton, but I do come from another small town just down the road - Temora. When I arrived, my plan was to be here for one or two years, but then as they say, fate intervened.

I met my now husband, who is a born and bred local Leeton resident. So far, there's been no reason to leave. We both have stable employment and we love living here.

This brings me to the crux of what is happening now in regional areas like ours. This week in Leeton the town was shocked to learn the news 55 of its own would lose their jobs at the town's SunRice mill by April next year.

It's the third round of job cuts announced by the company within the last 12 months.

SunRice blames a low rice crop due to the ongoing grip of drought, low water allocations, the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and the water market.

HARD TIMES: The cracks in the earth are the real life scars of regional communities. Photo: The Irrigator

HARD TIMES: The cracks in the earth are the real life scars of regional communities. Photo: The Irrigator

There's no doubt the reasons are all relevant, but there's also no doubt that each time a job is lost in regional Australia, the spark of a community is a little less brighter than it was before.

We feel it here in Leeton. This community is known for its resilience and ability to get on with the job, but how many blows, such as the one delivered this week, can we take?

CUTS: The Leeton SunRice mill is continuing to reduce its operations. Photo: Talia Pattison

CUTS: The Leeton SunRice mill is continuing to reduce its operations. Photo: Talia Pattison

This should not be seen as a jab at SunRice. The company says it will maintain its presence in Leeton, their home and headquarters. People know when the good years come around, SunRice will be employing once again.

But what happens in the meantime? Fifty-five people will soon be out of a job and there's not much else out there. Likely they will be forced to leave the town they love to search for employment elsewhere.

HOME: Leeton has a reputation for being a strong and resilient community. Photo: Talia Pattison

HOME: Leeton has a reputation for being a strong and resilient community. Photo: Talia Pattison

This then flows on to many others in town - the retail stores, the property market and the many and varied other small businesses.

Regional communities are what built this great country. They shouldn't be left to hang out to dry. Now more than ever we need great people to stay on in places like Leeton so it can thrive and rise again.

Talia Pattison, journalist at The Irrigator

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This story Job cuts hit hard in Riverina's rice bowl first appeared on Cootamundra Herald.

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