From sporting clubs and craft groups through to organisations focused on helping others, rural clubs are having fun, and bringing people together in new ways and old.

Story + Photo Ken Eastwood

Rural clubs aren’t just places for random people to gather for activities. They act as a gel, helping communities through good times and bad, building social networks and friendships, and increasing what is called the ‘liveability’ of small towns. Anita Hobson-Powell, CEO of the Exercise and Sport Science Association of Australia, says clubs are a crucial connector in rural communities, and their closure can lead to isolation, anxiety and depression among former patrons. “Getting people off the farms, into town, sometimes for their only trip of the week – not doing that is going to lead to long-term problems down the track,” she says. 

In 2021, the Foundation for Rural Regional Renewal (FRRR) published The Heartbeat of Australia Rural Research Study that stated, “Far from being a ‘hobby’, grassroots organisations provide vital services to their communities. Without them, there would be significant impacts to the economy, and to the physical, mental, and emotional health of the people who live there. In some cases, the community would simply not exist.” Yet 75% of organisations reported that it had become more difficult over the previous 18 months to recruit new volunteers, and those volunteers were more likely to be new members of the community.

Natalie Egleton, CEO of FRRR, says it’s almost impossible to know how many clubs are operating in rural Australia. “We’ve tried to get a read in small communities in NSW, to get a feel for how many might be around. And we found there are over 100 community groups in places of 2,000–3,000 people,” she says.

This story excerpt is from Issue #146

Outback Magazine: December/January 2023