The response to last month’s airing of Australian Story looking at Mingoola’s intake of refugee families was fast and overwhelming, with offers coming from across the country from people wanting to help in any way they can.
The village, 50 kilometres west of Tenterfield on the Queensland border, welcomed refugee families.
Mingoola Public School reopened in April with six brand new pupils, after having gone into recess at the end of last year due to a lack of students.
New England MP Barnaby Joyce provided the foreword to the episode and has since been inundated with calls from all over Australia to replicate this model in other small, rural towns.
Charles Dunk’s post on the MP’s Facebook page was typical of dozens of others: “This was a real "feel good" story. It was real and true and attainable for others if people have the same vision.”
Julia Harpham – who spearheaded the Mingoola effort to revitalise their village in general and the local school in particular by turning derelict farm houses into homes for refugee families – received a deluge of text messages, emails and letters.
And her phone keeps on ringing with offers of help.
“One person said the story made them proud to be Australian,” she said.
“This really seems to have struck a chord. I think there are a lot of people who are desperately sorry for refugees but had no outlet.”
With communities keen to adopt a similar project, and Julia is happy for them to learn from her experience.
“These are subsistence farmers stuck in the middle of big cities, which is very confronting and confining. Hopefully there will be more opportunities for them to get out of these cities.”
Now the New England region has become a location that refugee advocates are looking at following the Australian Story episode.
More than 200 skilled farming families, most with generations of experience working the land in central Africa, want to relocate from major Australian cities to regional areas like the New England.
Many have come from areas with similar agricultural character to the Northern Tablelands.
Seeing what the refugees have brought to the Mingoola community, the arrival of African families is something we would welcome with open arms.