To say the past few years have been a challenge for regional Australia may be considered quite the understatement - what with, droughts, floods, fires, mice and a global pandemic.
It took more than thoughts and prayers to keep going, but it's a time that Scone's Cynthia Gibbs said has helped embed a sense of optimism-framed resilience.
She even wrote a short story about it, which this week was named among the winners of the ABC Heywire writing competition for regional youths.
"All I can do is take it my stride, learn a thing or two about staying optimistic and motivated," wrote Cynthia in the closing lines of her story.
The Scone High School graduating year 12 student was encouraged by her English teacher to enter the competition. After tossing up ideas of what to write, Cynthia said she decided her story would feature a shared experience.
"I did not expect [to win], so it's all very exciting," Cynthia said.
Cynthia said she wanted her story to be memorable in some way and played on the word "remember" throughout. Her short story plays out a sequence of scenes all tied by the phrase "you remember the one," referring to the many "disasters" of recent years.
While Cynthia hopes to continue writing as a hobby and one day would even like to write a book, for now the 18-year-old has her sights set on a civil engineering degree at Newcastle University, where she plans to combine her love for maths and design.
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The second-youngest of four kids, Cynthia lives with her family on their 40-hectare property outside of Scone.
Having moved to the farm during the drought years, Cynthia said it has been a very "dramatic" change of scenery since the drought broke.
"Everything's green now, I didn't think it could look like that," she said.
Cynthia was one of hundreds of Australians aged 16 to 22 from regional, rural and remote areas to enter the ABC Heywire writing competition, which allows youths to speak openly and candidly about life beyond our major cities, through written stories, photos, videos or audio recordings.
Words by Cynthia Gibbs
We were so happy when the drought broke.
You'll remember the one.
Our 40-hectare property looked bruised and battered. The earth was red, like it was bleeding.
I still remember our neighbour driving a ute with an empty tank on the back to our well, just to borrow water for his horses.
Then the flood came.
You'll remember the one.
The dry creek out the back I thought would never hold water, filled to the brim. We couldn't even drive a ute on the property - we had to use a tractor to get anywhere.
The land healed.
The mice moved in soon after.
Yes, I'm going to talk about that mouse plague. You'll remember the one.
We had a couple of sheds full of hay down the back, the perfect bedroom for the little buggers, so they made themselves right at home. That obviously wasn't enough, because they invaded the house. And man, those traps were filthy.
To this day, I am grateful Mum handled them. The only mice I had to deal with mice-self - other than the ones that bounced beneath my feet as I locked up the chooks at night - were the ones that kept me up at night crawling through the walls and running across the carpet.
I wish we had our cat back then.
Then came COVID.
You'll definitely remember that one.
At our property, it didn't change that much, aside from the toilet paper.
One thing after another; something new has been thrown at us.
I haven't even mentioned the bushfires!
One day I can't go to school because it's too hot, then the next it's too wet, or a virus kept us home for months.
But just as each disaster came along, they also subsided, as they do.
All I can do is take it my stride, learn a thing or two about staying optimistic and motivated.
Because when the next disaster comes, I know it'll pass and become a memory.
Another, "You'll remember the one".
Read more stories of courage, resilience, and hope in regional Australia by 2023 Heywire winners.
Strength, perseverance, and optimism feature strongly in the stories from the 2023 ABC Heywire winners, announced on December 7.
Since its inception in 1998, Heywire has become a powerful platform for rural youth, putting them at the centre of the conversations that shape their communities.
From dreams of representing Australia in the Paralympics, to supporting young people living with a chronic illness, speaking up against racial discrimination, rebuilding after disaster, using art as a vessel for healing and listening and learning from country, the 39 Heywire winners' stories explore their capacity for resilience, amplify their voices and foster their ability to advocate for the issues that matter.
Judith Whelan, ABC Director Regional and Local said the stories from this year's Heywire winners provided "a real window into the lives" of young people living in regional Australia.
"What is uplifting about them is that they celebrate regional communities and the things that make them unique. Their stories speak of the challenges of life outside our big cities but also reveal inspiring ideas on how their communities can make the most of their strengths and potential," she said.
The Hon Kristy McBain, Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Regional Recovery said the stories demonstrated "the great resilience" of youths living in Australia's regions and the "adversity they've overcome".
"Our young people are the leaders of tomorrow, which is why the Australian Government is proud to be an ongoing sponsor of the program - investing in young leaders and their ideas to ensure a strong future for regional Australia."
Heywire winners share individual stories specific to their lived experience of the place they call home. The experience of growing up in Lockhart River, Queensland, with 3G is different to a childhood on a farm in Wagin, Western Australia and different again to coming out at an all-boys country boarding school in Tamworth, NSW.
Because of this complexity, the 2023 winners are passionate about creating common ground. Heywire winner Jack, from Tamworth, Wiradjrui Country, said: "After the past three years we need to rebuild our lives again to some normality, not alone but together."
He spent his lockdown wrestling with his identity and knows firsthand the importance of finding a safe community and feeling connected.
Charlee from Heyfield, Victoria, Gunaikurnai Country, agreed: "I want other young Australians to realise they aren't alone, that the youth of Australia have a voice."
Charlee is using her voice to advocate for more support for people suffering from chronic illness in regional, rural or remote Australia. "I want others to read my story with a new perspective on chronic pain."
You can read the fresh perspectives of young people from right across regional, rural and remote Australia here: https://www.abc.net.au/heywire/winners/
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