By Libby Price.
Liz Chapman is something of a person ahead of the times.
As a young mother living in Goomalibee, she studied a Graduate Diploma in Community Development at the University of Western Sydney as a distance education student, specialising in rural development and rural change processes.
She always thought it counterintuitive that academia looked at the three most important facets of study separately.
‘‘I’ve always been interested in social, economic and environmental (issues) and I don’t think it’s any one that is a solution to any other,’’ Ms Chapman said.
‘‘So you’ve got to be across all three and they were seen fairly early on in study that you either did a social stream or you did economics or you did environment and natural resources, and that to me seemed silly.
‘‘I was active in different things around Benalla, such as farm-gate learning, I got that developed up through the local adult education, Forum.
‘‘Farm-gate learning was an approach to take the tutors out to farm areas outside of Benalla, and it was women-only, so it was very, very challenging for people.
‘‘It was a fantastic program where women enrolled in eightweekly sessions in their own community hall and it was a load of fun . . . It was an all inclusive program where everything from mower engines to fencing, and that was a roaring success.
‘‘It was pretty special.’’ It was a decade later when the then Prime Minister John Howard told regional Australia that it had to secure its own future, that the penny dropped for Liz.
‘‘Back in 1999, there was a lot of pressure on the Commonwealth to do something about the terrible state of decline in inland rural Australia,’’ she said.
‘‘Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the National Party, John Anderson decided to hold a regional summit and brought together 200 leaders from throughout inland rural Australia for a summit in Canberra to look at what could be done . . .
‘‘At a dinner one night, the Prime Minister gave his big speech and said that the cavalry is not coming over the hill, you have to look at yourselves for what you’re going to do to secure your own futures. And I sort of went, ‘Oh yeah, that’s right!’
The government then established the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal (which still operates today).
Ms Chapman then went back to the Benalla community to rally others to make the most of what it offered.
‘‘It was a matter of, what could a community foundation do, if we formed a foundation? What could it do that wasn’t already being done? Because Benalla is really active — you’ve got so many different groups doing different things, why would you start another organisation,’’ she said.
‘‘And through all those conversations, it started to become clear that we were talking about long-term addressing chronic issues.
‘‘FRRR stepped in with a grant of $30,000 to help develop our proposal.’’
So in 2000, concept of The Tomorrow Today Foundation was born and then officially launched in 2002.
Since then, every year grants have been given to community groups from the fund, which now stands at more then $1 million.
Ms Chapman is most proud of that fact that Tomorrow Today has only gone from strength to strength in its 15 years.
‘‘It is growing, stable and is still here in a small rural community,’’ she said.
‘‘Over 80 volunteers at any one time working each week.
‘‘In 2007 Professor Tony Vincent brought out his report for the Jesuit Social Services, showing that Benalla was in the worst top 40 of postcodes in Victoria for socio-economic disadvantage.
‘‘Absolutely shocking results. Out of the 24 indicators that he looked at and weighed up together of disadvantage, there was only one that correlated to all the others, and that was education attainment level.
‘‘How can that be, that’s not okay in Australia. I feel angry about that.
‘‘It’s only because the community is disadvantaged that kids don’t do as well. You’ve got to be kidding me. We formed a community advisory committee to really investigate it thoroughly.’’
So what inspires a women born in Sydney to a very middle-class, happy family to throw all her energies into building the future of disadvantaged children in a small rural town.
‘‘I don’t like injustice and it’s such a glaring one. I’d been in my own business for 17 years, so I’m totally pro-business but I hate bullies and I hate injustice. It’s just not right. I really hope this award raises awareness of Tomorrow Today, and that it’s worth your investment, whether it’s your time invested in Tomorrow Today, or your money, it’s really worth the investment because it’s achieving what it wanted to achieve.’’