With more than 700 people arriving in Dubbo from today for the Local Government Association (LGA) Conference, I started thinking about the value of leadership and, in particular, what leadership can do for a regional community.

The concept of leadership is quite interesting. You might say that over the next three days, Dubbo will be full of community leaders – in attendance at the Conference will be 74 member Councils, including 46 Mayors and 45 General Managers from across the State. Although it would be easy to say that these people are community leaders, I see leadership in a slightly different light – particularly in a regional community.

Leadership is not granted by a title and, in Australia, it certainly isn’t expected as a birth right (such as a monarchy). In regional Australia, leadership is grabbed by people who want to make a difference. They say the world is run by those who turn up, and a Chinese Proverb says “Not the cry, but the flight of a wild duck, leads the flock to fly and follow”. In my experience, people who lead by their actions and deeds show true leadership. Someone you know who does a power of work on a committee; that is leadership. A neighbour who helps elderly people in your street with their shopping; that is leadership. A sportsperson who, through their activities, inspires others to get off the couch and participate; that is leadership. Anyone can be a leader. Anyone can inspire. Leaders have conviction in their ideas and follow through to the end. They don’t easily give up and decide that it is all too hard. There was an infamous case in another city during the previous term of Council where one Councillor, who had enjoyed too many beverages, tried to gain access to a night club. When refused, he told the bouncer (among other words of abuse): “I’m a legislator!” He was found guilty under the Council’s Code of Conduct and was not re-elected this year. The title may have indicated leadership, but the actions told a different story.

In regional communities, people who have a belief and follow it through are the leaders. At great risk of offending thousands, here are a few examples. In 2006, a young Dubbo man convinced 11 friends that it would be an interesting challenge to ride a pushbike from Taronga Zoo in Sydney to our Zoo in Dubbo (they obviously didn’t realise there was a little thing called the Blue Mountains in between). After surviving the eighth hottest October day on record, and donating $30,000 to the Children’s Cancer Institute Australia, the ride into an annual event. There is a waiting list each year for spots on the ride and a Canberra to Dubbo ride has since been added.

A farmer’s wife in Cumnock wanted to add culture and tourism to the town. In 2009, she created a contest that saw 45 larger-than-life sculptures created by local farmers, schoolkids, playgroups. The route from Dubbo to Molong now boasts more than 111 sculptures, and ‘Animals on Bikes’ has been featured on national television.

In 2002, a dilapidated building in Gulargambone was renovated during several working bees involving the entire community and transformed into a café, where volunteers would prepare fresh meals using local produce. It has grown to include an art gallery, gift shop, second-hand bookshop and more. More than 200 volunteers have been involved in the project, which won the Specialised Tourism Services category at the 2012 Inland NSW Tourism Awards.

In 2007, few people would have known much about the Carbon Tax that was introduced last year. One couple did, and they started a Carbon Farming Conference in Mudgee. Just this week, Dubbo hosted the conference which has grown to 180 delegates, and its Carbon Cocky Awards are recognised across Australia.

These are simple examples of community leadership and without certain individuals driving each of these projects they would barely start, let alone be seen through to fruition. These people didn’t need formal authority to lead, but led by their actions. Everyone can be a leader. By providing a good example to your friends, family and neighbours, you are showing leadership.

One of the problems I see with society and leadership in our modern world is that many ‘leaders’ are scared of offending anyone. The only way to never offend is to never do anything. Leaders have critics. Leaders have beliefs that may disagree with others. Leaders are sometimes so focused on their passion that they rub some people the wrong way. Modern politicians are sometimes so scared of offending that they don’t lead, they follow – follow public opinion; follow surveys; and lead by graphs. Leaders must have a vision and let people see their vision.

In the words of Margaret Mead, an American cultural anthropologist: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

Clr Mathew Dickerson

Mayor of the City of Dubbo


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