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The Wimmera region punches well above its weight in Victoria. Although the population is sparse, the diverse agricultural businesses grow - cereals and small seeds, livestock and wool – and contribute significantly to the Victorian economy.

“It’s never going to be a built up area because we farm the land - we’ve got to produce the food to feed the world and keep the wheels turning,” said Minimay local and West Wimmera Deputy Mayor, Jodie Pretlove. “We deserve basic services too.”

Jodie has been so passionate about digital connectivity in her community that it was one of the driving forces for her to stand for council. “There are multi-million dollar farming businesses here that have been so restricted in their day-to-day operations, without those basic services and technology.”

The services Jodie talks about have recently been delivered through the installation of a new Telstra mobile phone tower in 2019.

“I can’t explain the difference it makes when you’re running a farm,” said Jodie, “from accessing farming technology to emergency services and providing the sense of being connected in the community. It’s a game-changer.”

“Game-changer” is a phrase Jodie uses often when talking about how reliable mobile communications have changed life for Minimay. Rapid, reliable communications helped people to protect property and lives during the 2020-21 summer fire season by alerting people sooner to fire threats.

Daily safety has also improved. When a visitor had an accident at the nearby recreational lake, a friend was able to call an ambulance on the spot without having to find a house with a landline or attempt to search for signal. No longer will workers on properties have to climb to the highest point of their trucks, silos or harvesters in search of signal – great news for contractors working long hours who need to plan their days ahead, or for truck drivers who need some directions to a paddock and don’t want to backtrack 20 kilometres to find a signal.

But the benefits extend beyond health and safety into all parts of community life.

“It just adds so much to general wellbeing,” says Jodie. “It can be a lonely life for people on a farm. The boys are working out in paddocks day to day, they can’t just grab a coffee with a friend, which is something so many people take for granted. To have the ability to communicate with their friends is very important. It gives people a sense of belonging.”

The younger generation of farmers can see other relationship benefits because connectivity gives potential partners more opportunities.

“I had a young lad once say, what hope have we got to meet someone? Who's going to want to live out here? But having some service, anyone can run a business from home and you can Zoom anywhere in the world. It connects you with everything and that's just so positive,” says Jodie.

When it returns in 2022, the Lake Charlegrark Country Music Marathon, located within five minutes of Minimay, will be able to use better connectivity to sell tickets online and scan them at the gates. Small enterprises, like a local coffee van and food businesses, will be able to use card readers to keep visitors fed and hydrated during the three-day event.

“We were without it forever and now we have this service we feel fortunate to have it,” Jodie concludes. “We don't take it for granted.”

Reviewed 20 August 2023

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