A forum aimed at building resilience and hope in rural communities is being brought to Wagga.
The Farmers for Climate Action, a group of farmers and rural leaders, will hold the virtual community resilience forum for Wagga people on Tuesday, May 12.
The forum will focus on how disasters impact communities, how to deal with the trauma associated with extreme weather events such as drought and what can be done to build a better future for the region.
Professor Mark Howden, the director of the Australian National University's Climate Change Institute, will appear at the forum
"With the increased risk of heatwaves, droughts, floods, frost and fire, regional communities like Wagga really are on the front line of climate change in Australia," he said.
"I'm looking forward to continuing my long-standing discussions with regional Australians about the challenges they face and what needs to be done to shore up a vibrant future for places like Wagga."
Clinical psychologist Rob Gordon, who has been working in the field of disaster recovery since Ash Wednesday in 1983, will be involved in the forum.
He told The Daily Advertiser many farmers were facing stresses caused by drought and bushfires and, more recently, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent social isolation.
"People have been operating in stress mode," Dr Gordon said.
"My message is to say now that things are a little bit easier, it's really important to try and replenish, because if you need to go into stress mode again later, you're going to need those reserves.
"The risk is that you're in the habit of getting into stress mode and not getting out of it. No one can do it indefinitely. Our health suffers, our social relationships suffer, our thinking and planning suffer and we start making poor decisions."
Dr Gordon said people were adapting "day by day" to the current social isolation, but may not feel the full effects until the rules were relaxed.
"When they come out of it is when people might feel despondent and low and exhausted and wondering 'what's the point of it all' just when others are saying you must be really happy," he said.
"I liken chronic stress to the bends, which affects divers. You're all geared up to deal with the pressure, but suddenly it's not there.
"I call it a decompression reaction and I think it's very common after periods of stress of all sorts."
Peter Holding, a third-generation farmer and group officer of the Harden Rural Fire Service, said the "pincer effect" of the drought, the summer's bushfires and now the economic hit of COVID-19 has had a profound impact on the community.
"This region has been buffeted by a series of king hits recently - the drought, a catastrophic summer of fires, and now the coronavirus lockdown, which has hampered many people's efforts to rebuild after the fires," he said.
"We're stronger together as a community, and it's time we started having honest conversations about how we can support each other to face our challenges, whether that's coronavirus or climate change. Working together, we can develop strategies that will help the Riverina survive and thrive in the weeks, months and years to come."
He is encouraging farmers and other interested members of the Riverina community to join the forums, to come forward to play a role in shaping the community response to climate change.
"If this summer has shown us anything, it's that those of us living in regional Australia and working the land are the climate frontline. We can also be the solution," Mr Holding said.
Anyone who is interested in joining this free, online forum can register their details at this website.