Growing up in rural Queensland with cerebral palsy, Nigel Corish had an active childhood.
“I didn’t know any different. I was just a normal kid growing up,” he said.
But in his teenage years, the difference in what he could physically achieve compared to his friends started to become more apparent.
“I started to fall behind at sport and just couldn’t keep up physically with my friends,” Mr Corish said.
“That was the first time I realised that I had a disability, and it was going to affect me for the rest of my life.”
Although initially drawn to the bright lights of the city, Mr Corish, now 40, runs broadacre properties between the border town of Goondiwindi and Condamine in southern Queensland.
“In my early 20s, I moved back to Goondiwindi and just found that small town community and sense of home too strong, and I’ve never left,” he said.
“It’s wonderful to grow up in a regional community.”
A journey of acceptance
Passionate about Australian agriculture, Mr Corish is also the managing director of New Leaf Ag farming and sits on the GrainGrowers board.
But it has been an emotional road.
“The fact that I wanted to be normal like everyone else and the fact that I thought I was normal growing up as a country kid and loving life and then suddenly not being able to keep up and not being able to do things was quite challenging,” Mr Corish said.
“I didn’t really accept that until probably my late 20s.”
There is limited access to health services in regional Australia, particularly specialised care, which makes living with a disability even harder.
According to the National Disability Insurance Agency Rural and Remote Strategy, on March 31, 2021, there were 6,664 people living with disability in remote and very remote locations across Australia, which it said was an increase of 342 per cent over three years.
Finding support in rural Australia
A lack of disability support groups adds to the pressure.
Josie Clarke’s family have farmed near Kempsey in northern New South Wales for three generations.
When she was five, her father almost died in a truck crash, which left him without the use of his legs.
“I remember getting woken up in the middle of the night to go to Sydney, which is very strange, and visiting Dad in hospital,” Ms Clarke said.
“I guess you don’t really recognise at the time that you, as a five-year-old kid, you may be saying goodbye to your dad.
“It was a life changing moment for my family and I.”
Her father, Glen Clarke, worked hard in rehabilitation so he could stay on the farm.
“Probably the advice at the time was, ‘Why do you want to keep farming? Sell the farm. Move to town. It’ll be a lot easier’,” he said.
“But that wasn’t who we were. We persevered, and with a lot of help from my wife, my children and friends, we’ve been fortunate enough to still stay here.”
Ability Agriculture launched
A paddock conversation between father and daughter sparked an idea Ms Clarke hoped would help people living with a disability in regional Australia.
“One day, she asked, ‘Is there a support network or anything like that where you can share thoughts and ideas?’,” Mr Clarke said.
“And I said, ‘Well, no. Not really.’ She just took it on board, and it’s gone from there.”
Ms Clarke created an online social network called Ability Agriculture to share people’s stories about living with a disability in regional Australia.
The network now has more than 3,500 members on social media, with Ms Clarke this year winning the New South Wales 2022 AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award.
Ms Clarke’s goal for Ability Agriculture is to create opportunities and jobs for people with disability by ensuring there are more conversations about the topic.
“I think that’s the first thing that we need to change because the greater support you have in a workplace or in rural communities, the more supported people [with] disability are going to feel in applying for roles,” she said.
Ms Clarke described it as a “nationwide and global issue” and said 76 per cent of employed people with a disability chose not to disclose it to their workplace.
“Agriculture itself isn’t this massive organisation with a diversity inclusion person looking after them,” she said.
“Creating that greater conversation, awareness and support, is the first thing that we can do to start getting everyday people to thinking that, ‘Oh, actually, I could make an accessible position in my workplace, or how could I just make my business itself accessible for someone with a disability?’.”
Mr Corish, who has featured on Ability Agriculture, said it encouraged people with a disability to become involved with the industry.
“But also on the flipside, to get employers and farmers to employ people with disability,” he said.
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