The big Cohuna

Let me paint you a picture

Cohuna, it is your quintessential small country town, nestled on the banks of the Gunbower Creek.

Skirting the picturesque Gunbower State Forrest it is a tranquil, quiet area that certainly throws out the welcoming mat to all visitors and returning residents.

Cohuna rides on the back of the dairy industry with it being its main agricultural enterprise, the more you venture out of the township you will see farm upon farm with rickety old boundary fences the only thing segregating the cows.

With a population of only 2,313, you know all of your neighbours in this rural town; even if there located hundreds of metres away on another farm or property.

But hiding behind this country town’s seemingly charming, scenic and innocent exterior there is a seedy, dark underbelly of drug use and abuse especially that of the drug ice.

You’re probably thinking so what? Join the line of all the other rural areas that have this problem or how is this any different to any other town or city that is struggling to contain the misuse of deadly drugs?

Well, this is different to me and I hope that it makes you think as well, as this small regional town is my home, Cohuna is where I grew up, I know many of the people stuck in the deadly addicted limbo of drug abuse, and some of them were once my friends; from meeting them at kindergarten, attending the local catholic primary school together and going to many years at Cohuna Secondary College alongside them, we all grew up together and my home, well, it is quickly changing for the worse.

It is sadly on a slippery slope to the bottom of and deep and dark abyss, that will take a monstrous effort to limp its way back out of.

Ice and drug abuse is constricting the life out of this small deflated town, already suffering for years in a deep, devastating drought then the dramatic flip side when floods smashed into outlying dairy farms in Cohuna in early 2011, clearly it has not been an easy ride for any residents in this town.

Choking Cohuna, ice is a stimulant drug that speeds up messages that travel between the brain and body and is extremely addictive and strong. The drug has can have adverse effects on the taker and there is no certainty on what is in the ice as it can vary depending on where and who cooks it.

Ice could have any type of dangerous chemicals such as engine starter fluid, drain cleaner and farm chemicals.

The DrugInfo website stated that the number of Australians using drugs had changed the main form they used with ice more than doubling from 21.7% 2010 to 50.4% in 2013.

Concerning also of these people who used the drug ice the amount of people that used it at least once a week increased from in 2012 being 12.4% to in 2013 sitting at 25.3%.

Victoria Police released crime statistics and rates from 2013–2014 for the Western region; in which Cohuna is situated. In relation to specifically drug offences they increased by 33.8% from 2013 to be in 2014 465.1 per 100,000 in the population.

Statistics Credit: Victoria Police

Returning home a couple of weeks ago I spoke to the local residents in and around Cohuna and it was immensely clear that they believed the drug abuse and increased use was not a good look for the rural town.

When I approached the residents in the street and asked them if Cohuna had a drug and ice problem the overwhelming blunt response was a resounding “yes”.

Many of the locals have heard the drug ice and its the severe nature of the drug, but the sudden influx of abuse of ice in Cohuna has thrown the problem in to the forefront of their minds.

This occurred after the town rallied in support with local leaders and with the prolific assistance from local police officers to hold an Ice forum in the town in order to provide information on the drug and its problem in Cohuna.

At the forum Anex Australia and Pennington Institutes Crios O’Mahoney expressed to the residents of Cohuna that ice was “a dirty drug” and “filthy”, also adding that the drug when taken will “flog your system” and body.

The forum which was held in the Cohuna Memorial Hall saw 600 residents; which is almost half the population of the town, on the 14th of May come together in order to educate and inform those in the community about the problem of ice and its escalation in presence and use in recent times throughout Cohuna.

The ice forum even led to one of the major influences behind the idea, Senior Constable Andrew Neil, winning the Ganawarra Shire Council’s 2015 Australia Day Citizen of the Year award and was applauded also for his role in tackling the use of ice in the community.

Senior Constable Neil is well known, he would come into my High School and tell us about the harrowing stories that he had been confronted by as a policeman; knowing some of the people that he would interact with and even the scenes where a life was lost he would recognize those gone.

The stories would shock people into submission and turn them around and I am sure he remembers all those young faces that he has affected in positive ways in the community.

Talking to resident of Cohuna and local nurse Anne Harrison, who attended the ice forum in May, stated that in regards to the ice forum “it was good, it was especially good as I have kids that are that age, but there was also a majority of people there that didn’t have kids and attended as thy are worried and not as informed or educated about ice and drugs”

“The older residents of Cohuna are more frightened of ice and drugs being in the town and allowing them to know about it through this forum will calm the town more.”

Mrs Harrison also explained that for some residents “you don’t see it [ice] if it is not there.”

This is a problem as the ice scourge in Cohuna is invisible to most people or even more concerning it is ignored but the explosion in the use of ice is difficult to come to terms with it needs to be recognized in order to improve.

Addressing the problem of the consequences that result from drug use in the eyes of the law in Cohuna “its not serious enough, they’re not helping anybody by just giving them a slap on the wrist, sometimes they just look at their family and can get away with it” Mrs Harrision said.

It both angers and sadness me simultaneously that this gorgeous warm town has come under the dark influence of the drug ice and with more awareness and hope this facade that Cohuna and many others have put up could get them back on track and emerge from the drugs clutches.