In some ways it's a blessing. In some ways it is a curse. We rightfully bemoan the fact governments at times selectively decide whether Wollongong and the Illawarra is a city or region, seemingly to limit the choices of funding available to us.
That's a simplification of an incredibly complex issue but you get the point. Yet in many ways Wollongong is still far removed from a big capital city like Sydney and Melbourne. Our elements of being "a big country town" remain.
You could argue everyone knows everyone (within reason) and (again, within reason) everyone knows everyone else's business. Yet that enables us to continue and maintain the strong sense of community we have.
A case in point is the Mercury's Care to QPR: Question, Persuade, Refer campaign, which has now been awarded two national honours for excellence in supporting suicide prevention. The genesis of that campaign started as a simple coffee meeting at the now closed Sifters in Market St.
The meeting was initiated by Regional Development Australia Illawarra CEO Deb Murphy and included a couple of newsroom leaders form the Mercury and some of the leaders of the Illawarra Shoalhaven Suicide Prevention Collaborative. From that point it was clear there were some passionate people who wanted to make a difference in their local community.
Those like-minded souls left the table that morning and developed a campaign which is now being shown nationally as an example of what communities can do in their region to assist in the efforts of suicide prevention. That campaign wouldn't have happened without a couple of people in particular.
Alex Hains and Emma Paterson from the Illawarra Shoalhaven Suicide Prevention Collaborative were essential in assisting and guiding us through every step of the campaign. We can't thank Alex and Emma enough for their contribution.
Also, the Mercury's head of news and health reporter Lisa Wachsmuth. Lisa is an incredibly skilled and professional journalist who tells the stories she writes with a beautiful sense of empathy. Her stories touch hearts. Thank you Lisa.
This "community" we have is a beautiful thing and we must cling to it tightly.
Julian O'Brien is the editor of the Illawarra Mercury.