Mobile cinema rolls into isolated communities

Support has come to several hard-to-reach communities in Western Australia in the form of a travelling cinema that is strengthening social bonds. Vanessa Zhou writes.

A converted 1978 Toyota Coaster bus has cruised through remote rural communities in the Mid West region of Western Australia, bringing hope for stronger social networks where isolation is deeply rooted. 

The region was targeted for its male population aged between 25 and 54, including those working in the mining, fisheries, agriculture and building industries.

The bus, which is now known as the Shinema (Shed + Cinema), has been brandished with a capacity to carry films.

It took a year’s worth of Saturdays for Chapman Valley Menshed members and filmmaker Ralf Mulks to transform the old bus into a portable cinema. 

Little did one know that film – a simple form of entertainment that’s known to nurture a social atmosphere – would be the solution many needed to break away from loneliness. 

A quality open air cinema is created whenever the Shinema bus stops, sometimes without the presence of a power generator.

With a screen pulled off the bus’ roof and mounted on its side, the projection and sound equipment bring all of the visual elements to life. 

“(Film) is an over 100-year-old (form) of entertainment,” Mulks tells Safe to Work. “And like (a circus coming) into town, the Shinema will get people off their devices to enjoy a little bit of culture and companionship.”

Within a year, the Shinema project attracted more than 800 people who were battling the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

The bus also travelled through the towns of Yalgoo, Yuna, Morawa and Mingenew, with the townspeople of Gascoyne Junction, Nabawa and Mullewa also requesting a visit.

In Mt Magnet, the Shinema bus was welcomed by 268 people in November last year.

Home to mining operations such as Ramelius Resources’ Mt Magnet gold mine, the Shinema project brought an afternoon/evening attraction that was accompanied by food stalls and games. 

“We introduced Shinema as a free community event with live music, movies and popcorn, to provide a reason for people to get together, have a chat and reconnect,” Mulks says.

The project plays the Inside My Mind movie series produced by Shinema sponsor, Western Australian Primary Health Alliance (WAPH), as an introduction to cinema screening. 

The series addresses depression and suicidal tendencies by providing professional information about where and how to get help – the appropriate mental health services and networks.

“The Inside My Mind videos showcase different forms of depression and stories about how it can happen to everyone and ways to get help out there,” Mulks says. 

The Black Dog Institute states that many of these towns are seeing their populations dwindle, often leading to a loss of social spaces and events. 

“This lack of social connection is a community-wide challenge, but for the men who live there it can be particularly difficult, with many fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) workers among them, who may struggle to put down roots and make real connections,” the institute states. 

“The project brought men from the community together, and highlighted unknown skills, as well as bringing the broader community out in support.”

In addition to the Mid West region of Western Australia, western New South Wales is another of the 12 sites chosen for the government’s national suicide prevention trial. 

In this region, the trial targets mining workers focussed on the Cobar region as it is home to a number of local mines such as Glencore’s CSA copper mine and Aurelia Metals’ Peak gold mine.

A spokesperson for the Australian Department of Health says that Mates in Mining training is delivered to mine sites.

“This training raises suicide prevention awareness among workers and recruits volunteers within the workforce to lead and sustain suicide prevention training and awareness in their workplace,” the spokesperson says. 

“The training also aims to increase service literacy and creates pathways for referral to mental health services and psychological intervention for workers where needed.”

The final year of the trial finally honed in on providing all trial sites with additional time, resources and flexibility to focus on the transition and sustainability of trial activity, the spokesperson says. 

But the efforts don’t stop there. The government is continuing to provide funding to Primary Health Networks (PHN) to plan and commission regionally appropriate mental health and suicide prevention activity. 

“(PHN) may choose to continue commissioning activities started under the trial, where this best suits the needs of their region,” the Department of Health spokesperson says.

The Shinema project itself will receive funding from PHN in the 2020-21 financial year.

But with the project falling under the ownership of the Chapman Valley Menshed, Mulks says the next thing on their agenda is to look for other funding sources.

The team hopes that they can create a yearly tour and return to the communities they’ve previously visited from this October.

“There is only so much time you can spend on such projects before you run out of steam, or money,” Mulks says. “There might be room for expansion, but not on a volunteering level.”

What’s next on the horizon depends on the government’s consideration of the trial evaluation report prepared by the University of Melbourne.

In the meantime, it is supporting a range of national suicide prevention activities, including those by Mates in Construction, as well as OzHelp Foundation to specifically target Australian men who may be at high risk of suicide. 

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