The streets of Bega reverberated under marching feet on Saturday.
About 400 people joined the March Bega Valley rally, as part of the 40,000 who were walking in support of the March Australia rallies at the weekend.
The rallies were held to protest decisions and policies made by the federal government, affecting such areas as health, education, the environment and refugees.
It was overcast and cool as people of all ages gathered at the Bega War Memorial Gates, but the general feeling in the crowd was one of excitement and determination.
Signs included "Don’t punish youth", "Help the needy poor, not the rich", "Keep our RET", "Bega Valley cares", "I am a child of refugees", "A degree shouldn’t be a debt sentence", and "Offer help and refuge".
The marchers walked down Carp Street shouting “What do we want? Change. When do we want it? Now.”
They gathered in Littleton Gardens, where former member for Eden-Monaro Mike Kelly gave the opening speech after paying his respects to the traditional owners of the land.
“I think it [has gone] really well, and I’m really pleased with the turnout,” March Bega Valley organiser Anna Reilly said.
“I think it was pretty amazing, looking back at the beginning of the march, just how many people were walking up the road.”
On the stage it alternated between musicians and speeches, with those such as Mike Martin, Erin McMahon, Sam and Robin Martin and Dave Crowden, Ken Vatcher and Andy O’Donnell playing for the crowd.
Fiona Scott spoke “as a parent” about the changes to the eligibility criteria of the Newstart Allowance, such as only receiving six months of support for a 12 month period and applying for 40 jobs a month.
Bega Valley Rural Australians for Refugees co-ordinator Hallie Fernandez-Markov spoke about holding refugees in offshore processing for an undefined period of time.
“There is no reasonable excuse for holding children in prolonged and indefinite detention,” she said.
“We need to speak out for what is right, about what we know is right.”
Liz Seckold spoke, not as a Bega Valley Shire councillor, but as an “enraged citizen” who began by talking about regional youth and education.
“Underpinning the Gonski funding for schools is the basic premise that funding is directed to the most needy,” she said.
“Each child’s education needs to be met.
“This government’s budget has failed low income families, pensioners, the sick and in particular, the youth.
“It has in its sights those least able to have a voice.”
Rosemary Beaumont talked about increasing fees at university and the effect that will have, such as increasing science degrees when there are not enough science teachers in the first place.
“If we don’t have science teachers, we don’t have nurses, we don’t have doctors,” she said.
“Where is this country going?
“Unless it radically changes its course, this government will be remembered as the cruellest in history.”
Others included David Dixon as a speaker for the Djirinyang Ngarigo people, Jo Dodds on the environment, Annie Gibbs on education, Amanda Gillies on health and Gavin Bell as a social justice advocate.
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