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Life with the Poatinians

by Bruno Deshayes on 22 Sep 2016 permalink

Poatina, 70km from Launceston, Tasmania was built in the 1960's to house the labour force building the hydro electric scheme of the Great Lake. With the advent of automation the hydro power station is now monitored remotely from Hobart and only a skeleton staff remains on site. The Fusion Christian organisation was able to buy the whole village complete with a general store, a motel, a service station, primary and secondary schools, an oval, a golf course, a swimming pool and a community hall.

Poatina is the hub of Fusion with regular seminars, a radio station, TAFE accredited social work courses and an office overseeing missions overseas. Poatina is run as a strata title rather than being an open real-estate market. Bar a few, all the people here are involved with Fusion. The organisation had a major setback in 2009 when its charismatic leader Mal Garvin fell from grace in a case of sexual indiscretion with a young woman he was ministering to. He admitted his guilt and resigned. Three years on, the organisation changed its structure with a CEO and a board of directors. Poatina is searching for a new identity. Some key people left either to the overseas mission field or out of a sense of betrayal.

There are 2 new buildings in the town. A new library for the school and an aircraft hangar acquired and erected to house a new tourist attraction: a glass blowing studio.

There is no courthouse, no lawyer, no constable, no pub, no liquor outlet, no drugs. The only offenders are the large possums who turn you garbage bin upside down during the night and pooh everywhere on the lawns. A fly invades your house the moment you leave your door ajar but they don't bother you when you are outside. The weather can change in an instant. You may head off with T-shirt and thongs and a sun hat and return drenched and shivering after a howling wind dumps a surprise shower.

I arrived in early January 2012 as a volunteer and helped as a kitchen hand during the 'Faith And The Arts Festival'. Even the simplest things require you to use your brains as I found out when my task was to peel the shell of some 100 hard boiled eggs. After 20 eggs the skin of my left thumb was red and sore. I developed a technique to roll the egg on the table bench to make many small cracks along the middle and then peeling the egg under water like an orange.

My task is to come up with ways to put the Poatina Chalet Motel and Restaurant back on the tourist map. I took photos of all the rooms and cabins and uploaded them onto a booking website

This week I served fuel at the service station which doubles as a bank since it is the only place in town with an ATM. There again I was on my own fumbling on how to replace the roll of paper so that we could continue issuing receipts. There is no longer a mechanic on duty. But he suddenly appeared back from Canberra with his wife who teaches at the next conference. He was quick to reopen the work bay and hoisted on the lift a 'Thomas Tank Engine' with a petrol engine. It was to be maintained for the Australia Day parade and is featured on the Google Maps Street View. I hardly have time to scratch myself but I managed to do some sightseeing last Saturday and visit a church in Launceston on Sunday.

The dining room looks more like a canteen than a restaurant and passing tourists would be forgiven to think they landed in the midst of some grand church retreat. The people you meet are affable and easy to talk to. Most of them are from an open brethren, church of Christ, evangelical background but I also found an ex Christian Outreach Centre pastor from Western Australia.

Well, time to sign off now as I am heading for the Foundation Course - the one week long intensive Fusion discipleship program.

But further down the track, this is my more sedate assessment:

I set myself a period of 3 months to achieve something in Poatina and now time is up.

The moment I arrived here I had an unease about the place. The neglect and poor maintenance of the buildings and facilities was a telling sign of a deeper problem. Poatina is at a crossroad. It will continue to die its slow and painful natural death as a rehabilitation colony and arts centre or it will be hit by a sovereign move of God in a way that only the Lord will get the glory.

The most lacking thing in this place is a good cash cow business to allow people to make a few quids for themselves. How can you be a blessing to others if you are not blessed yourself? But Poatina lacks an enterprising spirit. Sure Tasmania is the worst Australian state for unemployment. There is a brain drain of the local youth migrating to the continent for a brighter future. Poatina is very good at one thing: applying for all sorts of government grants. But it has two drawbacks: it creates a welfare mentality and if you feed off the hand of some government department you run the risk of getting your funding cut-off at the next election.

You can't fix people who do not want your help. Half of Poatina's problems are of her own making. You cannot distinguish Fusion from Poatina. Fusion is the Christian organisation who bought for a song the Poatina village in the 1990s from Tasmanian Hydro Electricity. They setup their own body corporate with its own by-laws making the place a drugs and alcohol free zone. That was perfect in the heydays of Fusion charismatic leader Mal Garvin. Today it is a sting in the tail. People cannot buy or sell property here as it is a closed market where newcomers are subject to screening and the motel cannot serve you wine with your meal. You are not permitted to bring your own either. This makes it difficult to promote the motel as a tourism stop for fly-fishing. Instead of handling things over to the local council the body corporate has to take care of running its own sewerage treatment plant and garbage collection. That was manageable with a population of 350 residents. Now being down to less than 100 it is pushing on the friendship with monthly working bees and rosters to keep the place alive. There is also an issue with most building having asbestos roofs and even asbestos wall lining.

Poatina is a Christian community by name only. Most people go off on Sundays to worship at the local churches in the towns nearby. The result is that there is no pastoral care, prayer group or bible study apart from the specific courses for those in rehabilitation. There is a notion that Fusion is not a church and should not conduct religious services in Poatina. This is the perfect strategy for the devil to cut down any spiritual life and growth in the place. Most Fusion people come from an evangelical background and have no concept of moving in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. There is no desire for divine healing. There is no notion of seeking God's face through corporate prayer and fasting. There is no inclination to prophesy the will of God into one's circumstances.

The best thing for young adults in the process of rebuilding their lives is to walk out of Poatina with a trade. In the past you could do a qualification as a mechanic or in hospitality. Today both the garage and the motel are loss making businesses artificially propped up by volunteer labour. Instead of a trade they are being trained as social workers - having to deal again with people from the toxic environment they escaped from. Not really a glowing future when you need some hope. The golf course has been leased to a nearby club and maybe this could be the solution for other things. If the Poatinians do not have the drive and the marketing skills to bring prosperity into town maybe selling off to another entity could bring some life back in the place.

There is a core group of die-hard Fusion folks who oppose any change hoping that the next round of funding will revive them. In the past many people came with their own trade and left without passing the baton to someone else to take over. Some are dreaming of the good olds days when Poatina had its own baker and its own butcher. Today the general store has stopped supplying fresh produce and is closed half of the time. With transport people are better off doing their shopping in Launceston.

This is the perfect setup for a revival don't you think? Jesus waited four days to attend to Lazarus to maximize the impact of raising someone from the dead. Poatina for all intends and purposes is - dare I say it - dead.

"If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land." (2 Chr 7:14 NIV)

Paul Szilard says:
Thanks for the great newsletter. You really do have a 1st class writing style. I think you should compile some of your articles into a book. The description of your new environment is interesting, so keep doing further updates. Cheers, Paul Szilard

Terry Khor says:
What a beautiful and inspired place! I am so happy for you. I would like to live there myself! I can imagine myself spending the rest of my life there! I hope you find your happiness in this place, more importantly, find out God's will for your life, and live it to the full. God bless you!

Miriam Deshayes says:
I love it! Wow dad that sounds so interesting, its like a whole different world down there, what an adventure :) Glad to hear about your egg peeling skills ;)

Luke Reifler says:
Praise God for his leading and provision for you - physically and spiritually. God is good! It is so wonderful to hear how your piece of the puzzle fits into theirs so well. May every week challenge you to grow greater faith, greater love, greater passion and greater peace. DaySpring will miss you but Poatina will be blessed by your contribution. May heaven invade earth wherever you go.

Charlie Stantz says:
I wonder what Mal or Mat Garvin would say about this place now. From what I hear from a lot of people is that Fusion destroys more lives than they save. You cannot polish crap, it just does not work. I understand the die hard leftovers from the old days like to see Poatina continue however how much Gov funding does it take to keep an entity like this going. If it's on it's last legs then DO THE RIGHT THING. Pull the pin.

Sasha Man says:


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