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At the 1994 Townsville conference "Issues Affecting Rural Communities" hosted by the Rural Education Research and Development Centre, James Cook University and convened by the Director Dr David McSwan the following resolution was supported unanimously: "That the conference support the establishment of an International association of educators, practitioners, scholars and professionals engaged in rural and remote health, education, community and economic development and that a steering committee be established to create the association". On reflection the proposal was an idea before its time. A follow-up study was completed and responses to the formation of the association were equivocal. Generally the idea was welcomed but concern over "another association", costs and time available to set the association in place suggested that there was, at that stage, insufficient commitment to ensure that a new association would draw support and membership from a range of countries and a variety of professions. The proposal was quietly set aside.

Although the formal association did not eventuate, the informal network, especially among key players (mainly presenters at the 1994 conference), stayed strong and laid a secure foundation of trust, friendship and shared endeavour. It was from this base that the 2000 conference "Rural Communities and Identities in the Global Millennium" hosted by Malaspina University College and convened by Dr Jim Montgomery, Director of the Rural Community Development Centre, reaffirmed commitment to an International association. The conference formed an executive committee and a broader advisory committee. The intention was to put in place an interim committee to ensure a third conference was held in 2003 and to endeavour to pursue the idea of an association which had again been supported following the Nanaimo conference. Scotland was nominated as the venue and Dr John Bryden asked to be the conference organizer.

In October 2001, The Arkleton Trust hosted its 2001 seminar at Tarland in Aberdeenshire Scotland. Many of the participants from the 1994 and 2001 conferences attended the Arkelton seminar. Following the conclusion of this event many of the participants stayed on to give further thought to an International association. It was unanimously resolved by those people that an International association be formed along the lines proposed earlier and that it be known formally as 'The International Association for Comparative Research and Practice into Rural Community Sustainability Limited' to be referred to generally as 'The International Rural Network'.

The membership of an executive committee was confirmed with the prime purpose of putting into place a constitution and the necessary legal company structures. An advisory group was also formed to assist with the planning of the 2003 conference. The IRN was formally registered in April 2003. Dr David McSwan was elected President and Dr John Bryden was elected Chairman. All directors are listed in the corporate area of the website.

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