01. Changing Times

Rural Communities in Decline
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Introduction
With rural populations becoming sparser, with bank, school and other essential services closures, and there being too few volunteers to keep sporting and other amenities running, what does the future hold for rural and remote communities around Australia?

Contributors
Dr John Ashfield
Mark Atcheson
Rev John Dihm
Paul Kretchmer
Diane Russell
Peter Russell
David Sciduna
For details of all interviewees who contributed to this project, click here

The Colour Yellow - Crop Duster in Action. Photographer Brett Lavender, Western Australia

The Colour Yellow – Crop Duster in Action. Photographer Brett Lavender, Western Australia

Thinkabout Talkabout
Dr John Ashfield
Huge changes are taking place in rural and remote communities. Amongst them is the enveloping corporatisation of many outback station properties, often resulting in the sad dereliction of homesteads where generations of some families lived out their lives and accumulated rich memories.

The now questionable viability of small property holdings, and the more marginal areas under agriculture, is affecting the capacity of small rural towns to survive, because greater areas of land are being combined together for viability. The net result is fewer people living in communities – fewer people able to sustain local services, clubs, and social activities; fewer children to justify keeping schools open, and bus runs in operation; and the loss of bank, post office, and general store being common.

Sad as this may appear, it is in fact nothing new for rural and outback Australia. There have always been times of boom and bust, good times and bad. New communities springing up and old ones disappearing. Railways and railway housing being created – and then being shut down. The same is true of the mining industry in the past: towns have come and gone. Country people are of course nostalgic and affected by the change that is happening. But they are also mostly realists, and able to be pragmatic about what must be done and about the future.

What we need to sure of, is that with the major changes that are happening, government is prompted to show initiative in supporting people through change in positive and thoughtful ways. Many people will leave the land (just as in the past), but there is no reason to believe that they will be any less determined to make life work for their families in new circumstances than their pioneering predecessors. They are amongst the most resilient Australians, and have many skills and a solid work ethic – both of which are in demand.

First Broadcast – Monday 01 April 2013

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