Information about work, life and play in Regional Australia

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Tree Change Conversations - Bellingen and Dorrigo

Photo: Gordon Smith, Dorrigo Show Main Pavilion

Two conversations this week that show that tree change is alive and well, and both about the same area.

At drinks to mark the start of the school year I was talking to parents whose daughter is in my youngest's class. Both girls have just entered year 12. Originally English, I had thought of them as sea and city people. I now find that they are planning to move to Bellingen on the NSW Mid North as soon as their girl finishes school.

Bellingen (and here, here and here) lies up the beautiful Bellinger River Valley about 16k (14 minutes) from the mouth of the river at Urunga. Over the last thirty year Bellingen, population around 2,500, has become a significant alternative life style centre.

A little later at school tennis I was talking to a Dad who had just come back from staying at Dorrigo. He, too, was keen to leave Sydney as soon as his daughter had finished school.

Dorrigo, population around 2,600, lies on the top of the escarpment, 29k (26 minutes) along the Waterfall Way from Bellingen. Dorrigo, one of the wettest places in NSW, lies at the edge of the Dorrigo Plateau, another very beautiful area.

Dorrigo, too, has become a lifestyle centre for those wanting peace and beauty but still with easy access to bigger centres. The major coastal centre of Coffs Harbour is only 65k (53 minutes) to the north east, the major educational centre of Armidale 129k (9o minutes) to the west.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Charles Sturt University - countering the drift to the metro cities

Regional Australia can find problems in attracting professional people even where good opportunities exist. The reasons for this lie in Australia's demographic structure.

Not only do our metro centres contain a significant proportion of the Australian population, they also attract a proportion of regional students to undertake professional training at metro students. Many of these subsequently stay in the metro area. The problem is most acute in our inland areas given the love that many Australians have for the coast.

I therefore read with interest a story from Charles Sturt University (CSU) providing further data confirming that regional education is by far the best way of meeting the professional needs of inland Australia.

With multiple regional campuses as well as a large distance education arm, CSU is one of Regional Australia's leading universities and has a high reputation among its students for the quality of education provided.

The latest research from CSU's Western Research Institute (WRI) shows that between 2003 and 2005 60 percent of CSU’s on campus graduates took up their first employment in regional Australia.

Seventy three per cent of CSU on campus graduates who came from regional locations, took up their first employment in regional areas. These results were in line with the earlier study by WRI which covered CSU graduates from 1995 to 2002.

This latest study also shows that 20 per cent of CSU graduates originally from metropolitan areas take up initial employment in regional areas, a gain of two percentage points on an earlier study. This area is important because it counters to some degree the impact of regional students studying at metro universities.

Overall, there has been a significant increase in regional students being initially employed in regional area, increasing by 1.3 per cent per year from 1995. Professions that particularly showed an increase of regional graduates over this time were involved in commerce, health and science.

Agricultural and environmental professions had the highest levels of initial employment in regional Australia, with 88 per cent of regional students employed in regional areas, followed by 82 per cent in the area of education, particularly teachers. The creative arts area was lowest with 57 per cent initially employed in regional areas.

“The WRI report confirms that the University’s strategy of providing comprehensive education for professions vital for the growth of inland Australia is helping satisfy a real demand,” said CSU Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Goulter.

The results of the 2006 survey are drawn from various sources, including offical surveys of University graduates conducted by Graduate Careers Australia and information collected for the Federal Department of Education, Science and Training.

The research did not include the huge group of CSU graduates who studied by distance education, as the vast majority of these hold down full time jobs while they study.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Regional Australia's University Cities and Cafe Life

Photo: Gordon Smith, Autumnal Life

I often use Gordon Smith's photos to illustrate stories simply because they are so good. I cannot do them full credit because I have to reduce them to fit the blogger format. I recommend that you do visit Gordon's photo blog not just because the photos are so good, but also because they give such a clear picture of rural life in one part of Regional Australia.

When the Australian colonies were established a university was established in each capital city. It would be many years before the first tertiary institutions were established in Regional Australia with the foundation of the Armidale Teachers College in 1928 followed by the New England University College, now the University of New England, in 1938.

There was then a gap of many years before there was any further action. As though to make up for this initial slow progress, the last forty years have seen a proliferation of tertiary education across Regional Australia.

This spread has had a major impact at local level as students and staff merged with locals to form a new and very civilised cultural mix.

This trend has combined with another, the desire for alternative life styles dating back to the counter culture movement.

It is hard to believe now that it was only in 1973 that the Australian Union of Students (AUS) chose the Nimbin Valley in Northern NSW as the venue for an experimental Aquarius Festival.

The festival was to be 'a total, cultural experience through the lifestyle of participation' and attracted students, alternative lifestylers and hippies from all over Australia. It was an extraordinary period when people put up tents and camped and talked and dreamed.

Most of the weekend visitors returned to the cities and their regular jobs but a small number of idealists and visionaries stayed on and formed the basis of a lifestyle experiment which has attracted attention over the years.

Since Nimbin, there has been a steady drift of people to particular locations seeking the alternative life style dream. Despite sometime tensions with the locals, the drift in combination with the spread of tertiary education has greatly added to the depth and diversity of the Regional Australia experience.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Regional Australia - the outdoor experience

Photo: White Water Rafting, Cairns

Outdoor life is central to Australian life in general and to the Regional Australia experience in particular. Our climate helps, as does access to space.

When we think of outdoor life, we think first of the bush including outdoor activities such as white water rafting. For most Australians outdoor life begins at home.

Many people in Australia and elsewhere think of the BBQ as something quintessentially Australia. In fact, the Australian obsession with the BBQ is quite new.

Back in the fifties, people went on picnics, packing thermos, food and a rug into the car and then finding a nice place to sit and eat while the children played. In those days, few Australians drank wine, so drinks were normally limited to tea for the adults, cordial for the kids.

According to Mark Thomson, it was the new migrants from Southern Europe who first really introduced Australians to the idea of outdoor eating. In the beginning, BBQs were sometimes called chop picnics, reflecting the importance of the picnic. Then from the sixties in particular the BBQ spread and spread as did the idea of outdoor eating in general. Beer and then wine were added to the mix.

Today Regional Australians have a wide range of BBQ options open to them. These begin with the home BBQ. Then most local councils provide BBQ sites - wood, gas and electricity - in parks, along creeks or other popular local spots in town. Further afield you will find BBQ facilities at at popular recreation spots around the district. The original chop has been replaced by a wide variety of food and drink.

Regional Australians are also actively involved in sport as watchers and players. Local facilities may not always be as good as those in the metro areas, although they can also be better, but they do have the supreme advantage of closeness. They are also an integral part of community life. This encourages involvement beyond school level in a way not seen in metro areas.

I grew up in Armidale. I haven't counted them all exactly, but this city of 25,000 people has at least the following, all within a six minute drive of each other:

  • a netball complex with a dozen or so courts
  • three cricket ovals as well as other cricket pitches (photo: boys from The Armidale School)
  • four tennis clubs with multiple courts
  • one public swimming pool plus two school/university indoor pools open to locals
  • a soccer complex with a number of co-located fields
  • a dozen or so Rugby fields
  • a fully equipped gym open to locals as well as school gym facilities
  • a hockey complex with multiple hockey fields
  • an indoor bowls, cricket centre
  • a bowling club
  • an extremely attractive golf course
  • race track

Smaller populations mean that some competitive team sports such as Rugby League, Rugby Union or Australian Rules can involve travel with competitions spread across regions. In these cases, games also become social events.

Photo: In the Rainforest, Gordon Smith

Because the country is so much closer, Regional Australians spend much more time there than do their city cousins.

Some choose to live on bigger, semi-rural blocks. Others prefer to bushwalk or camp. Some just to explore. In these smaller communities, townies are more likely to know country people, so that rural life itself is much more accessible and familiar. Many metro kids have never visited a farm or grazing property, have no experience with farm animals outside the Royal Agricultural Shows held in the capital cities.

In addition to these things, those living in Regional Australia also have access to all the tourist facilities and activities established to meet overseas and domestic tourism demand.

Because Regional Australia is so varied, the exact texture of the outdoor experience varies greatly from area to area, providing a menu of possible experiences to those considering relocation.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Metro Students Face Housing Difficulties

This is the time of the year when students at Australia's universities start looking for accommodation for the new academic year. This year students in the metro cities and especially Sydney face major problems in finding places to stay at an affordable price.

According to Sydney's Sun Herald (21 January), Sydney vacancy rates are now down to 1.7 per cent, creating a rental crisis, with open for inspections crowded with up to 50 competing house hunters. The problem has become so acute that the Universities of Sydney, New South Wales and UTS have all been forced to advertise to try to find rental places for their students.

In the words of one student, we have to apply for whatever we can get. Another student, a fourth year at Sydney University, has spent all Saturday for the last four weeks inspecting houses. So far she has looked at 40 homes and is astounded at the poor quality of homes on offer.

One $480 per week rental property looked like "a bunch of junkies had been living in it." Students unable to live at home are looking at paying up to $180-200 per week for a single room in share accommodation. Food, travel and communications costs have to be added to this.

Students at universities in Regional Australia's universities are in a much better position. Rental markets can still be tight, but there is a wider range of available accommodation including good college accommodation at much lower rentals. Rental savings can be as much as $12,000 over a three year period for a better standard of accommodation.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Birds of Bradley Street - Postscript

Back in October 2006 I carried a story - the Birds of Bradley Street - talking about the way in which a remarkable group of women including tree changers had brought about economic renaissance in the previously depressed New England town of Guyra.

I see from the Armidale Express (17 January) that Guyra's growth has continued, with Mayor Robyn Jackson reporting that council had approved $75 million in development applications over the previous two years. Council was determined to maintain this.

" We feel we're on a roll," Mayor Jackson said. "We feel we can take advantage of lots of industrial situations now. There's more industrial land being opened up in Guyra. We're feeling we're on a wave and want to go ahead with that."

One difficulty that smaller towns like Guyra face is that growth can run up against short term constraints, in particular limited housing stocks.

In Gurya's case, stock and station agents in Guyra have reported that property prices are rising dramatically as the district experiences a population boom. They say there is also a critical shortage of good rental accommodation, good units and homes on acres. This will ease in due course as higher returns attract new real estate investment.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

NSW Residential Land Values Decline

We Australians love real estate. We talk about it at dinner parties and BBQ's and at the pub.

In this context, I was interested to see in the Sydney Morning Herald that a steep drop in property prices in western Sydney has led to the first statewide fall in average NSW residential land values in at least a decade.

According to the NSW Valuer-General, Philip Western, residential land values across NSW have dropped by an average of 0.06 per cent. This drop occurred despite continued growth in residential land value in Regional NSW and in some parts of Sydney such as the eastern suburbs.

Mr Western said the figures were based on valuations of 2.4 million rate paying properties.

While average residential land values had declined, average prices for all land - including commercial, industrial and rural properties - had risen 1.7 per cent. Commercial, industrial and rural properties increased by 8 per cent, 10 per cent and 6 per cent, respectively, offsetting the fall in residential land.

I found the figures interesting.

To begin with, it illustrates the point - one that I have made before - that investment in regional real estate can offer better returns than the metro alternative.

It also illustrates a second point that I make, that Australia is not a single entity but instead is made up of a whole series of regions and localities displaying very different patterns. Here the Valuer-General's figures indicate some of the differences in patterns for NSW, but also conceal others in that the figures are still averages.

The only way to find the real position is through direct investigation of specific regions and the localities within those regions.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Annual Australian Climate Statement 2006 - Regional Variation

Those reading the Australian media could be forgiven for thinking that Regional Australia was in the total grip of drought with both towns and farms out of water. The position is in fact far more complex than that.

A number of major metro centres including Brisbane, Sydney, Perth and Melbourne presently have tight water restictions in place, while many major regional centres have plenty of water. Some parts of the country are in severe drought, while other parts have just experienced the wettest period since recorded records

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology has released its annual climate statement for 2006. This shows the variability. Those who are interested in the position by state or territory can find it here.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Higher Education in Regional Australia - Charles Darwin University

Photo: Palmerston Campus, Charles Darwin University, Northern Territory

One of the interesting features of recent decades has been the rapid spread of tertiary education throughout Regional Australia. It used to be the case that metro students had more options for university study. As recently argued in a story on my personal blog, this is no longer necessarily the case.

One of the things that I do find interesting about Australia's regional universities is the way in which varying regional conditions leads to variations between the universities themselves.

While Australia's Northern Territory has an area of 1.346 million square km, 17 per cent of Australia, its population is only 197,590 of whom 24 per cent identify as Aboriginal. The remaining non-Aboriginal population have one of the most varied ethnic mixes in Australia.

In recent years the Territory's economy has grown very rapidly as a consequence of the mining boom, growing tourism and the relocation of major elements of the Australian Defence Forces to the Territory. The resulting building boom has transformed parts of the Territory and Darwin in particular.

The Territory is the closest part of Australia to Asia, with both Indonesia and East Timor a short plane flight away. This closeness has a significant affect on Territory life.

Charles Darwin University reflects this varied mix.

With 19,000 students covering both vocational and higher education subjects and multiple campuses and study centres throughout the Northern Territory, the University is the Territory's largest tertiary institution and also has the highest proportion of indigenous staff and students of any university in Australia. It offers a wide range of undergraduate and post graduate study opportunities.

The University has a strong research focus and is renowned for its research expertise and leadership in tropical and desert knowledge of the Australian and Asia-Pacific region, with particular focus on indigenous knowledge and addressing problems of importance to the peoples of the region.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Olives in Regional Australia - Information Sources

Just completing my immediate posts on Australian olives.

In my first post on olives in Regional Australia I mentioned that when I was growing up I thought of olive oil as a medicinal product. Now I use olive oil all the time in cooking, while olives are a constant element in my diet.

I still use overseas olive products and will continue to do so, but now I have embarked on the joy of discovering the Australian alternative.

The Australian Olive Association site is perhaps the best entry point for those interested in finding out more about Australian olives whether as a consumer or potential grower. The site includes details of local producers for both olive oil and table olives.

For those interested in growing olives, the Olive business site provides a handy introduction. The Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation site provides information on the development of the Australian olive industry.

At regional level:

As part of my web searches I also checked blogs. I could only find one. is a global olives blog that includes regular stories on Australian and New Zealand olive growing.