I had the opportunity to tour a bit of the wheatbelt earlier this month to get a better understanding of the challenges (and opportunities) that the rural regions of our state face.
It was good to head into the trip with an understanding of Supertowns and the fact that there is a degree of focus from the current government to regional WA thanks to one Brendon Grylls. Speaking of Supertowns I noted that there has been some more press in this space recently such as this Nationals Press Release.
Anyway back to the story…
Since so much of this state is remote from our capital it was interesting to be able to hear from some of the people living (and thriving in many cases) far from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Some things struck me – such as the increasing size of farms (and the machinery to run them) and therefore the reduction in the number of people needed to run (and therefore work and live on) a farm… This has been a challenge for rural communities around the country and one that cannot be easily turned around – as margins become tighter in the game that is farming (and I call it a game – more a game of chance since running a business where you are at the whims of the weather) means that you need to have a larger area to farm and manage to make a profit.
So this growth in the size of farms is one of the issues related to the reduced number of people living in rural communities – and that affects all aspects of life for those that are still there – less volunteers (and you have to understand that this is what makes most rural communities keep going), and less job opportunities etc. Not a small challenge.
The question is how or what do you do to change things to support these communities (and possibly where do you draw the line?)…
Amazingly enough speaking to some of the farmers in some parts of the wheatbelt back in the 60’s and up to the very early 80’s they had to clear their land – i.e. by government decree otherwise they were at risk of losing their land. How times have changed in less than a lifetime the opposite has become the new reality.
There were several things that I took away from the tour through the ‘countryside’ – they were:
- There is a sense of community spirit and working towards a common goal (i.e. the growth – or even sometimes the survival of their community) that I have not seen in a similar light back in the city. Something to note is the pride, passion, and committment most of the people that we talked to had for their part of the world – something that may of us could learn from. I think that there is too much apathy in many parts of the community here back in Perth;
- There is a drive to diversity the business of the regions and to make their own unique parts of the world to attract tourists, other businesses, and in general more people to come and spend time (and money) in their community;
- The concept of trying to cycle money through a community / town as many times as possible before it leaves the area is great. Think of it as a ‘buy local‘ policy at the core of trying to support and sustain a community… an interesting idea;
- Contribution to the community through associations / volunteering etc. is core to the success of smaller regional communities. You get out more than you put in – and this is something that is also lacking in the larger centres / Perth.
- Identifying how to create a sustainable and longer term community – in this I am not talking about going all green but rather working out how to make a community self reliant and therefore not having to continually chase funds and grants to keep the lights burning.
So all in all there is much to think about in this space – we have a small (and declining) rural workforce that is producing the second largest export for the state and in effect helping to feed the world. We need to support and understand the challenges that they face now and into the future to continue to exist (and hopefully prosper).
I have not focused on the discussion about where Supertowns fits into this picture – mainly because the communities that we visited were smaller than the current group of nominated Supertowns. Maybe I’ll post something about that in the near future.