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‘Don’t write us off’

Wednesday, 21st December, 2011

HERE TO STAY: Readers were outraged by a report suggesting that small towns, such as Tibooburra, were not ‘viable’. HERE TO STAY: Readers were outraged by a report suggesting that small towns, such as Tibooburra, were not ‘viable’.

By Paula Doran

There has been widespread opposition to claims that small towns will not survive future challenges.

The BDT yesterday reported on research by the National Institute for Rural and Regional Australia in which the author, Doctor Anthony Hogan, suggested that the nation needed to be pragmatic about the future of small towns, particularly those with fewer than 15,000 people.

Dr Hogan said without Federal funding topping up their incomes, many towns would not survive a rapidly changing global economy.

He said restructuring water rights along the Murray-Darling, the rise and fall of mining and agriculture, and other challenges would eventually erode populations and their ability to thrive. 

While many small towns surrounding Broken Hill have recorded population drops, civic leaders across the far west yesterday expressed no fear of an inability to sustain themselves.

General Manager of the Central Darling Shire, Tim Drew, said the Darling River was undoubtedly the key to survival and while the municipality was struggling amid a small rate base and high outgoing costs, there were plans to attract investment.

At present just nine per cent of the Shire’s income comes from municipal rates, compared to an average of 47 percent for the rest of NSW.

“While other shires have additional means of income like parking metres to maximise their revenue, we don’t have that. So often the Central Darling Shire is behind the eight ball when we open the doors each morning.”

Mr Drew said it needs to promote its environment to bring more tourist dollars, and thus expand the earning capacity amid a declining population.  

“We have a beautiful environment that gives us plenty of growth potential. Places like Menindee have horticulture and they have quick access to Broken Hill that makes the potential for growth that much more.”

In Broken Hill, BDT readers expressed their opposition to the report.  

Ray Johnston said he had never felt so upset at reading a report in the paper. 

“They must be joking! ...I cannot imagine any real Australian coming up with recommendations to withdraw Government support from the communities of any town, let alone ones who may be struggling to survive. What are they trying to achieve? 

“What are the people of these towns expected to do? Sell up and move to a city, become homeless and live on the streets because they won’t be able to afford to buy a house at the inflated city prices? They certainly won’t be able to sell theirs to raise any capital if this mob get their way. 

 “Imagine the history that would be lost if these towns were to be allowed to die and disappear. How far will the farmers and graziers be forced to travel for their supplies?”  

President of the Pastoral Association of West Darling, Sue Andrews, said the maintenance of small towns like White Cliffs and Cockburn were an integral part to the bush community.  

“These places are very important in providing a community, a place to talk and gather for bush people. You’ve only got to see the crowds at gymkhanas where people come from nowhere to be with their friends...”

Tibooburra resident, John Jackson, said while his town had dropped in population from over 100 to around 85 permanent residents, it would maintain its role as a gateway to the outback and a base for tourists and fossickers.

“We got hit hard when the RTA closed down. We used to have 18 or 19 workers and now we’ve got about two...that sort of shift really hits a town hard,” he said.

Mr Jackson, who runs the roadhouse and supermarket, said Tibooburra was not so much a service centre for graziers because his business could not compete with Broken Hill prices, “but it is a centre for the community to gather, and that’s very important.”

And for one of the only two towns in the Unincorporated Area, would Tibooburra survive without government funding?  

“Oh hell no,” he said “Every little town’s got to have that sort of assistance to stay afloat.”

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