South-west lures mature-age "returners"

A NEW population study has found the south-west is picking up “regional returners” despite still losing teenagers and young professionals to the city.

The Returning to Regional Australia report found the region fared better than most in retaining people at the peak working age of 25 to 44, although the region still experienced a net loss of young people.

Statistics used in the Regional Australia Institute report show south-west Victoria recorded a net population boost from inter-regional and interstate migration but was out-classed by regions located closer to state capitals.

Like most rural areas, the Western District had a net loss of people in the 15 to 24 years age bracket, although Warrnambool demographics researcher Gordon Forth said the city’s educational institutions managed to compensate for the loss of the region’s youth.

“Warrnambool has quite a strong rate of returners, people who spend 10 years, maybe more, maybe less in Melbourne and return to start a family,” he said.

“Many people when they’re 18 or 19 want to get away to the bright lights of Melbourne but we also see the other trend that people in their late 20s and early 30s make their way back to Warrnambool for a variety of reasons.

“Compared to smaller regional centres like Horsham, Warrnambool is fortunate in that it loses roughly 60 (school leavers) a year to university but makes up for that shortfall through teenagers coming from across the district to study at TAFE or Deakin.”

Regional Australia Institute research manager Jack Archer said the “regional returner” phenomenon was most pronounced in the Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo and south Gippsland regions — all within 200 kilometres of Melbourne.

The report author said south-west Victoria still enjoyed a net gain, which was preferable to population decline experienced in more remote parts of Australia.

“What the research showed is what we’ve known for a long time, that regional centres located close to state capitals like Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane all perform better in terms of population retention,” Mr Archer said.

“Regional returners are an interesting factor. When you look at south-west Victoria, you see that any losses in population among people in their late 20s, 30s and 40s is compensated by people returning back home or from another regional area.

“There’s a common misconception that once people leave a country town or regional city to go to Melbourne or Sydney, they live in the city for life. This isn’t always the case.”

Distance from the state capitals was a major factor in where regional returners decided to relocate, with 65 per cent of respondents happy to live three hours from a metropolitan area but only 40 per cent prepared to live five or more hours’ drive.

“That’s why you see areas like Geelong and Ballarat growing rapidly because many people commute to Melbourne but enjoy the country lifestyle,” Mr Archer said.

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