Rural towns dwindle as Warrnambool expands

NEW statistics estimate the south-west’s population is drifting towards Warrnambool with more remote parts of the region shedding residents.

The south-west lost roughly 400 people overall during the 2012-13 financial year, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), with only Warrnambool City and Moyne Shire increasing their ratepayer base.

Glenelg, Southern Grampians and Corangamite shires all lost residents during the same period with the ABS highlighting a growing pattern of centralisation towards Geelong, Ballarat and Melbourne.

Warrnambool City Council executive research officer Andrew Paton said while some parts of the Western District were shedding people, regional centres had flourished.

He said the ABS figures were in line with long-range forecasts which show a strong rural-urban drift, especially among teenagers and people in their 20s.

“The figures from the ABS are pretty consistent with a statewide trend where very rural shires, especially in the Mallee and Wimmera, have lost a significant number of residents while Melbourne and large regional centres grow strongly,” Mr Paton said.

“Warrnambool’s overall trend has been solid. 

“There were reports about how Warrnambool and the south-west have lost large amounts of people over the 2012-13 financial year, but that’s a geographic description that doesn’t take into account that Warrnambool separately has grown by 296 people — which is consistent with the 300 extra people a year trend that we’ve seen during the past decade.”

When broken down into intra-council divisions, only the western half of Moyne Shire, which includes Port Fairy and Koroit, grew in population during the 2012-13 financial year, while the eastern Mortlake-Peterborough half declined at the same rate as Corangamite Shire.

Corangamite Shire economic development manager Terry Binder  said the figures were unsurprising but added that rural councils were keen to improve the situation through promotion of rural living.

He said this weekend’s Regional Living Expo was a major example of councils working together to address the issue.

“In that 18-24-year-old bracket, right across regional Victoria there’s a trend where those people head to larger centres due to either employment or higher education,” Mr Binder said.

“What we need to sell is the lifestyle opportunities, the fact that living in the country is a possibility for Melbourne residents and that relocation is an attractive option.”

Southern Grampians Shire chief executive Richard Perry added the Hamilton-based council would also be represented at the expo to be staged in Melbourne.

“Attracting people to regional Victoria is a challenge but there’s plenty of opportunity out here,” he said.

“People who live here know about the excellent schools and hospitals, the rich natural beauty and the work-life balance you can’t achieve in the city,” Mr Perry said.

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