AN ageing population, combined with young people spreading their wings and farming enterprises getting bigger, are creating a perfect storm for a predicted population decline in Corangamite Shire.
The council’s economic and tourism development manager, Michael Emerson, knows the rural council is not alone with 11 other regional municipalities facing a similar fate.
“Essentially any council that is dependent on the agricultural sector would be feeling the same sort of things,” he said.
“Councils near a city or city fringe (are) increasing in population. So we’re not alone.
“Obviously we can’t have a situation where population keeps declining because then services have to be cut and schools become unviable… and that sort of thing.”
Mr Emerson said addressing the slow decline had been identified as a council priority and there were initiatives underway to reverse it.
He said it was evident that young people aged 18-24 were a clear cohort that left the shire for education or work opportunities or to experience city life.
“We find a bit later some of them tend to move back certainly on the farm side,” he said.
“Generally what has happened is the farming methods mean there is higher productivity so that you need fewer people to generate more income, as a general rule, so that means there’s less people.”
Mr Emerson said predicted population decline was a continuing trend the council had been tackling.
“I think that the reality is young people will continue to want to leave and go and try other things,” he said.
“We don’t really see that that’s going to change much.
“Probably farms will continue to increase gradually across the board.”
Mr Emerson said the forecasts didn’t take into account any proposed major developments for the shire.
He said a planned resort at Princetown and planned resort and spa complex near the Twelve Apostles would contribute significantly to the population once they came to fruition.
“We’ve got a few of those in the pipeline, there’s also the Camperdown dairy expanding,” he said.
“These sort of economic initiatives aren’t included in those projections. We’re actively supporting them where we can. A stated goal of the council is to look at increasing the population overtime.”
Mr Emerson said the council had begun a series of New Residents Functions to help people make social connections in their new communities.
“What we find is that if people make connections when they move, they’re much more likely to stay rather than drift away,” he said.
The council will also trial a project targeting people who are considering buying in the region and providing them with a day of what the shire has to offer. He said affordable house prices was also a way to attract new people.
Rural change inevitable
LEADING demographer Bernard Salt says a slow decline in Corangamite Shire’s population demonstrates the efficiency of rural Australia.
Born and bred in Terang, one of the shire’s major towns, Mr Salt said part of the population decline was due to farms increasing in size with farmers buying out their neighbours.
“The neighbours then move to town or away,” he said.
Mr Salt said this trend was not new with the generations that followed the World War I and World War II soldier settlements needing larger areas of land to farm.
“They were not big enough to support the next generation,” he said.
“Then you also had the next generations having fewer kids.”
Mr Salt told The Standard agriculture in Corangamite was more productive and more valuable to the economy than ever before and was being achieved with fewer workers.
He said the productivity also meant an increased wealth for those who continued to farm in the area.
Mr Salt’s comments were echoed in the council’s annual report which noted that agriculture was the major driver of the local economy with the industry employing just under one third of the shire’s population.
“Corangamite is one of the most productive dairying regions of Australia with diary contributing $300 million to the local economy,” the recently-released report said.
“The national trends of ageing population, downturns in manufacturing and the changing face of agriculture were all issues faced by Corangamite Shire.”
Mr Salt said the excess labour was soaked up in cities like Melbourne and Geelong but also around Port Fairy, Warrnambool and the Surf Coast.
He said decades ago it was normal for towns to have four banks and for schools to be littered around the districts but it was inevitable that would change.
“Nothing can remain the same forever,” he said.
“You do get the revitalisation of little towns like Woolsthorpe and Winslow with young families moving to the area.
“Terang might be just on the edge of Corangamite for a commutable distance to Warrnambool.
“In years to come, by 2030 it might be a trendy place.”
Mr Salt said it was a rite of passage for many young people to leave their hometown and pursue further education and training.
“Some people might really want to test their mettle and live in Geelong and Melbourne,” he said.
“It’s a very Australian thing to do. New Zealanders also do it a lot.”
Mr Salt said the challenge was to attract those people back once they were professionals and had gained skills.
“Overtime you can lose people and not everyone comes back,” he said.
People on the move for greener pastures
FOR 18-year-old student Hugh McBean, getting out and seeing some of the world is the main reason to leave home.
The year 12 Mercy Regional College student lives on a sheep and cropping farm near Lismore and he hopes to study a Bachelor of Science in Melbourne or Geelong.
He said he liked living on the farm and enjoyed the work but at some point he would like to “get out and see the world”.
Hugh isn’t alone with other students Claire Johnstone, Zack Green, Charlie Finnerty and Lachie Davis looking to find to new challenges but not opposed to staying close to home.
On the other side of the coin, new Camperdown resident Sophia MacRae said moving to regional Victoria was one of the best decisions she ever made.
Ms MacRae is a graduate town planner at Corangamite Shire and she recently moved with her 11-year-old son. “I really feel like I’ve won the jackpot,” she said.
Ms MacRae grew up near a country town in New South Wales but has lived in mostly dense urban areas, including Adelaide and Barcelona.
She graduated as a town planner last year and when offered the job at Corangamite she accepted it and thought she’d stay for a small period of time.
But since her arrival her plans have changed. She has purchased a block of land and is preparing to build a house. “It’s so much cheaper to get a start here,” she said.
“My son can walk to school. The schools are really good.
“I’m confident in his education that he’ll have the same opportunities as anyone in the city.”