RURAL towns face extinction unless more is done to attract ‘tree changers’, rural summit delegates were told yesterday.
Encouraging summer tourists to make a permanent move to the country, connecting Melbourne-based businesses with south-west counterparts and advertising promotions were all discussed as ways of attracting more people to the region.
More than 200 municipal delegates from across regional Victoria have converged on Port Fairy for the annual Rural Councils Summit.
Rural Councils Victoria chairman Ken Gale said population problems had to be tackled by all three tiers of government to prevent the extinction of smaller towns.
The Koroit-based councillor said the shift of young rural people to larger city centres presented issues for all shires and was a major topic of discussion among delegates.
The relocation of young people from smaller towns to larger centres was a major problem for some Mallee, Gippsland and north Victorian shires.
“Every council has to address population growth, whether it’s a rural small town that’s losing people to our major regional centres which are under pressure from suburban growth,” Cr Gale said.
“The state government has responded quite well to these challenges but we’d like to see the federal government chip in as well.
“I’m sure mayors and other councillors will raise these issues with Regional Development Minister (Simon) Crean in the near future.”
Deputy Premier Peter Ryan was scheduled to attend yesterday’s proceedings but had to decline due to parliamentary commitments in Melbourne.
He sent a video message to the delegates saying the 45 rural municipalities were important to the state.“We understand there are challenges and they apply to rural councils just as they apply to all the others,” Mr Ryan said. “By the same token, there are many opportunities and it is our intention to do everything we possibly can to assist rural councils to take advantage of those opportunities.”
Veteran ABC broadcaster Robyn Williams was the keynote speaker at the three-day event with delegates also informed by speeches from Port Fairy Folk Festival committee members.
Meanwhile, Moyne Shire residents spoke to assembled delegates about their experience with city-to-country migration and the reasons behind why they and others made the move.
Port Fairy resident Harry Bracegirdle moved from Melbourne to Port Fairy four years ago after retiring as a top-level official at Monash University.
The former Glen Waverley resident said he thought his sea change would result in a life of leisure but ended up being something far more worthwhile.
“It’s incredible when you think that most people in Melbourne don’t know half the people in their street but when you relocate to a place like Port Fairy, you can meet 150-200 people within a couple of years,” Mr Bracegirdle said.
“Smaller towns still have that community feel that Melbourne and Sydney lack.
“I think we’ll see far more people head this way as that fact becomes less of a secret.”
Mortlake resident Armour Beardsley has become something of a household name in her home town for her tireless efforts in community groups.
The hard-working volunteer said she hoped the seminar would result in more young families relocating from the suburban fringes into country towns.