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Tech & Science A tale of two towns trying to survive and thrive in regional Australia

06:25  13 december  2019
06:25  13 december  2019 Source:   msn.com

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a close up of a flower: The abandoned Nangwarry timber mill is a reminder of the loss of employment in the town. (ABC News: Bec Whetham)© Provided by ABC NEWS The abandoned Nangwarry timber mill is a reminder of the loss of employment in the town. (ABC News: Bec Whetham)

Nangwarry and Tarpeena are 10 kilometres apart, but they tell very different stories of survival.

Just over 350 kilometres south-east of Adelaide, Nangwarry is anxious to farewell a tough year. The timber town lost its mill last Christmas.

From what was once a 600-strong workforce on the Riddoch Highway, its last 26 employees were let go in a string of lay-offs.

In February, the town's social hub — its footy club — was burnt down in a series of arson attacks, destroying its clubrooms in the process.

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The tiny Spanish town of Olmeda de la Cuesta is home to just 35 aging residents, and is Please read the rules before joining the discussion. A tale of two towns As companies progressively folded across the country, Duarte Pardo says her business survived — and thrived — on foreign money.

If that was not testing enough, the club has not won a game since July 2017.

When fears of closure ran deep, club membership increased and the renovation funding flooded in.

Local Florence Thomson, 85, puts the town's ability to rebuild down to the community spirit in Nangwarry.

"You need a leader, you need someone who is going to fight," Mrs Thomson said.

She has been that leader — first, to keep the doctor's clinic in the 500-strong town, and then the local pool.

In 2016, after 58 years of being open, the free outdoor pool was to be demolished by council.

"'Over my dead body' I said. That's when I started fighting," Mrs Thomson said.

Mrs Thomson learned her way around the internet, distributed petitions throughout the region and raised $72,000 for upgrades.

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The pool celebrated its 60th anniversary when it reopened last summer.

"If I say it's staying, it stays. I'm sorry, I'm very proud of the way I am," she said.

Country schools struggling to remain funded

Fast forward and Mrs Thomson is preparing for her next fight — to keep the local preschool.

After months of letters and meetings, staff at Nangwarry Primary are preparing to close its kindergarten class in 2020, under new State Government enrolment requirements.

Before she moved to Nangwarry, Felicity Goodwin-Perry was forced to send her four-year-old son to preschool on a bus with older children.

Now, she fears other parents will face a similar dilemma.

With no buses to the nearest alternatives in Penola and Kalangadoo, Ms Goodwin-Perry said parents would have to drive 24 or 40km round trips.

"It's not financially feasible for a lot of families around here … a lot of people who move here, move here for the fact that it's a small town and it's cheap accommodation and there is a school here," Ms Goodwin-Perry said.

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But in trying to stay alive, do settlements risk selling. Although the two communities peacefully coexist, they’re almost entirely segregated, says Mayor Carlos As companies progressively folded across the country, Duarte Pardo says her business survived — and thrived — on foreign money.

While the school said it ended up getting the six required enrolments, one didn't count as it wasn't considered "local".

"For next year, we've pretty much resigned ourselves to the fact that we are not going to have a kindy and we will just fight to try and get it back the following year," Ms Goodwin-Perry said.

For her, it is worth the energy.

"It is frustrating, because once you lose something, it's really hard to get it back," she said.

Jobs but no services

Despite the trials with the kindergarten, Nangwarry considers itself lucky to have stable enrolments — let alone a school.

About 10 minutes down the road from Nangwarry, Tarpeena has not been so fortunate.

In 2005, its footy club closed, and in 2011 so did its primary school.

Lynton Cram runs the one service in town — the hotel.

It is not just a pub. The one-stop-shop is the post office, takeaway shop, general store, petrol station and meeting point in town.

When he returned to Tarpeena to take over the hotel 30 years ago, his hometown wasn't quite the same as he remembered it.

"When I was growing up here everybody in the town worked in the town," he said.

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"Nowadays it's really the opposite."

He said the loss of services had been a big blow.

"When the school closed down, that was an absolute disaster," Mr Cram said.

"We just didn't have enough young people here."

Towns closer to big regional centres easier to attract

But there is a silver lining.

Unlike Nangwarry, Tarpeena's sawmill is booming.

In June, timber producer Timberlink kicked off a three-year upgrade at the site, starting with a new electrical substation.

The company said the $90 million project would create 200 jobs in the construction phase and secure the 210 permanent full-time jobs at the mill "for the next generation".

Despite the strong employment, the slowly-growing township is without local services, other than Mr Cram's pub that is.

Ben Juste grew up in Mount Gambier, but now lives in Tarpeena.

It is quiet, affordable and close enough to his hometown, where the 18-year-old travels for work — and Nangwarry, where he has played footy since he was 13.

"Especially when [the football club] burned down that pretty much solidified my mind that I want to stay here. I don't want to move, I wouldn't even move for the world," Mr Juste said.

"I wouldn't go to another club if they offered me ten grand."

Migrants staying close to the city

While representing opposite conundrums, Nangwarry with services but fewer jobs, and Tarpeena with job opportunities without services, they face the same bigger trend challenging small inland towns.

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Adelaide University migration and population expert Dr Helen Barrie has spent a lot of time studying South Australia's migration patterns.

South Australia is growing slower than most of Australia.

And the people who do move to South Australia are traditionally not moving further than 100 kilometres from Adelaide.

Dr Barrie describes those regional hubs as "high amenity" towns — relatively large communities with beautiful surrounds close to the city.

"It's understandable that they are going to be our higher growth regions, often at the expense of other regions across the state," Dr Barrie said.

But she expects that to soon change.

"The more that our cities become larger, the population density increases, we have longer commute times, we're going to start to see that our regions are great places to live and work and raise families, to thrive," Dr Barrie said.

"We've seen what happened to Mount Barker or Murray Bridge.

"There's no reason that can't happen in other regional areas as well."

'Community champions' just as crucial as services

But there is some good news.

In Nangwarry, holding on to services has kept its population steady.

And in Tarpeena, work at a new mill has seen a small increase in population.

"For towns like Tarpeena, 20 extra people makes a big difference to how that town operates. So we do see towns cycle through [but] very rarely do we see towns completely die," Dr Barrie said.

Dr Barrie said in the absence of industry or services, local leaders could be just as important for towns in transition.

"It might be the leader of the local football club or the woman who runs the local café, but they can make a big difference to how a town is viewed from the outside and what kind of energy that takes hold.

"One person can't do it alone, but one person can make a difference," Dr Barrie said.

It is something Lynton Cram appreciates most about where he lives.

"A lot of people do say country towns are dying, but they're looking at the shops that are closing, they're not looking at the people that live in the town and what they're doing for the town," he said.

"They've got the attitude 'what they can do for their town?', not [what] the town can do for them."

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