The phenomenon of people leaving rural communities for cities is not unique to Australian regions like the Wimmera-Mallee.
But it can be slowed or even reversed, according to fourth-generation West Australian farmer Stuart McAlpine, who will be one of the speakers at a Building Climate Resilience event at the Birchip Town Hall on October 29.
Mr McAlpine said collaboration was the key to addressing the global megatrend of depopulation which affects many countries, including Japan, the United States, Italy and Germany.
“I was speaking to someone in Japan the other day and they’re having trouble attracting young people back into regional areas,” he said. “It seems ironic when their town has 20,000 people compared to my local town, Buntine, that’s got about 20 people in it. One of the major drivers in Australian agriculture has been economies of scale and scaling up – that’s probably where the greatest population decline has come from in regional areas, from consolidation of farms into bigger units.”
In 2010, the Shire of Dalwallinu adopted Mr McAlpine’s proposal to attract and retain new residents, focussing initially on refugee families as part of a Regional Repopulation Pilot Project.
After changes to the rules for 457 visas, the project evolved to supporting skilled workers and encouraging them to relocate their families, by providing English lessons, housing, education, medical services and welcome packs.
By 2014 the number of new residents in Dalwallinu, about 250km north-east of Perth, totalled 165.
“We increased the population by around 15%,” Mr McAlpine said. “We’ve had almost 100 become Australian citizens and school numbers almost doubled from 120 to just over 200.”
Earlier this year, he co-founded the Regional Regeneration Alliance, a non-profit organisation helping other communities understand how they might be able to “make similar things happen”.
As well as his commitment to revitalising rural communities, Mr McAlpine will talk about regenerative agriculture, improving soil health and fertility, and ways to add value to farm products.
Tuesday’s event will include keynote speeches from political journalist and author of Rusted Off: Why country Australia is fed up, Gabrielle Chan, and Australian National University Climate Change Institute director and joint Nobel Peace Prize winner, Professor Mark Howden.
Other speakers will provide updates on the climate outlook and risk management.
The afternoon program offers workshops on a wide range of topics, including diversification, farming and small business innovation, technology, improving connectivity, and opportunities in energy and environmental services.
Entry to all sessions is free, but registrations are essential for catering purposes.
More information is available at www.bcg.org.au/events
The Building Climate Resilience event is a joint initiative of the Buloke Shire Council, Birchip Cropping Group, North Central Catchment Management Authority and Mallee Catchment Management Authority, with funding through the Federal Government’s Drought Communities Program.