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17 March 2021
Demographics! We constantly hear the term in reference to the Wimmera-Mallee.
Invariably it is used as an explanation or part of a cache of reasons for varying circumstances involving community activities, responses and sensibilities.
The reality is, in many discussions involving regional progress, development, growth and socio-economic stimulation, it can simply be a more polite way of saying our communities are full of a lot of elderly people. And it is rare for anyone, rightly or wrongly, to consider this anything but a disadvantage in trying to get regional communities moving forward.
This is a tragedy in itself, considering the older members of our community are walking libraries of life experiences. But it is true that we need a healthy mix of age groups to get the formula right.
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If our populations are too old, as we are hearing, then perhaps this is a fundamental area that deserves more focus when building our region.
‘We need to attract young families’ is a well-worn regional catchcry surrounding socio-economic growth. But on further examination, perhaps it is more to do with simply making our regions, communities and features more attractive to young adults. It is after all, we suspect, harder to uproot a family than individuals.
In trying to glean insight from discussions with a group of young Wimmera adults in their early 20s and collectively contemplating a shift to Geelong, revelations were more than interesting.
Unlike the past and what many of us ‘older’ members of the community consider appropriate or normal, pursuing employment opportunities were far from their primary motivation in wanting to leave.
A simple and general response was, ‘we just want more to do, to be with friends and there’s nothing really here for us – it can be really boring’.
When pressed further, there was also a clear impression they believed a young person ‘couldn’t improve themselves or get on in life’ if they stayed in the region.
This was perplexing and a tough argument, even when pointing out our close proximity to all sorts of natural attractions and opportunities to engage through sport and other activities.
But they were adamant and it is this perception by many of our home-grown I suspect is responsible for making the job of establishing a new era of prosperity tough.
Many would see this as a reflection of a spoilt generation. But this argument has a long-familiar ring. It is nothing new.
Industry, jobs and housing are all fundamental for communities to push forward. But we can’t underestimate the value of lifestyle opportunities attractive to young adults, especially tertiary education, entertainment and engagement.
Let’s hope the word ‘demographics’ can mean something different in the future.
• Anyone experiencing mental-health issues can call Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636, Lifeline, 131 114, or Kids Helpline, 1800 551 800.
The entire March 17, 2021 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!