A V/Line too far

Words by Victoria Baikie
Art by Enya Ferreira

Living rurally is hard, and comes with many more hardships that stem further than a lack of decent clothing stores and a club that isn’t the pub down the road.

The literacy rate for Tasmania was less than 50% in 2014. Yes, you read that right, 50% of Tasmanians are not functionally able to read, write and do simple maths.

Before you start mocking Tasmanians for their second head, know that this shocking figure is replicated in almost every regional town in Australia. Rural and remote towns suffer from higher rates of smoking, addiction, obesity, and suicide compared to urban cities. Life expectancy from birth for urban areas is 83.9, but for regional Australia it is 78.2. Furthermore, regional areas lack proper public transport, mental health support, a wide range of school subjects, emergency relief, training services, opportunities to upskill, arts community groups, the list just goes on.

Young people are the most likely age demographic to move from rural to urban due to factors such as university and work, leaving the country to have increasingly elderly populations. Having an older population puts a bigger strain on the functionality of the town as more people are retired than working, lowering the overall income of the town and prospects for growth forcing regional Australia into a downward spiral.

Why is it like this?

Access is a huge key factor in every single disadvantage. A lack of access to quality education will drop school grades, lack of health support will increase the likelihood of serious diseases forming and so on and so forth. Having access to those who supply these services is also a key concern. Services usually have to accept employees with minimal experience or education, just so they have someone who is employed. Schools need teachers and it would be near impossible to convince the world’s best teacher to teach at a school in the middle of nowhere to 15 students for half the salary. Inexperienced teachers are more likely to not know how to teach students with learning disabilities or find a discipline balance, leading to further problems of certain students falling behind, dropping out or an overall decrease in grades. Which is what happens when you give 2/3 of the Commonwealth government’s education funding to mostly urban private schools who only teach 1/3 of Australian students #ThanksMalcolm.

Another key factor is the level of demand for each service. There has been many government incentives to push for higher populations in regional Australia. Some medical degrees require there to be two years worked in a rural area before being allowed to work in the city, not dissimilar to the plot of Nine’s program “Doctor Doctor”. Some visas offer discounts and a fast-tracked route to citizenship on the condition you work in a regional area for the first four years of Australian residency.

Teach for Australia is a program run by ACU where recent graduates teach in regional Australian high schools while fast tracking their master’s degree in education. Other incentives like lower barriers to entry in the workforce, higher wages and lower living expenses attempt to reverse the migration from rural to urban areas. However, these programs may have an adverse effect on the quality of services in remote areas. Recent graduates in medicine and education would not hold the experience to guarantee a high quality service and the constant switching as new graduates come in and old ones now equipped with the experience head off to the city, again restricts the ability for long-term progression. Having little choice to choose between either low quality services or no services at all, rural and remote towns are forced to accept the inability of movement.

Despite the drawbacks of regional Australia on the economy, there is no way the rest of Australia would be able to function. Regional Australia is the backbone of this economy and also our internationally recognised stereotype. Just think how much food would be on your plate if it wasn’t for regional Australia. If you think that you’d be fine because of trade, then you should know that Australia exports 65% of our agricultural produce, wheat alone makes us $6.5 billion dollars a year. So thank regional Australia for all it has done for you, and in return, give us at least one decent clothing store that isn’t two and a half hours drive away.