Towns work on sur­viv­ing

Shepparton News - Country News - - NEWS - By Alana Chris­tensen

Are our re­gional towns get­ting smaller? Or are they sim­ply chang­ing?

The is­sue is one that came to a head in De­cem­ber when Stan­hope res­i­dents ex­pressed their con­cerns about the town’s sole butcher re­tir­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to Re­gional Aus­tralia In­sti­tute re­search, be­tween the 2011 and 2016 cen­suses, more than half of all re­gional lo­cal gov­ern­ment ar­eas ex­pe­ri­enced a pop­u­la­tion de­crease.

The Stan­hope butcher’s busi­ness was of­fered for sale at $130 000 in­clud­ing the free­hold, but un­til re­cently there had been no tak­ers.

Stan­hope and Dis­trict De­vel­op­ment Com­mit­tee sec­re­tary Bob Holschier has put out a call for a new butcher and said the butcher shop was not clos­ing due to lack of busi­ness, with a loyal cus­tomer base and sev­eral com­mer­cial cus­tomers, in­clud­ing a su­per­mar­ket and cafe.

The owner has sim­ply de­cided to re­tire.

The town of about 800 peo­ple has lost a num­ber of busi­nesses in re­cent years and the main street — Bird­wood Ave — has more shops empty than oc­cu­pied.

Cen­sus data showed Stan­hope had a pop­u­la­tion of 1014 in 2006, a fig­ure that has de­creased about two per cent per year, drop­ping to 828 in 2016.

The loss of a key lo­cal shop is a fa­mil­iar story for Rhonda and Bill Davis who own and run Mer­rigum’s lo­cal store and cafe.

Af­ter own­ing the prop­erty for two decades, they ul­ti­mately took over run­ning the store fol­low­ing the de­par­ture of the pre­vi­ous man­agers.

‘‘A lot of the lo­cals have come back in (to the store),’’ Mr Davis said.

‘‘When the sea­son is on and the car­a­van park is full peo­ple will come in and get their milk or their chicken and chips.

‘‘If the town hadn’t have sup­ported it, it would prob­a­bly have been shut down and knocked over.’’

The town of Mer­rigum has seen growth in re­cent years — the 2016 cen­sus put its pop­u­la­tion at 418 peo­ple, up three per cent since 2011 — yet Mr Davis said some peo­ple did not even know where the town was.

With re­gional towns fac­ing a num­ber of chal­lenges, Cam­paspe Shire Mayor Adrian We­ston said com­mu­ni­ties had been chang­ing due to a num­ber of fac­tors.

‘‘Some of them have been im­pacted by wa­ter pol­icy and what’s been re­cov­ered un­der the (Mur­ray-Dar­ling) basin plan,’’ he said.

‘‘Right across the re­gion, al­though our pop­u­la­tions are re­main­ing some­what stag­nant, the age pro­file has got­ten older. We’re see­ing more young adults leave for the city to go to univer­sity or work.’’

Al­though com­mu­ni­ties were chang­ing, Cr We­ston said there were ex­am­ples of com­mu­ni­ties that had done well to ‘‘rein­vent them­selves’’.

‘‘In the last year or 18 months we moved to a more com­mu­nity-based model off the back of the clo­sure of the Mur­ray Goul­burn fac­tory in Rochester, and one of those short-term goals was the silo art which has seen a lot more peo­ple stop and come through town and spend a dol­lar or two,’’ he said.

‘‘There are some great ex­am­ples of com­mu­ni­ties that have been able to rein­vent them­selves. Gir­garre is a good ex­am­ple of that. They’ve been very good at man­ag­ing their com­mu­nity.’’

Al­though the pop­u­la­tion of Gir­garre has de­creased — from 593 in 2011 to 561 in 2016 — the town re­cently opened Gar­ga­roo Botanic Gar­dens as part of The Gir­garre Re­vival project.

With towns such as Stan­hope and Gir­garre draw­ing large-scale in­vest­ment from dairy pro­ces­sors Fon­terra and Aus­tralian Con­sol­i­dated Milk, Cr We­ston said they were of­ten the towns’ big­gest em­ploy­ers.

Yet, he said, as was the case with Fon­terra’s Stan­hope fac­tory, a num­ber of the em­ploy­ees com­muted from nearby re­gional cen­tres.

A spokes­woman for Fon­terra, Stan­hope’s main em­ployer, said since a cat­a­strophic plant fire in 2014 the com­pany had com­mit­ted to re­build­ing its pres­ence and was set to dou­ble pro­duc­tion next year.

‘‘Fon­terra have in­vested some­where near a quar­ter of a bil­lion dol­lars in the com­mu­nity — so that’s a pretty big show of con­fi­dence in the fu­ture of the town. But, on the other hand, all other things be­ing equal, things are still go­ing to im­pact the com­mu­nity,’’ Cr We­ston said.

— with Myles Peter­son

Com­mu­nity rep­re­sen­ta­tion . . . fac­tory. A mu­ral of lo­cal towns­peo­ple on Fon­terra’s Stan­hope

Seek­ing town butcher . . . Stan­hope res­i­dents Floss Holschier, Stan­hope and Dis­trict De­vel­op­ment Com­mit­tee sec­re­tary Bob Holschier, Ken Har­ri­son, Joan Parker and Jackie Luker are hop­ing to at­tract a new butcher to town fol­low­ing the cur­rent butcher’s re­tire­ment. Pic­ture: Rod­ney Braith­waite

Do­ing well . . . The Mer­rigum store and cafe, in Waver­ley Ave, has been thriv­ing with the sup­port of the lo­cal com­mu­nity.

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