Why rural and regional Oz can compete with London and NYC

A recent conversation started by renowned demographer Bernard Salt has Cox Inall’s Toni Somes asking how close we are to a career in rural and regional Australia being perceived as valuable and prestigious as a high flying stint in London or New York.

Toni SomesDemographer Bernard Salt kick-started a conversation in my community recently following his comments in metropolitan media about what was needed to encourage young people to embrace life in rural and regional areas.

Essentially he spoke about the need to provide opportunity and celebrate the achievements of young people in smaller communities http://www.couriermail.com.au/goqld/goqld-encouraging-people-to-relocate-to-regions-will-help-queensland-propser/news-story/f3db293771a8239571427021005c176a

He said this cultural change was as important, if not more, than practically anything else.

“Local middle-aged people, Baby Boomers, show off to people about where their sons and daughters are – ‘my son’s in London, my daughter’s in New York, she’d love to come home to Charters Towers but there’s nothing for her here’,” he says.

“It’s a statement about being able to catapult their kids somewhere important…

“I think we need to develop a culture at a local level where leaders of the community stop showing off about who they know that’s famous that left the community and start celebrating those who come back or those who build successful businesses or make a contribution locally.

“I would rather see a mayor congratulate a 28-year-old bricklayer who has built a business, hired two apprentices, plays footy, who contributes to the local Rotary club and contributes to the community, rather than showing off what famous sportsman used to live here.”

Understanding why and where people choose to live and the trends of the next generation is vital.

Simply speaking, so many of the organisations Cox Inall works with are dependent on young people returning to, or opting to live and work in rural and regional areas.

Closer to home, or more specifically on my veranda, there is a mix of country kids who have left for city universities, alongside others who have stayed home to do apprenticeships, and a handful who have travelled or are still testing different jobs on their way to determining a career path.

A conversation with these young people reveals many of them feel the shift to celebrate the achievements of those making a career in rural and regional areas has already started thanks to social media and the internet (even with its lacklustre connections).

Their list of evidence includes: social and mainstream media’s well documented achievements of Rockhampton-based author Anna Daniels, whose successful first novel The Girl In Between [Allen and Unwin] has just been published internationally.

Central Queensland based magazine publisher Claire Dunne, who is the editor and innovator behind the national magazine Graziher www.graziher.com.au. Dunne created and launched the magazine, which celebrates women in the rural industry, from her family’s cattle property. Her Instagram account has more than 18K followers and the magazine’s Facebook followers exceed 20K.

The widespread popularity of the Central Station blog www.centralstation.net.au where average Australians living and working in rural and regional areas share their outback experiences with more than 20,000 followers.

And for the younger members of the next generation, Queensland-based songwriter, music producer and film-maker Josh Arnold has launched Small Town Culture www.smalltownculture.com to encourage primary school age students to be home-town proud. To do this Arnold visits rural and regional schools, writes a song with students about their community and then has them sing and perform in the video. An innovative, but effective way to get them feeling positive about their background.

The resurrection of local bachelor and spinster (B&S) ball committees across eastern Australia has reinvigorated the bush social scene and according to my young consultants (*aka the young crew of apprentices and uni students gathered on my veranda each weekend) is helping lift the appeal of rural and regional Australia. www.queenslandcountrylife.com.au/story/5066138/next-gen-leading-bs-revivals-to-break-the-love-drought/

“I think B&S have come back in vogue because there are more young people returning to the bush. It’s becoming more acceptable to return to rural and regional communities,” the veranda crew suggest.

“There are often actually more opportunities in rural and regional areas if you are graduating as an agronomist, doctor, teacher, nurse, or a journalist or qualifying as a mechanic or builder.

“You are also likely to have a broader range of experiences early in your career and actually be promoted faster. For example if you are a teacher in the bush you are more likely to be head of department or principal at a younger age than your peers working in the city.”

But are there limits to how far you can progress career-wise from an office with free parking? And does this inhibit those who might be weighing up a non-metropolitan move?

Traditionally there have been limits to remote promotions, but growing pressure for more flexible work environments and globally improved communication connections may eventually allow anyone to do anything, from anywhere.

So maybe these improved communication capacities, along with recognition of achievements, regardless of geography will actually prove a quiet catalyst for population move.

A city university student by term, country at heart young person sitting on my veranda explains it succinctly:

“What people like magazine publisher Claire Dunne show us is that you can do great things from rural and regional places.

“They actually ‘allow’ us to come home, by helping shift community thinking that at its extreme can sometimes make you feel like ‘didn’t cut it in the city’ if you talk about wanting to return to the bush.

“We should be encouraged to go to extraordinary places, experience incredible things and learn from travelling far from where we grew up in, but then we should be able to come home and give back to our communities.”

It sounds like Salt was right. Cultural change is needed. But hopefully social media with its vast communication connections has indeed started the shift…

Toni Somes is a Senior Account Director with Cox Inall Communications, based in Queensland. 

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