Edith Cowan University
Place of Publication
Churchlands, Western Australia
Faculty of Business
This paper will focus on a recent demographic study of the statistical subdivisions between Geraldton and Esperance and an ethnographic survey in that region, undertaken to understand the changes occurring in rural- communities. The paper will then examine the links between continuing depopulation trends and diminishing infrastructure, focusing on how these demographic changes impact on the daily lives of the Western Australian agricultural population, particularly women, and what effect these changes and government policy are having on the delivery of essential services.
The overall population of the region from Geraldton south to Esperance in Western Australia, excluding the metropolitan area, has increased in the years between 1961 and 1996. The Australian Bureau of Statistics' (ABS) twelve statistical divisions show fairly steady population growth and politicians and bureaucrats often cite these statistics as evidence of growth, vibrance and percipient regional planning.
However, if the ABS statistical subdivisions are analysed even in a cursory manner, it is obvious that the increase in population has not been uniform. A small number of subdivisions show a significant population increase while the majority of inland subdivisions have experienced depopulation. Those divisions which are limited to agricultural production and can be defined as completely rural show a persistent decrease in population. The depopulation trend is exacerbated when the populations of regional towns in these more rural districts are excluded.
For those rural dwellers living in the wheatbelt that stretches inland from Geraldton to Esperance the "misinterpretation" of the statistics has meant that regional issues and concerns are not properly understood by policy makers. There is a feeling that they are the 'forgotten people', less important than urban dwellers and the mining sector. Furthermore, there is evidence that shows that the rural population feels frustrated by Federal government policy because there is the presumption that the experience of rural Western Australia is necessarily the same as the ·rest of rural Australia.