It’s no secret many of Australia’s rural towns are suffering right now. An ageing population, a tough economy and a lack of resources are pushing more and more people into the cities and putting our rich history of Aussie country towns at risk.
So here’s a different idea: could the answer to our rural problem be refugees?
Rural town Mingoola, which sits on the border of New South Wales and Queensland, has tested this theory and hailed it a glorious success.
Mingoola was featured on ABC’s Australian Story and told the remarkable tale of a dying town saved by refugees from Africa. The small town was on the brink of oblivion when resident Julia Harpham had an idea that changed everything.
Working with the government, Julia arranged to have a group of willing African refugees transferred out of the city and into Mingoola.
With only 150 people living there, Mingoola was small. The local primary school was about to close because there weren’t enough children there to keep it going. It’s past pupils had grown up and moved to the cities to raise their families, leaving it practically desolate.
While the majority of Australians want to live and work in the city, it turns out a number of refugees were dying to get out.
According to the report lots of refugee families who come to Australia are struggling in the city and craving to get out into the open air and quiet life.
So are our rural towns the answer?
Australia accepts over 13,000 refugees every year and most of them are settled in the major cities. But what if we sent them to our struggling rural towns instead?
Many of the refugees who were relocated to Mingoola hailed from war-torn countries and came to Australia hoping for a quieter and more peaceful life. When they were put in the city they struggled to deal with the built up area, cramped nature and somewhat less than friendly reaction they received from some.
Moving to Mingoola changed all this. Not only did it give them the lifestyle they craved, it brought youth, diversity and vibrancy to the town and injected some much needed energy into the lives of those who lived there.
Mingoola welcomed the refugees with open arms and has worked from the beginning to include them in town events and help them settle in. The success of the experiment has lead others to ask why it’s not happening in other rural towns and if this could be the answer to our rural problem.
The idea would need a strong program and government support, but more than that, it would need the support of our country citizens who live in these rural areas.
It’s an idea that is dividing some, with many saying they support it and would welcome the change in their own town and others saying they don’t think it would work.