*Pic: A sandwich board in the main street of Scottsdale surrounded by buildings for sale. (Di Martin/ABC).
The ABC’s Background Briefing investigative team - one of Oz Media’s best - recently visited Scottsdale ... and discovered a couple of intriguing things: Cargo-Cultism doesn’t work and Small can be Beautiful ... Economic modelling says inland Australian towns are finished, destined to empty out into the cities. After losing a third of its jobs in the last decade, the Tasmanian town of Scottsdale is certainly in trouble, but it’s still fighting hard to survive. Di Martin reports.
Di Martin: Nearly two-thirds of Australians used to live in the country. Now two-thirds of us live in major cities, a figure that’s still climbing.
As inland Australia empties out, the simple story is that country towns will die. But today’s Background Briefing is not a simple story.
Jan Hughes: This is Scottsdale and we are in north-eastern Tasmania. Best place in the world.
Di Martin: Jan Hughes owns a B&B in the town of Scottsdale, just an hour’s drive east of Launceston city.
Why was Scottsdale built? For what purpose?
Jan Hughes: All you have to do is take a look around, turn around, come on, you’ve your back to the best bit. So these beautiful rolling hills out here which is red volcanic soil, so there’s agriculture straight up, and behind that you have some magnificent forest.
Di Martin: Farming, forestry.
Jan Hughes: That’s the ones.
Di Martin: In much of Australia, towns sprang up a day’s horse ride away from each other. They serviced surrounding farms, gold mines, the Cobb & Co, so much of their original relevance is gone.
Smaller inland towns under 800 people have been fading for some time, people moving to cities or larger rural centres like Scottsdale. It’s the service hub for all of north-east Tasmania. But now it’s facing its own make or break crisis.
Jan Hughes again:
Jan Hughes: We actually have three shops that deal with second-hand clothes and these sorts of things. So a lot of people say that that is in itself a reflection of the sorts of things that are happening in our town. We don’t have shops that deal with new merchandise, it is the Salvation Army, St Vinnies and the local Anglican church.
Di Martin: As we walk up the main street we pass only a couple of people. Empty shops punctuate the streetscape, and outside an employment agency sits a lone sandwich board.
I just have to stop at this sign. Can you tell us what it says?
Jan Hughes: It’s for Stronach Labour Force, a labour hire company, and the big sign out on the footpath says ‘Think positive thoughts and good things may happen’. Turn around and you see all the buildings that are for sale.
Di Martin: Scottsdale has had a torrid last decade. Failed timber company Gunns closed down two local sawmills shortly before it collapsed. A Simplot vegetable processing plant had already shut up shop.
The local mayor, Barry Jarvis, says Scottsdale has lost a third of its jobs over the past 10 years.
Barry Jarvis: And we have been very, very hard hit, the Scottsdale area, on the downturn of the forest industry, we lost two sawmills of around…the employment factor there was directly about 300, and the vegetable factory was around about 120 I think.
Di Martin: And let’s put this into context, that’s 420 jobs in a town of 2,600. So that’s a lot of breadwinners, isn’t it.
Barry Jarvis: Most certainly.
Di Martin: Barry Jarvis knows all about rescue plans, and says he’s been thrown so-called life lines that have made his job even harder; government wasting tens of thousands of dollars on poorly researched business start-ups, and his Council plagued by a succession of other dead-end development proposals, all trying to tap into state bailout funds.
Barry Jarvis: If you don’t investigate, the community say, well, you’re not doing your job. And then when you do investigate you find you have wasted a lot of resources of community money on projects that are really only trying to fleece the system.
Di Martin: Welcome to Background Briefing. I’m Di Martin.
There are people in Scottsdale who are convinced their town is dying. Yet spend a bit of time here and you quickly discover that story doesn’t quite fit. The economy is in trouble, and old jobs are going. But curiously the town is not shrinking.
Scottsdale’s economy is certainly changing, just not in the way you might expect. In many respects Scottsdale embodies the struggle of inland Australian towns, in fact it’s become a guinea pig for those towns.
A group of universities has been in Scottsdale for 18 months honing a new system to help all country towns pinpoint the best way to save their struggling economies. In Scottsdale’s case, that’s been to diversify how it makes money, and not rely on another big industry to solve its problems.
Here’s Professor Anthony Hogan from Canberra University.
Anthony Hogan: I often call it elephant hunting; ‘we need to go out and find one big brand-new industry to replace all the jobs we lost from the forestry industry and then we will be fine’. We are saying to Scottsdale you can survive by what we call economic gardening, by spreading your risk around and having investments in aged services, in smaller industries, maybe creating an educational hub, a variety of options that you can maintain the economic flows in your community without creating risk by being dependent on just one.
Di Martin: The university project has been rolled out in Scottsdale and several other country towns around Australia. It helps communities identify what economic changes are realistic, and which ones people will support, revealing the best options to revive a struggling economy.
Professor Hogan says the aim is to help inland Australia avoid the fate predicted by economic modelling.
Anthony Hogan: One of the visions in Canberra is that rural Australia is somewhere where you stop for a coffee on the way to somewhere else, and it will not be inhabited, that it will just be vast mines and vast paddocks run by multinational grain producing and other corporations and no one will actually live there. We will remotely control our headers and our irrigation and it will be a people-free space because we don’t need people in these kinds of jobs.
Di Martin: That’s the economic theory, is it?
Anthony Hogan: That’s it. So the question is, is this what we want for Australian society?
Di Martin: We’ll hear more from Anthony Hogan in a moment.
SFX Football training
Tony Power: It’s Tuesday and it is one of our main training nights for the Scottsdale footy club.
Di Martin: And this is an Aussie rules team, isn’t it?
Tony Power: Yes
Di Martin: Tony Power, coach of the Magpies, has been struggling to field a team in recent years.
Tony Power: Yeah, well obviously coaching the under-19 guys for the last couple of years, that’s the age group they are leaving school to find work. A lot of them are finding it difficult. Basically I’d say half of them have been lucky enough to find work but most of it is in Launceston, probably not in Scottsdale.
Di Martin: 20 years ago there was near full employment here. Now unemployment is double the national average. Forestry has been especially hard hit, as senior player Joel Hayes has found.
Joel Hayes: Left high school and had a job with a week, there was that much on. And worked for probably five years I suppose until I actually got put off because there wasn’t enough work with the downturn obviously in the forestry industry, and obviously I had to work other places. Obviously I didn’t want to, but it’s what happens. You can’t do much about it I suppose.
Di Martin: Local agriculture meanwhile is in good shape. But cash flows off surrounding dairy and vegetable farms are no longer guaranteed to end up in town.
Another Magpies player is Cable Hall, a local livestock agent.
Cable Hall: The agriculture is still very strong in the area. There are irrigation schemes going on, Ringarooma and Scottsdale as well. There is massive dairy operations that have started up in the last two or three years that are actually looking to expand as well. But in saying that, there is not a lot of employment opportunities because, I mean, you even have robotic milkers these days. So there is still not the opportunities for employment to keep people in the township itself.
Di Martin: Labourers are not the only economic casualty of the downturn. A decreasing variety of crops and fewer farms means much less work for Scottsdale businesses.
A local farmer and agricultural scientist is Robin Thomas.
Robin Thomas: Perhaps the unseen casualty of the change is the support industries. They disappear slowly. There is one electrician here who employed probably five or six people supporting the mills and servicing Simplot. He is now a business of one. And he’s not unique. There are businesses that were set up to provide engineering type services, they have now gone. One that was employing probably 10 or 15 people relocated to Georgetown because that’s where the industrial type work was.
Di Martin: There has been an exodus from Scottsdale, yet its population has stayed steady since the sawmills closed. New people are moving in to take advantage of the depressed property market and the cheaper lifestyle of a country town, including 36-year-old Mark Hayes.
Mark Hayes: And we had our tomatoes in this strip last year, we had about 60 tomato plants in there…
Di Martin: Mark Hayes gardens one day a week at Dorset House, a community run group which offers emergency help to struggling local families.
Mark Hayes: When people come in for a food voucher or for some help moneywise we can give them some veggies to take home with them as well. So it’s not costing them as much.
Di Martin: Mark Hayes was born in Scottsdale, but moved away for many years. After a long stretch out of work, he’s recently returned with his young family, finding it cheaper even than public housing in Launceston.
Mark Hayes: So we weighed up the odds of staying in Launceston or moving to Scottsdale in private rental, and we got a good deal on private rental out here, so we moved out here.
Di Martin: Even with the extra rent, Mark Hayes says they’re saving on other costs, like medical bills. One of Mark Hayes’ two boys was a premmie baby, and the family travelled weekly from Launceston to see Scottsdale’s bulk billing doctor and use the local medical facilities.
Mark Hayes: It’s a lot better situation out here for the kids. And at least we can get a doctor out here that we couldn’t get in Launceston.
Di Martin: In Launceston it was more expensive?
Mark Hayes: Yes, definitely more expensive, and travelling every weekend and just the food and things like that because I can go to the local farmers gate and buy vegetables cheaper than I can buy them from Woolworths and things like that.
Di Martin: Mark Hayes says the doctor co-payment will have a big impact on his family and others in Scottsdale, and he’s broadly critical of changes to welfare announced in the Budget.
The other main group of newcomers to Scottsdale are also edgy about the Budget, they are the influx of pensioners moving here to retire.
Also at Dorset House on the day Background Briefing visits is Lyn, who volunteers at the front desk once a week. Preferring not to use her surname, Lyn is a pensioner who’s moved from Rockhampton in Queensland for health reasons.
Lyn: This little town has a hospital in it, we have an ambulance service here, if something goes wrong I know I’ve got care fairly quickly. And it’s only 65 km to Launceston.
Di Martin: So do you find it affordable to live in Scottsdale compared to other places in Australia?
Lyn: Oh yes, most definitely. I can live on my own in Scottsdale and my rent is under $200.
Di Martin: How many bedrooms?
Lyn: Three. And in Rockhampton that would cost me anything from $360 to $450, and I could not afford that and live. I would say that about one in 10 people I speak to in the street are from Queensland, and we have a lot that come over from Melbourne. And it’s just gotten too pricey and they can buy exactly what they want here with the money that they get from the sale of their property on the mainland.
Di Martin: Why are we going down here?
Barry Jarvis: I’m just having look, there’s a guy wanted me to see about putting a walkway in to the medical centre from here.
Di Martin: Mayor Barry Jarvis sees the influx of the elderly as a boost for the local economy. He took Background Briefing for a drive past Scottsdale’s newest building development.
Barry Jarvis: The major planning development is probably for independent living which will be the local not-for-profit Northbourne Association. And they have got land available to build another 75 independent living houses.
Di Martin: He says the elderly create their own industry, demanding health and lifestyle services that younger people will need to provide.
Barry Jarvis: And we need to be able to cater for them, and to entice them here as an economic stimulus.
Di Martin: But do they have income to spend in town to support businesses?
Barry Jarvis: They are not materialistic or don’t need that high discretionary spend but they’ve certainly have discretionary income and we need to be able to understand what they want to spend it on and provide those things.
Di Martin: Part of that spend will certainly end up in the local pharmacy.
Customer: Good morning Stephen
Stephen Love: How are you?
Di Martin: Pharmacist Stephen Love says the increase in retirees has been obvious in his store.
Customer: Yes, I’ve dropped a lot of scripts in for you so ..
Stephen Love: OK
Customer: Beautiful. Thankyou.
Pharmacists Assistant: Thanks Sue, See you later
Stephen Love: Well, the health needs are certainly growing, as most rural communities are with the ageing population, but we are having a real spike in health needs because older couples are coming in. And common issues—diabetes, hypertension—they probably consume a big proportion of it, cardiovascular health.
Di Martin: Stephen Love sees first-hand the economic benefits of the elderly, but also their vulnerabilities. And Scottsdale’s residents are not only aging, they’re more transient than ever before. Newcomers now make up a third of this town, leaving business leaders like Stephen Love one of a shrinking pool of people willing to take on important community jobs. He admits to feeling a bit burnt out.
Stephen Love: It’s hard not to get involved in community affairs when you are a professional in a town, you find it’s hard to say no. But it’s very hard to get people to take a job on any of these sorts of boards and committees that do need to run the show.
Di Martin: Stephen Love has been on a raft of working groups and taskforces during the past decade. He says they’ve produced a lot of reports but not many jobs. And one thing that’s become clear is that struggling communities cannot rely on government to come up with the answer.
Stephen Love: That’s the big frustration with all of these talkfests. Every man and his dog has got a great idea. We had 84 submissions to the North East Working Group and they were all good ideas. But everybody thinks that someone else is going to fund something for them. It’s always, ‘they should do this’. Well, who’s ‘they’? They is us. We’ve got to do it ourselves.
Di Martin: Stephen Love is adamant that other country towns need to keep control of local industry, saying the closure of Scottsdale’s vegetable processing plant is a cautionary tale.
Stephen Love: Simplot was formed around wartime by a co-op of local growers, went through a series of owners and as it got big enough it became a corporate structure, it finished up in the hands of Pacific Dunlop, a listed company. Pacific Dunlop got finished up in the hands of Simplot, a Texan company, and all of a sudden someone in Texas who has never even been to the bloody place can close the business and throw 130 people out of work with the stroke of a pen. That’s the sort of thing you’ve got to avoid.
Di Martin: Stephen Love believes Scottsdale should try to reintroduce a version of the co-op system to process its vegetables. He says multinationals need a high return on capital or that capital will go elsewhere. So a smaller community owned and run venture could work, even with some obvious challenges.
Stephen Love: And economies of scale are clearly an issue. And economies of scale are usually the reason that people say we have to sell. But I question a bit of that. I think small doesn’t have to be expensive. If you’ve got good labour relations happening, and work practices happening, there’s no reason why those businesses can’t be profitable at at least an acceptable rate of return.
Di Martin: Stephen Love says regardless of whether a co-op gets off the ground, Scottsdale has to diversify its economy, to bolster itself against future shocks. He volunteers on a local economic development group known as Dorset EDG. The group formed after the Simplot factory closed, and came to focus efforts on setting up local irrigation infrastructure to boost pasture and crop growth on local farms.
Dorset EDG ran on goodwill and just one salary; an economic development officer paid less than $70,000. That officer worked mostly on $100 million worth of irrigation investment. In his spare time, he helped land grants to local businesses worth more than three quarters of a million dollars. And yet the government pulled his funding, for a far inferior product, according to Stephen Love.
Stephen Love: The state government in its wisdom ceased his funding and the alternative was the Sirolli program.
Di Martin: The Sirolli program is the brainchild of Ernesto Sirolli. He’s a charismatic former aid worker who set up a California based institute that aims to help kick-start small business. Here he is addressing a TEDx conference:
Ernesto Sirolli: And I invented a system called Enterprise Facilitation, where you never initiate anything, you never motivate anybody, but you become a servant of the local passion.
Di Martin: The Sirolli program hires a single facilitator to work with people who already have a business idea, connecting them with local volunteers with the knowledge and skills to help get the venture started. Ernesto Sirolli is paid to train and mentor them all in the method he developed.
The underlying ideas are broadly praised, but this project in Tasmania has attracted much controversy. The previous Labor government spent nearly a million dollars to establish the Sirolli method in three economically depressed regions, including the state’s north-east.
Each region received just under $200,000. Yet the only publicised successes of the north-east Sirolli Group are two business start-ups, one opening part time.
In Scottsdale, many locals are openly critical of the Sirolli program. Business leader Jan Hughes went to the north-east Sirolli group, seeking assistance with developing a cottage rhubarb industry. She was not impressed with the experience.
Jan Hughes: It did not result in an increase in business for us. What we found was when we had spoken to a few people that they had been out of circulation for quite a while, so the information that they were able to give us was not particularly relevant.
Di Martin: But the north-east Sirolli group say their successes are growing after a slow start. They say seven new businesses are coming online, creating more than 20 full-time equivalent jobs, and we’ve posted those results on our website.
Ernesto Sirolli also defends his project against criticism that the money could have been better spent.
Ernesto Sirolli: Local leaders should give Enterprise Facilitation in their community a chance instead of shooting down something that is helping Tasmania entrepreneurs doing something that they absolutely love to do, which is transform their own ideas and passion into a way of feeding themselves and their families.
Di Martin: But perhaps the most controversial aspect of this program is the whopping fee paid to the Sirolli Institute; $360,000, more than a third of the entire budget, and almost double paid to each region.
Ernesto Sirolli: I justify that because $16,600 per project per month, taking into account that I have to travel from California to come and service those projects, it’s not an unreasonable figure.
Di Martin: The $360,000 is double what actually went to each of these individual regions. Wouldn’t the money have been far better spent to being available to those economically depressed regions?
Ernesto Sirolli: I have not imposed my wages. I have been invited to Tasmania.
Di Martin: Mr Sirolli, I suppose there seems to be a disjunct between what you say you want to do for economically depressed regions and yet in terms of the Scottsdale experience these are the largest management fees they’ve ever heard of and in fact the local Mayor describes them as a disgrace.
Ernesto Sirolli: Are you saying that the Tasmanian community were not understanding what the fee was? I’ve been above board. If people do not want to pay for my services, they don’t pay.
Di Martin: Former Premier Lara Giddings approved the Sirolli Project and the size of the fee. Background Briefing has been told her decision was taken without having the program costed or investigated by her Economic Development Department. Lara Giddings declined to be interviewed. And she would not answer questions about why she approved a management fee that consumed more than a third of the budget.
Dorset Mayor Barry Jarvis says he has no problem with the Sirolli ideas, but recommends that other struggling communities roll out something similar themselves, without hiring the Sirolli Institute.
Council Receptionist: Someone come out please? Can you ring that bell for me?
Down at the Dorset Council Chambers, Barry Jarvis has some hard-won lessons for any other rural community that finds itself in crisis.
Barry Jarvis: You need to control your own destiny. And you really can’t be at the wishes of bureaucrats and people who don’t really understand your area.
Di Martin: Barry Jarvis has seen tens of thousands of taxpayers’ dollars wasted on dead-end business start-ups that weren’t properly researched.
Barry Jarvis: We had a company get money to build trailers for log trucks, the industry folded. There was never one trailer produced. A boat builder was given money to make moulds for luxury motor boats. Never produced one. Finished up taking the mould to Queensland to do it out of Queensland. The locals know that the market is not there. But in those processes we had no input.
Di Martin: The Dorset Mayor says government due diligence on bailout projects has either been inadequate or absurdly expensive. He gives the example of an ethanol feasibility study that government eventually decided to co-fund.
Barry Jarvis: $15,000 from the local community and $15,000 from the state contribution. Now, the local Department of Economic Development spent $10,000 to figure out whether they should give $15,000. Now why would you spend $10,000 to see whether you are going to commit $15,000? It’s a mentality that shouldn’t exist.
Di Martin: Barry Jarvis says every time the media carried a crisis story about Dorset municipality, a succession of entrepreneurs would start coming through his office. He says he’s seen ridiculous, desperate, and downright deceitful pitches, all trying to access government rescue money.
Barry Jarvis: I had calls from as far as South Africa, certainly around the mainland, and every person wanted to utilise the demise of Dorset and thought that the downturn would allow those people to access federal or state money. Their credentials on the face looked reasonable. They gave the right names and that, but when you went into it, they were businesses that would have fallen over anyway.
Di Martin: How many of these people came through?
Barry Jarvis: I probably dealt with between six and ten.
Di Martin: Barry Jarvis singles out a synthetic diesel project touted by a man called Garnet Alexander who was spruiking the products of Ambient Industries, a Queensland based company. Council staff had advised that Dorset didn’t have enough plastic or green waste to make this project viable. But after Garnet Alexander insisted, Barry Jarvis invited him to address council.
Barry Jarvis: When he presented to council, he actually started mentioning who the Forestry Minister was, he had meetings with the Forestry Minister, they had agreed to funnel funds through Dorset if we had agreed and so forth.
Di Martin: Local media was reporting the Forestry Minister was in charge of bailout funds for struggling councils. But Barry Jarvis knew that was wrong, that another minister altogether had charge of that money. Garnet Alexander had been caught out.
Barry Jarvis: And I just knew from my discussions with the State, that he was just feeding us a line, and from questions at that particular council meeting he never ever came back.
Di Martin: Background Briefing tried to call Garnet Alexander several times without success. It also checked into other claims made by Ambient Industries.
A two-page company information sheet dated last year claims a range of experience with the likes of the Queensland Coordinator-Generals Office. Staff there say they have no recollection of Ambient Industries.
The information sheet also claims experience and an alliance with the CSIRO. The CSIRO issued a statement saying it could find no formal association with the company or its CEO Charles Blake. After several attempts, Background Briefing made contact with Mr Blake about the synthetic diesel proposal.
Charles Blake: Now, there has been no malice involved at all in any way here. Garnet Alexander was merely trying to do something for the community.
Di Martin: He is accused of lying to Council.
Charles Blake: He may be accused of lying to Council, but councillors lie all the time. Almost by definition, they are politicians. Just about every time their mouth moves they lie.
Di Martin: Mr Blake, did you and your representative misrepresent the financial position of this project for your own personal gain?
Charles Blake: No.
Di Martin: You’re listening to a Background Briefing with me Di Martin, on the future of Australian country towns. Today we’re in Scottsdale in north-east of Tasmania, and its battle to revive a depressed economy.
SFX Bell ringing
Rotary Chair: Rotarians, can we all charge our glasses and propose a toast to the people of Dorset and Rotary International.
Di Martin: Down at the local Rotary Club, members are about to hear an update on a tourism project they’ve been funding to turn a disused rail line into a walking and biking track.
Man 1: Righto, on Saturday night we held a meeting on the rail trail. The first item was a decision on the trail name…
Di Martin: Bizarrely, there’s been vocal opposition to this seemingly benign venture.
Man 2: There’s a bit of a write-up on the rail trail in the Tas Country. The actual write-up is that farmers have lost the fight to halt the controversial mountain bike trail ride in the north-east…
Di Martin: Also on the rail trail committee is Jan Hughes. She says Rotary received a rude shock when it held a community meeting on the project. A vocal group of farmers were very upset about the idea of strangers on the border of their properties.
Jan Hughes: The thing that shocked us most was insinuations that perhaps there would be an increase in rape in the area because of strangers coming into the community, or there would be an increase in theft.
Di Martin: I mean, I believe that at the meeting someone stood up and said that these tourists could rape our wives and daughters. Is that correct?
Jan Hughes: That is my recollection of that meeting.
Di Martin: So what do you do with that?
Jan Hughes: You think long and hard. I think you have to give validation to people’s concerns. You can’t just say that that’s outrageous, no matter what you might feel. So to address it has been very hard.
Di Martin: In the end another section of rail line became available, so Rotary decided not to develop the contentious stretch.
Man: I’ll close the meeting now and bid you good night.
Di Martin: Stand offs about future developments will be easier to resolve with a new in-depth survey of Scottsdale’s attitudes. A joint university project has interviewed a quarter of Scottsdale’s people—a statistically huge sample—and the results give hard and fast evidence of what the majority of community wants. Not just a vocal minority.
This is Anthony Hogan from Canberra University:
Anthony Hogan: We really wanted to make sure that it wasn’t just the people who turned up to consultations who got consulted. And so when the arguments and the debates start carrying on and you get your loud people who are for or against, you actually have a tool that says actually this strategy is representative of what the community wants. This is almost like a little referendum really.
Di Martin: The survey is part of a project being run in several states by four universities; Canberra, Flinders, University of South Australia and RMIT. The survey asked locals what they thought would save Scottsdale’s economy.
It quantified the amount of support for things like improving the road to Launceston, ramping up tourism, creating an educational hub, and attracting more people or another industry to town. And then fed that information into software that the town can use to judge the impact of different developments. That impact is measured in terms of whether developments would see people leave or stay in Scottsdale. Here’s Anthony Hogan:
Anthony Hogan: People want to keep their communities going, so the stay or go question is the critical one. Will people stay in our town? And what have we got to do get them to stay in town? If we put the road through, if we close the hospital. We are going to see…in the Budget that has just been brought down we have seen that the government is going to rethink the funding of rural hospitals. And they will tell you at the same time that it won’t impact on services and so forth. We will be able to tell you what that’s going to do using this tool. You’ll be able to tell what that is actually going to do to the viability of your community.
Di Martin: Anthony Hogan travelled to Scottsdale while Background Briefing was there, meeting with several community leaders.
Anthony Hogan: Mr Mayor, how are you doing?
Barry Jarvis: How are you?
Anthony Hogan: Good buddy.
Barry Jarvis: Good. Through the glass door there.
Di Martin: Mayor Barry Jarvis says he now knows more about his community than ever before.
Barry Jarvis: It has given me an understanding, a better understanding of my community than I have ever had. And that’s after working here for thirty years and being in local government for seven. Having the research and that in-depth knowledge come in to the community has been very beneficial.
Anthony Hogan: I’m really pleased to hear that. One of the things that I think this stuff can be really useful for Dorset Council, for example, is the new infrastructure money that will come out of the Federal government. Because what you have is a very strong evidence base for the economic benefits of doing that road, in addition you have something like 70% of the community who are behind that initiative.
Di Martin: Anthony Hogan says other country towns can now conduct their own survey and develop their own software with a newly developed How-To Guide, and there’s a link to it on our website.
Professor Hogan says there’s been a lot of guesswork about what will revive ailing rural towns, and the history of regional development is littered with failed efforts. Or poorly designed ones.
Scottsdale was one of the first three Australian towns to be connected to the National Broadband Network, Labor’s fibre to the premise system that delivers super-fast internet.
But the Scottsdale rollout was plagued with problems, training was patchy, and take-up rates were initially very low.
A local IT business however, says that’s turning around, and the promise of the NBN is starting to work for the town. Michael Brian Courtney moved his business to Scottsdale to access the NBN.
Michael Brian Courtney: The business that I deal with out of WA, they struggle to get a good ADSL connection. So they will usually send something over to me by package post for me to work on here because I’ve got a better connection. There is actually two other web based businesses here. One does web design and one does app design for mobile phones. They both moved here because of the NBN. So the web-based business, I was speaking to him probably a fortnight ago and he said before…once he was doing web design and loading it up and things like that where he was talking half an hour or 25 minutes, sort of thing, now it’s done in two minutes.
Di Martin: Michael Brian Courtney says with the cheap rents and ample room around Scottsdale, it would also be a perfect location for a server farm, offering cloud-based services.
Not only high tech, but boutique businesses are moving into Scottsdale, taking out a local lease, but not relying on the local economy.
Just the one keg?
Chris Cairns: Yeah, just the one keg and a few cartons.
Di Martin: Including the Little Rivers microbrewery, started just a couple of months ago by Chris Cairns and his fiancée Jess Coniston.
Jess Coniston: I think you need to look outside the square, and not rely on the local economy for your business, distributing state-wide and nation-wide but basing yourself in Scottsdale.
Di Martin: What about the distance, the cost of freight, things of that nature?
Jess Coniston: Probably the rent of the building, we have bought this building, and the price of real estate is a lot less than anywhere else, so that probably offsets the freight costs of driving elsewhere.
Chris Cairns: If we open up a cool room, there we have a lot of keg product and bottles here and we’ve got a fermenter in here cooling down ready to bottle next week.
Di Martin: Chris Cairn says business is actually far better than expected.
Chris Cairns: We expected to produce about 10,000 litres this year but three months in we have already produced 10,000 so we’ll probably look at 40,000 to 50,000 litres this year.
Di Martin: So are you employing other people?
Chris Cairns: We’re not at the moment, we are relying on our family and friends to help us out on bottling runs and brewing days. But we are definitely looking at employing local people in the near future.
Di Martin: Chris Cairns and Jess Coniston have just moved back from Queensland, so while other businesses are leaving town, they see several reasons to set up shop.
Jess Coniston: Probably because our family is here and family is quite important to us. And probably the possibility of starting a family, and growing up in this area, it was a good childhood that we had, so we wanted to give that to our children as well. And we could probably see the future in this area.
Di Martin: So there are drivers other than profit that are keeping you in this particular place, in other words?
Chris Cairns: Yeah, that’s right. We like making our beers and we like people drinking them and we want people to celebrate our beers. That’s the main thing.
Di Martin: A short time later we re-join Jan Hughes, this time in her family’s B&B.
How old is this home again?
Jan Hughes: 1878.
Di Martin: Jan is leading the way to her second business.
Jan Hughes: At the moment we’re at the tiny little shopfront space at the back of the bed-and-breakfast, ostentatiously called The House of Rhubarb. We have a relish that’s based on rhubarb…
Di Martin: In amongst her syrups, drinks and preserves, Jan Hughes explains she started the business after returning to Scottsdale seven years ago.
Jan Hughes: And it just so happens that my cousin Gerard grows rhubarb. He has 25 hectares, and he had a lot of waste rhubarb, second-grade rhubarb that was thrown away. And we had just come back from living 20 years in East Africa where you throw nothing away. So I think the first thing that hit us was the incredible waste of food that just wasn’t utilised at all for anything. So we thought we have to do something with this.
Di Martin: The House of Rhubarb was born. At about the same time, the sawmills unexpectedly shut down and the town hit its lowest point. Jan Hughes says the business is yet to turn a profit.
Jan Hughes: From our point of view it’s sheer bloody determination and the will to follow something you believe in. And not only was it to utilise second-grade material, but it was also to try and help build the economic base. So we haven’t gone into the cost of buying a lot of machinery, we are dependent on people’s hands. So from the time the rhubarb is picked until the time that it is put in the boxes and loaded on the trucks, it is people’s hands that do all the work for us.
Di Martin: Jan Hughes says in the end, a country town is only the sum of its people. So Scottsdale urgently needs to diversify its economy, move beyond farming and forestry to offer people a reason to stay.
Jan Hughes: It’s vital. I think somebody said you can’t get every ex truck driver to become a barista. So we have to make sure that we actually have a more diverse economic base so people are capable of using the skills that they have, and maybe the ones that they will further develop to keep the community alive.
Di Martin: Background Briefing’s co-ordinating producer is Linda McGinness, research by Anna Whitfeld, technical production by Leila Shunnar, and Julie Browning is executive producer. I’m Di Martin.
Dorset Council Vision Statement
Dorset EDG – local Scottsdale based economic development group
How To Guide for the Community Adaptability Tool – developed by a joint university project led by Professor Anthony Hogan
Website of the Sirolli Institute – retained to roll out projects in three economically depressed regions of Tasmania
Reporter Di Martin
Researcher Anna Whitfeld
Supervising Producer Linda McGinness
Sound Engineer Leila Shunnar
Executive Producer Julie Browning
• Frank Strie, in Comments: The reasons for the decline of this once rich and vibrant community are all man made. Greed, ignorance, mismanagement, over-harvesting, and lack of ethics by individuals and institutional power brokers who reside outside the N-E region. Sadly in less than 25 years the long term opportunities had been mined out by haste and rapid growth, borrowings. Bulk dominated over quality.
• Aussie Verga, in Comments: I have always wondered why the failed company Gunns Ltd, would shut down two saw mills in Scottsdale that directly employed 300 to support an end game of a pulp mill that would directly employ less than 300 when completed. That’s ignoring all the other saw mills around Tasmania that employed many hundreds of people in total, that company bought out and shut down over the years. Here we are, as taxpayers, listening to the pollies bleat “joBs joBs joBs” and watching our hard earned tax dollars disappear in subsidies to assist in this end game. Beggars belief, really it does.