Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Musings on a visit to inland NSW

Monday morning flew to Dubbo on the early morning flight. Really quite uncivilised, the flight not Dubbo!, for it meant getting ready at a very uncivilised hour of the morning. At Dubbo, picked up a car and drove the 117k or so to Parkes for a workshop.File:Thedish poster.jpg

I hadn't been to either Dubbo or Parkes before. Somehow I'd always bypassed them in my trips through inland New South Wales.  Parkes is a pretty place.

Driving back to Dubbo from Parkes, we stopped at the radio telescope that featured in the 2000 film, The Dish. It was a fun movie and also a fun visit to the telescope.

I mention the trip in part because the countryside was so green after all the rain. After the wet drear of Sydney, the bright sun and warmth was a pleasant change.

It really has been very wet. Yesterday, some 8-9,000 people were evacuated from the large inland city of Wagga Wagga further south as the floods rolled down the Murrumbidgee River.

One person at the workshop was from Goodooga far to the north in New England's north west. They hope to be able to return to their flooded homes this Friday. Another person was from Forbes to the south, but had to leave because the flood peak was expected to reach Forbes at lunchtime.

I have mentioned before that the rivers that flow west from the ranges that run along Australia's east coast are very slow moving. This means that the floodwaters spread out and take long periods to clear.

Our visions of the world around us are formed in part by the transport routes we use. I was reminded of this yesterday by the road signs. Brisbane over 900k away, Adelaide over 1400k.

The modern coastal hugging aeroplane using population sees a thin slice. Inland, there is an entire network of highways running along the western slopes and plains that in fact follow the old stock routes. The sheep and cattle required to feed the Victorian gold fields went south along these routes. Now the trucks still follow them in an intricate web. Those driving between Adelaide or Melbourne to Brisbane and back know these roads. Sydney is distant, remote, over the ranges.

I knew these roads well when I worked in Canberra and drove often to Armidale. The now somewhat decayed remains of once prosperous villages and little are spread along them, reduced by the great twentieth decline in the rural population. It's hard to believe today that Sydney once had less than a third of the NSW population.

And yet the slow workings of economic and demographic change continue. While rural depopulation continues in some areas, the inland population is increasing again almost unseen. As part of this, the progressive break-up of NSW as a geographic and economic entity continues. Increasingly, Sydney lives in a world of attenuating links with its traditional hinterland.

This is not a political comment. Rather, I am interested in the patterns.

Each population centre exerts its own sphere of influence. The progressive centralisation of government services has speeded the decline of small centres. In some parts of NSW, there is no longer any real form of government service delivery presence at local level. Everything is delivered remotely or via not for profits.

The tyranny of distance is ever present. Just organising meetings of those involved in specific service activities is difficult because of driving times. And yet there is also a growing web of interlinked activities that continues below the horizon.

Mining is one key, as it has been over the many years since the gold rushes started.

The motel I stayed at in Parkes, the Station Motel, depends upon mining for its core business. The bloke I chatted to in a local Parkes cafe - he was wearing a Glen Innes top - has worked as a driller across NSW and into Queensland and is planning to return to his trade because of the money involved.

There are some stories here that I should write about, because the patterns fascinate me. However, that will have to wait.   

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