REAL AUSTRALIA

Voice of Real Australia: Infrastructure still an issue for regional areas

Voice of Real Australia is a regular newsletter from ACM, which has journalists in every state and territory. Sign up here to get it by email, or here to forward it to a friend.

Road infrastructure continues to restrict opportunities for regional areas. Source: Gemma Purves

Road infrastructure continues to restrict opportunities for regional areas. Source: Gemma Purves

Last month before the latest round of COVID-restrictions kicked off I managed to get down to the Southern Highlands of NSW for the weekend.

There, deep in the state forest the annual celebration of the winter solstice, Feast of the Beast takes place. Fantastic weekend but we did face a problem I hadn't experienced for a while down there - no mobile coverage.

When I first started spending time down in the Highlands, nearly 10 years ago I knew the exact spots I could get coverage to call friends, otherwise they wouldn't know I was en route until I pulled into their driveway.

Then a few years ago new mobile phone towers went in, allowing people across all networks to (generally) be able to get coverage.

One tower being out of action reminded us not just of how dependent we are on our phones but how a technical failure, that in a metro area may slow the network, in a regional area could cause a significant black spot.

Of course it's not just mobile phones. One couple, Matt and Jason Purvis who recently relocated to the Hunter discovered that their work from home dream would necessitate two NBN connections to their new home. These issues around technology pale though when I think back to a road trip I recently took.

As the first lockdown eased across Australia last year an old school friend and I acknowledged that our long held fantasy of a cycling holiday in Vietnam was likely to remain just that. So, we decided to travel as far as we could, which for any New South Welshman meant Broken Hill.

It was a fantastic trip, though our idea was obviously not very original based on the people we kept running into on the way.

Apart from discovering some excellent regional variations on the parmi, it was a great reminder that the infrastructure and service needs of communities can differ widely.

While for some, it's a lack of public transport options or perhaps a dearth of UberEats that highlight the move from metro to regional, for others the issues around infrastructure are more fundamental.

This was brought home to me, when on the second last night of our trip, we stayed at the pub in Ivanhoe (pop. 196) in NSW's far west. As we chatted to a few locals and the FiFo road crew our plans for the following day were met with horror.

By the end of the night the entire pub had weighed in our planned route to get to Orange in the state's Central West, the next day. With rain forecast, the more direct clay road would not only be impassable, but we stood a (very) good chance of getting bogged.

The alternative was a 200km detour via Hay. Well, we risked it, got up at 5am and drove as fast as we safely could on a slippery sticky road all the while looking up at the black clouds overhead. We made it, but it was an important reminder that the further from the coast you get, the bigger the challenges and usually the bigger the costs and resources required.

So this week on Race to the Regions, we'll be exploring how can we ensure changing demographics and demand for services can be met over the coming months and years.

In case you are interested in filtering all the latest down to just one late afternoon read, why not sign up for The Informer newsletter?

More stuff happening around Australia ...