Collaboration and understanding to develop regional Victoria - and Australia - fair

One of the things that really gets me fired-up as a resident and business owner in a small town, is that the whole of Victoria (ex-Melbourne) gets lumped into the same “regional” category.

It’s as if they assume all towns are created the same. That they get the same. That they are treated the same. That they are liked the same.

It's as if they believe

  • That it’s just as easy for a kid in Boort to access tertiary education as it is for a young person in Ballarat.

  • That hospitals, medical and allied health services are accessible, as if you live in Geelong or Goongerah.

  • That public transport to Melbourne and major regional centres is direct, affordable and reliable [Mildura, a city of 60,000 people does NOT have a train and the bus service to Melbourne is indirect, and takes 8+ hours].

  • That business owners and 'entrepreneurs' have access to the same networks, funding and training opportunities.

  • That the people who want to ‘innovate’ will be able to do so just as easily, as if they were in Bendigo or  Benalla.

Earlier this week I attended the Bendigo Invention and Innovation Festival (BIIF). Whilst there were many interesting – if not controversial and far-fetched ideas - I couldn’t help but feel disappointed (overall). Many of the speakers and panellists were from Melbourne, and many represented international corporations, large (city) government departments and urban tech start-up communities.

For the connections alone, the event was worth attending. However, I couldn’t help but feel that many of the suits, no matter how well meaning they are, can possibly understand the challenges (and opportunities) of smaller regional / rural / remote towns unless they live and work in one.

How can they? I certainly didn’t when I first got to Heathcote. And by golly, was it a baptism of fire! For a long time, I felt as if I'd moved countries and was trying to learn a second language. I say this in seriousness - I have been an Au Pair (legally :)) in Paris to three French children.

The future of development in regional Victoria (and indeed elsewhere) will depend on people who ‘get’ the city, regional, remote and very remote settings, and can speak the language of all four.

People with these skills are crucial to the development of our State and nation. Melbourne’s population just exceeded 5M. They say that much of regional Victoria is lagging, yet all I can see is potential. The opportunity for hundreds of thousands of people to live a wonderful life beyond the city is HERE.

We CAN build regional Victoria outside the BIG 3 (Geelong, Bendigo and Ballarat). We CAN help people to lead prosperous, meaningful and fulfilling lives outside the urban cage.

The question is, do we want to?

And if so, how badly? It boils down to the kind of life we want to live, and what we want for the generations that come after us. Do we want to create a nation of rats? Or do we want an empowered group of citizens that have a choice?

I'm not saying it will be easy. But I believe that together, we can build a great alternative.