Victoria In The Future
"Victoria in The Future", a government report released in July, paints a bleak future for some rural areas expected to see population decline over the next couple of decades as our young people hike it to the cities for jobs.
Globally this is not a unique phenomenon, but Australia does have a unique solution and it's not decentralisation.
While decentralisation is bandied about like it's the holy grail, one must consider that bringing in departments from the city and typically city workers with them may present its own problems.
What about the city workers' families who come with them who will also need jobs or the locals who already can't get jobs?
Wouldn't a better solution be to create employment for current populations in these areas - ideally partnering with local traditional owners - and attract tourists to spend money giving our rural businesses a lift?
According to the latest Tourism Satellite Account, tourism now contributes more to the Australian economy than agriculture, forestry and fishing, utilities, IT, or media/communications. It now employs one in 19 working Australians.
According to the CEO of The Tourism and Transport Forum, nature-based tourism is one of the fastest growing sub sectors and Australia "has all the ingredients to become the world's leading country for nature-based tourism".
It's playing out already in some areas.
Kakadu - famous for its birdlife and aboriginal culture - recently took out a top tourism award.
In July, a single birdwatchers' conference in Darwin pulled 50% more participants than expected and was said to bring $1 million to the local economy.
The success of Phillip Island Nature Parks - specifically the late Joan Kirner's vision of economic benefit through conservation of little penguins - has even been revered in the New York Times in recent weeks, with the article noting Australian tourism's reliance on wildlife.
In May, the ABC highlighted bird tourism potential. "They (birds) are contributing to local economies around the world all the time". (Corey Callaghan, University of NSW science PHD student).
The recently opened Mount Vane walking track at Stradbroke Island was a clever culmination of traditional owners' involvement in protecting and leveraging natural assets -"the main reason they (tourists) come is to visit the beach, view wildlife and hit the waves" (Queensland Tourism Minister).
On the Australian Leisure Management website in recent months, a New York based Australian travel specialist reported "a definite interest for an aboriginal experience as part of an overall itinerary to Australia by our travelers alongside iconic landmarks and wildlife experiences".
So where to for Victoria and our slowly imploding rural areas?
Many people are of the view Kerang's RAMSAR wetlands of International Importance could be Victoria's Kakadu.
Wetlands around the state are rich in birdlife unique to our country and the oldest culture on earth.
It's time to put them on the nature-based tourism map.
Just a fraction of the year-round visitation to other nature tourism attractions will go a long way in keeping our rural towns afloat, at the same time protecting our iconic wildlife and embracing more opportunities to partner with traditional owners.
According to the Victorian Tourism Minister's office, nature-based tourism has grown a whopping 82% in the last 5 years.
Let's have some of it where it's needed most.
Picture White-faced Heron, courtesy Eleanor Dilley