Pandemic Migration Causes Culture Clashes and Class Gap in Regional Australia, Research Finds

Pandemic Migration Causes Culture Clashes and Class Gap in Regional Australia, Research Finds

By ABC News

The culture of regional Australia could be changed forever, according to new university research, and not everyone is happy.

A two-year qualitative study by RMIT has found a mass migration of city dwellers set off by the pandemic has widened the class system in Australia, with clear winners and losers in regional areas.

Researchers followed 21 households that made the move away from city life to coastal hotspots and lifestyle towns in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.

They also sought the experience of impacted stakeholders such as local councils, small businesses and co-working space operators.

Joint report author Dr Julian Water-Lynch studied the cultural impact of the migration trend and found increasing social tension.

“It’s changing the consumption profile of these towns,” Dr Water-Lynch said.

“Inner-city taste or urban aspirations and cultural expectations are going on in some of these towns, like urban-style coffee shops, fancy goat cheese and all that.

“That can be good, but if you’re on a low income and you’re struggling to find a rental or even worse you’re pushed out of town, these are the kinds of signals that incur a lot of resentment.”

Capital city residents moved to regions in record numbers at the height of lockdowns, with Australian Bureau of Statistics data showing 65,700 people left Melbourne and Sydney.

The Regional Mover Index’s newest regional report found 15.4 per cent more people made the move to the regions than in the two years pre-COVID.

The Gold Coast was the most popular destination, taking in 11 per cent of all capital city dwellers.

Moving regional

Sally Miller and her husband Gary were part of the e-changer exodus, a term given to city-based workers who shifted to regional areas and worked from home.

With remote working jobs, they moved their family of four from Melbourne to Burleigh Heads after enduring months of lockdowns.

“It has been great, it was a very impromptu decision to move and we expected things could or would go wrong but it has been smooth sailing, even now nine months on,” Ms Miller said.

The Millers purchased their home unseen and said they had come up against some local resistance.

“There does tend to be a common question come up which is if I purchased in the area or not, which does tend to decide how friendly or not friendly they are,” she said.

“I have stopped telling people I have purchased in the area.”

The study noted the positive and negative role of community social media pages during the peak of the migration.

As part of the research, the study focused on the experience of a man known as Tristan, who moved from Melbourne to the central Victorian town of Castlemaine in 2012.

He told researchers when he moved the local Facebook community group was a vibrant and positive source at the time.

He said the mood of the page had since changed, with posts regularly discouraging people from moving there because of a lack of affordable housing for locals.

“It descended into a world of hate and politics,” Tristan said.

Another Castlemaine resident, known as Neil, told the study he had seen a similar trend on Facebook community pages.

“You see those tensions emerge or voiced there,” he told researchers.

How to fit in

Dr Water-Lynch offered advice to the city movers about how to fit into regional life.

“Turning up with a sense of contribution to the community rather than simply expecting things or acting entitled,” he said.

“Joining clubs, volunteering [or] getting involved with the school.

“This is a way of easing the transition and encouraging a more welcoming attitude rather than turning up with sort of entitlement.”

Ms Miller said people could “get a big huffy” when they discussed housing, but said there were benefits to interstate movers.

“We earn our money interstate and spend our money here at local businesses,” she said.

“We are involved in local sports clubs, attend local schools and we would rather go to a local butcher than support national conglomerates.”

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