For this five-part special investigation, Peter Devlin visited Wellington, in western New South Wales. Here he found a town on a downward spiral, plagued by cycles of poverty, disadvantage, drug use, drought, and economic decline. It is one of too many rural communities in Australia struggling to cope with the changing times.
After World War II, Australia entered a boom period of growth and prosperity. In rural areas, it was epitomised by the wool industry when the country ‘rode on the sheep’s back’; those who grew the wool came to symbolise and epitomise what it was to be Australian. However, since then a downturn in the fortunes of primary production has seen a corresponding decline in country towns.
Graham Blight, then President of the National Farmers Association, said in 1992, “The structure of rural Australia is under threat. The services in our rural towns, our education and health facilities are all under pressure.”
Wellington (population 5,200) is a small community in the state’s central west. Like many country towns, Wellington is feeling the social and economic pressures of a continued drought, a high welfare dependency and unemployment rate, a methamphetamine epidemic and a dwindling population.
These pressures, accompanied by a decrease in funding from the State and Federal Governments and a drop in private investment in the region, has lead to high rates of poverty spanning generations, and some of the worst living conditions in the country.
‘Wellington’s Waterloo’ tells the story of a country town’s decline. The Kinks’ 1966 song, Dead End Street, which largely focuses on the hopelessness of unemployment and the difficulty of escaping from the poverty cycle, resonates with people living in country towns that are losing out on opportunity and prosperity.