The role of the regional centre has been changing in the last few decades, which had directly led to the decline of many small towns. Economic, retail and public sector restructuring has led to the growth in regional centres. A subsequent magnetism from this growth has leached development and manpower from the small towns.
Many of the small towns are as a result losing the infrastructure necessary to maintain a viable community and are in a state of decline. A regional centre is defined as a having a population between 11 000 and 50 000.Regional centres have been increasing in size in the last twenty years due to advances in technology and economic restructuring in both private and public sectors. Decentralisation has been a key player in the growth of regional centres, with the government introducing decentralisation into rural NSW in the 1970s with plans for seven designated growth centres. As a result there was a large move to non-metropolitan areas by large manufacturing firms. Bathurst is such an example with Clyde Engineering, Uncle Ben's, Edgells and Devro, the largest sausage skin manufacturer in the southern hemisphere.
The movement by larger companies attracted an agglomeration of smaller companies that are linked by services and industry. Bathurst was chosen for its stable work force, good transport links, support services and the financial incentives offered by the Bathurst-Orange Development Corporation. An example is the abattoir industry which would then attract side industries that would feed off it, such as food processing and frozen meats companies. This in turn boosts the whole economy of the regional city, as the industries attract a larger labour force which then makes it viable for the city to expand even further.Another example of decentralisation is Buckman Laboratories, a chemical manufacturer, which moved from Sydney to Wagga Wagga. This move would have brought skilled technical and professional staff to Wagga Wagga, which in turn would provide an economic boost for Wagga Wagga.
Retail restructuring has played a major role for the growth of the regional centre and the decline of the small town. Large regional shopping centres are able to undermine the local, small town retailer due to their lower prices and greater choice.People will therefore bypass the smaller shops and go to the shopping at the shopping centres due to convenience. An example is seen in the township of Berrigan were the banks were scaled back in the town in preference for a more centralised branch, this then meant that other vital services left. The post office has been privatised, the police force has been downsized to one person, the local butcher closed down and the Greater Murray Health Authority has been trying to close down the hospital, and if that occurred then the local doctor would leave.
The impacts on small towns like Berrigan are horrendously large, and leave large scars on the town. In rural NSW, more than 430 towns with populations less than 4000 are struggling to survive as the regional centres drain more and more of the people and services. Between 1981 and 1998, more than one-quarter of the bank branches in rural NSW were closed. The town of Kempsey is an example where the banks play an integral part of the system. Three of its banks have already been closed down and resulted in government services being removed or downgraded including education, transport, police and the hospital.
If any more of the five remaining backs are closed, it would mean less competitive rates for the local businesses. Even the individual bank manager's power is being centralised out of the area. Transport and linkages are very important in the rural area and have led to the extra growth in the regional centres. Dubbo is a key example, as it lies on crossroads of the Mitchell and Newell Highways; it is on several rail lines and is linked to Sydney, Newcastle, the Hunter Valley and lies between Brisbane and Melbourne.Dubbo is in a key location, it is a transport centre, a centre for agriculture and a service hub to the community catchment area. There were several key catalytic events that transformed and boosted Dubbo's position in the rural area.
These included the building of the Western Plains Zoo in 1977 which provided a steep increase for the tourism of the area. As it was the first zoo to be built in Australia on the open range principle, it received a lot of interest and propaganda, even receiving in 1994 the 'Best Major Tourist Attraction' Award by Tourism Australia.This preceded the establishment of an abattoir in 1988 which even now employs 750 people and exports to seventy countries. The mayor of Dubbo cites the abattoir and the zoo as big factors in the city's growth, and that soon the Dubbo's success began to feed on itself.
These catalytic events that transformed Dubbo have resulted in the small town becoming a large regional centre, experiencing diversification and an agglomeration of companies and industries. The regional centre has over time increased in size, but in cases such as Dubbo, the reason for the increase has been mainly based on chance.The catalytic events that transformed Dubbo, such as the building of the Western Plains Zoo, was a lucky event for Dubbo to have occur to it, as it was firstly offered to Wellington, thus showing that much of what has happened has been pure chance. Indeed it appears that Wellington had been chosen as a better location for a budding regional centre, "And in its heyday it simply attracted a better class of people" as Elisabeth Sexton notes in her newspaper article.
It was however this upper-class attitude that brought about Wellington's decline into a small country town. Wellington refused the proposition for the Western Plains Zoo, which receives more visitors than any other attraction west of the Blue Mountains. It also refused to have anything to do with the construction workers who were working on the Burrendong Dam in the 1960's, thus losing their custom. Wellington also lobbied against railway infrastructure and thus the district railway depot, with its big repair and maintenance centre, moved from Wellington to Dubbo.It is evident that much of what has occurred to Dubbo and other regional centres is shaped largely by luck, but once a town establishes itself, it begins to draw other services and thus more people will utilise the centre and possibly move there, further increasing the size and reach of the regional centre. The role of the regional centre has been changing as they start to provide for an ever increasing circle of people and services.
Regional centres now provide retail, financial services, industrial and medical facilities for a large catchment area.This ever increasing catchment area is slowly draining the life, people and business from the smaller towns, causing them to further decline as many of the services that the small towns once provided, such as banks, are now centralised in regional centres. The regional centre is becoming a more important governmental and industrial hub as decentralisation from cities becomes more attractive and popular. Regional centres are also becoming more attractive as many people want to live in an area that is away from the hubbub of the busy city life but are able to participate in an active social life.Regional centres are changing as peoples and companies' demands change. The regional centres are attracting people, jobs and a way of life.
Economic, retail and public sector restructuring has led to the growth in regional centres. Several catalytic events occurred by chance that promoted the growth of many regional centres such as Dubbo. As a result, there has been a decline in the small town, as they lose the infrastructure and manpower required to sustain a viable community.