Poverty-struck Dalveen aims to attract people
FOR almost 10 years, Rebecca Rudd drove the Dalveen school bus until her run was closed at the end of last year when the number of children she serviced dwindled to just three.
Since then Ms Rudd has joined the ranks of Dalveen's unemployed, keeping herself busy with study so that she might open doors to future employment and a few hours a week as a teacher's aid. Ms Rudd is not alone in her struggle.
In a report released by the Australian Taxation Office earlier this month, Dalveen (4383) came in as the third-poorest in Queensland with a mean taxable income of $28,296, while Wallangarra (4383) was the ninth-poorest postcode in Queensland, with a mean taxable income of $30,082, for the 2012-2013 financial year.
Dalveen business owner and chairman of the local Rural Fire Service John Ursem has run his clothing manufacturing, screenprinting, graphic design and publishing operation out of the small village just north of Stanthorpe since 1981.
With 12 employees on the books, Mr Ursem is the largest employer in town.
"I can't speak for everyone but we pay award wages, but most of the employees come from places like the Summit, Broadwater, Stanthorpe and some from Pozieres, so they don't even come into the equation," he said.
"But there are a lot of people here on government benefits who are obviously just making enough to get by."
Mr Ursem, who also owns the Post Office agency, said he was keeping the shopfront open as a way to keep a community hub in Dalveen.
"We sell a bit of milk and a few papers and confectionary, otherwise we there would be no reason to come into town," he said.
"The sawmill closed, there's fewer farmers around, and apart from the bar night up at the hall, there's no central meeting place.
"I wouldn't say the community has changed very much though - if there are derelict houses around here like you think of when you hear of a poor community, I don't know where they are."
Postal clerk Judy Wills and friend Theresia Vanderpal, who works at Action Graphics, both agreed that there just wasn't enough in the community to attract working families or professionals.
"It's a mixed batch of people but not so much young families," Ms Wills said.
"It doesn't seem like one of the poorest communities, but if you live here and want to work, you have to travel."
As a member of the hall committee, Ms Vanderpal said the community was working on ways to attract people back to Dalveen.
"I'm not surprised that we're one of the poorest communities," Ms Vanderpal said.
"No one is really left on the land, and those that are have changed into other things to keep their head above water.
"We desperately need more working families."
Diminishing ag industry to blame
A diminishing agricultural industry is partly to blame for falling incomes at Dalveen and Wallangarra.
Southern Downs Regional Council manager of Planning and Development Cecil Barnard said unlike those in metropolitan areas, people on the Southern Downs either didn't have access to a large variety of job opportunities.
"People are dependent on agriculture as the main industry, but our agricultural industry has been struggling with the high Australian dollar (in comparison to other food-producing countries), high labour costs and the drought," Mr Barnard said.
"Another point is that we have an ageing population and people moving into retirement, which means they have a lower income.
"Council and the business community need to work together and build on our region's point of difference, in good-quality agricultural products, logistics and in tourism and events.
"Focusing on what we have will allow business and industry to grow their operations, employ more people and build the local economy."
Mr Barnard said while the Southern Downs did not have direct access to figures of people on benefits, the trend would follow suit with the rest of the Downs.
"In Dalveen the median personal income is $30,578 per year while in Wallangarra it is $33, 912 per year. Both are well below the Queensland median of $45,711."
In Dalveen, 31.2% of work able people in the age group 25-54 years of age are not employed full-time. In Wallangarra that figure is 33.3%.
The Southern Downs unemployment rate of 5% is slightly better than the state figure, which sits at 6.6%.
"What tells an interesting story is that for the work able population of 55 years and older in Dalveen, 64.3% and Wallangarra, 59% of these people are employed," Mr Barnard said.
"This is an indication that people are working more years and not retiring at 65."
Surgeons once again topped the national list of occupations with the highest mean income, earning on average $361,202.
The top three earning postcodes were: 4709 Tieri ($100,833); 4007 Ascot, Hamilton and Hamilton Central ($96,404); and 4744 Moranbah ($89,211).
Almost 858,000 Queenslanders claimed gift and donation deductions totalling $329,151,651.
This is an average donation of $129 per Qld resident who lodged a tax return in 2012-13.
For more information visit www.qgso.qld. gov.au.