The main street of Dalwallinu is typical of a Wheatbelt town-the wide road, the quintessential pub, a friendly cafe and saleyards full of machinery.
But the street, the shops and the town are busier than usual, its once-dwindling population bolstered by people who travelled a long way to make this small country town their home.
At the local hospital are nurses from countries including India and Zimbabwe. At the machinery business on the outskirts, there are two mechanics from the Philippines, three workers from England and one from Ireland.
In a farm supplies store, the woman behind the counter is beaming that her two young sons have arrived from the Philippines and will start school next term.
They are Dalwallinu’s new residents, overseas workers recruited on temporary skilled visas and the target of a local government repopulation program to encourage them to bring their families, gain permanent residency and citizenship and make the town their long-term home.
At a time when many towns have been shrinking, Dalwallinu’s population has grown by 186, representing a 15 per cent increase since the 2011 Census.
“All these things are going towards the growth of our town,” shire president Robert Nixon said.
“If you go down the main street, the number of people and cars would be at the upper end of the scale for a Wheatbelt town. Dalwallinu is a friendly place and people get a sense ofbelonging to the community.”
It was a little over four years ago when Dalwallinu decided to do something about its declining population, shortage of workers and increasingly empty schools and sports facilities.
Labour-saving farming technology had led to fewer jobs and people moved away, many drawn to Perth in a trend of “relentless urbanisation”.
The initial concept was to bring humanitarian refugees to the area but Mr Nixon said they soon discovered Dalwallinu did not have the social services and supports needed.
Undeterred, the focus turned to the labour shortages stifling local businesses where demand was growing, particularly light industry. Employers were recruiting overseas workers, so the shire started encouraging those people to bring their families and move for good, rather than send money home and eventually leave.
A shortage of housing was and remains a critical issue, so the shire built almost a dozen houses. It also took the unusual step of funded English lessons, from basic through to advanced and including the local “Dally dialect”.
It organised regular community barbecues and made sure everyone was invited to the Christmas street parties.
Signs went up around town directing new residents to pick up a welcome pack, containing offers of support and a directory of local contacts.
The shire appointed a teacher from the English classes, Lois Best, as community liaison and support officer. She took parents to school to help enrol their children, guided them on applying for jobs or work permits and advised on everything from accommodation to banking and government procedures.
Mr Nixon said the repopulation project had been “highly successful” so far.
Over the past four years, workers have come mostly from the Philippines but also from India, Burma, Thailand, China, Finland, Britain, Korea, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, England, Africa and New Zealand.
At first, it was mostly fathers who left wives and children at home behind. But after a seminar in August 2012 on how to bring their families to join them, there was a notable increase in relatives arriving.
Today, the new residents hold a variety of jobs-mechanics, painters, administration officers, stockmen, cleaners, shop assistants, nurses, carers and hospitality workers.
Grace Matias and their five children followed husband Gerry to Dalwallinu in 2012. A veterinary surgeon in their native Philippines, he now works as a stockman on a nearby farm. Mrs Matias works at the shire offices and recently finished training to be a volunteer ambulance officer.
Their kids play basketball at school and are part of the local youth group. When typhoon Haiyan wreaked havoc in their home country in 2013, the family of musicians banded together with locals and played a fundraising show.
“We came from a regional area so we have blended in well because the people are so welcoming,” Mrs Matias said.
“We see ourselves staying here; it would take a very good reason for us to go away.” Geraldine Vergara, also from the Philippines, has been in Dalwallinu for about 10
months and described it as quiet but friendly. As she expertly kept track of masses of farming equipment in his store, employer John Wallis joked that she was so dedicated that it was only “three weeks before she was the boss”. Her husband moved about a year before her and just this month, their five and nine year-old sons joined them.
It was a similar story for Paul and Ledilyn Lagdameo, who both work at Shermac Engineering. Mr Lagdameo, a painter, came out in late 2011, followed by his wife and child. Their seven-year-old daughter was thriving in a class full of kids from different backgrounds and the family were looking to buy a house.
“If you are from a crowded place, it takes time to get used to it being so quiet,” Mr Lagdameo said. “But we have been permanent residents for over a year and decided even ifl had to find work elsewhere, my wife and daughter would stay here.”
Their employer, Kim Ray, has about eight of 20 workers on skilled visas and said many made sacrifices and spent time away from family to secure a better future.
“People are able to significantly improve their lot in life by taking a job in this country town,” he said. “I was talking to someone the other day and we agreed that in town we have Irish, Chinese, Koreans, South Africans, Nigerians and plenty of others but we don’t really have any racial tensions.”
Opportunities for better jobs and education are drawcards. After Alexia Ndawana moved from Zimbabwe to Dalwallinu, where her mother took a job as a nurse, she earned a scholarship to the prestigious Methodist Ladies College. When The West Australian visited, she was home for the holidays visiting family and friends. For British migrant turned Australian citizen Matthew Joyner, an agriculture specialist with a self-confessed weakness for big tractors, Dalwallinu “is the centre of the world”.
He has lived there almost seven years, working for Boekeman Machinery, which has six of about 16 workers from overseas.He saw the positive results of the repopulation effort in Dalwallinu, as many other Wheatbelt towns he visited experienced declines.
“You can see how local communities try and they have the best of intentions but it is hard to incentivize and give people a reason to be here,” he said. “But this is a beautiful place, with friendly people where you can leave your front door open and your car unlocked My commute is 80m and there are no traffic lights, let alone traffic. “There has definitely been a change in the sorts of faces you see in town and that’s a good thing,” he said. “Diversity is an advantage.” Mr Nixon said it was vital to encourage people to move to regional areas. “Agriculture is here to stay and is has got to grow,” he said.
“You either get the situation where the Wheatbelt becomes a population desert or where we meet the challenge and … make sure country towns retain viable communities.
“We have five towns in the shire- Dalwallinu, Kalanni, Wubin, Pithara and Buntine and it is our policy to keep and grow them if possible. I think it is completely unacceptable Perth has three-quarters of the State’s population.
“It is only fair and equitable the Wheatbelt and remote areas have a fair share of the population growth, considering the wealth is coming from those regional areas and there has got to be a change from the state and federal governments to actively encourage that decentralisation.”
Katherine Fleming, April13, 2015, 12:30 am, the West Australian, World comes to call Dalwallinu home, http://www.dalwallinu.wa.gov.au/Assets/World_comes_tocall_Dalwallinu_HOme.pdfyangwha australia, recruitment agency australia, australia outstanding recruitment, agency for australia, hospitality recruitment agencies australia, recruitment agencies gold coast,
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