While the NSW ski fields thrive, nearby rural towns in the Snowy Mountains see essential services close

Once considered a contender to become the new capital city of Australia, Dalgety is now struggling to keep essential services afloat.

Despite being only a short drive from Jindabyne and the popular NSW ski fields, the town of 250 people has lost its local public school, post office and cafe since December.

“It’s a bit devastating really,” long-time local Shelly Thompson said.

“We always had the little shop where you could meet friends for a cuppa and with the school gone there’s nothing left in the town.”

Dalgety sits on the banks of the NSW Snowy River.(ABC South East NSW: Chris Sheedy)

The public school was established in the 1880s and long served as a community hub.

“It’s a very upsetting thing for me because it’s been here for so long,” the 53-year-old said.

“Myself, my husband, my two boys, my grandson, nieces and nephew all [went] there.”

An empty playground at a primary school
Dalgety Public School’s playground now stands empty.(ABC South East NSW: Keira Prousto)

Seventy kilometers down the road, Bombala is facing similar challenges.

The town was also established in the 1800s and it too was once a contender to become the nation’s capital before Canberra was chosen as a compromise.

A closed down hotel shown in a window reflection
A number of businesses on Bombala’s main street remain closed.(ABC South East NSW: Keira Prousto)

It’s now most famous for its substantial platypus population and timber industry.

Bombala’s future is now uncertain, as it risks losing its GP clinic after the only local aged care home closed in April.

A worn pub deck exterior
The Bombala Hotel is one of the institutions that has closed.(ABC South East NSW: Keira Prousto)

Hamish Steiner co-owns the medical center in Bombala, which he said would be forced to close if it couldn’t attract a long-term doctor.

“Bombala is pretty much an hour from everything and anything,” Dr. Steiner said.

“There’s a lot of old people who need community transport to get anywhere.

“So for them accessing medical services is really, really difficult if there’s no doctor here.”

A man with gray hair and a gray beard wearing a red jumper stands in a GP consult room.
Dr Hamish Steiner says Bombala’s only GP clinic may be forced to close this year.(ABC South East NSW: Vanessa Milton)

Nearby ski fields thrive

While these rural Snowy Mountains towns are in decline, communities closer to the ski fields are planning for the future.

The NSW government has pledged nearly $400 million to deliver a Snowy Mountains Special Activation Precinct plan, which is being funded through the $4.2 billion Snowy Hydro Legacy Fund.

A landscape photo of the ski slopes at Thredbo in 2019
The NSW ski fields are inundated with visitors and locals during the peak winter period.(ABC South East NSW: Adriane Reardon)

Jindabyne Chamber of Commerce president Olivier Kapetanakos said the 40-year plan would help the region grow as a year-round tourism destination.

“It’s not necessarily about building a new gondola or an ice skating ring,” he said.

“It’s purely about the infrastructure that then will allow private investment to come in with a level of confidence to invest.”

Among the new infrastructure planned for the region are the Jindabyne Education Precinct, Southern Connector road and a mountain bike and adventure park.

A drone shot of a regional town center by a river.
The $391 million state government plan is set to help Jindabyne expand.(Supplied: Matt DeWard)

Property prices rising

Some towns in the Snowy Mountains have experienced a boom since the pandemic, with land values ​​increasing in Jindabyne by 100 per cent last year.

According to demographer Liz Allen, towns with better education and employment opportunities often attract more people.

“The towns that have been most successful are the ones that are identified as having the holy grail of employment and education opportunities,” Dr Allen said.

Shelly Thompson said while properties were also selling in Dalgety, it just didn’t have the resources needed to sustain the community locally.

“Blocks of land are selling for quite big amounts and there are people moving in here,” she said.

“But there aren’t the resources to keep the school going with no after-school care.”

A for sale sign in front of a house
Properties are still selling across the NSW Snowy Mountains.(ABC South East NSW: Keira Prousto)

While towns like Dalgety and Bombala have been left out of the Snowy Mountains plan for growth, Mr Kapetanakos said they would also benefit.

“[We hope] it uses Jindabyne as the epicentre of tourism and then it rolls out throughout the region,” he said.

Rural decline a nationwide challenge

The decline of rural towns isn’t unique to the Snowy Mountains.

“Over time we’re seeing smaller areas becoming depopulated and becoming almost like ghost towns,” Dr Allen said.

“Their viability [becomes] completely eroded because of this tyranny of distance.”

Dr Allen said many rural areas in Australia struggled to reinvent themselves.

an old wooden hut shop
Some historic towns like Porcupine Village in Victoria are being brought back to life through tourism.(ABC Central Victoria: Sarah Lawrence)

However, she said the Victorian goldfields provided a good example of how small rural towns could survive today.

“What some areas have done is seek to rebrand themselves to more lifestyle locations and more tourist destinations,” she said.

Like many things though, government funding can make or break a town’s opportunity to rebrand.

“Without funding and without service provisions, towns in regional areas are confronted with a pretty catastrophic future,” Dr Allen said.

“They may cease to exist.”

An old house with snowy alps in the background
Dalgety’s picturesque scenery is among the reasons locals choose to stay.(ABC South East NSW: Keira Prousto)

And while the future for places like Dalgety remains unclear, there’s a reason why people like Ms Thompson choose to stay.

“It’s peaceful, you’ve got the view of the mountains and the river,” she said.

“And in a small town … everyone fits in with each other and bands together.”


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