Rural town needs more young people to survive, locals say

A group of locals who have formed a tourism and development group for a town of 808 people is on a mission to attract young professionals and families to the town to help businesses and community groups survive.

In the last census, Boort’s population grew by 67 people.

But the town continues to have an aging population with a lack of young people coming to the town and entering the workforce.

“We’re down on the number of families compared to the previous census,” Sophia Herrington, the chairwoman of the Boort Tourism and Development Group, said.

“Our median age is 50; 10 per cent of our population is over 85.

“The majority of our population is between 60 and 64 at the moment.”

During summer, the town’s population doubles when avid waterskiers fill the caravan park and short-term accommodation.

But that does not help local businesses desperate for staff.

Locals say too many houses are empty as they have been purchased as holiday homes.(ABC Central Victoria: Shannon Schubert)

From the local hospital to sports clubs, everyone was looking for more people to help.

“Without the families and the younger children, we won’t have our sporting clubs we need that are crucial to a small town and keeping that community together,” Ms Herrington said.

“So, without families coming to town, it makes it very difficult to fill positions, particularly volunteer positions.”

Wendy James owns and runs the Boort Lakes Holiday Park.

She was looking for new staff to help clean the park’s cabins.

“Here at the park, we’re always looking for staff,” she said.

“[So are] the local cafes, the hotel … it’s a real challenge to be able to attract people, but then also be able to house them.”

A woman sitting at a desk, smiling
Drill Lakes Holiday Park owner Wendy James.(ABC Central Victoria: Shannon Schubert)

There are fears businesses will close and services will shrink if more young people do not join the community.

But the problem is twofold; with the demand for younger residents matched with the demand for the services and facilities they want.

“We’ve put together a recreational precinct plan … we really feel like there isn’t enough for the younger people here in Boort. So we’re looking at ways we can have projects that will focus around that,” Ms Herrington said.

Desperate need for childcare to attract young families

Ms Herrington said while the town needed more young families, it did not have the services and infrastructure to support them.

She said more housing and a local childcare center were urgently needed in Boort.

“Without having that facility, it’s difficult to move your family to a small country town,” Ms Herrington said.

For new residents looking at working and moving to Boort, lack of housing was also an issue.

“During COVID [lockdowns]a lot of our houses became very popular with people from out of town,” she said.

“We have a lot of empty homes in town that aren’t occupied or rented at the moment. When we do find families that want to come to Boort, where can they be housed?”

A picture of the outside of a hosptal, building has signage
Boort District Health Service, like most hospitals, is struggling to attract and retain health professionals.(ABC Central Victoria: Shannon Schubert)

Ms James said the lack of housing was also an issue for temporary and seasonal workers.

“There are families that have shifted here, and we see a lot of short-term placements, and they need accommodation here,” she said.

The housing vacancy rate for the Loddon Shire is 2.5 per cent.

“We’re a little bit landlocked in Boort as far as development goes with land. For permanent families to come to town, it is a bit of a concern,” Ms Herrington said.

The Tourism and Development Group is now looking at advertising the town to new residents to lure in more young professionals.

“You can’t beat that lovely community feel. Boort is and has always been such an open, friendly community.”

“I could say hands down that people always say what lovely people and what a lovely community and how welcoming and inclusive it is.”

photo of old grass tennis courts with rundown fencing
The Boort Tennis Club is in need of an upgrade.(ABC Central Victoria: Shannon Schubert)

The town plan also called for old community facilities to be upgraded.

“So, the tennis club will be getting some new fencing and possibly lighting as well and maybe an artificial court so that tennis can be played all year round, rather than just over the summer months,” Ms Herrington said.

“If you don’t have that extra sort of social inclusion happening in town, then people won’t be wanting to come.”


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