Aussie Outback 'Needs People' Amid Warning Of Population Decline
"The health of the outback is very much at risk"
The Australian outback "needs people", with warnings some of Australia's most beautiful natural habitats now face an "unmanageable burden" due to declining populations.
"Much of outback Queensland’s landscape now has fewer people, non-Indigenous or Indigenous, on it than at any time in the last 50,000 years," a new report has warned.
Just 88,000 people live in more than 1.1 square kilometres of outback Queensland. That's 65 percent of the state, and 20 percent of Australia's total outback area, but just 0.35 percent of the national population.
"Since the 1980s, there has been a revival of Indigenous land management practices and increasing recognition of native title, but there are still fewer people actively caring for the Outback than at any time in thousands of years," said a new report from The Pew Charitable Trusts, Bush Heritage Australia and the Queensland Trust for Nature.
"Increasing wage costs and changed terms of trade have meant that there are now fewer people working on most [pastoral] stations."
The alliance of groups, working under the name of Our Living Outback, warned that declining populations lead to poorer economic and environmental outcomes. The population of outback QLD actually declined 1.1 percent between 2012 and 2017.
"Without active land management, our remote landscapes quickly decline in health while the species they support either decline or disappear altogether," the report said.
"The work of land management now falls on fewer shoulders, creating an increasingly unmanageable burden that’s seeing our Outback declining in health."
The groups say fewer jobs are being created, while schools and medical services are at risk; at the same time, feral animals and weeds are not being as effectively managed as possible.
The area is also being hit hard by drought, with communities and towns drying up.
"If we don't see far greater support for those people managing the land, the health of the outback is very much at risk," Fiona Maxwell, from the Pew Charitable Trust, told Ten News.
"We call on the government to support programs that support people and nature in the outback."
However, while local populations dwindle, visitor numbers are up. Nearly 800,000 people visited outback QLD in the year to June 2017, with three-year visitor trends above the state average, and tourism sustaining more than 4500 jobs in the region.
"There is greater potential ahead, too. Expert analysis of the future of tourism reveal trends that are likely to favour Outback Queensland," the report stated.
So while local populations are declining, more visitors are coming -- but there aren't always enough tourism and hospitality operators to cater to them all.
"There's a lack of chefs out west, there's a lack of front-office staff. There's a lack of hotel staff. There's a lack of tour operators and tour drivers," the Outback Queensland Tourism Association's Peter Homan told Ten News.
QLD tourism minister Kate Jones told Ten News the government had announced a new package of cheaper holiday packages, as inexpensive as $600, to help stimulate recovery from the drought.
"What better way to say 'we're thinking of you' than to actually visit these wonderful outback towns and communities and spend your money in their local economy," she said.
"A really good incentive and a great way to help the people of the outback."
"We want Queenslanders to work in the tourism industry and to stay in their communities."
The report concluded that more had to be done to support those living in outback areas.
"Our Outback is one of the very few great natural places left on Earth. To keep it healthy and to maintain its nature, its wildlife, its people and its economies, we need to support those who live there, looking after and managing its lands," the report said.