Caravan Adventure # 48 – Red Hill to the Red Centre – Federal Election 2016 in Whyalla

Posted: 04 July 2016 in Australia - travel

I wish I had a magic solution to freely offer our declining regional towns – but even 10 years on various regional development boards has left me and many others still searching for some answers.  There are some notable successes  driven by strong individual leadership but are often short lived and reliant on continuing Government grants.

Whyalla is the third largest town in South Australia, after Adelaide and Mt Gambier.  With a population of 22,108 (2011 Census) the decline is accelerating as Arrium (formerly One Steel and before that BHP) announce the close of Whyalla operations. Despite a lifeline from the Commonwealth Government to pre-purchase steel rail and sleepers the town appears to be in a downward spiral. The iron deposits from places such as Iron Knob, Iron Monarch, Iron Duchess, Iron Duke, and the list of Iron names goes on, are depleted and mining investment has moved to northern Western Australia.

Enough of the background, I think you get the picture.

Whyalla is one of those places that in the big economic global picture does not really matter – merely another mining / steel town that goes through a boom then a bust. In the human picture however its people are suffering, feeling insecure, dispirited and anxious about their future.

The people we met did not seem likely to be candidates for the innovative new economy.

We happened to be staying there on 2 July, Election Day 2016, and  watched as Whyalla in the electorate of Grey voted strongly for the Nick Xenophon Team (NXT).  At the time of writing this blog the counting continues with a close contest between NXT and the sitting Liberal Coalition member.

On the day itself we were out walking a half marathon and met a man with a six pack under one arm and an opened beer can in the other hand. He was friendly and looking for a chat – he asked us which way to the polling booth but, being out of towners, we were as clueless as him. He went on to say it was bloody useless having to go out and vote when nothing will change.  Further on we walked down the main street of the old town of Whyalla – it was like an early Sunday morning, no cars or people about and most of the shops were permanently closed with For Lease signs everywhere.  There are very few For Sale signs as that is one bridge too far – if you can get a tenant that at least gives some cashflow, but rents also suffer from a market oversupply.

People are trying to find a replacement for Arrium but the opportunities are limited and the stark reality is daunting.

I think life in Whyalla, when there was employment, would have been good – in the old 1960’s style.  There are a large number of good looking shacks dotted all along the shores of the Spencer Gulf and I imagine most families may have had the Holden, the Home and the Weekender – the old Aussie dream.  Its a world away, however, from the fast chic, coffee consuming, apartment living, big mortgage lifetsyle that is the picture in most big cities.

On a positive note the Army has invaded Whyalla and surrounds for the big 3 month training exercise, Hamel 2016.  Literally thousands of troops and every type of equipment can be seen roaring around town.  The queues in Whyalla were at McDonalds by men in uniform, rather than at the polling booths.  Lets hope there is an Army led economic recovery underway.

I wonder if the man we met on the walk ever found the polling booth,  his war is a very different one to that of our Army role playing seen in the pictures below. (Just as well we didn’t have a large caliber machine gun mounted on the back of our twin cab ute or we may have been a target)

Oh and I didn’t find any magic solutions in Whyalla either, so the search continues.

Iron Knob - Army Exercises Tank 01 - 3 July 2016

Iron Knob - Army Exercises 04 - 3 July 2016

Iron Knob - Army Exercises 05 - 3 July 2016


  1. Anonymous says:

    Whyalla has always been depressing.

  2. Small towns seem to survive if they create an ‘angle’ to lure tourists. But it’s heartbreaking when you see larger once prosperous towns in decline.