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Delungra Is the Poorest, Happiest Town in Australia

The Australian Tax Office has named Delungra the lowest earning town in the country. We asked some locals what it's like to live there.

by Julian Morgans
30 April 2015, 6:30pm

Image via Wiki Commons User CGoodwin

Earlier this week the Australian Tax Office released their taxation statistics for the period of 2012 to 2013. This is basically an accountant's version of what's hot or not. It lists the richest postcodes in the country by taxable income, along with the poorest. Predictably, eastern Sydney residents were the most well-off, with the average tax payer from Rushcutters Bay, Edgecliff, or Point Piper earning $177,514 ($140,000 USD) a year.

On the other end of the scale is a town called Delungra. This is a rural area about 350 kilometers (217 miles) west of Coffs Harbour in northern New South Wales. There the average resident earns just $21,691 ($17,089 USD) a year, making it the poorest region in Australia.

Yesterday, the ABC called this a "dubious distinction," while the Sydney Morning Herald pointed out that an Aboriginal massacre had taken place near here in 1838. This all seemed a bit bleak, so we thought we'd let the residents of Delungra speak for themselves. Here's how they defended their town.

A historical display from the town. Photos via the Inverell Shire Council.

Meagan Smith, Delungra Hotel Licensee
I haven't been here long but the town has been nothing but welcoming. The pub had an old fireplace that was boarded up so the whole community helped to get it working again. We had a local engineer build the bits that go inside and someone else to clean the chimney. They've been fantastic.

We serve Tooheys New, XXXX Gold, Hahn Light, Hahn Super Dry 3.5, and Extra Dry. There's not a lot here so the pub is a good place for people to meet. Aside from us, there's the Liberty Service Station, a bowls club, and a trade center down the end. That's about it and we're in the middle.

I'm surprised that the town has been rated so poorly. We've had a bit of rain lately and the paddocks are looking green. There's a lot of mixed farming here—people farm beef and lamb and then there's an abattoir in Inverall. I didn't think the farmers were doing it so hard.

Peta Blyth and Sandy McNaughton, Friends
Sandy: The sign says population 330. I can account for the 30, but I don't know where the other 300 went. No, I'm joking. It's a very tiny place, but it's great to live here. It could even be the best place on Earth.

Peta: You're joking again. Look, we both live a few kilometers out of town but the countryside around here is beautiful. There are also lots of locals committed to making the community strong. There's a cricket club, a girl guides. No rugby though, because there's not enough people.

Sandy: I think the best thing about it is the freedom of growing up in a small community. You know everyone and it gives you a sense of belonging. You cherish the feeling of not feeling threatened. You can leave the door unlocked at night and that gives you a lot of independence.

Peta: Yes and when it doesn't rain everyone is in the same boat. We've been in a drought for years but it makes you equal. I've learned a certain amount of acceptance by living here. Hey, you know who you should talk to? Jimmy. He runs the local garbage dump. He always checks the recyclables are separate from the rubbish. He keeps my rubbish honest.

Jimmy Townsend, Runs the local post office and dump
I was born here in 1938 and in that time I've seen everything change. It used to be a thriving place. We had two groceries, two banks, even a bakery. But then they pulled out the railway in the 1980s and it's been declining ever since. The young people have moved away. It's a town full of retirees.

In September last year the post office got a letter from Australian Post saying they were closing the shop. Since then we've run it with 10 volunteers. I also manage the dump by myself. You have to keep an eye on people. A lot of them think that rubbish is rubbish, so I show them how to sort the recyclables. I'm very careful about that.

On the upside it's a very free town. You can walk down the main street and no one hassles you. It's safe and clean and I have a lot of pride in the area. I'm Delungra through and through and I love it.

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