What is life like in Australia’s poorest town?

Grain silo in DelungraDelungra’s grain silo is one of the town’s most prominent features

Long-time residents joke that you need to live in Delungra for 30 years before you’re truly considered a local, writes Katie Beck.

Formerly a bustling grain farming hub, it’s now a typical northern New South Wales town with a bowling club, service station, hotel and post office.

But in 2015, Delungra was named Australia’s lowest-earning postcode by the Australian Taxation Office, with a mean taxable income of just $21,691.

Population sign in Delungra

The town’s 330 residents are bemused by this dubious honour. They say it doesn’t reflect their experience of living in the town, where volunteerism is the norm and friendships run deep and long.

The is what locals say it’s like to live in Australia’s poorest town.

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Jim Townsend, retired mechanic

Jim Townsend, retired mechanic

Jim, 79, has lived in Delungra all his life. He owned the town’s service station for a number of years and has been active in keeping the post office open.

Delungra’s post office has long been a gathering place for the town’s residents. So it was a big blow when Australia Post announced it would be shuttering the local branch due to cost.

The closure would have forced residents to travel over 30km to get their mail. Instead, locals came together to keep their post office open and to retain their postcode. The local branch is now staffed by ten volunteers.

Delungra post office

“The local council got together and put the word out,” Jim says. “We got a good selection of volunteers and we’ve kept [the post office] open.

“It’s very important, it gets the people from the country into the post office, we get to meet them and that way we get to know who’s who.”

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Tim Lloyd, cattle farmer

Tim Lloyd, cattle farmer

Tim’s family has been in Delungra for generations. His grandfather settled here in 1920 and Tim and his father have been farming cattle for 40 years. He says the monetary wealth of a town isn’t what’s important.

“It’s not necessarily the wealth of a town or the wealth of people, you don’t need a lot of money to live and to be happy. It’s community spirit and that’s what any community desperately needs. The smaller the community, the more people are going to put their hands up.”

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Philippa Raw, childcare provider and volunteer

Philippa Raw, daycare owner and active volunteer

Locals may joke it takes 30 years to be truly accepted in Delungra, but Philippa says she was welcomed on her first day when she moved here with her family 10 years ago.

“They were so nice, everyone smiled and waved and went out of their way to talk to you because you were the newbies in town,” she says. “I think its still the same way. Everyone wants to help everyone.”

She was surprised to see her town listed as the poorest in the nation.

“It’s totally not, it’s totally the opposite. I mean you look around and you see the beautiful houses. There’s no bias, whether you’ve got multimillions or whether you’ve got two dollars in the bank. I couldn’t imagine myself being anywhere else.”

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John Larken, retired sheep shearer

John Larken, retired sheep shearer

John’s family has run businesses in Delungra for decades. His son finally closed the family owned café a couple of years ago. He says the low mean income can be explained by the number of retirees in town, but says calling the town the lowest-earning in the country gives the wrong impression.

“I think there’s worse places than this!” he says. “There’d be more people on the dole somewhere else then there are here. If you like a quiet life, I’d say come and live in Delungra. It’s as simple as that.”

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Harry McNaughton, development council volunteer

Harry McNaughton, development council volunteer

Harry moved to town about 25 years ago and is deeply involved in the community. He leads the Delungra District Development Council, which maintains town archives and organises volunteers, whom he says are integral to keeping the town running.

“We think that Delungra needs some tender-loving care, and we’ve got volunteers to do it,” he says. “We mow lawns around the district, we maintain parks, volunteers built our Anzac gateway and memorial, they man the local garbage dump two days a week, we man the post office.

“Delungra is quiet, the air is fresh, the birds sing, the sun shines, and it’s just a relaxed way of life and I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. I think whoever says this is a poor community, should get on the train and come visit because being here is a different story.”

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Lorna Ogilvie, honorary Delungra resident and volunteer

Lorna Ogilvie, honorary Delungra resident and volunteer

Lorna lives an hour away, but serves as secretary of the women’s bowls club, the development council and the Australia Day committee in Delungra. In contrast to her city life, where she did not know her neighbours, she was quickly accepted when she started coming to Delungra.

“It’s not a poor town. We haven’t got the facilities but … the lifestyle, it’s quiet and relaxed. Here you know your neighbours, everybody knows everybody [and] if someone’s in trouble, someone will come and help.”

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Robert Campagnar, retired carpet layer

Robert Campagnar, retired carpet layer

Robert says: “When I was a kid, this was a thriving town. They had barley stacks, they had shops, they had pubs and clubs, everything. Everybody’s making a dollar. People need to realise that when people retire, if people don’t take their job over [then] things just sort of decline. But the town’s still here and you can’t take Delungra away from Delungra.”

“It’s fantastic, that’s my opinion. I love the place. It’s the peace and the company of the people. I’ve known these people since I was a kid. I went to Sydney, I’ve been overseas and I always come back here. When they take me from here I’ll probably be in a box.”


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