With Lisa Bourke

July 11 / 64

The Higher Hurdle — Being Young and Rural

Lisa Bourke, Associate Professor Social Science, Rural Health Academic Centre, the University of Melbourne.

Despite significant efforts, young people who grow up in rural areas are less likely to go to university than their metropolitan counterparts.  In fact, young, rural people are disadvantaged in many ways.  They endure the same disadvantages as other rural people, including lack of services, fewer opportunities and increased isolation as well as the disadvantages of being young.  Much has been written about the rates, lack of infrastructure and needs of young people and of rural Australians, usually separately, but both these categories, youth and rural, have been socially and culturally constructed with negative connotations.  

The term youth is problematised, associated with unemployment or suicide more so than with happiness or opportunity.  While young Australians have many advocates, services and organisations working for them and are provided with more opportunities and support than ever, there still remains a lack of respect.  Young people are often labeled as inexperienced and sheltered rather than enthusiastic, innovative, optimistic and adaptable.  For example, a young person entering the workforce is more often branded as naive and in need of training than bringing a fresh approach.  Young people are touted as the future of this nation but are rarely respected for their opinions, cultures and ways of doing things.  

Rural is also problematised and usually stereotyped as simple, backward, traditional or dependent on urban.  In reality, rural Australia provides major exports, food for the nation, tourist destinations and a national heritage.  Rural industries participate in global economies, sometimes competing with other nations who subsidise primary industries.  Thus, rural Australia is not dependent on urban but has an interdependent relationship with metropolitan-based people, economies and cultures.  It follows then that rural Australia, its people, industries and environments, warrant support regardless of political persuasion; it should not take the power of three independent politicians in a hung parliament for ‘the regions’ to receive their due.  

Being young and living rural tends to conjure up a negative youth identity in a disadvantaged environment—a hurdle higher than being one or the other!  But their reality, like urban young people, is diverse, their potential enormous and their resilience strong if we can open our minds to understand them in more positive ways.


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