Serpentine, Mia Mia and Toolleen see populations drop below 200 - but does that threaten 'town' status?

Canola fields near Serpentine. Some may be surprised to learn the "town" has dropped below 200 residents. Picture: GLENN DANIELS
Canola fields near Serpentine. Some may be surprised to learn the "town" has dropped below 200 residents. Picture: GLENN DANIELS

BY some of the more simplistic measures, a population of 200 renders an area as a “town”.

Demographer Bernard Salt used the measure to calculate 38 Australian towns lost their township status at the 2011 census, basing his thinking on classifications from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

In the 2016 census, three very different towns near Bendigo suffered the same indignity: Serpentine, Toolleen and Mia Mia.

Mia Mia, a location synonymous with tree-changers, CFA volunteers and mispronunciation (“Myer Myer”, not “mere mere”) saw its population drop from 265 in 2011, to 178 in 2016.

But the area has plenty of heart. Three years ago, volunteers released a book titled Mia Mia: The Place and Its People detailing its rich history.

They expected to sell 100 copies, but instead sold 400.

As volunteer Kate Hicks put it, the book allowed members of the vast Mia Mia “diaspora” to relive their upbringing.

“Many people have retained very fond memories of living in Mia Mia. The book helped us to realise the passion and fondness people have for the area,” she said.

“It’s always been more of a hamlet than a town.”

Sales of the Mia Mia book doubled the area's actual population.

Sales of the Mia Mia book doubled the area's actual population.

Its population may have dropped below 200, but Mia Mia still boasts 36 members on its CFA roster and covers one of the largest areas in regional Victoria.

Perhaps more surprising was Serpentine’s alleged loss of township status – from 307 in 2011, to 192 in 2016.

With a well-manicured football oval, a popular pub and busy roadhouse, Serpentine still maintains the characteristics of a rural town. A good buffer between Kerang and Bendigo means it’s never short of roadtrip visitors.

Yet the number of families in the area almost halved in five years.

Wine-rich Toolleen also dropped below the threshold, but few would argue the area has the elements of a town. It’s always been more of a rural locality.

So does 200 even matter?

ABS assistant director media, digital and design communications Mark Hindle said the figure of 200 was set to aid in data gathering – and was just one factor to consider.

To be precise: above 200 usually lists an area under “urban centres and localities”, below 200 typically means “state government gazetted localities”.

“These areas of urban development are primarily identified using objective dwelling and population density criteria using data from the 2016 census,” Mr Hindle said.

“The 200 minimum population size is set to enable users to access cross classified census data for these areas without the resulting counts becoming too small for use.”

These measurements could change, however, as the ABS considers updating its classifications.

It might not mean the end of the townships of Serpentine, Mia Mia and Toolleen after all.