CENTRAL Victoria is one of Australia’s most diverse regions.
From farming towns in the north and west to progressive communities in the south, and wine-making, apples, cattle and sheep all around, each town is unique and its residents have their own unique set of values.
To capture this – and with one eye on the looming state election on November 24 – the Bendigo Advertiser has visited, and will continue to visit, about 25 towns in our region.
We have heard from towns where a lack of service forced a woman to give birth in a car park, some residents are forced to bathe in a river, poor water supply makes showering difficult and a lack of kinder services keeps mothers at home.
We also heard stories of hope – a growing town with an eye on starting its own football-netball club, community groups banding together to win improvements, a town bouncing back after a freeway bypass was built and professionals moving away from Melbourne to start a new business in small-town Victoria.
The stories paint a picture of an ever-evolving region where some towns are seeing population booming, while others are desperate to get more people to take up residence.
A perceived lack of support and consultation from local, state and federal governments is almost universal.
Guildford to Boort, Wedderburn to Heathcote, we hope that, by telling your stories, it can raise the profile of issues that might otherwise be overlooked.
Earlier this year the Bendigo Advertiser ran a reader survey to determine the most important issues in central Victoria ahead of the state election.
The survey found health and issues around jobs creation rated the highest. Respondents also voiced their concern about the “shocking” lack of mental health services in regional Victoria.
Others issues concerned the lack of infrastructure to cope with an expected population in Bendigo of 150,000 by 2050.
For smaller communities in central Victoria, having adequate health and education opportunities were priorities.
A town without a football-netball club is a bit like a pub with no beer.
That’s how the Axedale Tavern publican feels, at least. And he think he knows just where a new football oval could be built in the growing town.
It could bring more infrastructure and commerce to Axedale, which is feeling the effects of Bendigo’s eastern expansion.
In some areas of Bridgewater it takes 20 minutes to send a picture message.
The mobile phone reception is a bugbear for most in the town and is affecting businesses.
In Inglewood, the town is keen to build on its existing strengths.
Chewton has a long history of civil disobedience – in fact, it was the site of one of the first mass protests in Australian history.
Perhaps that has carried through to the modern day, where community groups work together to achieve strong outcomes, and are never shy of voicing their disapproval of shire decisions.
In Guildford, the closure of the primary school this year left a hole in the community.
But locals are now working to ensure the school’s historic buildings are put to a new use, ensuring they stay in community hands.
Linking Bendigo to Shepparton and the Hume Highway, trucks are required to travel through the township of Colbinabbin on a regular basis.
Locals fear that an old bridge over a channel on the main street – the only pedestrian link between the township, school and recreation reserve – is placing children at danger with trucks thundering past just metres away.
With an entire town reliant on a water tower, it's bound to eventually create water pressure problems when everyone goes to have a shower in the morning.
That's the case in Elmore, where residents want it sorted out, along with solutions to their increasingly busy main street and a way to encourage people to move to the town.
As Bendigo creeps ever northward, the days of Goornong being another through-town on a highway could be a thing of the past.
But crumbling roads and poorly-planned public transport remains a thorn in the side for locals.
When the Calder Freeway was complete in 2009, motorists from Bendigo to Melbourne no longer needed to pass through Harcourt.
Rather than hurting the town, locals believe there have been many benefits. The town is now better connected to other areas, allowing residential growth.
But there is still a growing need for businesses to set up in the main street.
A sudden downpour still leaves some Carisbrook residents on edge after devastating floods in 2011.
The town’s flood levy is yet to be built and some in the town are yet to feel safe.
Maldon’s streetscape, often considered it’s greatest strength, could be holding back population growth in the town.
A lack of town water forces some residents on urban blocks to bathe in the Loddon River when their water tanks run dry.
Newbridge has no sewerage either, and many in the town are worried without either of the two essential services, the proud area may die a slow death.
They’re a diverse bunch in Newstead.
From a former national director of a political party, to a seismology expert, the town has become a popular location for those looking for a tree change.
The only problem now is opening a space for creative minds to combine.
Redesdale has undergone a resurgence in recent years after the local pub reopened.
But more needs to be done – particularly when it comes to the NBN.
A small parcel of disused public land overseeing sweeping views of the Campaspe River could also be converted into another public attraction for visitors.
In Mia Mia, the popularity of the local hall has highlighted the need for renovations.
How does a town – with a population that’s hovered around 200 for a number of years – grow if there’s limited childcare options?
That’s the issue some in Serpentine and the Loddon Shire more broadly are grappling with.
Healthcare dominates conversation in Wedderburn and Boort.
The former has been pushing for an aged care facility for a number of years while the latter has been struggling to attract enough GPs to sustain the town.