‘They’ll catch our fish’: Carnarvon population down 25pc, still skeptical of tourists

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The latest data from the Australia Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reveals while Pilbara and Gascoyne growth has been generally strong since 2000, both Carnarvon and the isolated Upper Gascoyne region have lost residents.Key points:ABS statistics reveal the Shire of Carnarvon has lost more than 1,600 residents since 2001The Shire President attributes some of the decline to reduced government…

‘They’ll catch our fish’: Carnarvon population down 25pc, still skeptical of tourists
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The latest data from the Australia Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reveals while Pilbara and Gascoyne growth has been generally strong since 2000, both Carnarvon and the isolated Upper Gascoyne region have lost residents.

Key points:

  • ABS statistics reveal the Shire of Carnarvon has lost more than 1,600 residents since 2001
  • The Shire President attributes some of the decline to reduced government services and a lack of available work
  • He says the council is acting to reverse the decline through new projects, while local tourism operators call for investment in infrastructure

Regional population datasets from the ABS states Carnarvon Shire started the 2000s with a population of 6,751 people.

However, according to their most recent estimate, Carnarvon is now down 1,674 residents — about a 25 per cent loss overall.

Carnarvon and the comparatively tiny Upper Gascoyne, which fell from 356 residents to 290 in the same period, are the only shires in the Pilbara or Gascoyne to have lost population since 2001.

An orange bar graphs showing percentages of population growth across various shires.

Pilbara and Gascoyne population growth over the last two decades.(

Source: ABS

)

WA’s average population has risen 40 per cent since the turn of the century, a growth rate exceeded by the Pilbara regions of Karratha, Ashburton and East Pilbara.

In the Gascoyne, Exmouth has risen by 25 per cent in the same period and Shark Bay has remained steady at about 900 residents.

Love-hate relationship with tourism

ABS data does not include tourists in its estimates, which can drastically change the seasonal occupancy of WA towns including those in the Carnarvon Shire.

Shire President Eddie Smith says growing visitor numbers paints a different picture to residential statistics.

Nevertheless, Carnarvon’s reaction to those tourists has not always been positive.

“Carnarvon has always had an attitude — because we’ve had the fishing industry, the horticultural industry and the salt mine — we don’t really want any tourists here because they’ll catch our fish,” Mr Smith said.

“We like it the way it is.”

A man in a blue shirt leans on a pole in front of a brown flooded river

Eddie Smith says while the population of the town has decreased, it is seeing an increase in tourists.(

Richard Hudson: ABC Rural

)

Justin Borg runs a helicopter business offering flights to tourists.

He thinks Carnarvon’s anti-tourism sentiment isn’t as strong as in neighbouring towns.

“Exmouth is a prime example where they get inundated with visitors,” Mr Borg said.

“They simply can’t accommodate [them] and they get a bit negative toward visitors there.”

Moving forward

Mr Smith cited government services leaving Carnarvon and a lack of work in the plantation industry as potential causes of residential decline.

“I think you’ll see that we’ll reverse that [decline] with some upcoming projects that we’re getting off the mark.”

Palm trees line the picturesque waterfront at Carnarvon in morning light

Some locals say Carnarvon’s fascine waterfront is being neglected.(

ABC North West WA: Joseph Dunstan

)

Mr Borg said he would like to see local government commit more to improving community resources and infrastructure.

“You go to places like Geraldton where they manage their foreshore development really well — you just don’t see that in Carnarvon,” he said.

“We’ve got a beautiful fascine which should be the diamond of the town and it’s been neglected for god knows how many years.

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