Volume 49 Number 3 
Summer 2016

Rural Interest Group

Edited by Susana Helm
Co-Editors Cheryl Ramos and Suzanne Phillips

The Rural IG column highlights rural resources as well as the work of community psychologist, students, and colleagues in their rural environments. In this issue, we are pleased to provide a “brief report” from Courtney Cook, a fifth-year doctoral student in clinical psychology at East Tennessee State University (ETSU). For future issues, please email Susana ( if you would like to submit your own brief rural report or if you have resources we may list here. 


Rural and Remote Health is an international, electronic journal of rural and remote health education,
practice and policy, and is funded by Australian University Departments of Rural Health (ARHEN members) and Australian Rural Clinical Schools (FRAME members), the Rural Health Education Foundation, and the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (ACRRM); it is administered by James Cook University, Australia. The Journal aims to provide an easily accessible, peer-reviewed, international evidence-base to inform improvement in rural health service delivery and health status in rural communities.

Journal of Rural Studies.
According to the website, JRS “publishes cutting-edge research that advances understanding and analysis of contemporary rural societies, economies, cultures and lifestyles; the definition and representation of rurality; the formulation, implementation and contestation of rural policy; and human interactions with the rural environment. JRS has been published since 1985, and lists its current impact factor as 2.444 (, retrieved

Brief Report:

In reviewing the 2015 roster of Rural IG members, we realized that 30% of the active Rural IG members with known institutional locations beyond the US are located in Australia. Our roster shows that of the 162 active members of the Rural IG, seven members are located at institutions in the Australia: Curtin University, University of Southern Queensland, Charles Sturt University. It should be noted that of the active members, our records include institutional locations for just under two-thirds of the total (96 people, or 59%). There may be other Australia-based members, so please feel free to send your location info so we can update our records. Based on this large representation, we invited submissions from Australia, and are pleased to present a brief report by Melissa Cianfrini, currently a doctoral candidate at the Graduate School of Business, Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia

Exploring barriers to the skill shortage: A "lessons learned" approach to the mining boom in an Australian regional community.

Written by Melissa Cianfrini, PhD Candidate

The Graduate School of Business at Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia (WA) participated in the Minerals Down Under (MDU) Flagship project headed by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). From 2009 to 2012, five universities across Australia collaborated on research focusing on the sustainability of the mining industry. The project was divided into three clusters, with the third cluster investigating the impacts of mining on regional communities in the states of Queensland and Western Australia. It is this cluster which my doctoral research explored the experiences of a coastal community in the Mid West region of Western Australia.

At present over two-thirds of the Australian population live in major cities along the coast (Baxter, Hayes, & Gray, 2011). However for communities located in the hinterlands, the “tyranny of distance” of geographical remoteness implies limited access to services, including health and social infrastructure. This disadvantage has negative consequences, such as problems with attraction and retention of workers, boredom, and subsequent misuse of drugs and alcohol (Roxburgh, Miller, & Dunn, 2013). In response, government approach to regional development adopts neoliberal policies, which steer communities towards self-reliance and autonomy, while mediating collaborations with stakeholders (Everingham, Cheshire & Lawrence, 2006). These stakeholders include international mining companies, with a majority of mine sites located in regional and remote areas of the country.

RURAL_Image1.jpgRURAL_Image2.jpgMining is an important aspect in Australia’s history, however it was not until the last decade that the industry had a significant impact on Australian communities. This was due to the country being the world’s largest economic developed resources of iron ore (Britt et al., 2015), along with Chinese demand for the mineral to fuel economic growth (Garnaut, 2012; Wilson, 2012). This increase in demand for iron ore projected an additional
488,500 positions to be filled in WA between 2010 and 2020 (Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA, 2010). This forecast saw mining companies offering exorbitant wages to attract employees to mine sites, often situated in remote locations in the State’s north west (Hepworth, Chambers & Lee, 2010). The cost of living and housing became inflated, and with some trades earning up to AUS$250,000 per annum, a twospeed economy emerged (Stack, 2011). The effects of the mining boom led to a skill shortage crisis across the country (Cornell & Searle, 2011).

Photos: 1) Iron ore is delivered from the mine sites to this port for shipment. 2) The main street in town center

The crisis was considered to be an economic issue in which all tiers of government utilized neoliberal economic policies to alleviate the shortage; however the MDU provided the opportunity to conceptualize the phenomenon from the ecological perspective of community psychology. The study was designed to explore the experiences of a WA regional community, capturing the perspectives of employers, migrant workers, and stakeholders affected by the mining boom. It used the futures-based ecological framework of Causal Layered Analysis (CLA), which acknowledges the complexities inherent in the phenomenon, and with a flexibility to embrace multiple epistemologies, seeks to identify and uproot unchallenged assumptions adopted by the hegemonic society to create an awareness of alternative futures. There are four levels which guide the analysis; including litany (what we say), social causes (what we do), worldview discourse (how we think), and myths and metaphors (who we are) (Barber, 2010, as cited by Bishop, Dzidic, & Breen, 2013).

By applying a community psychology approach with CLA, the data revealed the skill shortagecrisis was not the sole making of the mining boom as previously believed. Rather, the crisis was compounded by social issues embedded in the psyche of the community. While the mining boom is now over, the study presented here provides a “lessons learned” synopsis.

A major theme to emerge was drug and alcohol abuse, which highlighted as a significant issue for employers in the community. There were concerns for the accessibility to drugs and alcohol, where some employers reported staff terminated their employment once drug testing was introduced into the workplace, while others highlighted that drugs were the biggest issue with staff retention. The pervasiveness of alcohol permeated throughout all levels of analysis, with a participant from a drug and alcohol outreach service identified a reluctance to stop drinking, as alcohol is entrenched in the social archetype of the shearer and miner.

Alcohol has been an aspect of the Australian identity since the early days of colonization, as currency
was in short supply, rum was adopted as payment for convict labor, while spirits were used to barter (Moodie, 2013). It was encapsulated in late nineteenth century poetry and folk songs, with shearing also the subject of Australian folk songs due to its economic contribution to the colonies. One such folk song, the bare bellied-ewe, describes life in the shearing shed. It ends with the shearer in the pub for a drinking session, with “work and bust” binge drinking after a period of hard work from early colonial times continuing into the present (Moodie, 2013). Alcohol also featured in gold rushes during the 1850s, where an increase in population, high costs of licensing fees to mine, scarcity of food, racial campaigns to remove Chinese miners from the goldfields due to competition and decrease in gold discovery, were factors which contributed to alcohol fueled riots in the goldfields (Wells, 2015).

Issues relevant to the Aboriginal community, according to a State Government department, included illiteracy and cultural issues around work. For example, employed Aboriginal People experienced lateral bullying and were called “whitey”, or “white fella” by their peers, with the expectation to divide their pay among the family. The presence of migrant workers further created challenges for Aboriginal workers, where it was reported by this department that British migrant workers did not realize their behavior was culturally inappropriate towards Aboriginal People in the workplace, causing more to fall out of work and thus perpetuate the skill shortage. Other participants, such as employment agencies, described dealing with aggression from clients (Aboriginal People and non-Aboriginal people) accessing their services, which they believed was due to the threat of losing government welfare support. Employment agencies described themselves as providing support beyond their call, and perceived themselves as unqualified social workers.

In conclusion, while the skill shortage was conceptualized as an economic problem, the evidence suggested social issues compounded the crisis in this community. This is significant as these issues were not addressed by government or community within the context of the mining boom, despite emerging as themes which perpetuated the shortage of labor. Taking a “lessons learned” approach, rather than applying economic solutions to social problems, the study calls for communities to reflect critically on the underpinning themes exposed during the mining boom. Some suggestions include understanding how cultural myths of the past operate in the present, and creating a supportive environment to foster self-efficacy. Sustainable development among Aboriginal People requires recognition of cultural diversity and planning at local grassroots and regional levels (Altman, 2007). Additionally, the formation of genuine partnerships is required to build on the strengths of community by listening to Aboriginal Peoples’ aspirations and mutual respect through equal partnership with non-Aboriginal people (Altman, 2007; Bandias, Fuller, & Holmes, 2012). By understanding the issues to emerge from the approach towards the mining boom and skill shortages, communities can use the experience to their advantage to leverage their own empowerment in creating their own preferred future.

Note: Special thanks go to Associate Professor Brian Bishop and Dr. Amma Buckley for their support as my supervisors throughout the study.

Altman, J. (2007, November 7). The Howard Government’s Northern Territory intervention: Are neo-paternalism and Indigenous development compatible? Address at Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Conference, Canberra.

Bandias, S., Fuller, D., & Holmes, S. (2012). Aboriginal economic and human development in the
Northern Territory of Australia: To work or not to work. A clash of non-indigenous beliefs. Economic Papers, 31(1), 50-62. doi:10.1111/j.1759-3441.2011.00155.x

Baxter, J., Hayes, A., & Gray, M. (2011). Families in regional, rural and remote Australia. Retrieved from

Bishop, B. J., Dzidic, P. L., & Breen, L. J. (2013). Multiplelevel analysis as a tool for policy: An example of the use of contextualism and causal layered analysis. Global Journal of Community Psychology Practice, 4(2), 2-13.

Britt, A., Summerfield, D., Whitaker, A., Kay, P., Champion, D., Huston, D., Senior, A., Sexton, M., Roberts, D., Wright, S., & Schofield, A. (2015). Australia’s Identified Mineral Resources 2015. Canberra: Geoscience Australia. doi: 10.11636/1327-1466.2015

Chamber of Commerce and Industry Western Australia (2010). Building Western Australia’s workforce for tomorrow (Discussion Paper June 2010). Retrieved from’s-workforce-for-tomorrow-(final)-june-2010.pdf?sfvrsn=0

Cornell, A., & Searle, J. (2011, May 14-15). The economy the boom left behind. The Weekend Australian Financial Review, pp. 21-22.

Everingham, J. A., Cheshire, L., & Lawrence, G. (2006). Regional renaissance? New forms of governance in nonmetropolitan Australia. Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy, 24(1), 139-155. doi:10.1068/c47m

Garnaut, R. (2012). The contemporary China resources boom. The Australian Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics, 56(2), 222-243. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8489.2012.00581.x

Hepworth, A., Chambers, M., & Lee, T. (2010, December 3). Boost skilled migration, leaders say, as a wage blowout threatens. The Australian. Retrieved from

Moodie, R. (2013). A brief history of alcohol consumption in Australia. Retrieved from

Roxburgh, A., Miller, P., & Dunn, M. (2013). Patterns of alcohol, tobacco and cannabis use and related harm in city, regional and remote areas of Australia. International Journal of Drug Policy, 24(5), 488-491. doi:10.1016/j.drugpo.2013.02.001

Stack, B. (2011, July 3). Exodus of skilled tradies leaves NSWwanting. The Sunday Telegraph. Retrieved from

Wells, K. (2015). The Australian gold rush. Retrieved from

Wilson, J. D. (2012). Chinese resource security policies and the restructuring of the Asia-Pacific iron ore market. Resources Policy, 37(3), 331-339. doi: 10.1016/j.resourpol.2012.03.002

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