The Riverina-Murray region covers a vast area of south-western New South Wales, stretching the Great Dividing Range at Tumut, west to Wentworth and the South Australian border. The southern boundary of the area is the Murray River, while it extends north as far as Cootamundra, West Wyalong and Hillston. Geographically, the area is predominantly composed of the floodplains of the Murray and Murumbidgee rivers, though the eastern part of the area is more undulating, in the western foothills of the Great Dividing Range.
The original inhabitants of the Western Riverina Region area were the Wiradjuri Aboriginal people. European settlement dates from the 1820s, with land near the rivers used mainly for sheep and cattle grazing. Land became used for agriculture from the 1860s, with various towns growing along the rivers and railway junctions, including the largest, Wagga Wagga, established in the 1840s. The Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area was established in the 1910s, spurring growth in the western part of the Riverina. The town of Griffith was laid out on a street plan by Walter Burley Griffin in the 1920s, and became the centre of this irrigation district. The district provides much of Australia’s horticultural output. River ports along the Murray River, Australia’s longest navigable river also served an important role in Australia’s colonial development. These included Albury, Mulwala, Corowa, Moama and Wentworth, along with their counterparts on the Victorian side of Murray (Wodonga, Echuca, Cobram, Swan Hill and Mildura, which are not a part of this forecast).
The population growth of Riverina Cities is intrinsically linked to future economic conditions of the region. Over the last decade, while the area was in severe drought and the populations of some townships declined, the economy of the Riverina Cities region remained strong. From 1996 to 2006 the unemployment rate of the area dropped from 7.9% to 5.2%, while the workforce participation rate rose from 62.2% to 64.6%. Due to the breaking of the drought in late 2010, these forecasts assume a stable economic outlook into the future. Agricultural output is expected to rebound due to higher levels of water and the continued aging of the population will create need for more service industry jobs across the region resulting in increased levels of migration.
The three main cities in the Riverina-Murray area are Albury, Wagga Wagga and Griffith. Smaller centres include Tumut, Gundagai, Corowa, West Wyalong, Cootamundra, Holbrook, Narrandera, Leeton, Balranald and Wentworth. In recent years, the main population trend has been growth in the larger centres, fed by decline through rural districts. Rural decline has been due to consolidation of agricultural holdings and concentration of employment in larger towns and cities. Rural areas generally have lost younger people and retain an older age profile. Albury, Wagga Wagga and Griffith, as the main centres, attract most of the development in the area. Wagga Wagga in particular has had strong growth, with new housing developments on the city fringes attractive to young families from the region, and also from Sydney, attracted by the relative affordability of housing and significant employment prospects in the area.
Different areas within the region have different economic and housing market roles to play. Wagga Wagga and Albury both attract a younger population, due to large employment bases, particularly defence force employment, and the Charles Sturt University campuses. Albury is part of a larger urban centre with Wodonga, on the Victorian side of the border, which also features strong growth. Some of the smaller towns along the Murray, such as Corowa, Moama and Barooga have a significant tourism focus, and are retirement destinations, particularly for people from Melbourne, which is much closer to these towns than Sydney. As such, these towns are expected to retain an older age profile, catering for empty nesters. It should also be noted that many of these towns are close to a much larger town on the Victorian side, and their futures are linked to those towns as well as the wider Riverina-Murray region. Rural areas away from the main rivers in contrast, are expecting little development, and are expected to retain a stable or slightly declining population, with significant ageing over the forecast period.
The regions within the Riverina-Murray also differ in the supply or residential land. Significant new growth opportunities have been identified on the outskirts of Wagga Wagga, Albury and Griffith, with some moderate development found in Murray, Berrigan, Tumut, Greater Hume and Leeton. In contrast, due to a low level of demand, little development is expected in Jerilderie and Urana, Conargo, Carrathool, Narrandera, Lockhart, Hay and Balranald.