LOCH Sport residents are calling for more services and infrastructure in the town to provide better access to healthcare, childcare, education and jobs.

The call comes as the Australian Bureau of Statistics recently released data from the 2021 census, with more to come in October. The numbers show that Wellington Shire’s population went from 42,983 in 2016 to 45,639 in 2021, a growth of six per cent.

Loch Sport’s population, however, grew from 814 residents in 2016 to 1021 in 2021, a significant increase of 25 per cent.

Despite this growth, the town is not attracting younger people, with the median age of residents in 2021 sitting at 63.

In Wellington Shire as a whole, the median age was 44. In both Victoria and Australia, the median age was 38.

At the council meeting on July 5, Deputy Mayor Marcus McKenzie spoke on behalf of Loch Sport Business & Tourism Association committee member Louise Carns.

Ms Carns is advocating for a Loch Sport Hub to provide Medical, Library, Child Support and Kinder services, among others – based on data from the 2022 census.

“Earlier this year, Louise wrote a paper requesting support from Central Gippsland Health (CGH) and our local members for the development of medical, aged care and community services in Loch Sport,” Cr McKenzie said.

“It has been brought to our attention this past few weeks by Peter McMahon that a Regional Health Infrastructure Fund was released for submissions for funding from the $790 million fund.

“As a council, I ask my fellow Councillors to support the request that our CEO (David Morcom) write to the CEO of Central Gippsland Health (CGH), Mark Dykgraaf requesting his 100 per cent support to apply for a grant to provide a medical facility for Loch Sport that closes on 22 July 2022, so we don’t have much time. Our community is reaching out for help, so please let’s help.”

Mr Dykgraaf told the Gippsland Times in a statement on Monday that “Central Gippsland Health has not received a formal proposal from Council regarding a community hub at Loch Sport”.

“There have, however, been preliminary discussions regarding a joint approach to a community hub,” he said.

“Central Gippsland Health is supportive of the idea of a community hub that encompasses both health and shire services.

“Central Gippsland Health is currently considering the proposals that will be put forward under the Regional Health Infrastructure Fund.

“There are no immediate plans for additional services at Loch Sport. CGH worked in partnership with Inglis Medical to secure GP services at Loch Sport and (provide) the facilities utilised by the practice.”

[Note: Mr Dykgraaf said Inglis Medical Centre in error. He meant to refer to Sale Medical Centre.]

In a letter sent to various state politicians and media, Louise Carns was garnering support “to investigate what can be done to assist us overcome our communities [sic] ongoing disadvantage in many areas that are taken for granted in other regional towns and cities in our wonderful state”.

The hub that Ms Carns is advocating for would house services including:

  • Medical centre with GP services daily, including Allied Health Services;
    Community House;
  • Community hospital;
  • Nursing Home with 10 beds and respite facilities, and;
  • Wellington Shire Services.

“Statistics show that we are not attracting younger people to our town, and this has a direct correlation to the lack of local employment, services and educational opportunities,” Ms Carns said.

“As an example, to attend kindergarten, our young parents travel approximately 65 kilometres for a two or three-hour kindergarten session. Parents choose to wait in their cars rather than spend the money on fuel four times per day.

“Loch Sport’s median weekly income is $674, but in Victoria, income is 2.6 times more than this at $1759. It is known that low income has a direct correlation to poor health outcomes and access to services. Our long-term health conditions are staggeringly higher in all domains compared to Victoria and Australia.”

Ms Carns said that Loch Sport residents had higher rates of cancer (including remission), heart disease and mental health conditions compared to Victoria and Australia.

“Daily emergency ambulances are called for transport to care, 50 minutes away in Sale. We do not have any paramedics in our volunteer ambulance service,” she said.

“Why should our elders be removed from their community to enter aged care facilities?”

Loch Sport Business & Tourism Association secretary Tony Patchell said a lot of people move to Loch Sport in retirement.

“And because there’s no real industry here … it does tend to attract the older people and older families. We do have families down here, obviously, but it doesn’t attract as much as it does retirees, and people later in life,” Mr Patchell said.

“With the NBN, we’ve found a lot more people working from home down here, and that’s brought … a younger demographic here, but we’re still at (median age 63).

“But we’re hoping that the development of Nunduk (luxury spa retreat) will create (about 200) jobs. Once you start getting younger people here and things like Nunduk, then you of course start to build the infrastructure of the town which, once again, creates jobs.

“At the moment, the main people employed down here … they’re builders and plumbers, because of all the building that’s going on here.”

Businessman and owner of BP Loch Sport and Loch Sport Kebabs, Elias Saliba says that young people will be more motivated to move to the area if there are more services.

“I know a lot of regional towns that have more services than we have, but have smaller populations. They have a hospital, but we don’t,” Mr Saliba said.

“More services, more people. Put kindergarten, childcare and schools in and people will move here.”

Elias Saliba owner of BP Loch Sport and Loch Sport Kebabs. Photo: Stefan Bradley

Mr Saliba wants to continue investing in Loch Sport, and is looking to open a motel and a restaurant.

“I would have done more work on the motel by now if it wasn’t for COVID. The shortage of materials makes it hard to do more projects. You can’t estimate your costs.”

[Note: Mr Dykgraaf mentioned Inglis Medical Centre in error in his response to this paper. This error was published in the Gippsland Times on Friday 22 July.  He meant to refer to Sale Medical Centre and this online version of the article has been updated with a note.]