Australia, these are your hopes, dreams and fears for the future

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Over the past month the ABC has been exploring the issues facing our nation — but one question remains, and it’s the biggest of the lot.

How do we feel about the future?

It is a dreary afternoon in suburban south-west Sydney.

Persistent rain pelts down, soaking the area’s freshly manicured lawns and newly paved footpaths.

Almost everyone is hunkered down inside, TV on, heater cranked up.

But not the Deoras.

Even the rain won’t stop them going on an afternoon walk.

In fact, even on days like this they have one way to describe their new home.

“This is paradise,” Nitika, 32, says.

“The first look and feel of this suburb I was just breathless.

“This house was the first one we saw and we bought it straight away. It’s perfect — it’s everything we ever wanted.”

The Deoras live in Gregory Hills in the Camden Council area, about an hour’s drive from the Sydney CBD.

For the last three years it has hovered around the top of the list as the country’s fastest-growing local government area, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Once a semi-rural outpost of Sydney, the area has transformed into a suburban enclave, attracting young families looking to build their own homes and their own future.

For the Deoras, it was an obvious and affordable option for their young family.

The couple immigrated on a skilled visa to Australia — “our first choice, always” — from northern India three years ago, chasing a better life for their young family.

At first they first rented, and after saving hard bought this house in December, adding to the area’s burgeoning population growth. Then along came little Arjun, joining five-year-old daughter Ameya, six months ago.

“He had a little poo accident right when you rang the doorbell,” Nitika admits to the ABC. “He has great timing”.

It was their dream to own their home and build a family in suburban Australia, and now, after achieving it, they’re looking ahead to the future with a mix of what they describe as excitement, hope and “a little bit of anxiety”.

And they’re not alone.

Over the past month the ABC has been exploring the issues facing our nation through the Australia Talks National Survey 2021.

But one question remains unanswered, and, arguably, it’s the biggest of the lot:

What are the hopes, dreams and fears for our own lives, the future of Australia and the world in which we live?

“Compared to where we’ve come from, we are very optimistic about our own lives here, for sure,” says Rahul, an IT software engineer.

“And although things are much, much better here than in India, the main thing we do worry about is being able to retire comfortably.

“If one of us isn’t working, like now with Nitika looking after Arjun, you start eating into your savings. That worries me.

“The cost of living is highhouse prices are high — we’ll be paying off our loan for 30 years.

“But we came here for our children, and their future. And in regards to that, education for example, we are optimistic, very optimistic.”

And when it comes to Australians’ own individual futures, the data suggests most Australians agree with the Deoras.

But what about the future of Australia?

The stalwarts

A touch over 700km to the south-west of the Deoras’ home, close to the Victorian-New South Wales border,  the landscape looks very different.

This is the Wanganella region, north-west of Deniliquin.

It’s sheep country — the birthplace of the peppin merino.

And for Ken and Mary McCrabb, it has been home for almost 60 years.

Starting with a “blank canvas” of 4,000 acres, the couple have slowly built a globally renowned sheep and kelpie stud now covering 40,000 acres — what the McCrabb family proudly assert is “some of the flattest country on earth”.

And despite the challenges of living here, the couple wouldn’t want it any other way.

“You have to be very resilient living on the land,” says Mary, who immigrated from England in the 1960s.

“There are times when you just cry, times when you want to tear your hair out. But you have to be strong.

“But there are pleasures, many, many pleasures.”

The McCrabbs’ property sits in the Edward River Council — Australia’s largest local government area where, according to the ABS, the population has stayed exactly the same over the past two years.

Sitting in their country kitchen with a ‘cuppa, Ken and Mary list the availability of water and climate change as two of their worries for the future — climate being an issue where they’ve changed from a “slight sceptics” to a “believers” over the past decade.

But they say the future viability of “life in the bush” is their number one concern.

“In my lifetime here many people have left the land,” Ken says.

“I wouldn’t say we’re seeing the total demise of the family farm, but for the people who are staying, their operations are getting bigger — farms are getting sold to neighbouring farms. And what does worry me is the amount of land owned and operated by foreign companies.”

Ken and Mary say, overall, they’ve had wonderful lives and don’t have much to “fear” as “we won’t be around that long to have to worry about it all!”

“But we’re still optimistic,” Ken says.

“I think most rural people are fairly optimistic about the future of the country — I mean you wouldn’t be out here on the land if you weren’t.”

And it seems the majority of Australians are with Ken.

Their son Peter McCrabb is helping Ken and Mary avert some of their fears.

At his 30,000-acre merino stud “down the road” — about 60km away from his parents’ property — Peter, who now has multiple land holdings across the area, is staying put on the land.

Like his parents, he’s “very optimistic” about the future of Australia and agriculture in general.

But he still has his concerns, and they centre on a country a long, long way from his farm.

“I’m nervous how we’re managing the China relationship,” he says.

“Economically, they’re our greatest asset, but China seems to be on a 1,000-year cycle, while we’re on a 10-year cycle, if that. They’re pushing into everywhere in the world [and] the way they’re acting it seems like they want to control everything.

“But I do feel we’ve hit a bit of a purple patch for Australian agriculture.

“We still have problems managing climate, that’s an issue. But, overall, there’s less farming land and more mouths to feed.”

At his farm, where he lives with his wife Lisa and “sometimes tenant” 24-year-old Harry, the challenges of managing climate change are there for all to see. The land is flat, dry and harsh, with the autumn-winter rains so far only registering about half the normal amount, forcing the family to hand-feed their sheep.

It is one of the multitude of reasons both Lisa and Harry list climate change as their biggest fear for the future — a topic they admit can get a little heated at the dining room table when the whole McCrabb gang gets together.

On a more local level, Peter, who is also a local councillor, lists housing availability and the future of health services as “the biggest issue for the future of rural Australia”.

“But there’s always going to be a country-city divide,” he says. “That’s just the way it always is. But in saying that, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

So how do we feel about the future of the world in which we live?

The suburban family

When Adelaide couple Brie and Chheoeuth ‘Chewy’ Ung got engaged 10 years ago, they wrote themselves a note.

“This is embarrassing,” Brie says with a laugh.

“It said, we want a house in Golden Grove, a son named Levi and an L-shaped couch.

“Well we’re sitting on the couch in the house in Golden Grove, we’ve had Levi and we’ve added another son, Zane.

“So I guess we can relax now right?”

The couple chose Golden Grove, a quiet, family-orientated former display home village with “Truman Show vibes” about 30 minutes from the Adelaide CBD, for pretty simple reasons.

“It’s just a nice area to bring up our kids,” Chewy says.

It is typical “average” suburban Australia. In fact, ABS figures show the family’s local council area has exactly the average population growth of 0.5 per cent and exactly the average age: 41.

As a four-year-old Chewy immigrated to Adelaide with his parents from Cambodia in the aftermath of the Pol Pot regime, something Chewy says his dad only talks about “after a few drinks”.

Chewy runs his own solar-panel-focused electrical business, while Brie works at a local insurance broking firm. They’ve done “the stint” in London, came back and worked hard to build their life “back home”.

Just like the Deoras in Sydney and the McCrabbs in Wanganella, the Ungs are optimistic about their own future and the future of the country — a place they both believe is “the best place in the world to live”.

“We’ve been lucky enough to travel the world and this is where we want to be,” Brie says.

“We’re confident in the education system for our kids,” Chewy adds. “That’s one of the reasons why we want to live here”.

But even in the safe and secure outer suburbs of Adelaide, the problems of the world are never far away.

And it is when this question pops up, the first little snippet of fear sets in.

“Hmm, yeah, the future of the world? We’re not as optimistic about that,” Brie says.

“Climate change is a big issue. And looking around the world at the management of COVID has been tough to watch.”

And, again, the Ungs are not alone — most Australians stray into pessimism when looking beyond our borders.

“But we try not to worry about that stuff too much,” Brie says.

“And I guess we just have pretty simple goals for the future.

“We just want to do well enough in our careers to give the kids a good education.

“Just to be safe and live a happy life — that’s fair enough isn’t it?”

Credits

Reporting and digital production: the Specialist Reporting Team’s

Photography: the Specialist Reporting Team’s

Opening illustration: Emma Machan

By Nick Sas with photography by Brendan Esposito (Original ABC Article)