CHOICE membership

What is different for Consumers Living in the Country

As Choice Members we can all share our experiences in the community.

Sometimes it is a positive outcome with a product or service, or perhaps a consumer law issue, or just discussing concerns and ideas.

For some of us the lived experience includes being a consumer in a regional or rural or even remote community. Country living comes in many different flavours, which is part of the experience.

How does being a consumer and living outside of a large township or City affect the choices available to us and how do we go about getting the best outcomes as a consumer?

Which Choice services and topics do we feel are most valued by regional and rural Choice members?

Footnote:
We first joined Choice (magazine supplied reliably in the mail) in the 1980’s after moving to a small township in the Hunter Valley to an even smaller one in Central Qld. The one anecdote worthy of note is the reaction of my wonderful Mother-in-Law, a girl from a just as small town in North Qld, wondering why any one would move complete with family to either. With both sides having family recent past and present scattered across most of the nation. Only 5 generations. If you are wondering we are all immigrants. Perhaps she knew something we chose not to see. We did point out with family in unmarked graves in FNQ and another interred in Alice Springs, should it be too much of a concern.

For us Choice at the time was the only resource we had. Word of mouth in the small towns also helped. While Choice has grown the later has seen a long decline in many areas.

Some of the lived experiences may be self evident in posts to topics under my meme. It’s also evident other members of the community share varying experiences from living away from the city. Topical for others perhaps, given the interest in TV programs such as Escape from the City and Escape to the Country.

One general consumer observation about living and working (with a family) in a number of different rural and regional locations in NSW and QLD. The over the counter cost is often a concern. However choices are often limited as is access to products and services. Travel costs. We are all time poor. You tend to weigh choices differently compared to living in the city. The same still applies, more so where practically some choices are online only (banking), and others have been taken away (Aust Post). You still need to plan ahead, but it may now be the local shoe shop has closed and you need to allow for the online order to be the wrong size?

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An article regarding small town general stores.

We lived in Herberton in FNQ for 3 years before moving to Cairns before my seventh birthday.

Herberton then had the first branch of the iconic Jack & Newell’s group which sold everything, Billy Gain’s general store who delivered the groceries with his antique truck, and Syme’s chemist store.

Syme’s store had to be seen to be believed. He stocked everything, much of which was displayed in his front showcase bay windows.

Crockery, silverware and crystal for presents, toys, firecrackers for Guy Fawkes night and shanhai rubbers.

He even stocked medicines and he was a compounding chemist.

A local who was in a service club told me in 1980 that when he died, the 3 storey building was filled with junk and the club took 12 truckloads to the dump.

Before and after his death, I would stop there when taking visitors for a tour of the Atherton Tableland and they were always amazed by the display.

The last time I went there a few years ago, the windows displays had still been preserved.

This a Google Maps link to the building.

https://www.google.com.au/maps/@-17.3843114,145.3862098,3a,75y,237.79h,89.59t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sikG8dNzm2CzqOsEJ50gqZw!2e0!7i3328!8i1664?hl=en![1944|254x198]

And a photo from Anzac Day, 1944.

1944

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I’m a veteran of small towns, rural and remote. It used to amuse me when large regional towns like Toowoomba were described as “outback” “remote”. My yardstick was, if it had a shoe shop, it was “The Big Smoke”.
Life can be fragile for towns less than 1,000 when one service is lost. My town (I was President of the Progress & Tourism Committee) lost the butcher shop. Nearest butcher was an hour’s drive with no public transport. If you didn’t have a car, bad luck. We got a butcher 4 hours drive away to “home deliver” prepaid orders once a week for pick-up in town. We lost the hairdresser & electrical store too which meant people then “made a day of it” in the bigger town getting hair done, buying meat, appliances, and - why not? - groceries too - which reduced the money spent in their own town.

Children disappeared as there is no high school - so 2 hours a day on the bus, or Boarding School hours away, followed by living away for Uni or TAFE, then the first job inevitably saw them elsewhere.

Living here and working elsewhere was the norm. Both my husband and I mainly worked and lived elsewhere and saw each other on our days off, although I made a point of visiting him one night a week in camp to bring anything he needed. I lived in dongas in the desert and was amused at people complaining about their housing. We had generators that we shut down at night (no power folks!), carted bore water for washing & drinking, lived with snakes and dust storms, home was a room twice the size of a single bed with a broom stick across the corner for hanging clothes, bedside table and communal ablutions block (no privacy, no segregation), satellite phone calls that cost a bomb, no mobiles.

Choice reviews were useful, but then you didn’t have access to a store that sold a range of products. Increasingly these small stores were subject to “restraint of trade” where some brands and models were contracted to a Chain, like The Good Guys and they couldn’t sell you one. We bought a (Choice recommended) fridge through our local store which had to come ex-factory, but due to this “restraint” could not be delivered in our area. The local store arranged for it to be delivered (they would only deliver to a store) to another shop 3 hours drive away and we took the trailer to pick it up and bring it home.
Health can collapse with the unavailability of one key person. My husband had a turn about 6pm. There was no ambulance officer, I rang the hospital as there was no doctor, they rang the Med Super in the Regional Town, who said not to admit him, and vetoed the ambulance coming from there to pick him up. The advice, conveyed by the only nurse on duty that night, was to monitor him and if it developed into a heart attack or similar to ring back. That could be quite frightening for someone worried about a loved one with no health knowledge. I broke my arm & elbow - our hospital couldn’t set bones, so 4 hours away, then, not being allowed to drive (and remember there’s no public transport) weekly appointments … ? Being a small town everyone, knows everyone and I was able to hitch lifts with carriers, fuel suppliers, farmers, but still very stressful and none of them went the full distance.

People moving from larger areas are surprised that services they thought “The Govt” supplied, are delivered in rural areas by volunteers. From fire fighting, to driving the ambulance, it relies on employers willing to let their workers go off for the greater good, sometimes for hours if not days. They are small businesses and it may mean shutting the shop to search for a lost person, ferrying traffic in floods etc.

In my mind and experience, I prefer small towns, although to live there is more expensive and harder, but it pays back in social capital.

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There are several issues that can be problems or blessings, they mainly stem from distance and population but there are times when attitude also matters.

Small populations mean low turnover affects supply in all but staples. If goods have a limited shelf life like fruit and vegetables this means either there is a risk they will be old and stale or merchants will not carry them because the level of waste is too high. If you have to buy a whole box of asparagus and sales are so slow you have to throw half out you can’t make money.

Low population also means less popular goods, even if durable, can be a commercial liability. This means little in the way of speciality items and merchants trying to bring up their overall turnover by keeping several classes of goods. The result can be that they don’t do any of them well.

If you have the population to support a shoe shop the chances are it will not support two so often there is no local competition. Buyers are caught between buying locally and paying higher prices and travelling a good distance to a regional centre that has several shoe stores.

Restaurants have a hard time. The low population density is the primary problem but the residents not having the habit of eating out adds to it. Dining out is not something one does on a whim but it’s a planned expedition. The result is the quality of food often descends to the lowest common denominator (steak and chips or poor imitation Cantonese) or is only available for lunch.

Higher prices are too often blamed on distance. Sure delivery outside the metro area costs more but nowhere near as much as claimed. The other factors are lack of economies of scale, lack of competition, inefficiency and just because they can. The absurd discrepancies in (for example) fuel prices happen in the country too and they all have to pay more for haulage. In extreme cases the merchant can exploit the locals mercilessly, and worse they may not realise it, see this story.

On the plus side you live in a community. If there are only a few thousand people in the valley over a period of time it is possible to get to know a fair number of them at least by sight or by name. There is the time and the desire to get to know people and to chat. If there is a queue at the counter because the customer in front is in conversation with the merchant nobody complains, they will quietly wait their turn or join in.

“Country time” is real and it is good. It is all to do with the number of interpersonal transactions you are likely to have in a day. In the big smoke the turnover that keeps prices down prevents the merchant from saying more than an insincere “have a nice day”, the queue is too long and the human mind cannot cope with dealing with 10,000 strangers other than superficially, rather than the merchant spreading his investment in his fellow man microscopically thin there will be none at all.

Online shopping is a boon to the country. It is an extension of the old store catalog idea. The Traveller would drop off the new catalog with every new delivery and these would be scrutinised intently, before an order was placed to be delivered next time round the circuit. The web is much bigger and better and, despite many flaws, the parcel post system does work most of the time (if you are patient) and the cost is not much more in regional and nearer country areas. Truly remote areas have transport problems of another scale altogether.

So for those considering a tree change observe and study carefully before making your move as shopping (and other everyday actions) can be different.

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Convenience of choice, cost, availability and usability of any particular service or product, even personal privacy are some of the issues that differ.

In a larger city or town you get some degree of personal privacy in that most in that place do not know the ins and outs of your everyday dealings. In a smaller community most of the people know all that goes on and this can affect the lifestyle and the way you are treated. If the town dislikes you or you fall out with many in a small place the impact can be huge, in a larger city it is almost of no concern if a few don’t like you or what you do, there are always more who either don’t care or who live the same way you do.

However on the other side, if you live in a small community most will lend a hand to help you without hesitation. They know when you are suffering and they will in most cases give you a level of support that just doesn’t occur in larger centres. We always noticed that the broken down car was almost invariably offered assistance yet in the city you are just a nuisance to be abused because you are blocking the lane or are delaying the traffic. How many times do the Ambulance service in a large city have to thread the needle to get to or from an accident, how many get out of the way, same is probably true for Fire and I would think Police (perhaps not so much as they wield the ability to punish). I have never seen that same issue in the smaller places we have lived and indeed more often than not many residents proffer assistance and support and are members of some of those organisations.

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A good point. On the one hand it helps people behave well knowing the the anonymity of the mob is not available to them. Often there is a degree of tolerance because we know that to some degree we all live in glass houses. However the rumour mill can be ferocious, it can get things quite wrong and persecute the innocent. It also provides a weapon for those who want to play games and who see themselves as influencers and are not too careful about how they do it. This will often come back to bite them if they are caught spreading malicious or invented rumours but it still happens.

The community is a microcosm of the world in that it is divided into tribes. The tribalism divides along lines of values, who and what you believe, perceived level of wealth and influence etc. Most of the time the tribes cooperate fairly well but there can be serious problems when worldviews or vested interest clash, just like the whole world really. You can get the odd situation where people who do not want to socialise will take the other’s kids to school or fix fences together because they are neighbours.

You should assume your business will be dissected by people you don’t really know. If certain cars are seen parked at a given place more than randomly an investigation will be mounted to discover who owns them and why. There was a case, that ended in divorce, where extramarital frolicking had been going on for years and was widely commented upon until one of the parties recognised themself in a hilarious story that was supposed to be anonymous.

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I’ve spent a fair amount of time ‘in the country’, ‘in regional areas’ and ‘in remote areas’ - terms that for some have overlap, for some are interchangeable and for some mutually exclusive. Country could mean the hills an hour from the suburbs, or a country town 4 hours away which might not be quite ‘regional’. Remote could be the desert, or could be wilderness or high country that is still relatively close to civilisation - travel time is as much about difficulty as distance in some cases.

In my experience, each has its own characteristics and the location specifics of each also come into play, sometimes very dramatically. Other factors can also have a huge influence - whether the location is on a major transport route or is more a backwater, level and seasonal nature of tourism, specific local industries and the nature of how they are manpower resourced (eg mining, local/FIFO), transience of population over short term, significant change in local industry (eg Leigh Creek), local culture and sense of community, localised social, political etc ‘issues’, to name a few.

Consumer experience is thus so varied in my experience, often resulting from as much perception as it is reality - competition or lack thereof, distance to alternate suppliers, nature of the service or commodity (whether it is feasible to source remotely), shipping costs (real and perceived) and legislative differences/anomalies/roadblocks. Attitudes of local suppliers in different areas vary substantially as well, from a willingness to mercilessly bone any customer who walks through the door through to seriously good customer service with honest pricing to match - happens everywhere of course, but it seems more polarised and overt the more remote you go as the options thin out …

All that aside, a trip or two to the big smoke each year is more than enough :wink:

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Science to the rescue?
(Or Statistics which is either mathematics, or magic, possibly scientific, and possibly convenient if you find the right data set?)

From the government horse, the ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) with some help from the Adelaide University.
image

As a simple guide the demographics are measuring accessibility and extent of services available depending on where you live.

It may be worthwhile making a list of what are key needs. From our list the trade off where we now live just outside suburbia, is often in convenience. Being up to 30-40 minutes from a hospital plus ambulance call wait time is perhaps still very good. For some the 30-40km trip each way to KFC or MacDonalds, or further to Hervey Norman might just be too far. The alternative is tolerance to the smell of fresh sawn pine tree, the screaming of the chain saw and the cries from falling timber in the forest next door.

Footnote:
It is interesting to dot where you reside or your previous abodes. We could dot four of the five zones with family complete. Having worked away in genuinely ‘very remote’ areas There are other places mapped as remote were pretty good in comparison. 3 hours to hospital but with a local ambulance on call after hours. Note that the mapping has moved boundaries historically.

It’s likely some of us might suggest the boundaries look a little odd in some parts of the country. So the map is just a rough guide that even government can choose to ignore. Which says something about how governments view less urban parts of the nation perhaps?

Mount Isa for instance appears to be more remote than Alice Springs for instance, while Alice is equal in remoteness to Broken Hill. I’d guess the cost and convenience of flying to any of the three might make them equal, although you can drive to all three using sealed roads.

The Federal Govt and Dept of Home Affairs has a slightly different view on regional.

Currently,
You pretty much have to live in Sydney , Melbourne or Brisbane , plus Perth (since November) and (rather bizarrely) in Australia’s Theme Park Capital Gold Coast , to be classified as “non regional”.

Strange, but true!

https://immi.homeaffairs.gov.au/what-we-do/regional-migration/eligible-regional-areas

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‘government science’ to the rescue :rofl: The map illustrates some of the items and variabilities I mentioned, even if through negative reinforcement … one can live in a remote area, yet must travel through very remote areas no matter which direction to get to the next remote area and subsequent regional and cities … apparently defined by the services available in the area, yet Centrelink, who have an office in Alice Springs, provide precisely the same level of service there as they do in the middle of the Western Desert without HF or a sat phone :wink: for a given definition of the term ‘service’ of course … clearly the government didn’t use their own services as the yardstick, or the whole country might be paler than light tan … ie not even the remotest chance of service …

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I should have mentioned takeaway food with restaurants. Unless you live right in town the is none unless you want to drive a long way and get the meal home cold. Home delivery doesn’t exist for TA (and can be impossible or expensive to arrange for other goods). If you do live in town or close by the chances are many food outlets close around 5PM, even those that nominally do TA at dinner time may close at 7PM or so. There is simply no phoning for a pizza at 10PM.

On the bright side your diet will be improved by eating fresh veg from the garden. Keep in mind that during temperate or cool climate winter the range of choices will be limited. For snacks I have all the lettuce I can eat and broccoli three meals a day right now. Yum! Next month cabbage.

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I live in a small outer regional city, and my husband works DIDO to a couple of small remote towns (he lives in the community out there rather than in a camp so it’s more like real life from a consumer standpoint than a lot of FIFO/DIDO jobs).
So where I live, I feel like we have a reasonable amount of choice - we’ve got “full size” Target, and a good range of big and small supermarkets (with a thriving group of locally owned IGAs, which is awesome) - although I’ll admit since listening to my husband compare his choices out there mine have felt a lot more vast!!
The worst part so far has been the inability to get relatively immediate remedies when things go wrong. If something breaks or doesn’t work or doesn’t live up to the advertising, he has to wait until he gets back to the “big smoke” to get a remedy. I’ve noticed it’s really affected the way he shops - he’s much more careful and more likely to spend money trying to get better quality items than he did while he was living 5 minutes from Bunnings, Target, Repco etc.
By necessity, if something does break from wear and tear, he tries to fix it (because the alternative is going without) where I would probably just give up and get a new one because it’s quick, cheap and easy. So I suppose, remote living has made him a much more responsible consumer!

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Very interesting, thanks for sharing @KAAAAAREN87.

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Lack of choice is a bit of a problem, but the main thing is buying large electrical gizmos or furniture. I live 100k from a large centre, so go “to town” every so often on a buying spree. Getting things home is a real problem; delivery 100k is very expensive. 100k isn’t far compared to what some people have to deal with.
Getting things fixed is another problem. When goods are on warranty, you are expected to return them to the supplier. When off warranty, you might not find someone willing to try to repair certain goods, or some manufacturers (eg Dell computers) refuse to give information about spare parts or origins of badged items to repairers. The internet has made it much easier to buy what you want. I remember buying from catalogues when I was a kid. The problem then, and still, is buying without trying thing on. Hearing aids and other medical equipment have to be repaired in a city; they get damaged in the post in transit. Postal services are as expensive as other deliveries. Fresh fruit and vegies are of lower quality in shops and supermarkets because the better stuff gets sent to the large centres.
Because there is less choice in small towns, people tend to buy online or on trips to larger centres, which means local shops are closing due to lack of custom.
How does Choice help? Sorry, it doesn’t! The range of brands you examine does not always correspond to what is actually sold in small towns, and the repairers may only work on what they actually sell.

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Thanks for the comments @algemyone. We aim to review a good range of products in any particular market, but when there are items missing please feel free to submit a request.

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I did, and was told that only certain manufacturers had submitted details…so the ones who really needed reviewing got away…

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We can relate to your observations, having lived complete with family three hours from Rocky. Even the larger coastal towns in Qld can have limited options. Although some from larger cities may consider having a Bunnings and Hervey Norman is all you really need. We known many smaller towns and communities in NSW and Qld, as well as time in Sydney and Brisbane.

If we are blunt based on the NBN rollout 10%-11% of us live in the Satellite or fixed Wireless footprint. The ABS said 89.55% of us live in non urban areas.

I’ve assumed the more constructive feedback on what we see as the gaps we give Choice the more likely the outcomes can be improved.

I’m still waiting politely for more interest in mandatory labelling of products, and testing for septic safe. A market review of septic and AWTS (modern Aerated Waste Treatment Systems) would also be useful. As would another on residential water treatment. All things that most of us 10.5% or more can relate too. These are very important residential household products with the modern treatment systems costing $10k-$20k pa fully installed and $1,000+ annually to maintain!

For the NBN it appears townships with an immediate population of several thousand have at least FTTN, to help draw the same line. The level of interest in NBN issues suggests there is a large number of Choice members from the 10.5%.

On access to a choice of retailers.
If you look to the largest 50 cities in Australia, you very quickly drop down to centres with 28,000 pop.

There are 500+ Aldi and approx 1,000 Woolworths supermarkets in Australia. That’s one Woolies for every 25,000. Any smaller centre with more than one major has done well.

Reality and experience suggests any one of us not living near one of the top 30 (approx 50,000 pop) cities is likely to have fewer choices. It’s not until you hit the top 20 and 100,000 plus that you start to see real choice. Although for access to specialist medical services or choice of provider, our experience suggests even 100,000 may be too small.

There are approx 18.8M pop in the largest 20 cities, or 75% of Australia.

For Choice this suggests up to a quarter of all members can relate in some way to having a lack of options, and the need to go further to get the products or services they require.

@BrendanMays, This suggests one challenge for Choice is to be able to present each product review or consumer issue through at least three different sets of eyes. The 10.5%, the 25% and the 75%. When we could afford it, we have purchased for reliability over function over price.

P.S.
It still doesn’t fix the problem of the local retailer, stocking products that are not reviewed. I’ve a relatively well worn ‘Weed Eater’ line trimmer.
No! It is not a Ryobi. And not from Bunnings.
Oh?
It was made by Poulon in the USA.
Yep, two stroke with a drawl! :rofl:

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Remember NSW means Newcastle Sydney Wollongong…

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Its often that way, just not everywhere has handy acronym transfer like that :wink: in the NT, it’s the Berrimah Line - even the current bunch of political muppets led by a guy originally from Alice can’t see past it - unless they want to pillage the land.

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Country folk supposedly lead a healthier lifestyle. It is certainly to be considered, as being extra healthy might be a necessity.

Government in delivering substandard health services to rural and regional Australia appears to agree.

image

Even those close to the big cities in inner regional locations are at 30% greater risk of death due to failures in our medical and health systems. It only gets worse the further away you live.

Fortunately for the major political parties such statistics appear to have little impact on voter sentiment.

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You just beat me to it.

The idiots in charge should have been charged with manslaughter, or at the very least, callous disregard.

Absolutely disgusting.

image

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