In what’s being promoted as a ‘television first’, SBS and Blackfella Films have announced a new three-part documentary series, Meet the Neighbours, which follows eight households from diverse cultural backgrounds as they leave the city behind and seek to live and work in the small town of Maryborough, Victoria, for three months.
Presented by Myf Warhurst, the series is designed to provide insight into the challenges faced by regional Australia, including a lack of affordable housing, skilled workers shortages, and under-investment in crucial services and infrastructure.
‘It’s not just the fate of one town that hangs in the balance,’ said a spokesperson for SBS. ‘Meet the Neighbours reflects on what the bigger solutions might be for towns doing it tough right across the nation.
‘Maryborough, home to around 8,000 people, used to be one of the most vibrant, multicultural and wealthy places on earth. Today, this old Goldrush town is one of the least ethnically diverse and most disadvantaged towns in Australia, and its population is ageing fast.
‘Many regional Australian towns are experiencing ageing populations, declining birth rates, major skills shortages and socio-economic disadvantage. As they look for solutions, experts say a key factor in ensuring the future prosperity of these regional towns is the arrival of new migrants.’
Meet the Neighbours follows The Welcome to Central Goldfields pilot project, driven by the local council and Maryborough community with support from peak body, AMES Australia, which specialises in migrant settlement in regional Australia.
The eight diverse households from the city bring a range of skills, expertise, and talent to the town, from healthcare professionals to a teacher, a journalist, a chef, a truck driver, and a star cricket player. Some are planning to set up their own businesses. The new residents send their children to the local school, support and join community groups, and even bring some night-time entertainment to the town.
Over the three episodes, Myf Warhurst explores her personal connection to regional Australia, checks in on the progress of the new residents, and investigates what the big solutions might be to invigorate towns like Maryborough.
SBS Head of Unscripted Joseph Maxwell described the series as ‘extraordinarily ambitious’ with ‘the potential to kickstart an important national conversation about the challenges facing parts of regional Australia’.
Blackfella Films Producer, Darren Dale, and Series Producer and Writer, Jacob Hickey, said: ‘There’s been much talk for many years about decentralisation, government initiatives and special programs, to sell and realise the goal of life beyond our capital cities. But the reality is, numbers don’t lie. In many regional areas, retirees now outnumber children. Predominantly white, Anglo and growing older, this is in stark contrast to the burgeoning, multicultural capital cities, where economies and populations have been supercharged by the arrival of overseas migrants.
‘The intention of Meet the Neighbours is to shine a light on what is a divided, two speed and unequal Australia, and what some solutions to this disparity might be.’
Meet the Neighbours premieres on 1 November on SBS On Demand and airs weekly at 7:30pm on SBS.