Bunbury, because of the strength and diversity of its economy is a city that has continued to progress through both good and bad economic times. The result is it has expanded beyond its local government boundaries to become the 28th largest seamless urban area in Australia including the capital cities. In Bunbury 34,000 people now live within the local government area, and 34,000 in its outer suburbs in the Shires of Harvey, Dardanup and Capel. It has been identified by the Premier of Western Australia the Hon Colin Barnett as the natural second city of WA but with the rider that ‘it cannot fulfill that destiny without amalgamation or a change in boundaries to place all of the Australian Bureau of Statistics District of Greater Bunbury within the City of Bunbury boundaries.
Bunbury began as a port for timber and agricultural products because of the forestry and agriculture in the region but is now the third largest mining region in WA with bauxite, alumina, titanium, zircon and other mineral sands, coal, gold, tantalum and lithium. Bunbury is the largest alumina export port in the world exporting over nine million tonnes with up to another two million tonnes to come from the BHP-Billiton Worsley expansion program. It also exports mineral sands, gold – copper concentrate, spodumene (lithium), tantalum and silica as well as woodchips. Because of the coal, the nearby town of Collie is still the centre of electricity generation in WA.
In agriculture it has beef, dairy, horticulture and viticulture growing everything from truffles to cherries. It is also the gateway to the tourism regions of Margaret River, Dunsborough and the wineries of the Geographe and Margaret River wine districts.
Bunbury has a Mediterranean climate with three months of winter, and nine months of sunshine. It is a retirement option, but also has a youthful demographic with six state and five private high schools, a large TAFE College and Edith Cowan University (ECU) Campus. It has a public and private hospital campus which is being expanded to include radiation therapy, chemotherapy, coronary and acute care facilities for everything from mental health to dental and an indigenous medical service. Bunbury has much sporting, cultural and social infrastructure to enable children to fully develop their talents and abilities without leaving home.
The diversity, amenity and lifestyle guarantees its growth and development and position as the capital of the South West, which is the only part of WA that in percentage has a faster growth rate than Perth.
“It is large enough to have many of the benefits of metropolitan life, but small enough to have all the benefits of country life”, City of Bunbury Mayor David Smith said.
Mayor Smith and his family have a long history in Bunbury, his mother immigrating to the area, and later became known as “the Dolphin Lady”.
“This was prior to legislation on how you interacted with marine life,” Mayor Smith said.
He relates how she would feed the dolphins and then train them so that they would do tricks.
“I sometimes came home to 300 people behind our house watching the wild dolphins perform. It was an interesting way of growing up.”
Mayor Smith has served the local community in many roles including City Councillor (1979-1983, 2001-2005) and Member of Parliament (1983-1996), and as a Minister in the various portfolios of South West, Justice, and Local Government, Community Services, Lands and Planning. He has maintained a strong interest in regional development, social justice, the environment, and is an enthusiastic supporter of the arts and heritage in the area.
Building the community
This city has maintained positive growth and development but has held on to its origins and local traditions. Even through the GFC the area has remained very attractive to many people and industries.
“As you know the GFC produced a situation in Australia where with some kinds of development it had a major impact, and some of these were high rise residential and commercial developments in Bunbury,” Mayor Smith said.
“These proposed commercial developments and especially hotel and multi-residential projects are ready to go as soon as banks start lending again.
“What happened is it became extremely difficult to get funding from the banks for projects like these.
“A number of projects which were approved have not proceeded due to this lack of financing.
“This also had an effect on the property values.
“But as I drive around the City of Bunbury, a lot of these projects seem to be finally on the go again – especially in terms of ordinary residential and some retail development.”
He believes part of this upswing is due to the limits put on seaside developments being lifted from 30 per cent residential to 49 percent.
“With new tourism and hotel developments, the banks need to see some early capital returns and allowing a higher proportion of strata residential developments allows developers to reduce their borrowing quickly to get on with the short term residential and tourism developments, so this new development allowance should provide the means whereby many of these hotel projects can begin to go forward.”
He says he has no doubt that a revival of these developments will soon be seen in the area.
Diverse workforce, diverse community
“The best part about Bunbury is that we have the strongest and most diverse economies of any regional city in Australia.
“It is also the largest alumina export port in the world.
“The mining of bauxite and processing that into alumina is one of the big industries here.
“We ship out gold and copper residues from Boddington Gold through our port.”
The mining operations have supported the area for many years, and through those connections have built up strong relationships with many of the major mining companies in Western Australia.
This has fostered a vibrant fabrication and construction industry, for state-wide mining projects.
“So we have several service industries that help build and maintain mining and gas projects all over WA and the rest of Australia.”
The Mayor also points out that both the Catholic and Anglican churches have local Cathedrals and a strong presence in the city, as well as the regional courts and correctional facilities.
The area also boasts some of the best schools in the region.
“The Edith Cowan University is a full campus, and the health campus, which is a combined private and public hospital campus, is expanding the range of services it can provide.
The Bunbury health campus recently opened a new radiation therapy centre for cancer patients where previously people from the region had to go to Perth for treatment. The health campus is also currently expanding the cardiac care, acute care, and accident response units.
A great place to visit, a great place to make a home
Mayor Smith says the community as a whole has a lot to offer both residents and visitors, much of which is what you would expect from a medium sized metropolitan area but Bunbury has a few impressive surprises.
“We have a hinterland that is, in my view, better than Margaret River in a visual sense, and it includes the Preston, Ferguson, Brunswick, and Harvey river valleys.
“We have never promoted that hinterland of Bunbury enough, but we need to.
“We are also an hour from Mandurah, an hour from Margaret River, and an hour from Bridgetown,” he said listing off the communities to which Bunbury is a close getaway for locals and that also helps to market Bunbury as a destination for tourists.
“It picks up the whole of the South West and all the attractions of the South West.
“We encourage people to come to Bunbury both for what we can offer – in terms of the Dolphin Discovery Centre, the beaches and hospitality and its closeness to Margaret River, Bridgetown and Mandurah.”
Bunbury also has an extraordinary nightlife and offers a true range of cultural experiences and theatre.
“It’s a combination of all these things that has really led the Premier to say that Bunbury is a natural second city of Western Australia.”
The Mayor says Bunbury is not always recognised for this because half of its urban population are counted as being in the surrounding shires.
Arts in the community
Mayor Smith was very excited to talk about was the arts which have been a great source of pride for those living in the area. He points to dance, art and music as strong cultural aspects of Bunbury. It is the strength of the institutions that provide training and an outlet for these arts that he applauds.
“We have a very strong creative arts centre called the Stirling Street Arts Centre, which supports over 42 art groups that operate through there.”
He also points to teachers who began the training of many of the best professional artists and craft makers in Australia.
“The city itself started its art collection in 1948 which has grown now to just short of a thousand pieces of art.
“It is well remarked that the City of Bunbury Art Collection is one of the most significant regional collections held in Western Australia.
“Last year they undertook to catalogue and value the art collection and were pleasantly surprised to find its value at more than three and a half million dollars.
“Our existing art gallery provides a venue for the exhibition of local art, but just as importantly for the national touring circuit.
“About every five weeks we receive a new touring exhibition in our art gallery that is currently housed in a converted convent.
“We are now working on the question of a new $30 million art gallery to house our collection and to be a true centre for modern Western Australian art.”
This is not the only cultural initiative the City of Bunbury has undertaken.
The new library they recently developed came with a price tag of just under $11 million, reports the Mayor.
“It is a 1600 square metre facility, with all the technology required of a modern strong regional Library,” he said.
“In this development we also included a new data storage centre, and leased the office area to businesses that are looking to utilise this data storage facility for innovative development including special effects and movie production companies.”
He said they would also be able to effect the digitalisation of seismic and other exploration results to provide three dimensional images of ore bodies.
It is through these developments that Mayor Smith hopes to leave his mark.
“If I can finish up with a new visitor’s information centre, a new regional museum alongside it, and a new Art Gallery centre – with a vastly improved Dolphin Discovery Centre and even stronger educational institutions, I will be happy.
“I know I am not going to live long enough to see all that, but I want to see the framework that will show us the way to enable those things to happen.”
It is with this forward thinking that the City of Bunbury will continue to be a modern and prosperous regional city, second only to Perth.