Art not imitating life down in the Shire

I enjoyed watching Channel 10's new ''dramality'' series The Shire this week. But then, I'm trying to abstain from drinking alcohol on week nights, so was looking for some sort of alternative brain muscle relaxant.

Previously, my only knowledge of God's Country was that it is home to my favourite central banker, Australia's very own Glenn Stevens, himself a Christian known to play guitar at his local Baptist Church.

So imagine my surprise tuning in on Monday night to discover Mr Stevens's neighbours include a selection of pursed-lipped, bronzed sun-goddesses. However does he concentrate?

But a glimpse at the results of the latest Census, taken late last year, suggests this particular contribution to the ''dramality'' genre is more ''drama'' than ''ality''.


The local government area of the Sutherland Shire was home to 210,863 souls on census night. Women out-numbered men, 107,696 to 103,167, giving it a more feminine feel than the rest of the country. And despite their sun-tanned youth, residents of the Shire are older than the rest of the nation - with a median age of 39, compared to 37 nationally.

Conforming to the show's largely Anglo appearance, it is true the Shire is home to a less ethnically diverse population than the rest of the country. Of those surveyed on Census night, 78.8 per cent said they were born in Australia, compared to 69.8 per cent nationwide.

For all the late-night partying of the television show, in reality, a solid proportion of the Shire's residents are early risers on a Sunday, with 31 per cent expressing a Catholic faith, compared to just 25.3 per cent nationwide. And while ''no religion'' has overtaken Anglicanism Australia-wide as the second most popular faith, in the Shire 25.8 per cent are Anglican, compared to 17.1 per cent nationwide.

Indeed, the proportion of residents of God's Country stating ''no religion'' was just 16.1 per cent, below the national average of 22.3 per cent.

Perhaps as a result, the Shire is home to a higher proportion of married couples than the national average and a lower proportion of divorcees.

Life in the Shire is good. According to a separate jobs survey, the jobless rate in the Sutherland Shire and St George area averaged 3.2 per cent, compared to the average for NSW of 5.1 per cent. For men, the jobless rate is a meagre 2.4 per cent. Little time for sun-tanning there.

Incomes in the Shire are also higher than average. If you lined up all the households in the Shire according to income, the household in the middle would have an income of $87,048, compared to $64,168 if you did the same for all households in Australia.

Those higher incomes are needed, however, to afford one of those waterfront mansions. Median mortgage repayments were $2400 a month at the time of the Census, versus $1800 Australia-wide. Households in the Shire are more keen than most to earn their slice of heaven.

While the dream of home ownership is a reality for a declining proportion of households, slipping to 67 per cent, the home-ownership rate in the Shire is 76.5 per cent.

More own their homes outright than the national average, but more also own with a mortgage. Stevens must be acutely aware of how his day job affects the neighbours.

I'm prepared to forgive the show's producers a little dramatic licence. I suspect a reality show showing the residents of the Shire working hard, paying off the mortgage and going to church would not be a ratings winner. In fact, I'm keen to see the same treatment applied to some other more mundane aspects of life.

Instead of the staid and boring minutes released this week by the Reserve Bank recording how board members considered there was ''no need'' to adjust interest rates at last week's meeting, because, well, inflation is contained, economic growth stronger than expected and joblessness low, give me dramality. Give me: Central bankers gone wild,

- National Times

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