Australia is often said to be one of the most urbanised countries in the world - and it's true that a large percentage of our population hugs the coastal strip, especially in the east.
But a solid one-third of our population - or about 8.8 million residents - calls regional Australia home. More are joining them every year.
Those of us who live and work outside the metropolitan centres appreciate the many advantages that regional cities and smaller towns offer.
As Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack says in his introduction to a new magazine from Australian Community Media - Future Focus: "Clean air. Plenty of space. Wonderful people. Why would you want to live and work anywhere else?"
Regional centres are places "big enough to find a good cup of coffee but ... small enough to care", Mr McCormack says. "You are 10 minutes from anywhere in town, which is so important when trying to strike the balance between work and life - it means more time for you and your family and less on congested roads."
The successes, the challenges, the opportunities, the huge potential of regional Australia will be explored over the next 12 months in a series of four Future Focus magazines and a dedicated website (futurefocusproject.com.au) that is to be launched on September 4.
READ THE FIRST EDITION OF FUTURE FOCUS HERE.
Through interviews, profiles, case studies, think pieces and contributions from academics, innovators, subject experts, industry leaders, business groups and government authorities, the Future Focus project will tell the stories of regional Australia, and the people, plans and ideas that will shape its future.
Australian Community Media, the country's leading, independent news brand devoted to regional and rural areas (and publisher of this website), hopes Future Focus will stir a productive debate about what decisions must be made, what policies and actions implemented, to ensure we build a prosperous and connected regional economy that is both inclusive and sustainable.
We believe that strong regions are required for a stronger future Australia.
We believe regional Australia is a source of innovation and resilience, a place where solutions will be found to key challenges around communication and connectivity, food and water security, the environment and the preservation of Indigenous cultures.
In the first edition of the magazine - under the theme Planning for Prosperity - journalist Daniel Burdon investigates the strategies required to retain the thousands of people who move to the regions from the cities each year, Liz Ritchie from the Regional Australia Institute argues that targeted migration may hold the solution to regional job vacancies, economic geography professor Phillip O'Neill explains why our regional economies have remained so buoyant. There are also inspiring stories on education programs (from the University of New England) and business start-ups.
Future editions of the magazine will look at Connections (infrastructure, technology, transport and communication); Sustainability (how we balance the environment and our wealth of natural resources with future food, water and energy requirements); and Community (those health, education and other services required to ensure a happier, healthier and brighter future).
All these stories and more will appear on the futurefocusproject website, where you can post comments, send a message to the decision-makers and debate the future of regional Australia with others. We hope you will join the discussion.
- Joanne Crawford is Group Content Editor with Australian Community Media.
- The Future Focus project acknowledges the support of partners the University of New England and Dell Australia.