Hunter’s rich in the coal belt

Big bucks following coal belt workers

SO you thought the people earning the big bucks all lived at Merewether and Bar Beach?

You’d be partly right, but new data has confirmed  the Hunter Region’s ‘‘new rich’’ live in the coal belt stretching between Maitland and Muswellbrook.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics  this week released its latest wages and salaries data.

The figures are based on the 2009-10 financial year and therefore lag the bureau’s full national figures, but the data is the latest that can be broken down  suburb by suburb.

Merewether, which has traditionally topped the suburban earner’s rich list, slipped to fourth in 2010 as the height of the coal boom pushed the wage earners at Singleton and Muswellbrook to the top.

The average annual wage in Singleton fell just short of $63,000 in 2009-10, with the average wage in Merewether coming in at a still-healthy $56,811.

Suburbs such as Maitland and Branxton also scored highly, reflecting the large number of people living there and working in the mines further up the valley.

Of the top 10 areas in the annual wages stakes, only two areas – Merewether-The Junction and Newcastle-Cooks Hill – weren’t in or near the mining areas.

At the other end of the scale, Forster, Tea Gardens and the Nelson Bay peninsula all recorded low average wages, but those figures were heavily influenced by the high number of retirees on pensions, and self-funded retirees who live there.

Merewether regained its No.1 crown on the list that incorporates all household earnings – the list includes wages as well as investment earnings, business earnings and the earnings of superannuated retirees.

Meanwhile, the bureau  yesterday released new national figures which show the average Australian adult worker in full-time work earned $1393 a week in November last year, a rise of 4.8per cent on the previous November.

In NSW, the average adult full-time wage hit $1398.90 per week last November, behind Canberra ($1645.10) and the mining rich Western Australia ($1590.60).

LOYAL: Ben Hedley outside his store Sports Power, says the local economy relies on mining.  Picture: Peter Stoop

SINGLETON: Drive for high earners to keep funds in town

BEN Hedley makes no bones about it.

‘‘Without mining, Singleton wouldn’t be so strong, and my business wouldn’t be either,’’ he said.

Mr Hedley owns Singleton’s SportsPower store. He used to work for the store’s previous owner, but 18months ago he poured in his life savings and bought the store from his boss.

‘‘When we talk to our customers, most work in the mines, or their husbands do,’’ he said. ‘‘The store goes well here, even though retail is down a fair bit. I know some people struggle to keep their heads above water, but it’s a pretty good community here that is loyal.

‘‘Without the mining, though, I don’t think this local economy would survive.’’

The average annual wage in and around Singleton is more than $62,500, above that in Merewether, Bar Beach and Cooks Hill,  traditionally  the Hunter’s more affluent suburbs.

‘‘The crazy thing is that a lot of money leaks out of Singleton,’’ Gill Eason from Singleton Chamber of Commerce said.

‘‘High wages also reflect the shortage of skilled workers. There are plenty of people around town who will tell you that this downturn is the downturn we had to have so that ridiculously high wages in some industries come back to where they should be.’’

The Australian Bureau of Statistics data putting Singleton at the top of the high-earners list in the Hunter was collected before the recent downturn in the mining sector, but Ms Eason said Singleton was still a strong and resilient community.

‘‘What we and the council have been trying very hard to do is make Singleton a place that people want to come and live,’’ she said. ‘‘It’s one thing to have all this money being earned here, but another to keep it here.’’

NELSON BAY:  Digging for cash comes second to lifestyle

SINGLETON and Muswellbrook can have their cashed-up miners. Nelson Bay residents  wouldn’t swap their idyllic lifestyles for the world.

The Nelson Bay region, and the area north to Tea Gardens and Forster, is home to seven of the bottom 10 suburbs where average wages are at the lower end of the scale.

That is due largely to the high proportion of retirees and superannuants living there, along with the lack of major industry.

But the residents don’t care one iota.

‘‘My office looks out over the bay and I reckon that’s a whole better than looking over a coalmine,’’ small business owner and Nelson Bay resident Marian Sampson said.

Mrs Sampson and her husband Steve, the local chamber of commerce president, moved their family and Bayview Group of businesses from Sydney’s western suburbs to Nelson Bay almost seven years ago.

‘‘We have a wonderful environment here, the water is pristine, there’s no pollution, the streets are clean and the community here is just fantastic,’’ she said.

‘‘And there are jobs here for the kids that are dream jobs. Our 16-year-old son is working as a deckhand on one of the charter boats. He went out marlin fishing last week and got paid for it.’’

Gail Armstrong and her husband put down roots in Corlette after fleeing Adelaide and driving around Australia for three years in search of a new place to call home.

 ‘‘Everything is here, including the things I had on my shortlist, such as good library, a movie theatre, a beautiful beach where we can swim all year round ... It’s a beautiful place and the community is so strong and supportive. 

‘‘A lot of people earn a great deal of money working in the mines, but it’s not just money that adds to the social value of towns. It’s a wonderful lifestyle, we wouldn’t swap it.’’

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