The Central Highlands Area spans the east-west transport corridor connecting Melbourne, western Victoria and Adelaide and includes six Local Government Areas: Ararat, Pyrenees, Ballarat, Hepburn, Moorabool and Golden Plains.
The region’s bustling major centre, Ballarat, has the fastest growing population of any regional city in Victoria and more than half of the area’s population lives here.
The area has a diverse and growing population, and a buoyant and diverse economy based on agriculture, health services, tourism, construction and retail. But there are also pockets of socioeconomic disadvantage. The area is home to 19,625 businesses with only 2% of these being medium or large businesses. Almost 18% of people are self-employed.
Central Highlands Area is home to 184,804 people. Population forecasts vary significantly across the local government areas. In the east (Ballarat, Moorabool and Golden Plains), the population is projected to grow rapidly, while in the west (Ararat and Pyrenees) there is expected to be a decline. The annual population increase in the Central Highlands Area from 2004-2014 was 1.6%, just below the state average of 1.7%. The projected annual population growth for 2014-2024 is 1.9% with a projected population for 2024 of 222,892.
The area contains more than 26,800 families, with 66.1% of families including children under 15 years of age. As many as 10.6% of families with children have a low income compared to a state average of 8.7%.
The area has a relatively large Aboriginal population, with 1.3% of the total population being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin, compared to the state average of 0.9%.
Volunteering rates in Central Highlands are high with about one in four people giving up their spare time to help out others.
The vast majority of children in Central Highlands Area are healthy and well (95.1%).[i] A child’s health in their early years has a positive influence on how they develop, grow and learn. The Central Highlands Area has the highest percentage of children attending the 3.5 year old maternal and child health check in Victoria, with 75.8% of all children attending this visit, compared to the state average of 66.1%. Nine out of ten (92.9%) are fully immunised by 27 months of age.
The Central Highlands Area provides a safe environment for most children with 96.6% of parents with children aged under 13 years of age saying their neighbourhood is safe. However, family violence is a serious problem in the area. For example, in Ballarat in 2013/2014 there were 1719.65 incidents per 100,000 population. Children were present in about one third of these incidents.
Access to early learning plays a crucial role in getting kids ready for primary school. In Central Highlands Area three in four children (73.4%) have an adult in their life who reads to them every day. In 2015, 96.4% of eligible children in the area participated in kindergarten.
As many as 9.9% of children begin school developmentally vulnerable on two or more domains, slightly above the state average (9.5%). The area also has a relatively high number of children with emotional or behavioral problems at school entry (6.3% compared with state average 4.6%).
The Central Highlands has moderate Year 12 completion with 83.6% of people 19 years or older having completed Year 12, below the state average of 88.2%. Most students in grade 5 and 6 (83.4%) report feeling connected to their school (this is the same as the state average) but only 60.8% students in year 7 to 9 say they feel connected to school, lower than the state average of 62.3%).
Data sources include:
[i] Victorian Child Health and Wellbeing Survey: Number of children aged 0 to 13 years of age who are reported to have ‘good’, ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’ health.