Northern Territory youth think their generation has it easy, survey finds


October 11, 2019 11:15:03

Young people in the Top End are returning “in droves” after tasting life elsewhere and they are happy doing it, a national survey has found.

Key points:

  • Nationally, 77 per cent of more than 50,000 respondents in the Australia Talks National Survey agreed that young folk are doing it tough
  • The exception was in the Northern Territory, where more than 40 per cent respondents disagreed that this was the case
  • Young people that the ABC spoke to credit this to a number of things including greater opportunities, a stronger community feel, more relaxed lifestyle and better quality of life

The Australia Talks National Survey has had more than 50,000 participants, answering questions related to faith, housing, mental health, and general outlook on life.

One of the 500 questions asked: Is it harder for young Australians to get by than it used to be?

More than half of the respondents agreed that young folk are doing it tough, including 77 per cent of those aged between 18 and 24.

That is unless you live in the Northern Territory, where more than 40 per cent of respondents — a much higher rate than elsewhere — strongly disagreed or somewhat disagreed that this was the case.

So, what is it about the Top End that provides an easier life for young people?

Is it the lifestyle, social life, job opportunities or price of housing?

Arne Orstivik, 19

Darwin co-leader for the Australian Youth Climate Coalition Arne Orstivik believes the Northern Territory offers more opportunities than other major cities.

“I can’t speak for older generations and how they lived through their 20s, but I think for my age group now opportunities in Darwin sometimes just end up on your doorstep,” he says.

“I think a lot of the things we take for granted in Darwin aren’t offered in larger cities, and that’s the hardship others are responding with … those concerns don’t exist in our lifestyle.”

Mr Orstivik says social status is less important in the Territory.

“Even if you are earning well and I walk past a businessman in the street, I likely play soccer with him. People are just really accepting here,” he says.

“You can be a businessman wearing a brightly coloured shirt with a bold print, no-one wears a suit and tie.

“People up here aren’t sweating under pressure. It’s just hot.”

Emily Tyaemaen Ford, 21

Emily Tyaemaen Ford is a Rak Mak Mak Marranunggu woman from Kurrindju, 400 kilometres south of Darwin.

Having grown up in Darwin, momentarily relocating to Brisbane during her high school years, Ms Ford returned to Darwin as a young adult and says leaving the Top End is off the table.

“We are just happier people up here, most of my family is up here along with friends,” she says.

“Sometimes I think you can feel trapped in the Territory because flights domestically are quite expensive, but I have cheaper access to Asia so I’m not complaining.”

Ms Ford is currently working on an Australia Research Council grant investigating Aboriginal cosmology in the remote community of Gawa. She’s assisting in school technology programs teaching children how to fly drones, and writing for a local community paper for the UN’s Year of Indigenous Language.

“I am also learning Korean,” she laughs.

Ms Ford says she believes Darwin is underestimated as a capital city.

“I have had people ask if I live in a tin shed in the desert. I just don’t think Darwin ever comes across southerners’ minds,” she says.

“We are criticised for having a slower pace of life, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s relaxing, and everyone knows you, that’s what a community should be.”

However, Ms Ford admits the Top End has some work to do regarding issues impacting Indigenous youth.

“There is a demographic up here who look over Indigenous youth issues and don’t see it as a valid issue to discuss,” she says.

“There is unfortunately still a mindset of ‘we know better’, but I recognise it’s a tricky issue and we still need to devise better lines of communication.”

Lexie Gregory, 22

Currently in the middle of her Honours thesis in Psychology, Lexie Gregory is an emerging producer, screenwriter and director, recently submitting work to the Darwin International Film Festival.

Ms Gregory obtained her undergraduate degree in Melbourne but says the call of Casuarina Beach was too much and so returned to Darwin.

“There hits a point where everyone your age after high school splits to southern states to absorb a different life, like big bands, festivals, and that busy life,” she says.

“It’s in that moment of realising you’re cold and isolated and it’s expensive and lonely, that’s when you realise why your family moved to Darwin.”

Similar to Mr Orstivik, Ms Gregory says the Northern Territory offers better opportunities for young people.

“I think there is an outside perception that there’s nothing happening in the north, that our economy is going down, that you will be without conveniences found in other cities, and that’s simply not the case,” she says.

“I do believe quality of life is easier in the Territory now compared to previous generations, in terms of access to education, jobs, healthcare, and housing.”

However, Ms Gregory says in applying herself to the question of if it’s harder now for young Australians, she says “it’s a case of the grass is always greener”.

“It’s easy to blame our situation on our parents’ generation or older, but we weren’t there to live their youth, and vice versa with older generations suggesting we have it easier,” she says.

“Research is showing us that young people are more isolated, we have increased depression, anxiety, and mental health issues, but maybe that comes down to better awareness now.

“No one person can look objectively at another person’s life and say they have it easier. It’s not the life you are living.”

Jack Buckley, 24

Born and bred in Darwin, Jack Buckley received his Bachelor of Exercise and Nutrition Science in Brisbane before returning to the Top End to take on event management.

Now, he is the office coordinator and first point of contact at the well-known Mindil Beach Sunset Markets.

“While I was studying I started looking into major events. It was more enjoyable than my studies,” he says.

“I moved back to Darwin to pursue this passion, and I think Darwin is punching well above its weight when it comes to community events, arts, and festivals.

“There is an attitude here that if you have drive and ambition, you will be supported.”

Mr Buckley says the NT capital’s dwindling population goes hand-in-hand with the more relaxed lifestyle.

“Compared to my time in Brisbane, I find here in a smaller major city I am not sitting in traffic or commuting, as a result I have more time for friends or community groups,” he says.

Mr Buckley says he is now watching more friends return to Darwin after time exploring other big cities.

“You quickly realise you aren’t actually missing much being in the north,” he says.

“Young people are coming back in droves.”

The Australia Talks National Survey asked 54,000 Australians about their lives and what keeps them up at night. Use our interactive tool to see the results and how their answers compare with yours.

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