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A community view of Coffs Harbour


Dr Gail Moloney and Duncan Blair have completed a report on community perceptions ‘A community view of Coffs Harbour’. Media contact: Brigid Veale
3 December 2009
Coffs Harbour’s residents think their community is culturally diverse with a successful resettlement program for African refugees.

This is one of the findings of a new report on community perceptions ‘A community view of Coffs Harbour’, completed by Dr Gail Moloney and Duncan Blair from Southern Cross University.

Dr Moloney, who lectures in social psychology in the School of Health and Human Sciences, said the research was designed to investigate how residents of Coffs Harbour saw the population make-up of their community.

“We wanted to look at how residents view their own community and how we can use these findings to foster community relationships,” Dr Moloney said.

Two studies were conducted, each with around 150 respondents. The first study asked residents the groups that they thought best described the diverse nature of the community. In the second study, residents were asked to describe the community in terms of countries of birth or ancestral groups.

“Respondents who completed the first study described the Coffs Harbour community primarily in terms of occupational groups with an emphasis on unemployment, low socio-economic status and retirees,” Dr Moloney said.

“These results were surprising. While there is slightly higher unemployment in Coffs Harbour than the state average, it is not significant enough to warrant this perception.

“If we want to try and attract new businesses and promote a vibrant community we need to look at changing that perception.”

Dr Moloney said in the second study the cultural diversity of the population was recognised.

“One of the really pleasing findings was the positive comments associated with refugees from Africa, indicating their resettlement into Coffs Harbour was perceived favourably,” she said.

“This is an important finding in light of some past media reports which have highlighted negative concerns with resettlement programs in other regional towns.”

However, the study also highlighted a need to differentiate between the different geographical origins of refugees.

“We found that the majority of refugees from Africa are being identified by the term Sudanese.
In fact, there are refugees from many different countries in Africa who have settled in Coffs Harbour and we need to encourage people within our community to identify this. Refugees from Africa are not all from Sudan but from other countries in Africa such as Togo, Burundi, Congo, Libya, Ethiopia and Eritrea,” she said.

Dr Moloney said she hoped now to replicate and extend the study to include visitors to the region, to determine what their perceptions were.

“The tourism industry promotes this region on its geography and natural attractions, but perhaps we could also be highlighting the cultural diversity of this region and the vibrancy that it brings, ” she said.

The studies were completed with assistance from the staff at the Coffs Harbour City Council libraries.

“We would like to thank the Coffs Harbour City Council library staff and all those residents who took the time to participate in these studies,” she said.