Ghost Town - Australian History Mysteries

Ghost Town - Australian History Mysteries

Geography >> History >> Society and Environment




the concept of

Change Over Time

in a local area —

in Geography

and History

To teachers:

Ryebuck Media has produced a fun interactive way

of introducing students to the concept of change

over time.

Ghost Town takes students to an abandoned

area, the site of Ahmville. There is evidence that it was

once a thriving community, but is now in decay. What

happened? Was it the effects of war? Or disease?

Or a natural disaster? Or some other reason?

Students find evidence, and have to interpret what that

evidence tells them about the decline of the town.

In doing so they are introduced to the pathway of

inquiry in any investigation, and learn how to apply

that approach in investigating an aspect of their own


In this supplementary exercise we show how students

can apply that same investigative pathway to a

local geographical study – this time to the site of

Hometown, where there seems to be a process of

change underway.. The situation and evidence in

this classroom exercise are fictitious, but by working

through it in class students will practise the skills

of inquiry, and see how this model can be used to

guide their own local investigations.

Ghost Town Ghost Town

A CD-ROM interactive

that models the


processes involved

in completing a

research project.

It helps develop in

students the skills of

research, evidence

analysis, problem

solving and love of

local history.

Ghost Town is an

exciting interactive

that may be used with Years 6-12 as an individual, group

or whole class activity.

Students explore five scenes in a ghost town and try to

work out why this once thriving town became a ghost

town. Was it the war, drought, flood, an explosion or

disease? What does the evidence tell us?

The CD-ROM and accompanying worksheets may be

used as an introduction to studying history or any other

learning activity requiring an understanding of the skills of

research, hypothesising and problem solving.

Kids love trying to solve mysteries and this little program

is guaranteed to help them do this in fun and rewarding

ways that help develop inquiry-learning skills.

PRICE: $44.00 includes GST.

For more detail and to order a copy go to

© Ryebuck Media 2006

Your visit to


You’re sick of hearing about it. They go on and on —

‘Oh, it was a great place, the centre of the town as far

as we are concerned. That’s where all the young people

gathered. The boys watched their footy heroes and tried

to be like them. The girls played netball beside the oval,

aware that the boys weren’t always just watching their

footy heroes!’

That’s where they met, your mum and dad. That’s where

they first spoke. That’s where they had their wedding

reception, in the club rooms, decked out in streamers.

That’s the place that started their lives together.

Step 1

You fill in Step 1, and are ready to start investigating.

And here you are, finally on the spot, all those stories

and memories in your mind — and it’s a dump! It’s in

decay. The oval is all weeds and sheep droppings. The

netball courts, just faded paint and broken hoops. The

clubhouse, decrepit, damaged, burnt and abandoned.

But the town itself is still there, but seems pretty quiet

— not many young people around.

So what went wrong? What happened to the footy

and netball clubs? Why did they die?

That’s your task, your inquiry.

Luckily, you always have a note pad with you as you

tackle investigations, so all you have to do is wander

around the town, gather evidence, and come to a


Inquiry summary

Steps in the Inquiry Pathway

Case study: What happened here?

Step 1

Develop a focus

for the inquiry

Why did the footy/netball club in this country town die?

Step 2


the context

Step 3

Develop possible


Step 4



Step 5

Critically analyse

and evaluate


Step 6

Adjust hypotheses

in the light of


Step 7

Come to a

conclusion supported

by the evidence

© Ryebuck Media 2006

Steps 2 and 3

Railway line — pretty overgrown, not used much these days.

Old wheat silos in a siding by the railway. Again, pretty old and unused looking.

An indoor stadium. Seems to be mainly basketball and indoor soccer being

played there.

Hard to get to this place now — had to turn off the freeway, and really decide

to come here. No roads in or out except those that join the freeway.

Lots of older people in town, not many young ones — except for some

newcomers. Someone said they are Somali refugees, great lovers of

basketball and soccer. Wonder if they’ll have an impact on the town?

1 Summarise your impressions of

Hometown in the ‘Understanding

the context’ part of your Inquiry

Summary table. This is Step 2

of an inquiry.

2 This evidence is enough to

suggest at least three possible

hypotheses for the death of the

footy/netball club. List these

in the appropriate part of the

Inquiry Summary table (Step 3).

Now you need to start gathering

evidence to see which of your

possible explanations is most likely


Steps 4, 5 and 6

Here are your notes on observations of the area, and

questions you jotted down at the time to help you analyse

and interpret the evidence.

Look at your notes, and discuss your answers to the

questions. Do not worry about the empty boxes at the top

of each piece of evidence. You will fill these in later.

Evidence 1 1 Where is Hometown?


2 Where is the nearest

regional centre?

3 What is the purpose of

the railway lines to the

four small towns?

4 What effect do you think

the freeway might have

on the smaller towns?

5 Which hypothesis does

this evidence support

— or do you need to form

a new one?

Evidence 2

Not many wheat farms, and those that are look pretty rundown

and unsuccessful. Lots of big farms, with plantation eucalypt

trees, macadamia trees, olive groves — all pretty much new

and specialised and low water usage crops, not old traditional

wheat/sheep/cows farming. Lots of abandoned farmhouses, too.

Wonder why?

Big machinery in the new farms, but I haven’t seen any

local sellers. Wonder where they get it from?

1 What did this area grow in

the past?

2 What is it growing now?

3 Why has there been a change?

Suggest some reasons.

4 What other evidence have you

already seen about a change

in what the area grows?

5 What do the abandoned

houses tell you?

6 Which hypothesis does this

evidence support — or do you

need to form a new one?

© Ryebuck Media 2006

Your visit to


Evidence 3 1 What does a local council do?

2 What jobs would it provide?

Evidence 4

Evidence 5



The local council building has closed. It still has

‘Shire of Hometown’ engraved in the front.

Statistics for the number of farms in the area:

The local council vehicles now have the

name: Shire of Hometown & Erehwon on


Year 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000

Number 773 701 735 537 433 213

of farms

Av size 103 114 108 149 180 376


Number of families

816 774 702 386 303 147

Results of a survey of what happened to young people who completed

secondary education – average for each year of the decade:

Outcome 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s

Go on local farm 32 22 7 2

Evidence 6

3 What has happened to the

Shire of Hometown?

4 What effects might this have

on the community?

5 Which hypothesis does this

evidence support — or do you

need to form a new one?

1 Describe the change in the

pattern in farm sizes over the


2 Describe the change in the

pattern of the numbers of

families on farms in the area in

this period.

3 What is the connection

between the two?

4 Which hypothesis does this

evidence support — or do you

need to form a new one?

Mum’s secondary school is still

there. I saw her name on the honour

board. She said classes used to

be 30+ in each room. Now, they’re

really small!

Dad’s school has gone. There’s

just a plaque saying it used to be

there. He went to a smaller school

than mum, and you can see that by

the size of the empty site.

Take on local job 41 30 11 3

Complete further 26 12 3 2

education at regional

centre and return

Complete further 28 29 12 10

education at regional

centre and do not


TOTALS — Average 127 93 33 17

per year per decade

1 Describe the pattern of what has been happening to young

people over the period.

2 Which hypothesis does this evidence support — or do you

need to form a new one?

1 How many secondary schools

were there in the past, and now?

2 Class sizes have changed

— this could mean either fewer

students at the school, or that the

education system encourages

smaller classes now. From the

evidence, which do you think it is

in this case?

3 If a school closes, suggest

or identify what other ‘knockon

effects’ might it have in a


4 Which hypothesis does this

evidence support — or do you

need to form a new one?

© Ryebuck Media 2006

Evidence 7

I took this photo of the guide outside the local hospital. It was

the original sign from when the hospital was opened in 1973,

but with recent changes.

Hometown General Hospital

Founded 1973

Ward Guide

Casualty Ward

General Ward

Pediatrics Ward

Geriatric Ward



1 Use a dictionary to find out what

each of the wards does.

2 How many wards are there now,

compared to the past?

3 What would be the consequences

of a ward closing for:

• Employment

• Families

• Associated businesses in

the town

• Community amenity or


4 Which hypothesis does this

evidence support — or do you

need to form a new one?

Surgical Ward

Psychiatric Ward



Nursing Home

Evidence 8

The local library had these population

pyramids for Hometown, from the

census of 1971 and 2001:


1971 Age











17 16 15 14 13 12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20


1 Describe the shapes of the two pyramids.

2 What does each tell us about the population in the

area at each period?

3 What are some of the changes that you would expect

in a community that is getting older, and with fewer

younger people in it?

4 Which hypothesis does this evidence support — or

do you need to form a new one?

© Ryebuck Media 2006

Your visit to


Evidence 9

Here are average monthly rainfall figures for the area for the last 100 years:



120-month Normal Jan moving 1961–Dec average 1990
































1 Describe the overall pattern

of rainfall in the area over the period shown.

2 The area was most prosperous in the 1970s.

Why might that be?

3 Describe the pattern of rainfall since 1980.

4 What effect might this change in rainfall have

on the prosperity of the town?

5 Which hypothesis does this evidence support

— or do you need to form a new one?

Here is a list of headings for the various pieces of


Match each heading to the nine pieces of evidence you

have just considered. There is room to write the headings

in a box at the top of each piece of evidence.

• Change in farming

• Demographic change — population structure

• Demographic change — young people

• Drought

• Farm size changes

• Hospital service reduction

• School closures

• Shire Amalgamation

• Sketch map of the area

What does it mean?

Now it’s time to decide just what each piece of evidence

tells you about what has been happening with this town.

To do this you need to think about the implications or

consequences of each aspect on the life of the town,

using the list of aspects in the right hand column of the

table on the next page to help you.

For example, you might decide that council

amalgamations will have an effect on LOCAL JOBS

(fewer workers are needed when two organizations

merge), FAMILIES (some workers will lose their jobs,

and the families will move), LOCAL BUSINESSES (fewer

people means fewer sales), and LOCAL AMENITIES

(fewer people means that local amenities or services

may have to reduce or close — schools, the post office,

banks, etc.).

See what connections you can make.

© Ryebuck Media 2006

















Train lines


Change in











Farm size




What else will you find?

You have seen a lot during your visit — but there are

parts of the town you still have not been to. Using the

knowledge and understanding you have developed

so far, decide what you expect to find with the

following aspects of the town — whether they will be

increasing, in decline or stable.

You may also want to add other aspects to this list.

Explain your reasons in each case.


Grain silos



Games arcade

Specialty local product shops

Likely to be


Likely to be

in decline

Likely to be

no change

or cannot


Bringing it together and coming to your


There is one more source of information that you

find: A cuttings file in the local library marked: ‘The

decline of country towns’. Read it on the next page,

and see if it helps you understand what is happening

with this town.


Primary schools

Tourist shops


Large farm machinery suppliers


Volunteer Fire Fighting


Government offices

© Ryebuck Media Pty Ltd 2006

Your visit to


1 Does Hometown fit this

general pattern?

2 Does Hometown fit this trend?



Although agriculture is not as extensive as at its peak in

the mid 1970s, farms still take up around sixty per cent of

all the land in Australia.

Farms in Australia have traditionally been family

businesses, passed on from generation to generation.

However, since the 1950s, international economic factors

and changes in farming methods have lead to larger

farms being more economically viable than small ones.

The number of farming families in Australia has steadily

decreased and the average size of farms has increased.

Many modern farmers find that they struggle to make a

profit and some are forced to find extra work off the farm

to supplement the farm income.

For example, the ABA (1998) has identified a number of

common denominators among towns that have experienced

at least 20% population loss since 1976. They included the


• based on a depleted local mineral resource;

• based on local manufacturing in which advances in

production methods have reduced the scale of the

workforce required;

• based on a manufacturing activity that is no longer

required in the local region;

• located in the wheat-sheep belt where there are natural

economies of scale that have encouraged farm aggregation;

• located within a convenient drive time of a provincial city

which offers services, employment and education and


• mining operations that have switched to fly-in fly-out


• located within a broader urban area which has experienced

ageing of the local community or changing land use; and

• physically isolated from the main highway systems and

formerly based on timber milling, small scale farming

or with a narrow sphere of economic influence over its

immediate region (ABA 1998: 25-26).

3 Which of the listed factors in country

towns’ decline match the Hometown

experience? Underline them.



Many of Australia’s country towns are going through

hard times. Years of drought, poor prices for a number

of farm products, loss of job opportunities as farms

mechanise still further, followed by closures of banks,

post offices, hospitals and schools – all have added

to the troubles of people in country towns. And as

people move away, it has become harder for services

like banks and schools to continue.

Within certain Australian rural communities it has been assumed

that significantly higher average commodity prices for agricultural

exports such as wool and wheat would somehow assist small

country towns to remain viable. In reality, in order to access even

quite basic services, in health, banking, finance and retailing,

residents and local farming families are increasingly bypassing

their local small towns to travel to major regional centres. While

this is partly due to a loss of services in smaller towns involving

the closure of banks, shops and schools, it also reflects individuals’

desire to access better quality, more sophisticated services. It is

generally only larger centres, with a minimum population of about

10,000 that can provide the range of services required by regional

communities. In both Australia and the United States the main

movement of population from small towns has been and will

continue to be to larger, “sponge” regional centres.

Could it be positive?

4 How are regional centres having an effect on

small towns?

Not all change is negative. Many small towns are meeting

the challenge of change positively, taking advantage

of some of the changes to revitalise their new towns.

For example, falling property values in declining towns

may mean that new people can afford to live there, and

might start a revival of the town. See what other potential

positives you can find that might revitalise Hometown.

Step 7

Look back at your original hypotheses.

Do any of them seem correct? Do you need to adjust

these hypotheses to suit the emerging evidence?

You should now be able to answer your original

question about what happened to the local football

and netball clubs.


© Ryebuck Media Pty Ltd 2006

But in answering it, you can also put this small change

in its larger context of change in a community.

What will you tell your parents now to explain to

them what has happened to the place they knew?

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