Mount Gambier is a city of some 26,000 with a further 10,000 in the immediate environs, equidistant from Adelaide and Melbourne.
It is sited on the northern edge of an extinctvolcano complex, 25 kilometres from the sea. The extinct volcano provides a spectacular back-drop tothe city. Within the volcano complex are four picturesque lakes, the largest of which mysteriously changes in spring from a dull grey to a deep blue.
The main industry is in softwood timer. The plantation timber is fully utilised with milling, engineered timber production, particle board factories and preserved timber plants. There are other large factories in town including a large branch factory of a clothing manufacturer and is home to a national transport company. The area also carries a heavy stockload of sheep and cattle. The surrounding countryside, as a result of the rich volcanic soil, grows many crops including onions, potatoes, other greens and cut flowers. Fishing, especially for rock lobster, is also an important local industry.
There are six primary schools and three high schools, one of each run privately. Tertiary education is limited to a good local TAFE college offering not only a wide range of vocational training for the hospitality, engineering, rural and commercial industries but also study in the expressive and visual art fields. Some courses, such as accounting and visual arts, can count as the first year of study for Deakin University.
As in most Australian regional cities and towns sport facilities are comprehensive. Cricket, basketball (including a team in the national CBL), Australian Rules football, baseball, soccer, netball, squash, tennis, and hockey (with the only artificial playing surface in the regional South Australia) among the many sports more than adequately catered for. In addition there are three health gymnasiums, an indoor tennis centre and golf courses. A new public swimming complex opened in 1986.
A wide range of cultural activities in the arts are also catered for. Much of the performance art centres around the Sir Robert Helpman Theatre. This modern 500 seat theatre hosts a regular program of visiting shows and performance. First release films are also screened. The Riddoch Art Gallery caters for both traditional and contemporary visual arts and crafts. The gallery is the only professionally run art gallery in regional South Australia and is next year to be renovated to international Class A standard. Both complexes are the centres of vibrant local art ‘scenes’. There are also commercial establishments catering for music ranging from jazz to modern rock. Local groups include theatre groups, choral societies, school and senior orchestra and a city band. The Oatmil Cinema, a new three cinema complex also screens new release films seven days per week.
Locally there are fine diverse restaurants. The world renowned wine-producing area of the Coonawarra is close by.
As the commercial centre for the South East of South Australia and some of Western Victoria, the city has department stores, speciality shops and many varied boutiques.
Mount Gambier is also the centre of a tourist region. The dramatic coasts of Robe, Beachport and Portland as well as conservation parks such as Canunda and the Lower Glenelg River are near by. In particular the Lower Glenelg River National Park has spectacular forest and river walks as well as the river itself providing for fishing, boating and canoeing. Further afield the Grampians are only a day trip away.
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