The Upper Hunter electorate is a giant of a thing.
Its 28,000 square kilometres is centred on Wanaruah country, but also spills onto Geawegal country to the north, Worimi country to the northeast, Awabakal country to the southeast, Darkinung country to the south, and Wiradjuri country to the west.
Professor Lyndall Ryan's team at the University of Newcastle record seven frontier massacres of Aboriginal People across this country between 1822 and 1841. Today 6.7 per cent of Upper Hunter's resident population are Aboriginal People, far higher than the NSW average of 2.9 per cent.
The Upper Hunter electorate is the fifth largest electorate in NSW. Its land area is larger than Wales and nearly as big as Belgium.
One state MP represents its 75,527 residents (according to the 2016 census).
Read a Sydney newspaper and you would think that this vast electorate is full with mines and miners, which isn't quite true.
Mostly, the Upper Hunter electorate is unoccupied land, chiefly the forests of the Goulburn River national park and Liverpool Range in the west, the Barrington Tops to the north, and Wollemi national park to the south.
The Hunter River and its tributaries feed off these ranges, merging to wind their way to the coast. The MP for Upper Hunter is their custodian, the biggest river catchment in NSW that isn't attached to the disastrous Murray-Darling irrigation pump fest.
The catchment's slopes and plains provide genuinely good agricultural lands.
Indeed, of the state's 93 electorates, the Upper Hunter electorate boasts the fifth largest agricultural workforce - with 3583 locals working in the sector at the last census.
Mining in the electorate employed more locals, with 5080, but it's not a lot more.
The issue here, of course, is that agriculture and mining are competitors, they want the same land surface, except one sector wants the land to be in prime condition forever. The other needs it pushed aside.
The Upper Hunter electorate has a classic rural settlement pattern, the stuff of a geography textbook.
Hamlets and villages still dot the valleys, and small towns offer basic services at key nodal points.
The larger towns - Merriwa, Denman, Dungog, Scone, Quirindi and Gloucester - are the district sentinels, and the regional centres - Muswellbrook, Singleton - play host to the big retailers, best entertainment, a hospital, a court house and a shire council.
Sadly, mining has played merry hell with the electorate's geography.
The chance of villages like Bulga and Ulan re-birthing as country getaways, as is common in central Victoria, has disappeared in a haze of open cut dust.
Families are pushed away from townships by the closure of their small schools, GPs' surgeries, local stores. Away from the regional centres, the urban fabric of the Upper Hunter electorate is crumbling.
As a consequence, Singleton and Muswellbrook have shredded their traditional relationships with their hinterlands.
It's a contradiction of mining in the electorate.
On one hand mining brings jobs, the sector employing 41 per cent of workers in Singleton and 31 per cent in Muswellbrook. So mining brings thick pay packets into these centres.
Yet mining strips the surrounding countryside of the productive activities and households that Singleton and Muswellbrook businesses once served.
And, ironically, as the rosiness of the countryside disappears so too do many of the miners.
Probably about 40 per cent of miners working in pits in the Upper Hunter electorate are drive-in drive-out workers, men who have chosen to make their homes to the east, in the nappy belt suburbs stretching across Cessnock and Maitland.
And if you're not a miner in Singleton and Muswellbrook, your life choices are probably quite ordinary.
Levels of youth engagement in paid work or training are well below par. Across the whole Upper Hunter electorate, the proportion holding tertiary qualifications is barely half the NSW average.
The level of post-school training of any sort is similarly poor.
The electorate sits in the bottom 10 of the state for completing year 12 schooling.
Surprisingly, given all this, Singleton and Muswellbrook maintain a solid demographic profile.
Both towns have profiles that match the state average, enough kids, not too many elderly, solid numbers in working age brackets.
But the profile has a solid fracture line, at a point where young adults drift away, especially young women, for mining work is men's work.
Labour force participation for women in the Upper Hunter electorate is 53 per cent of 15 to 65-year-olds, compared to 60 per cent down the valley in Newcastle.
The Upper Hunter electorate doesn't offer sufficient jobs in the sectors where young women seek work.
The electorate would need an extra 3000 jobs in health care and social assistance to match the state-wide distribution for the sector, and an extra 550 jobs in education and training for state-wide parity in that sector.
Phillip O'Neill is professor of economic geography at Western Sydney University and Newcastle Herald columnist
IN THE NEWS:
- Revelle Balmain: $1 million reward in case of missing person who never reached Newcastle
- NSW man charged after puppy burned alive
- Nathan Tinkler says he will fight legal move on his Coffs Harbour home
- Belmont High's school administration manager Lee Peddie remembered
- Hunter farmers respond to parliamentary report on future after drought ends
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content: