Russell Island is among a group of islands known as the Southern Moreton Bay Islands (SMBI), located off the coast of South East Queensland in the Moreton Bay Marine Park some 43 kilometres from Brisbane city. The islands are administered by the Redland City Council (formerly the Shire of Redland). With a 2011 population of 2475, Russell Island is the largest of the Southern Moreton Bay Islands; the others being Lamb, Macleay and Karragarra. Together, the four islands have a combined population of 5630 (as of 2011) which makes them the second largest offshore island communities in Australia. The islands are also experiencing significant growth, with a 33 per cent population increase in the period between 2006 and 2011 (Redland City Council 2013). Residential development is largely concentrated around the northern end of the island although some properties are scattered across the island. The southern end is mainly designated a conservation zone. Most of the limited services are located in the northern end within the vicinity of the ferry terminal. While the island has a supermarket, pharmacy, cafe, doctor’s surgery, primary school and other such provisions to meet the daily needs of residents, access to all other health, recreational and commercial services requires a ferry trip of approximately 20 minutes to the mainland. Employment on the island is also limited, with most employed residents commuting off the island for work.

According to 2011 ABS data, Russell Island is a socioeconomically disadvantaged suburb, with all of the SA1s in the suburb belonging to the lowest quintile of SEIFA Index of Relative Socioeconomic Disadvantage (IRSD) within Australia. This means there is a concentration of low-income households, with more than one-fifth of all households earning less than $600 gross income per week. Of the four disadvantaged suburb types identified in the AHURI study (of which this report forms a part), Russell Island falls into the category of Type 3 ‘marginal’ suburb: located on the urban periphery and thus somewhat disconnected from mainstream housing markets. Type 3 suburbs have higher rates of residential mobility than other suburbs, but this mainly comes from domestic rather than overseas movers. The population is typically older, comprised predominantly of retirees, and housing is dominated by outright home ownership and the private rental market.

Case study research aims

The study of Russell Island was undertaken as part of a larger project funded by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) entitled ‘Addressing Concentrations of Disadvantage’ which sought to examine the diversity of areas with identifiable concentrations of disadvantage in Australia’s major capital cities—Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. The overall aims of the project were to investigate:

  1. How concentrations of social disadvantage are conceptualised, defined and measured?
  2. What housing and urban processes contribute to the creation and perpetuation of these patterns?
  3. What are the consequences of living in a disadvantaged area for the residents concerned?
  4. How can policy-makers and others respond to spatial disadvantage in ‘best for people, best for place’ terms?

Stage 3 of the project involved detail case study research into six selected localities, two each in the cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. In Brisbane, the two sites were Russell Island in the Redland Bay area, and Logan Central in the city of Logan. The main objectives of the case study work were to better understand the experiences of living in an area characterised as disadvantaged and the effect this concentration of disadvantage has upon the places themselves and the people who live there. This refers to the possibility that living in a ‘poor neighbourhood’ can compound the impact of poverty and disadvantage affecting an individual (Atkinson & Kintrea 2001), as well as the imposition of negative stereotypes or labels by external parties who are not familiar with the place. Part of the task, then, is to critique these stereotypes by examining the efforts of local councils, federal and state governments, and the business and community sectors to address concentrated disadvantage; as well as focussing on the lived experience of place for those who reside and work there. These experiences may include a sense of being disadvantaged, or of finding life difficult, but they may also feature positive accounts of a strong sense of community, attachment to place, a strong civil sector and narrative of change and growth.

Case study methodology

The case study work took place between April and November 2013 and involved five elements:

  1. Background analysis of 2001 and 2011 census data on the island.
  2. Media coverage relating to Russell Island (and, in this instance, the broader SMBI area).
  3. Document analysis—government and other reports about Russell Island and the SMBIs as a whole.
  4. In-depth interviews with local stakeholders.
  5. A resident focus group meeting.

Spanning the period 2003–13, the media analysis covered two major newspapers The Australian and the Queensland Courier Mail as well as radio (ABC) and television news broadcasts. Local issues were reported in the Bayside News—a free newspaper produced for the Moreton Bay region, and an online news forum specific to Russell Island:

Stakeholder interviewee selection was, to some extent, guided by a standardised list of potentially relevant participants which included local council officers, real estate agents, social housing providers, police representatives, support service providers, education and training providers, representatives from the business sector, and community group spokespeople. These came from on and off the island and included state government agencies that provide ‘outreach’ services to the island community. However, selecting stakeholders also involved a process of ‘snowballing’—that is, being guided by interviewee recommendations as to other potentially appropriate contributors. In line with ethical requirements to maintain confidentiality and anonymity of respondents, the views represented in this report are not attributed to individuals, but are indicated by a generic term (e.g. local government officer, state housing provider or industry/commerce representative). In total, 13 stakeholders participated in interviews for this research.

Alongside these interviews, a resident focus group was held to capture the views of island residents. A letter was sent out to a diverse list of 60 residents who were selected with the assistance of a University of Queensland PhD student, Julie Conway. Nine residents agreed to participate. Stakeholder interviews and resident focus group discussions were structured according to master topic guides common to all case studies within the wider project. For stakeholder meetings, however, these were necessarily adapted as appropriate to the area of knowledge or responsibility of the interviewee concerned

Full report...