Crossing Boundaries: Action Networks, Amalgamation and Inter-Community Trust in a Small Rural Shire

“There is a widespread perception that the reforms have undermined rather than improved the operation of local government across the municipality, and that post-amalgamation political structures have largely failed to effectively reconcile the diverse and sometimes disparate interests of Buloke’s constituent towns and communities.

The network analysis also suggests that much work remains to be done to develop a meaningful sense of community based on the new administrative boundaries, with very little evidence of cross-community cooperation, coalition building or issue-based interaction detected.”

Local government reforms introduced throughout the mid-1990s radically altered the face, institutional form and structure of local government in the state of Victoria, Australia. In rural areas, where shire boundaries often reflected deeply ingrained notions of communal interest and identity, the forced merger of previously independent and fiercely parochial councils into larger unified political and administrative units was particularly contentious.

Drawing on a survey of 649 residents from the rural Shire of Buloke, this paper examines attitudes towards local government amalgamation, levels of inter-community trust and reciprocity, and how these vary across different parts of the municipality. Social network analysis is then used to explore the relationship between these attitudes and trust levels and the structure and orientation of respondents’ inter-community networks. The paper finds that despite the passage of more than a decade, significant residual resentment surrounding the impact of the forced amalgamations remains evident across most communities in Buloke Shire.

Published in Local Government Studies | D. Alexander | 2013,,