Carlton and Tea Gardens are two of Australia's youngest and oldest suburbs.

At 65, Tea Gardens has the oldest median age of any suburb in Australia with over 2000 residents.  Photo: Liam Driver
At 65, Tea Gardens has the oldest median age of any suburb in Australia with over 2000 residents. Photo: Liam Driver

There are no hills in Tea Gardens, barely a single two-storey house and only 67 babies.

In this town north of Newcastle, NSW, where the median age is 65, it's not only dogs that behave for their owners but the landscape too.

"Zero hills," says Rick Wraight, a Tea Gardens resident of 40 years and regular participant in the local Grey and Thespian Mardi Gras.

"Older folk don't need hills."

A thousand kilometres away in Carlton, there are few hills but substantially more stairs. In this inner city suburb of Melbourne, the median age is 24.

It is also a hot house of migrants and students, where you are three times more likely to be of Chinese heritage than Australian or English, where 84 per cent of people live in an apartment and half the population has no religion.

According to figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics obtained for Fairfax Media, Carlton and Tea Gardens are two of Australia's youngest and oldest suburbs.

Students Yusra Hasan and Ali Nazari in Carlton. Photo: Simon Schluter

Students Yusra Hasan and Ali Nazari in Carlton. Photo: Simon Schluter

Their age gap tells the story of a changing nation.

There is the Australia that is middle-income, middle-Australian, "people like us," says Wraight.

And there is the Australia, where there is no "us," where 77 per cent of people have never married and the same number rent their homes, the majority of them studios or one-bedroom flats, according to the Bureau's 2016 Census.

Carlton teen Ali Nazari belongs firmly in the new Australia. The Australian Catholic University accounting student only learned to speak English in the past four years after fleeing a war-torn Behsud, two hours west of Afghanistan's capital Kabul.

Now the 18-year-old works at the Centre for Multicultural Youth in Carlton, helping to run outreach programs for other migrants.

It's so good to see people from so many different backgrounds here," he says. 

"From the food to the culture, it's a place that shows you how multicultural Australia can be.”

His co-worker, 22-year-old Egyptian-Sudanese refugee Yusra Hasan inhales the vibrancy. "It's a feeling of inclusivity," she says.

The centre's CEO Soo-Lin Quek has seen the Census statistics come to life over the past decade.

In that time Carlton's population has almost doubled to 19,000 on the back of the transient international student population, along with the number of Mandarin speakers, who now make up 26 per cent of those speaking a language other than English at home.

What everyone forgets is in eight years' time Baby Boomers will start to stop being boomers.

Rick Wraight, Tea Gardens resident.

“We have had a big boom in the Chinese and Indian communities coming into Victoria under the skilled migration route and they bring their children with them," she says.

"More recently we've had the humanitarian refugee communities, the Afghanis and the Hazaras, we are better at integration than sticking people in ghettos." 

For all its diversity, Carlton has its problems. Its median personal weekly income is half that of the Victorian and Australian average at $338 per week.

"There is a honeymoon period and then it becomes a reality that it can become difficult for people to fully grab hold of some of the opportunities that Australia can offer," she says.

Many are suffering from rental stress, with 50 per cent of residents paying 30 per cent or more of their weekly income in rent, compared to the nationwide average of 11.5 per cent.

Local MP Kate Washington says Tea Gardens residents embrace their age.  Photo: Kate Geraghty

Local MP Kate Washington says Tea Gardens residents embrace their age. Photo: Kate Geraghty

Youth does not make you rich, the Census shows, but age does.

At 65, Tea Gardens has the oldest median age of any suburb in Australia with more than 2000 residents.

Here 90 per cent of people live in separate homes, and 55 per cent own them outright, almost double the national average

"They are really proud of it," local MP Kate Washington says.

"They embrace their age."

It's a badge of honour that it now has its own festival: The Grey and Thespian Mardi Gras, a celebration of the third age conjured over a glass of wine in 2015.

"I call them Reebok retirees," says Wraight, 74, who as the local real estate agent claims to be responsible for 90 per cent of the development in the once dozy town known for its pelican watching.

"They are physically active, they are mentally outgoing, and they have a sense of adventure."

Many of those who move here see it as their last spurt of activity before they move into dedicated high-care facilities and cram as much into a day as they can. 

After some determined lobbying the Reebokers managed to get a permanent ambulance on standby to ferry them into Newcastle should any mishaps occur.

"Climate change lectures, photography club, Italian lessons, learning how to recognise Indigenous sites," lists off local extra-curricular guru turned Mardi Gras pirate Chris Klimek. "Kayaking," adds 66-year-old festival guitarist Patricia Garrard.

But there is a rather morbid elephant standing on the shores of the Myall Lake.

"What everyone forgets is in eight years' time Baby Boomers will start to stop being boomers," Wraight says.

"I'm not going to use the word die because that is too bloody depressing.

"I say we are going to move on."

The natural nursing home incubator is getting older, and with few employment opportunities in the area, younger generations are not replenishing the stocks at the required rate. 

The birth rate does not look like it's going to offer a bump either, with only 162 families with children in the area.

Known for its pelican watching on the Myall Lake: Tea Gardens. Photo: Nathalie Craig.

Known for its pelican watching on the Myall Lake: Tea Gardens. Photo: Nathalie Craig.

It's a negative to only attract oldies but end the style of oldies that are coming here have a degree of wealth," Wraight says, offering up an opportunity for a generation of younger Australians suffering from anaemic wage growth and underemployment.

"We believe that for every 20 oldies it generates one fairly strong part-time position, be it as a cleaner or a gardener," he says.

"But at the same time we need investment in industry, it's critical that younger age groups come once the baby boomers move on."