Does the extinction of the Geelong Falcon spell disaster for the local ecosystem?

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The Geelong Falcon is a magnificent beast, boasting a wingspan of over two meters with both front doors open. Ever agile, the Geelong Falcon can reach speeds of up to 227km/hr and turn on a dime to hunt its prey. The rearing process of a Geelong Falcon is most curious: it takes over 800 parents to create just one Geelong Falcon, however, despite this complicated process, its population has boomed to a peak of over 5.9 million since 1960.

As an apex predator, the Geelong Falcon once ruled over much of Australia. Unfortunately, in recent years the introduction of outsourced labour has severely impacted the species’ mating productivity. In October this year the last Geelong Falcon was hatched, and with it, the 800 workers who helped nurture it to life lost their jobs at the Ford Broadmeadows Assembly Plant.

Forecasts for the Geelong local ecosystem look dire. Analysts predict that over a third of workers won’t find new jobs – a brutal outcome for such a fragile environment. Despite Ford offering training in literacy and numeracy over the past four years, and initiatives such as job fairs and career training, Geelong may feel ripples of this ecological disaster for years to come.

The doom and gloom, however, is being eased by generous redundancy payouts, with some workers receiving “lottery” payments of up to $250,000. One former employee who was displaced from his native habitat commented, “I’m retiring thank you very much. Not sad at all”.

As these lump sums stretch thinner and thinner over the coming months and years, how will Geelong cope with the loss of its keystone species?

Geelong, affectionately termed “Geetroit” by its inhabitants, is a city in flux. After an hour-long drive from Melbourne, the city greets travelers with a warm glow of flames from the top of the Shell Oil Refinery, the Jewel of Corio Bay. The flame is somewhat reminiscent of the Olympic Torch, which burns until the festivities of the Olympics come to an end. Similarly, the fire of Corio Bay represents certainty and employment for the workers of North Geelong – For now.

As traditional manufacturing becomes scarce, however, the city is exploring ways to adapt. Deakin University is a living example of the city’sf

current metamorphosis, and it recently converted a group of 19th century waterfront wool stores into modern tertiary teaching facilities, including an architecture school. Through its own growth, Deakin aims to help Geelong emerge from its cocoon as a vibrant economic butterfly, rather than a drab depression moth. A lively full-service university should help create jobs in more diverse industries, and reduce future reliance on faltering manufacturing giants like Ford, Shell and Alcoa.

The healthcare sector has also experienced significant growth as the $277 million Epworth Hospital recently took in its first patients. Geelong’s second teaching hospital has been described as having a “5 star hotel” feel, and is part of the city’s larger plan to cope with a population of 300,000 by 2031.

However, despite big words and grand gestures, Geelong is struggling to rise out of the ashes of Ford and the manufacturing industry – the city’s administration is a microcosm of this struggle. Sporting a bright pink Mohawk and a loud personality to match, Geelong’s last Mayor, Darryn Lyons, was a strong advocate for economic change. Branding himself as an entrepreneur and breath of fresh air, he won the 2013 mayoral election in a landslide. He planned to build a cruise ship pier and convention centre to boost the city’s tourism, shifting the city’s focus for good. Instead, the entire local government was dismissed early this year and put under administration following an inquiry that found widespread corruption, bullying and incompetence. Evolution isn’t without its missteps, it seems.

So what does the extinction of the Geelong Falcon mean for the fragile ecosystem of the city? How long will the sparkling Jewel of Corio Bay keep burning, and what will happen when the rest of the party packs up for good? Optimists point to an emerging industry in carbon fibre, opportunities in tourism, and a government push towards technology startups. Millions of dollars are being poured into public infrastructure, and developers are even backing the city’s future with a new $250m office tower set to be built in the CBD.

The light at the end of the tunnel, however, is still a long way off for the unemployed workers of the Ford Broadmeadows Assembly Plant. They’re at the pointy end of Geelong’s evolution as they face retraining and job searching, and limited time before their redundancy payments run dry. They represent yet more collateral from Geelong’s transformation – but their grit shouldn’t be underestimated. All they need is the means to channel their determination into building the Geelong of the future.