Australia’s cheapest house.

Today data came out showing Australia’s house prices rocketing up.

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Source: ABS

The average price for a home in this country is now $571,500. We hear a lot about the homes at the top end of the distribution, places that cost 100 times as much as the mean, like this Mosman Park pile for $57.5 million.

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We don’t hear so much about the other end. There must be houses in this country that cost a lot less than the mean. I went looking for them.

This place in outback NSW costs $40,000.

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You could imagine living there, stepping out onto the verandah with a cup of Bushell’s tea as the sun rises through the eucalypts, thinking: I made a good choice.

This place 200km away costs $39,000 and I thought you couldn’t go much lower.

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Not pretty, but (presumably) effective.

But I reckon I found the cheapest advertised house in the whole country when I tracked down this one:

Cunnamulla house
Three bedrooms, one bathroom. Large block.

The lack of interior shots in the listing should rouse suspicions, but if you’re game to renovate this place, it’s near to a supermarket, a hospital and a park.

Cunnamulla has a river, and a train station with services twice a week. It’s also host to the Cunaumulla Fella Festival, an annual celebration of rodeo riding, etc. The closest town you may have heard of is Bourke, about 250km away.

cunnumulla map
Surrounded by red dust.

Paying $13,000 for a whole house seems incredible. In Melbourne, that would buy you 2 per cent of the median home, five nights accommodation in certain fancy hotel suites, or a sedan with 156,000 km on the clock.

But here’s where this story goes from being a fun way to think about our crazy housing market to a rather more serious reflection on race and poverty.

Cunnamulla’s Wikipedia entry highlights domestic violence and flooding.  Seek has two jobs listed based in Cunnamulla – both social workers, one related to drought and one related to domestic violence. Cunnamulla was the subject of a controversial documentary produced in 2000 that depicted its bleak side, with quotes like this:

“In Cunnamulla, that’s the only thing you can do. Drink, smoke marijuana, fight, look for women and break in. That’s it.”

The most recent news article about Cunnamulla is about a teenage mum who got her scuba license by practising in the river and wants to leave to work on the Barrier Reef. The official unemployment rate is 5.9 per cent, but the region’s population of 1900 supports only 892 jobs, suggesting labour force participation is low.

In short, there’s a reason houses in Cunnamulla – even ones in decent condition – sell for so little. And those reasons are not nice.

This is a country of extremes – not just of drought and flooding rains, but of wealth and poverty. It’s easy sometimes to forget about the poverty. I’m somewhat ashamed to have started writing this post thinking only of the amusement value of a cheap house, and not at all about the conditions that explain it.

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Thomas the Think Engine is the blog of a trained economist. It comes to you from Melbourne Australia.

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