AFEW years ago, the Shire of Wiluna made a pitch to be reclassified as coming under the Goldfields-Esperance Development Commission’s sphere of influence.

The outback region was part of the Mid West, which despite its fairly healthy mining chops is mostly seen as an agricultural area.

The good people of Wiluna saw the Goldfields as their natural home, and shire representatives lobbied to make the move in 2020.

“We share similar demographics, industries and social challenges, so the move just makes sense,” former shire president Jim Quadrio said in 2020.

Their efforts were rewarded the following year, with the local government now falling under the remit of Australia’s poster child, the Goldfields.

It appears Exmouth is heading down the same path, by stealth, to a different destination.

Exmouth is in the Gascoyne region and many of its government services are based in Carnarvon, though the regional line on the map does leave the door open to some ambiguity.

Many services – such as the ABC and Seven West Media – place Exmouth under their Pilbara operations already.

For a long time, the North West Cape town was split evenly between those who identified as Gascoyne residents and those who saw themselves as part of the Pilbara.

But a recent trip to what I consider Western Australia’s best town revealed that has changed.

Take Bullara Station at the bottom of the gulf.

Edwina and Tim Shallcross’s operation leaves no doubt about where its allegiances lay: the cattle and tourism station’s shirt buttons are emblazoned with the words ‘Bullara’ and ‘Pilbara’.

Then there was the whale shark operator we spent a day on the water with.

In the past, the environmental and tourism side of Exmouth was strongly in the ‘we are the Gascoyne’ camp.

On my recent trip, however, the tour guide and scientist onboard didn’t hesitate to describe the Ningaloo Reef as part of the Pilbara coast.

Indeed, all over town I saw and heard references to Exmouth being in the Pilbara, and not a peep from the Gascoyne camp.

So why is this?

Well for starters, Exmouth is to Karratha what Margaret River is to Perth: a weekend getaway and dream home location.

More relevant are the fortunes of the capitals of the Pilbara and Gascoyne regions.

Carnarvon is, unfortunately, a dying town.

It shouldn’t be.

It has ideal year-round weather, is sandwiched between two world heritage areas, and is in a spot where most people travelling north or south must stop to fill up.

But it is a town in decline.

Many locals blame the exodus of government services to Geraldton for the decline.

Karratha, on the other hand, is thriving and the Pilbara is shouted about from the rooftop of the state’s Parliament House every day to remind east coasters of who is funding the nation.

You just have to look at the investment pipeline of both regions to see why Exmouth wants to latch onto a good thing.

The Pilbara Development Commission has forecast $170 billion worth of projects, and 40,000 new construction jobs are under consideration, committed, or under way.

In 2020, a state government report identified $818 million worth of government infrastructure in the Pilbara out to 2023-24.

In the Gascoyne, there was $70 million worth of projects: the least amount of government spend of any region in WA.

So, it is little wonder towns on the edge of mining regions want to go where the money is.

For now, it is just residents identifying as being from the Pilbara, but expect to see a formal pitch from Exmouth in the next few years.

It is a timely reminder for state and federal governments to pay a little more attention to those regions that don’t get the accolades of our heavyweight mining towns.