Aussie_coach, you mentioned high school gymnastics. Interestingly enough, the allure of NCAA gymnastics scholarships, I think, has had a negative effect on high school gymnastics in the US. Despite a few strongholds, high school gymnastics is widely dying out in favor of club gymnastics. Some of the reason for this has to do with another issue the likes of which you may not have to contend with in Australia, Title IX, but that's a discussion for another day. As the overall number of available college gymnastics scholarships for women continues to stagnate, or even to dwindle (also because of Title IX - it's complicated - don't ask), competition for scholarships becomes more and more fierce. Gymnastics parents are smart enough to see that club gymnastics does a vastly better job of preparing their daughters for that competition than high school gymnastics, with their limited time and resources, can ever hope to do.
From your description, it sounds like Australia has a gymnastics system more similar to Canada's. Of course, Canadians have the advantage of proximity for receiving NCAA scholarships. Even for them, though, opportunities are fewer than one might think - simply because Canada, like Australia, has a population that is only a small fraction of the US's. Having said that, the 'powers that be' in US elite gymnastics, in my opinion, would love to see the system you describe for Australia instituted in the US.
To me, though, the real difference is likely to be found in the relationship between the individual Australian and the Australian higher education system. In the US, even though many, if not most, colleges and universities are state owned and operated, individual prospective students can expect to pay most, if not all of the expenses involved with attending. As you can imagine, therefore, an NCAA gymnastics scholarship - which pays for, basically, everything - is worth many, many thousands of dollars, or in the case of a place like, say, Stanford, many tens of thousands of dollars. Even gymnastics parents, who after all tend have more 'disposable income' than others, are happy to be relieved of that burden.
I don't know, frankly, how the system of higher education works in Australia. However, if there is a system in place that would make an athletic scholarship largely irrelevant, I don't imagine college gymnastics would be very successful. Even in the US, if a gymnast could go to any school she could get accepted to based on her academic standing, regardless of the expense involved, I don't think nearly as many would care to, in effect, 'work for their education' as college gymnasts.
It's a real shame, of course, because I contend that NCAA college gymnastics is by far the most popular form of gymnastics in the world, using fan attendance as the measure. How much more popular would it be if there were a world college team championship?
Wow, sorry for the length, I guess I should have written just an article for my blog!