When the going gets tough, throw a big festival

Opinion: When the going gets tough, throw a big festival


Opinion
Many country towns, large and small, have tapped into the desire of people to congregate around a shared experience.

Many country towns, large and small, have tapped into the desire of people to congregate around a shared experience.

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Robbie Sefton writes about the success of festivals across regional NSW.

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Agriculture’s rapidly growing efficiency has been challenging for many of the regional centres that were built around a large agricultural workforce.

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Truckloads of possibilities for reversing the stagnation in the economies of many rural townships have been discussed over the decades, but the only sure recipes for growth seem to be either a large regional centre with the critical mass for development, or to be an attractive village near a big city.

However, there is another way to bring economic stimulus to a rural or regional centre - invent a festival.

My own local centre, Tamworth, has just wrapped up its annual Country Music Festival (TCMF). This is the festival others dream of. For nearly 50 years, the TCMF has developed a mythology that draws about 50,000 visitors a day to the city for 10 days.

The TCMF has vital ingredients that are hard to replicate - a long history and the sociable nature of die hard country music fans.

In their excellent 2009 survey of regional festivals, Christopher Gibson and Anna Stewart of the University of Wollongong asked whether festivals are significant for rural communities. Their answer; yes, indeed.

The authors documented 2800 festivals across regional Australia, but focused on NSW, Victoria and Tasmania. They came to a staggering conclusion. “… we estimate total economic activity generated by rural communities for their local communities to be in the order of $10 billion per annum in the three participating states”.

There is a lot of good news in this valuable report, but two items in particular are worth highlighting in this time of drought and difficulty.

The authors estimated 176,560 full-time and part-time jobs were created in the planning and operation of cultural festivals in regional Australia.

The other observation is that festivals bring together communities.

"Festivals are pivotal dates on the annual calendars of towns and villages: they support charities and provide opportunities for high schools and rotary clubs to raise funds; they bring together scattered farm-folk, young and old and disparate subcultures; they blend attitudes, enlargen social networks and encourage improvements in social cohesion".

This is true not only within the communities holding the festivals, but in the temporary communities festivals bring together.

Australians’ appetite for festivals doesn’t seem to be abating. If your town needs a boost, perhaps it is time to identify a base of fans and throw a party for them.

Look at what Parkes has done with the Elvis Festival, or the newer Abba Festival at Trundle. Who would have thought Elvis and Abba would be so important to the bush!

  • Robbie Sefton has a dual investment in rural Australia as a farmer, producing wool, meat and grains, and as managing director of national marketing communications company Seftons.
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