03. The Lived Experience

Every Town, Every Settlement, Every Community Experiences Change in Different Ways.
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This third program in the Living Outback series begins with these words by Dean Carson, Professor of Rural and Remote Research at Flinders University in South Australia:

“When you are looking at how the bush has changed, how rural and remote areas have changed over time, and you are looking at what the prospects are for the future, you need to recognise that every town every settlement every community has experienced different things and will experience different things in the future. And so to generalise to say that a drought does this or a mining boom does this or tourism is doing this or new technologies are doing this, is not telling you anything about the actual lived experiences of people who are living in their town or in their own community. You need to understand each place individually and you need to put each place in its local context, not in some broad idea of out there versus in here.”

Professor Dean Carson
For details of all interviewees who contributed to this project, click here

Heading home after a muster. Photographer Sally Grundy, South Australia.

Heading home after a muster. Photographer Sally Grundy, South Australia.

Thinkabout Talkabout
Professor Dean Carson

Much of the current discussion seems to focus on the challenges facing rural and remote communities. I was a bit guilty of that myself when talking to Tony for this program. On a more positive note, we are starting to see some patterns emerging in terms of which towns have done well in recent years, and which have suffered most from droughts and floods and high Australian dollar and the other issues affecting rural and remote towns and economies. Some towns have been able to attract new populations, to reign in population ageing, and to develop new economic activities that promise a vibrant future.

Obviously towns which are more open and connected and welcoming of new people have better prospects. But there are four things that communities can address to provide the best prospects for future growth –

1. Connectivity – both physical and virtual. On the virtual side, Internet connectivity is as important today as being connected to transport routes has been in the past. But physical connectivity via transport routes and to other towns in the region (creating ‘critical mass’ of social and economic resources through collaboration) remains vital even in the digital age.

2. Connectivity helps build regional awareness – while growth occurs at the local level where people live and work and shop and operate businesses, connected localities can provide many more options for these activities than ones that try and go it alone. It is important to connect to what we call “growth poles” – larger towns that have surplus labour, that are centres for learning and social activities, that provide different sorts of employment opportunities than small towns provide. But connections between small towns can create ‘distributed growth poles’ particularly where larger towns are just too far away to have an impact. We at Flinders University are experimenting with this idea in the creation of our University presence across a number of small towns (all less than 5000 population, and mostly less than 1000) in the Mid North region of South Australia.

3. That venture is being supported by local communities who are providing access to community infrastructure (community owned buildings which are generally under-used, for example) to ‘incubate’ our University activities. There may be many other opportunities for incubation as well – arts and community activities (a lot of which goes on), but also other innovative economic and social ideas. Towns should not be afraid of the risk of failure of new ventures, but instead look to create a climate which allows success. Arts activities are often supported in this way (with building space and promotion, for example), but support could be extended to light manufacturing and knowledge based businesses.

4. It is not always easy to list the sorts of new ventures that could be incubated. Innovative ideas won’t come from academics like me, but from locals and new arrivals who have specialist knowledge and insights. We should be encouraging knowledge building and lifelong learning within our communities – and we should value the quest for knowledge whether we can see an immediate ‘practical’ use or not.
We don’t know what the future is for small rural and remote towns in Australia, but we have learnt that brighter futures come to those who address these four inter-related aspects of community development.

First broadcast – Monday 15 April 2013

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