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Australia's regional communities are striving to gain some recognition in a national marketing strategy dominated by major cities. Andrew Hoyne and Douglas Clark report. 

As the government seeks to develop a stronger nation brand for Australia, regional communities across the country are striving to gain prominence as a place to visit, invest and live.

One-third of Australians live outside the state capitals of Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Hobart and Darwin. The regions are home to 8.8 million people and account for one-third of Australia’s employment and about 40% of national economic output. In terms of produce, the regions’ food, fibre and resources make up 61% of Australia’s exports. As significant contributors to the national economy, regional communities also symbolise much of the national character. So how do they stand out?

Parkes

Elvis Presley is the star of the Parkes story. In January 2019, more than 27,000 Elvis fans gathered at the 27th annual Parkes Elvis Festival in celebration of 'the King'. Festival director Cathy Treasure is keen to emphasise the reach of the event which boasts a worldwide media audience of more than 200 million. “This is a truly global experience. It was so fantastic to see people from all over the world come together in Central West region of New South Wales to celebrate their shared love of Elvis and take part in five days of hip-swivelling entertainment,” she says.

Parkes Elvis Festival also provides a significant boost to the town’s economy. “Considering visitor length of stay, bed nights, ticket sales, food and transport costs, the festival brings an estimated injection of more than A$13m [$9.3m] into the local economy,” says Ms Treasure.

The idea for the festival originated at an Elvis-themed birthday party in 1992 at a reception centre and restaurant in Parkes named Gracelands. The first festival in 1993 was attended by 200 people. Over the years it has grown through community effort, and today a wide cross-section of the town, from the council to local businesses to more than 100 volunteers, keeps the party going and helps make sure that the experience and appeal of Elvis Presley lives on.    

Kurri Kurri

Founded to service the collieries of New South Wales’ Hunter Valley, Kurri Kurri suffered with the decline of the region’s mining activity. At the turn of the 21st century, it took a grassroots approach to preserving and enhancing its country town character, starting with a murals project that has grown to feature about 50 locally themed artworks.

The addition in 2009 of a the Big Kookaburra statue is part of a uniquely Australian phenomenon: the cult of the ‘Big Thing’. Australia’s Big Things are large, quirky structures built to attract tourists, and there are estimated to be more than 150 such objects across the country, including the Big Avocado, the Big Trout, the Big Melon, the Big Rock Lobster and even the Big Scotsman, known as ‘Scotty’.

More recently, in 2018, Kurri Kurri celebrated that most Australian of hairstyles, the mullet, with a competition that attracted hundreds to the town and generated huge media attention, both at home and abroad. Kurri Kurri stands out for having embraced pre-existing eccentricities to gain recognition and footfall.

Byron Bay

Perhaps Australia’s most famous regional town, Byron Bay welcomes about 2 million visitors a year. From industrial village to counter-cultural mecca and renowned surf spot, the area has seen significant change in its demographics, including a population increase of more than 200% between 1976 and 1996. 

More recently, a sustainable approach has been encouraged in terms of population growth, but business growth and employment rates continue to soar. The key to Byron Bay’s success has been retaining, and building on, its brand. People are drawn to the area by its natural beauty and the promise of a relaxed lifestyle, something the community goes to great lengths to protect. Whereas the nearby Gold Coast fell victim to overdevelopment, Byron Bay has been grown thoughtfully and holistically, with conservative zoning laws, not to mention events that complement its residents’ shared ethos. These include music, writing and surf festivals, with Bluesfest, Falls Festival and Splendour in the Grass acting as major draws.

There is also a certain organic vibe to Byron Bay’s local entrepreneurs, at high-growth companies such as TripADeal, Brookfarm and Stone & Wood. These are businesses that have had the freedom and space to take their own individual path to success. 

Tamworth

The town of Tamworth bills itself as many things: the first place in Australia to use electric streetlights; the equine capital of Australia; the country music capital of Australia. A regional centre, Tamworth has always been a place for the people of New England, New South Wales to come together. It has never needed to reinvent itself in order to attract people and services. Instead, it built on the pre-existing interests of its populace (namely, horses and music) to attract like-minded people. 

In effect, Tamworth has scaled up. In addition to the biggest equestrian centre in the southern hemisphere, the town is home to the Tamworth Country Music Festival, which began in 1972 as a talent search and has grown to be the second biggest festival of its kind in the world. Taking over the town’s Peel Street for 10 days every January, the festival nearly doubles the town’s population, with accommodation booking out up to 12 months in advance. For the 2019 festival more than 300,000 visitors were expected, and 700 artists performed at over 2800 events across 120 venues. Crucially, the event’s international renown (it is often counted among the world’s top 10 music festivals) attracts a high number of visitors from overseas, estimated at more than 50,000 people and growing every year.

These are just a few examples of the energy of Australia’s regional towns. While most in the media focus on what is happening in the major cities, Australia’s regional communities maintain a level of interest. They demonstrate that the imagination of people in places with a plan can create investment stories that bring purpose and meaning.    

Andrew Hoyne is the principal and founder of Australian Place Visioning and branding agency Hoyne. Douglas Clark is an economic development adviser at Location Connections.

This article is sourced from fDi Magazine
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