Degree Name

Master of Science - Research


School of Earth and Environmental Sciences


The uncertain future of country towns in Australia has triggered wide-ranging discussions of their social, environmental and economic sustainability. Another, ‘fourth pillar’ of sustainability is cultural sustainability: encompassing questions of amenity, mobility, identity and belonging. These important aspects of rural living can have significant impacts on retaining populations and providing quality of life, yet cultural aspects of sustainability remain under-examined in research on rural areas. This thesis discusses the contributions that music makes to cultural sustainability in one Australian rural setting in transition – the Bega Valley, a rural area on the Far South Coast of NSW. Previous examinations of music’s contributions to regional development, studied predominantly in an urban context, have emphasised creative industries and commercial music markets. Music has become a popular means for cities – from Memphis to Liverpool and New Orleans – to rejuvenate economies and identities. In a rural Australian setting, however, low and sparse populations, physical distance and isolation combine to limit prospects for commercial music markets. In such locations musical creativity takes different forms. By looking beyond ideas of creativity forged within research on urban spaces, this thesis explores music in an Australian rural region, beyond commercial markets, where those markets have failed to be viable. Community-oriented music practices beyond the market economy are rooted in everyday, meaningful community engagement. Such rural musical practices reshape existing discussions surrounding cultural sustainability and creative industries. The specific aims of this thesis were: 1. to document the extent and significance of musical activities in an Australian rural region; 2. to illustrate the musical creativity that emerges in an Australian rural area where commercial markets fail (including a sub-case study of community choirs); 3. to highlight the particulars of place when considering the potential benefits of music for individuals and communities; and 4. to illustrate the importance to rural residents of music (and creative outlets) for fostering community, a sense of identity, and overall increased sense of wellbeing. Participant observations were combined with a mix of semi-structured and ‘vox pop’ interviews to gain an understanding of how music shapes individuals’ sense of self and belonging when living in a rural area. Results are framed in two sections. The first highlights the specifics of creating and participating in music in the Bega Valley, the limits to commercial music markets and opportunities, and the emergence of a non-market, community music scene. The second focuses on one type of community music, choir singing, and delves into the way in which choirs, and living in ‘The Valley’, have shaped the experiences and benefits of choir groups for participants. There are four key findings: first, individuals in the Valley use music as a way to carve out their identity and foster a sense of belonging in an at times isolating and difficult environment. Second, despite that there are minimal commercial markets for music performance and consumption in the Valley, musical activity is prolific and very much a part of everyday life for many residents. Third, a much clearer understanding of the benefits, and contributions of music to the participants, and their community, requires consideration of the place where the Valley’s choirs have formed; and fourth, lifestyle migration, a phenomenon documented across Australia, has been crucial in bringing flows of professional musicians into the Valley, with resulting creative community initiatives giving residents alternative ways to socialize and self-identify.