Publication Details

Bowles, K. 2008, 'Rural cultural research: notes from a small country town', Australian Humanities Review, no. 45, pp. 83-96.


What kind of denial does it take to look at a major industrial city in the midst of a crisis of self-reinvention involving millions of dollars of urban infrastructure, and see only a small country town going about its business as usual? And how does this relate to the strategic marketing of an urbanised coastal tourist destination that downplays the amenities of urban life in favour of the intangible qualities of small town experience? Whatever its literal dimensions in terms of population or location, the imagined small country town functions-in Australian media and other public discourse-in multiple ways. The country town image is, on one hand, easily dismissed and criticised and, on the other hand, a source of comfort and reassurance. A relatively stable image of the country town continues to make a curious kind of sense, at least in terms of seemingly persistent national myths and ideals. 'Come on,' such an image seems to proclaim, 'we're all Australians, we know what country life is about'. Of course, most Australians don't have direct experience of small country towns. Rather, they have a perverse familiarity with popular Australian television serials and movies-from Bellbird to A Bed of Roses, as well as imaginary communities from Mt Thomas to Summer Bay (see Botterill)-and how they promote images of 'rural' or regional life in a national context. It's this familiarity with a set of ideas about rural charm and hospitality that makes media promotion of Wollongong as a small country town an ideal means of attracting tourists. At the same time, less desirable associations-such as parochialism or a town's insignificant profile on the national scene-can be called on to minimise the State political implications of a local corruption investigation. This is only a small country town, after all: charming, harmless and easily misunderstood by outsiders.

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Australian Humanities Review