Publication Details

Gibson, C. R. (2009). Place and music: Performing "the region" on the New South Wales Far North Coast. Transforming Cultures eJournal, 4 (1), 60-81.


This paper draws on research conducted for over a decade on the musical cultures of the New South Wales Far North Coast, as a contribution to debates in geography and popular music studies on the links between music, place and articulations of cultural identities. Patterns of migration and economic restructuring over the last 20 years have transformed the Far North Coast region, with associated changes in the images conjured to describe the region – from those centred on dairying, fishing and sugar harvesting to those of a ‘lifestyle’ or ‘alternative’ region, with growth in employment in tourism, recreational services, ‘gourmet’ agricultural production, culinary delights, homewares retail and the arts. Music has been a constant presence in the region throughout generations, but became much more pronounced after significant counter-urban migrations to the area began in the 1970s. As music emerged as a unique part of the cultural mix of the region, it became much more diverse, was entangled in local politics, and in the transitions and tensions that have surrounded successive waves of new migrants – both domestic and international – to the region. This article discusses music as a social practice within the region that has played a part in shaping and reflecting evolving regional identities; but at the same time, music constitutes a set of activities that unsettle notions of ‘boundedness’ or ‘stable’ associations between place identities and music. I begin with debates about the links between music, place and identity, and the extent to which such associations are performative – constituted in an embodied fashion in the process of describing and enacting certain cultural discourses. Two broad trends are outlined here as ‘storylines’: one focused on constructions of music as ‘authentic’ that are linked to place identities, the second emphasises mobility of musical languages, and network metaphors for the repetition of musical practices across locations. Interpretations of musical practices on the Far North Coast hold these storylines in tension; one focused on ‘fixing’ musical practices in place, the other emphasizing the fluidity of ‘the region’ in a wider musical geography.