Publication Details

Connell, J. & Gibson, C. (2017). Wheat, sheep or Elvis Presley? Rural Australia has had to change its tune. The Conversation, 10 January 1-5.

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Rural and regional Australia have had a hard time of late. The economies of Sydney and Melbourne are growing, but much of the rest of their states are not. The population of regional areas is stagnating and agriculture is struggling. Perhaps worst of all there is a feeling that no-one in Canberra or in the booming coastal periphery cares about this. The people of Orange have apparently spoken. Outside Sydney, behind what seems like an impervious sandstone curtain, not all is well. Even the largest towns in regional New South Wales are struggling to retain their populations and have faced difficult economic times through the present decade, although the drought years have faded away. Agriculture still matters, for employment and exports, but mechanisation has cost jobs. Farming is still how people see rural and regional Australia, but it is certainly not the only thing. There is more to rural Australia than agriculture, and most places have shifted away from the mass production of agricultural commodities - move over the wheat-sheep belt - towards the marketing of rural lifestyles and landscapes. Farming becomes valuable as scenery. City people can be tempted for weekends away and old-fashioned farm stays have evolved. But that works most easily for NSW coastal towns - like Berry and Kiama - that are within striking distances of capital cities. More distant inland places have had to work a little harder to diversify. Ironically, Orange is one of the towns that have led the way in terms of change. An enormously successful FOOD (Food of Orange District) festival has drawn in city crowds and tempted some to remain. At the other end of the state, the Tamworth Country Music Festival has grown every year and been a massive boost to regional income.