Leading regional cultural centres make a virtue of their locations, creating iconic Australian arts destinations.
Metropolitan companies can struggle to build an audience in cities already overflowing with culture. Simultaneously, troupes of city-bound artistic types with a secret enthusiasm for hobby farming and a profound love of Instagrammable moments are ready to follow the train tracks to quieter regions.
The city-folk are restless. It’s little wonder that our expanding travel options have led many to rediscover the sometimes-neglected treasures and exciting arts initiatives in those idyllic places positioned just beyond our capital cities. All it takes is the wave of a bus pass and a fistful of dollars to discover beautiful places – and welcoming people.
‘Bendigo is still a place where people smile at each other in the street, and where you can say something to the person who brings you coffee in the cafe and they'll actually reply... [I’m] not saying it's the Land of Oz, or that it's always like that, but it does have a gentle warmth,’ said Rosemary Sorensen, Director of the Bendigo Writers Festival.
Read: Bendigo Writers Festival grows big ideas on regional ground
Sorensen’s love for her community is palpable: ‘It’s really just such a beautiful place to live, and people ought to see it in all its richness!’
Bendigo Writers Festival is no small-town book fair. The program is stuffed with diverse purveyors of thought, from Julian Assange to Robyn Archer and the organisers anticipate a quick sell out of tickets. But it’s the city’s steady investment in facilities and resources that makes hot ticket events like this possible.
‘The game-changer for us was the opening of Ulumbarra Theatre, and I defy anyone to visit it and not be impressed,’ Sorensen enthused. ‘It meant we have to think about events capable of attracting almost 1000 people, no mean feat for any theatre. But I think we changed a few minds last year, when we had about 700 to hear [author and journalist] Tariq Ali... Tariq Ali! I mean, this is not pulp fiction we're talking here!’
Big events are one card up the sleeve of idyllic regional areas, but other arts organisations are looking to foster green shoots in more private soil. There are students eager to learn from the Earth; to be guided by nature and discover their own creativity.
Bundanon, the former homestead of Arthur Boyd, is home to an immersive Artist in Residence project as well as an inspiring suite of educational programs for young and old. At dusk, wombats graze on the grass outside the house.
‘Some people have never seen a wombat,’ one Bundanon donor reflected. ‘Can you believe that? Creativity is the growing tip, the green shoot of life, and we need to foster that in society. We need a place for that to grow.’
Read: Bundanon: where the future of the arts lies in the past
Bundanon has strong ties with the local community, offering an artistic and environmental retreat to all and the opportunity to assuage the pressure of modern living.
‘We have a team of around 40 local volunteers who assist with our Landcare group, our events program and guiding at Bundanon Homestead ... locals showing their support through participation in events and concerts,’ said Deborah Ely, CEO of Bundanon Trust.
‘Through our Bundanon Local program and our educational initiatives we connect with our regional neighbours at every point in their lives – as school children and young people, as families and as they age,’ she explained.
And in return, the community supports a place described by those lucky enough to spend time there as ‘life-changing’.
It seems the magnetic draw of a calmer life away from the metropolis is stronger than ever nowadays.
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