How do rural communities cope with drought? Exploring the role of festivals and events

Festivals and events are frequently staged to reinvigorate community and stimulate economic development – especially in rural and remote places suffering from general decline. In such circumstances festivals and events contribute far more beyond their singular purpose as an agricultural show or a music concert, promoting regional development and community cohesion. Over the past few years researchers here at AUSCCER have been documenting these sorts of contributions, on a large project funded by the Australian Research Council. A free, downloadable summary report of our project’s findings is available here.

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A selfie taken in June this year, at the Gulgong Races, NSW

As we continue to sift through our findings, we have also realised how important festivals and events are to rural communities suffering from conditions of extreme environmental stress.

When we conducted a major survey interview of festival managers across rural areas of New South Wales and Victoria in 2007-2008, it was the peak of the infamous Millennium Drought, during which repeated bush fires raged, harvests failed and many agricultural communities were hit hard, economically and psychologically.

We included questions in our survey on how the drought had affected the staging and viability of festivals and events, and whether drought had catalysed new kinds of community responses.

At the moment I am analysing answers to these questions and bringing these results together in a new paper.

The point is to show the important psychological, emotional and community-building role of events in society, beyond their immediate economic significance, and to demonstrate how, through staging festivals, rural communities display perseverance and adaptability in the face of extreme climatic conditions.

Were you involved in organising a festival or event in rural Australia during the drought years?

Did you attend a particularly memorable festival or event in rural Australia?

Do you live in a rural community that has benefited from festivals and events during tough times – whether in the Millennium Drought or in the present day?

I’d love to hear your story.

You can post a comment in the space below, or contact me by email on cgibson@uow.edu.au, or on twitter @profcgibson.

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