Document Type

Thesis

Publication details

Derrett, R 2008, 'Regional festivals: Nourishing community resilience: the nature and role of cultural festivals in Northern Rivers NSW communities', PhD thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.

Copyright R Derrett 2008

Abstract

This thesis examines four regional community cultural festivals in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales, Australia. It reveals the complex interplay of a sense of place and community, a destination’s identity and representation, host guest relationships and the underlying nature and role of celebration expressed in each festival. It examines the regional context in which the Jacaranda Festival in Grafton, the Beef Week celebrations in Casino, the New Year’s Eve celebrations in Byron Bay and the Mardi Grass Law reform rally in Nimbin are conducted. An extensive literature review provides a global perspective on theories, issues and trends in the sectors reflected in the case study festivals. The phenomenological approach to the case study methodology is explained before each festival is closely scrutinized, addressing the study’s aim.

The thesis aims at a better understanding of the elements of resilience fostered by festivals when communities take intentional action. This resilience dimension emerged as a major outcome of the initial investigation of the nature and role of festivals in regional communities.

The thesis argues that festivals allow people to reflect and determine a sense of community and place, represent their image and identity and contribute to cultural tourism. Community festivals involve the local population in a shared experience to their mutual benefit by providing both social functions and symbolic meanings. This study contends that community-based festivals celebrate the community’s social identity, its historical continuity and its cultural resilience. They are socially constructed and negotiated phenomena and can be staged in everyday places that also become tourist places. Festivals provide a forum for creativity, custom, heritage and cultural practices for both resident and guest.

Investigating community cultural festivals from multiple perspectives allows for greater understanding of the nuances of the relationships between stakeholders. By identifying the patterns, structures and meanings of the contexts that festivals represent we are better informed of the distinctive values, interests and aspirations held by residents when they host festivals. Perspectives on community festivals and resilience were canvassed from diverse perspectives as demonstrated by the following typical responses:

Nourishing resilience through Festivals and Communities

There are many intangible reasons why a community chooses to host a festival such as socio-cultural, economic, political and environmental and each reason is not mutually exclusive (Backman et al, 1995).

The Northern Rivers region stands apart from the rest of rural Australia as living as if the future matters. This is a very powerful attractor in these times of urban decay and environmental despair (Dunstan, 1994:2).

Sense of place, can be described as, the common ground where interpretation and community development meets in a concern to create or enhance a sense of place, to establish what is significant and valued in the environment or heritage of a particular community, and to provide action for its wider appreciation and conservation (Binks, 1989:191 cited Trotter, 1998).

Democratic communities take responsibility for their future. It is undeniable that cohesive community events based on ideals create a sense of community. The excitement and joy that people feel when they work together for their community and future means that they will attempt to recreate that experience. It becomes their preferred way (Emery, 1995:70).

…the notion of community is always something of a myth. A community implies a coherent entity with a clear identity and a commonality of purpose. The reality is that communities, more often than not, are made up of an agglomeration of factions and interest groups often locked in competitive relationships (Smit, 1995 cited in Joppe, 1996:475).

Community, the custodians of the content of Australian tourism, must be enabled to participate in tourism by forming its content. Only if Australians are involved in tourism will it survive, (Wood, 1993:7).

Through direct contact and interaction with each festival, the qualitative exploratory study reveals how in formal and informal ways participants at the four case study sites demonstrate the diverse and fragmented nature of festivals. Although none of these festivals is identical, some consistent patterns do emerge to demonstrate that comparisons can be developed. These patterns have their own advantages and disadvantages and it is evident that success or failure is not linked to a particular model for such festivals. Each community has an ongoing challenge of determining how their festival can best meet its needs presently and into the future. Each is trying to keep pace with the changes that are taking place within their communities, within the region and from external forces. This is where the study also generates new knowledge: tracking the changes occurring in community festivals in contemporary regional Australia.

Through a systematic analysis of data the study significantly contributes to our understanding of the character of community festivals. Through surveys, interviews, media analysis, photographic images and critical observation, it clearly observes that social, economic and environmental issues currently presented in the literature require greater deconstruction and critical engagement. Rich and quilted description of the festivals informs this research providing grounded scholarly investigation. This approach leads to a greater understanding of significant social and cultural agendas in regional communities. Festivals add value to communities. They creatively produce and embed culture. They can be viewed as celebrations of resilience.

Through a systematic analysis of data the study significantly contributes to our understanding of the character of community festivals. Through surveys, interviews, media analysis, photographic images and critical observation, it clearly observes that social, economic and environmental issues currently presented in the literature require greater deconstruction and critical engagement. Rich and quilted description of the festivals informs this research providing grounded scholarly investigation. This approach leads to a greater understanding of significant social and cultural agendas in regional communities. Festivals add value to communities. They creatively produce and embed culture. They can be viewed as celebrations of resilience.

At the core of the investigation is an analysis of how the process of nourishing resilience by making inclusive celebrations, unleashes relationships between many stakeholders. Each participant contributes to the program, traditions, cultural practices, impact and reach of events with differing voices and emphases.

In principle, festivals and their host communities offer individual members a framework for attending to general aspects of life. This study reaffirms that community festivals particularly hold a significant position in three areas of the human condition. They celebrate a sense of place through organising inclusive activities in specific safe environments. They provide a vehicle for communities to host visitors and share such activities as representations of communally agreed values, interests and aspirations. Finally, they are the outward manifestation of the identity of the community and provide a distinctive identifier of place and people.

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