Information about work, life and play in Regional Australia

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Pause for Reflection

My post of 20 August on the diversity of regional experience concluded:

We began the Regional Living Australia journey with the simple objective of providing people with easier access to information about work, life or play in Regional Australia. This has now broadened to making the regional experience itself more accessible.

This is a vast canvass, one really beyond the capacity of any single site. We need far more regional sites and especially regionally focused blogs if the varying regional experience is to be properly captured and presented. Here our experience with Regional Australia Living on one side, the New England, Australia blog on the other, is instructive. Regional Living allows us to present material across a broad canvas, while New England, Australia drills down into the detail of the regional experience in one Australian region.

We have continued to experiment since this post.

I am very happy with the development of the New England Australia blog. It sits nicely in the gap between broader state or national sites and the narrower regional or local sites. While a big area, depending on the way the area is defined New England is about the size of England with considerable diversity, there is a historical and geographical unity. All this makes it easy to write, creating what has (in my view) become a very good blog from a reader interest perspective.

I am far less happy with progress on the Regional Living Australia blog. It is still far too bitsy, lacking in coherence. The differences between the two blogs are reflected in the traffic patterns, with New England Australia presently attracting twice as many readers.

The problems with the Regional Living Australia blog can be considered along two dimensions.

The first is the target audience. This is quite broad including:
  • overseas people interested in Regional Australia for migration or investment, education, tourism or simply out of curiosity
  • metro dwellers interested in Regional Australia for work, life or simply play
  • those living in Regional Australia interested because the blog is about them and their experiences or because of the picture it provides about life elsewhere in Regional Australia.

The second problem area is the one I have mentioned in my previous post, the sheer diversity of the Regional Australia experience. This difficulty is compounded by information gaps.

Yesterday I spent an hour in an Angus & Robertson branch working my way through sections from wine to food to travel to Australian history, looking for material that might give me ideas.

Wine is easy. Australian wine is synonomous with Regional Australia. The geographic structure adopted makes it easy to look at wine in the context of different regions. There is a wealth of on-line and printed material

Food is more complicated. Food in Regional Australia has changed dramatically in ways still dimly perceived. Part of these changes reflect national trends, part international trends such as the slow and local food movements. But part also reflect specific on-ground developments including the growing nexus between food and wine in specific areas, the bush foods movement, the development of a range of speciality products. These changes are still poorly documented.

Similar changes can be seen in entertainment. Again wine has had a major influence because of the growth of entertainment linked to the vineyards. But the same trend can be seen in the thousands of local festivals, many now incorporating food components. These festivals have always had a local focus, but there is more variety and that variety reflects local interests. The growth of Tamworth and country music is a dramatic example, but is a tip of a much larger iceberg ranging from the Part Fairy Folk Festival down to small local events. Again the changes appear poorly documented.

There have also been major linked changes in both tourism related activities and the pattern of visitor traffic. I say linked, because the two feed on each other. Some of these, backpacker traffic along the eastern seaboard for example, are well known. Others, such as the spread of tourism facilities and activities in inland Australia, are less well known.

From my viewpoint, one of the most interesting things is the way these changes are increasing local and regional differences as areas seek to differentiate themselves. Locals may not always like the changes, but they are making for an increasingly diversified regional experience.

Linking this back to my starting point, the challenge remains to find the best way of presenting all this diversity to a varied audience without becoming fragmented and bitsy. We want to entice, but also inform.

I suppose the point we are at at the moment in our thinking is that we need to combine a focus on themes with more general interest items that can also be used to illustrate particular themes.

There is a chicken and egg problem here in selecting themes. We need feedback from our readers to help us select and focus. But we won't get the feedback unless we attract sufficient readers in the first place!

Still, a journey begins with a single step. Watch this space for developments!

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