Monday, 12 May 2008


I have a pile of thoughts swirling around in my tired brain, but I’m not sure whether any of them make any sense. I wanted to write today about rural decline and may yet get to it. Strangely linked in my mind are a couple of the projects I’m working on and I’m trying to tease out for myself how writing projects and rural decline are linked. I think it’s partly because most of the writing I get asked to do is promotional materials for various community organisations. My former colleagues would laugh to see my cheerful abandonment of my ideological purity and disdain for the PR industry to churn out pieces for this and that group.

Part of the urgency though comes from the competition that exists for scarce resources. The school needs students, or rather parents, to choose them. The local Scout group needs parents and children to perceive its value. The local community organisation needs people to choose to come live in and visit Marburg (but not too many). Each group has its own agenda and they all have accepted the idea that raising one’s profile is the pathway to success.

I wonder though if that is really the case. There is really only one local, local newspaper and everyone feels that their organisation needs to be mentioned in it. It is at the point where the paid journalist only sometimes write articles, and instead edits and arranges material submitted by local groups. So it is some kind of extended advertorial, albeit with a local flavour and easy to read because it is a folded A3 sheet on regular paper.

Maybe I’m just tired or cynical or both. I’ve had a small part to play in Marburg’s entry materials for the Tidy Towns award and I’m wondering what the benefit to the town may be. In purely economic terms, a lot of time has been put in by many people to gather the relevant information and produce promotional materials. But what is the end result?

If we win, I presume we can hang a sign at the entrance to Marburg. I know I have never stopped in a town on my travels simply because it is a designated “Tidy Town.” In fact, one town in Tasmania was so tidy and officious in its signage that I remember my family moving on. We were instructed not to walk on the beach after or before certain hours, not to use the playground, not to do this and that and we left before we caused certain offence.

On the other hand, the local council has contributed much-needed funds and committed resources to the community. So in financial terms, Marburg may come out ahead. And the township has come together for various functions in a way that hasn’t happened before. None of the people who have committed time to the project are currently in paid employment as far as I know, so thinking of the time-money equation doesn’t really work here.

I think in the end that you can’t simply think of these things in economic terms. Yes there are all these competing needs, yes there are limited resources in a rural or peri-urban area, yes people put a lot of time and effort into various projects that may or may not have intrinsic value. But part of the value is simply the process of working together towards a common goal. If you can get a community to think of itself as such by creating an identity that people value, that is worth more than any PR. As someone said in a meeting last week, we are all people who choose to live here and have a firm commitment to the area. And that is worth something.

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