OUTBACK ARTS (FAR WEST) REGIONAL SNAPSHOT 2017
The Outback Arts region in Far Western NSW covers an area of 164,106 square kilometres and includes a total population (2016 census) of 20,804 people.
The region has a strong Aboriginal heritage with iconic and culturally significant areas such as the Brewarrina fish traps and important river sites playing an integral role in the Aboriginal heritage of the region.
The population is culturally diverse with mining communities such as Cobar and Lightning Ridge drawing individuals of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds to the regional communities. There are no major town centres however each LGA has a primary place of residence with 5–7 smaller villages and towns spread throughout the shire.
The region (as serviced by Outback Arts) comprises of seven LGAs, five of which contribute to the Outback Arts program:
- Bourke Shire Council (townships and villages of Bourke, Enngonia, Wanaaring, Louth, Byrock and Fords Bridge) – 2,787 population of whom 30% identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
- Cobar Shire Council (townships and villages of Cobar, Euabalong and Euabalong West, Murrin Bridge, Mount Hope and Nymagee) – 4,764 population of whom 13.3% identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
- Brewarrina Shire Council (non-contributing) – 1,766 population of whom 59.1% identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
- Coonamble Shire Council (townships and villages of Coonamble, Quambone and Combara) – 4,082 population of whom 29% identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
- Walgett Shire Council (townships and villages of Walgett, Lightning Ridge, Collarenebri, Carinda, Coombogolong, Come By Chance, Burren Junction, Rowena, Grawin, Cumborah) – 6,369 population of whom 28.1% identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander
- Warren Shire Council (Warren, Colli, Nevertire, Egleabra, Mathaguy and The Marra) – 2,802 population of whom 13.9% identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
Main industries and primary sources of employment include:
- Sheep, beef cattle and grain farming
- Graincorp and associated grain collection agencies
- Metal Ore Mining
- Local Government Administration
- Tourism Industry
- School education
- State and Federal Government service providers
KEY ISSUES AND TRENDS
- Large geographical area (164,106 square kilometres) and remote communities.
- Strong community focus in relation to engagement with regional communities.
- Aboriginal population is high across the region (over 50% in some communities)
- Multiculturalism is strong in communities such as Lightning Ridge (27.9% of residents were born overseas and 20% of the population speak in an alternate language other than English at home).
- Community and professional performances take place in a diverse range of venues and create a fluid approach to working in different environments.
- Limited touring and cultural infrastructure with no ongoing regional galleries and professional performance spaces.
- Small numbers of arts organisations.
- Funding for touring performances is an ongoing issue.
- Outback Arts public gallery is one of four public galleries in the region and the only one open 5 days a week.
- Only one public gallery that is run with a curator, the remainder are volunteer run.
- The ageing population, particularly in volunteer run organisations, has led to a low turnover of volunteers and lack of future viability of community groups.
- Regional Indigenous Cultural Development Officers program is integral to the ongoing development of Aboriginal heritage, art and creative development.
- Local economic conditions are highly dependent on climatic conditions. Natural disasters and climatic conditions have a direct link to the economic viability of the community.
- Unemployment rates fluctuate dependent on seasonal conditions. Resident turnover is high particularly in mining towns such as Cobar and Lightning Ridge. Unemployment numbers have also been said to have risen across the region due to the drought.
- Local employment retention is challenged by external employment opportunities that offer skills and monetary advancement.
- Limited opportunities in remote communities lead to youth leaving home early.
- Reductions in funding for education and the arts, particularly in the TAFE system, have meant limited further education opportunities within the creative arts.
- There are no higher education opportunities beyond high school which means moving away from the region or completing a course or degree via distance.
Arts and Cultural Practice
With such small rural working communities there is very little infrastructure for arts and cultural opportunities. Each town may have a community hall, and possibly a volunteer run gallery. Localities do have individual Arts Councils; however the financial viability through lack of engagement is an ongoing issue in all communities.
Venues where art and performance can take place must be fluid as there are no professional art spaces within the community. Spaces range from a Country Women’s Association Hall with a simple stage to a ‘tin shed’ showground pavilion, through to a RSL Club. Cultural and arts touring viability within the region depends solely on external arts funding and on-the-ground volunteers.
The primary art form practiced in the region is visual arts (painting, ceramics, photography, sculpture). Performance includes music, acting in amateur theatrical societies and dance.
Local Government Engagement
All councils have recently completed or are in the final stages of finalising long-term Community Strategic Plans. With a growing emphasis on the development of arts and cultural opportunities specific to the region, arts and cultural outcomes have been added to their key targets. These objectives allow Outback Arts to better address the concerns, needs and wants of communities in the region.
The inclusion of LGA representation on the Outback Arts board leads to cross-shire engagement and an opportunity to develop cultural opportunities not only in their individual shires but across the wider Outback Arts region. Two of the seven LGAs do not contribute to Outback Arts (Bogan and Brewarrina Shire).
Announced in September Outback Arts have been awarded a $300,000 grant to purchase a building and redevelop the space into a Creative Hub for the far west region. Developments will begin around January 2018 to turn the premises (address TBA) into an interactive facility including professional gallery space(s), industry specified gallery walls, lighting and equipment, studio, workshop, artist-in-residence, retail and meeting space. A regional gallery in the far west is something the Outback Arts area is lacking so this new infrastructure is vital for the cultural fabric of the region.
Bourke has the state of the art Back O Bourke Exhibition Centre, which provides a tourist information centre, a Bourke History walk and limited visual arts exhibition space throughout the building. Warren has the Windows on the Wetlands (WOW) Centre which hosts some exhibitions throughout the year as well as a workshop space. It also hosts a café, tourism information and is the headquarters for RiverSmart, which is a not-for-profit organisation encouraging people to take an active role in preserving water bodies. The Lightning Ridge Arts and Crafts Council is another venue that is utilised a lot by community, and is a very active arts hub run by a dedicated team of volunteers.
Other venues include The Great Cobar Heritage Centre (managed by the Tourist Information Centre) and the Coonamble Museum (volunteer run). Each community has a volunteer heritage committee/ historical society.
The visual arts are represented through various arts organisations, individual arts practitioners, co-operatives, galleries and artists’ studio galleries. Support for individual arts and practising groups is sporadic and despite a number of established practising artists in the region, the viability of being a full-time practicing artist in the region is low. There is a lack of exhibition opportunities in the region and artists are challenged by the remoteness of their communities. There are a few established practicing artists in the region that have their own commercial galleries.
Festivals and Annual Community Events
Within the Outback Arts region nearly each primary community has their own festival: the Festival of the Miners Ghost (Cobar), Bulldust to Bitumen Festival (Walgett), Lightning Ridge Easter Festival, ARTober (Lightning Ridge), Opal Festival (Lightning Ridge), Festival of a Thousand Stories (Bourke), Let’s Dance Carinda (2016 & 2017) as well as the Pastoral & Agricultural Society Community Shows.
Each festival celebrates its community and history in different ways. Recent anniversaries such as 150 years in Warren are opportunities for smaller communities to celebrate their area and its ongoing diversity.
Local business support as well as on-the-ground volunteers is integral to the ongoing development of community festivals. However, issues such as securing sustainable funding in a tight fiscal environment are an ongoing issue for such large community festivals and events.
Aboriginal Arts and Culture
Due to the large population of Aboriginal people in the region, Outback Arts has developed a program that assists in developing and nurturing cultural awareness and creativity through the arts. The Regional Indigenous Cultural Development Officer (RICDO) Program employs a part-time RICDO officer to work within each community 1-2 days a week. This program is funded through the Office of the Arts’ Indigenous Culture Support Program.
There are two Aboriginal identified exhibition spaces in the region; Muda Corp/2 Cuz fm in Bourke and the Dharriwaa Elders Group in Walgett. There are other community spaces and small gallery opportunities in the region, although they are volunteer run and are not open full time.
There are limited touring opportunities throughout the region both in visual arts as well as performing arts, mainly due to the lack of infrastructure available in towns and smaller communities. Music, theatre and arts societies have a range of annual opportunities which primarily focus on visiting professional performers such as Musica Viva, Co-Opera and Critical Stages.
The 2014-2016 drought has affected the region’s communities immensely, resulting in fewer community events and activities. Annual agricultural shows and community festival events have been cancelled and few performing theatre productions are touring as these cannot be subsidised by community groups.
Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats as identified by key sector representatives are as follows:
- Strong community connections through small towns.
- Passionate community for maintaining rural culture.
- Vibrant arts communities.
- Community driven activities.
- Communities with rich history.
- Historical sites significant to outback NSW.
- Community resilience.
- Recognised importance of arts and cultural activity within the communities.
- Vibrant Aboriginal history and culture.
- Youth programs delivered by Outback Arts are proving successful in participant numbers.
- Communities continue to explore the importance of art and cultural activities in times of hardship.
- Geographical distance between localities.
- Percentage of unemployed and low socio-economic status families.
- High crime rates.
- Lack of creative arts training and educational opportunities.
- Limited access to artistic practice supplies.
- Limited employment opportunities particularly in arts and cultural sector.
- Disadvantaged youth.
- Potential community initiatives.
- Establishing recognised creative industries.
- Marketing existing arts and cultural practices.
- Touring, exhibitions, music programs, theatre.
- New potential community events are resulting from the drought affected area, community are uniting to show resilience and support for the region.
- Environmental – droughts, floods, bushfires which threaten community economic viability and community activities and therefore outcomes.
- Lack of funding for touring programs and opportunities presented at late notice.
- Lack of outreach arts programs.
- Lack of sustainable programs.
- Volunteer organisations have an ageing population and low recruitment rates.
Aboriginal Population and Language Groups
- Bourke Shire Council (townships and villages of Bourke, Enngonia, Wanaaring, Louth, Byrock and Fords Bridge) – 2,868 pop. of whom 30.2% of people identified themselves as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
- Bogan Shire Council (Nyngan, non-contributing to Outback Arts) – 2,900 pop. of whom Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people made up 14.4% of the population.
- Brewarrina Shire Council (non-contributing) – 1,766 pop. of whom Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people made up 59.1% of the population.
- Cobar Shire Council (townships and villages of Cobar, Euabalong and Euabalong West, Murrin Bridge, Mount Hope and Nymagee) – 4,710 pop. of whom 12.9% identified of being of Aboriginal descent.
- Coonamble Shire Council (townships and villages of Coonamble, Quambone and Combara) – 4,030 pop. of whom 29.2% identified as being Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander.
- Walgett Shire Council (townships and villages of Walgett, Lightning Ridge, Collarenebri, Carinda, Coombogolong, Come By Chance, Burren Junction, Rowena, Grawin, Cumborah) – 6,454 pop. of whom 28.1% population people identified themselves Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander
- Warren Shire Council (Warren, Collie, Nevertire, Egelabra, Marthaguy and The Marra) – 2,758 pop. of whom 13.3% identified themselves Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
Outback Arts Aboriginal Arts Program
- The Outback Arts Regional Indigenous Cultural Development Strategy is a major priority which is addressed through the employment of part-time Regional Indigenous Cultural Development Officers in each of OA’s local government areas. The program is supported by the Indigenous Culture Support program of the Australian Government’s Office for the Arts and involves the employment of local residents in each shire, to assist in developing skills and knowledge of local Indigenous heritage for the whole community, promoting local traditions, providing professional development opportunities and teaching art skills, marketing and arts business. Currently there are RICDOs employed in Walgett, Lightning Ridge, Warren, Coonamble and Bourke.
- In 2012 and 2013, OA coordinated the Weaving across the Outback project which involved weaving workshops conducted by Boolarng Nangamai Art and Culture Studio in Bourke, Gulargambone, Coonamble, Cobar, Walgett, Lightning Ridge and Warren in the first year and masterclasses in the second. The latter was funded through the Australian Government’s Regional Fund and some of the work exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney.
- In partnership with the Moorambilla Festival, OA employed a project manager for the festival as well as managed the workshops conducted by the RICDO initiated Ngemba Wailwan art group in Warren with children from Moorambilla Voices, culminating 25 totem poles and artistic backdrop for the Festival gala performance.
- The high Aboriginal population of this region has resulted in many projects involving Aboriginal artists and communities – see OA website for past projects.
Aboriginal Arts Website for local artists
Aboriginal Arts Organisations