What even is regional?

When I think about how to describe Galah – what category to put it in – I end up defining it as a cultural magazine. Which sounds a bit wanky. What even is culture? If you’re cultured do you have to like opera?

I like the definition of culture given by Cliff Murphy from the United States National Endowment for the Arts.

“I'm inclined to think of culture as being like a beaver dam where beavers deliberately make the structure, drawing from materials in the area,” writes Murphy. “It's something that they need, and they maintain it for a long time. It dams the river, it creates a big pond and a whole ecosystem around it. Then, at a certain point, they abandon the dam and they build a new one and that causes the dam to break and it causes the pond to go away and there's a whole other ecosystem that needs to adjust and change. So, everybody is making new stuff from old stuff.

“Culture is what gives us a sense of connection to other people, to our past, to our present, and to our future. It's the things that make us a neighbourhood whether that's an actual neighbourhood or whether it's a kind of less geographically based one. While culture does provide a sense of connection, paradoxically it also gives us a sense of what makes us distinct in our own right. That's a fascinating tension; everything has its yin and its yang.”

But how do you go about documenting the culture of something as broad and varied as regional Australia? Can you include lots of yins and yangs? Can you talk about lots of different beaver dams?

This week a reader messaged me on Instagram to say that for them, Galah has lost its "true regional feel”, questioning why we would showcase areas such as the Northern Rivers in NSW “when there are so many amazing rural towns in Australia more deserving of the coverage”. Initially, I was super defensive, but I’ve since calmed down enough to see reason in this message. The cultural dams built by the Byron Bay beavers are really different from the dams built near Bourke. And it can feel frustrating being lumped into the same cultural category as something or someone you feel entirely distinct from.

So I thought it might be useful for me to work out what, for the purposes of Galah, do I mean when I say “regional”? If we’re a voice from regional Australia, where is that, exactly? For the Regional Australia Institute, "regional" refers to everything beyond the major capital cities of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide and Canberra. For our Regional Photography Prize, we’re going with this government definition of regional: everywhere in Australia outside of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

There are many more definitions out there, but I like the broadness of the two definitions above. They include coastal regional, city regional, town regional, country regional, outback regional ... to me this diversity is exciting. Because I live on a farm an hour out of a small town, I have a natural interest in, or even bias towards, the farm/small-inland-town sort of regional life, but I want Galah to document lots of different cultural beaver dams, without ranking one as more regional than others. To paraphrase Nigella Lawson on the great fresh pasta versus dried pasta debate: One is not better than the other, they are simply different.If your definition of regional is more focused, I totally get it. But for those interested in looking at the multiple cultures of regional Australia, I hope Galah will be the mag for you.

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