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Outback Elvis Book CoverWheat, sheep or Elvis Presley? Rural Australia has had to change its tune

Regional Australia is struggling.  Even the largest towns in regional New South Wales are juggling diminishing populations and difficult economic times, despite moving on from the dreadful drought years.

There is more to rural Australia than agriculture, and most places have shifted away from the mass production of agricultural commodities towards the marketing of rural lifestyles and landscapes. Farming becomes valuable as scenery.

City people can be tempted for weekends away and old-fashioned farm stays have evolved. But that works most easily for NSW coastal towns – like Berry and Kiama – that are within striking distances of capital cities. More distant inland places have had to work a little harder to diversify.  Orange is one of the towns that have led the way in terms of change. An enormously successful FOOD (Food of Orange District) festival has drawn in city crowds and tempted some to remain. At the other end of the state, the Tamworth Country Music Festival has grown every year and been a massive boost to regional income.

But it is probably even smaller towns that have benefited most from festivals. Most successful of all has been Parkes, otherwise a transport centre on the wheat and sheep plains. In January, Parkes celebrated its 25th anniversary of the Elvis Festival.  The whim of a handful of townsfolk, the festival began in a tiny way in 1993. Parkes citizens were doubtful – what had Elvis to do with rural Australia? But the local newspaper, the tourism office and the rugby club got on board, and the festival boomed.

Once it lasted barely a weekend. Now it lasts five days. Two hundred people came to the first festival – now there are 20,000, almost twice the town’s population. Accommodation is booked five years in advance, home hosting extends to nearby towns like Forbes and even Orange, and tents overflow on Graceland on the Green.

The festival brings in more than A$10 million, employs many people, and has enabled even improbable local businesses to prosper. Read more...

 This article was originally published in The Conversation, January 10, 2017.

Chris Gibson and John Connell and are the authors of Outback Elvis: The story of a festival, its fans and a town called Parkes, which has just been published by New South.

Greener Cities Healthier Lives 300 by 200New adventures in population wellbeing and environment research

The idea that green, open spaces can promote mental wellbeing is not a new one. But just how much green space is needed to keep people healthy and out of hospital? Does the amount of green space in the neighbourhood have an effect on pregnancy outcomes, on a child’s academic scores, on their overall health?

Dr Xiaoqi Feng and Dr Thomas Astell-Burt are leading a research project designed to find out exactly how our surrounds influence our health, for better and for worse. "Rapid urban expansion sees many benefits, like the increasing availability of different types of food, books and technologies – but with that comes drawbacks such as the increase in traffic and air pollution, both of which are major public health challenges” says Dr Feng.

It's important we look at the infrastructure and resources available to make all of our neighbourhoods liveable and health-promoting; not just the expensive ones.  Read more...

This article appeared in UOW's The Stand, December 19, 2016.

Photo (right): Dr Xiaoqi Feng and Dr Thomas Astell-Burt. Credit: Paul Jones

Caroline Picton Recovery CampWhat happens when the professional doesn’t sit across from the client, but works and learns with them?

What if we viewed mental health in terms of lived experience, instead of statistics. Or if we see humans as … humans, and focus on their strengths rather than their illness? An Australian-first Recovery Camp is doing exactly that, immersing students with people with mental illness to create an environment where therapeutic relationships can be built from the ground up.

Given mental illness affects one in four people, this type of camp - which is beneficial to all parties including carers and the community - provides therapeutic milieu, research and placement opportunities, and could go a long way to help people with an enduring mental illness on a road to recovery.

Now in its fifth year, Recovery Camp has been life-changing for participants, offering an environment where consumers feel supported, understood and valued, while at the same time delivering vital training for the next generation of health practitioners. Read more...

This article featured in UOW's The Stand, December, 2016.

Photo (right): Caroline Picton is a Registered Nurse who did her Bachelor of Nursing (Honours) on Recovery Camp. Credit: Paul Jones

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Last reviewed: 10 February, 2017

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