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Uplifting Creativity & Culture as Industry

Two Men Lifting a Cow by Irish Australian Artist John Kelly Oil on Canvas 1995.

It is nearly thirty years since former Prime Minister, Paul Keating, launched his Creative Nation policy, the first to define a national identity inclusive of First Nation’s culture and multi-cultural diversity. It reshaped and broadened 'The Arts' into a Creative and Cultural Industry that contributes to GDP and value-adds to tourism, education, manufacturing, media, trade and community health and well-being. In 2020- 22, according to Creative Victoria, the industry contributed $38.4 billion in gross value-added to the Victorian economy.

In an increasingly homogenized world, regions need to tell a story about themselves that’s distinctive and exciting. A review of governance and policy settings that strengthen Gippsland's cultural identity and the creation of a regional framework that values, integrates and supports its creative and cultural industry, is well overdue.

The creative and cultural sectors have resilience and the capacity to drive innovation, economic and social development. Often highly skilled and qualified, individual creatives are risk-taking entrepreneurs, lateral and design thinkers. They are skilled at interpreting place, transforming spaces and adding a rich cultural layer to life and trade in the region. As organizations they offer experiences of education, enjoyment, reflection and knowledge sharing. They build a sense of belonging and pride of place that supports social cohesion, public health and well-being and they bring communities together. As an industry, it has the capacity to transform the region into a destination with a strong cultural identity and heritage that appeals to a higher-yield tourism market and attracts settlers that seek the diversity and buzz of a creative culture.

A whole of region approach that scopes the creative and cultural level of enterprise in the public and private sectors, that examines resources and cultural infrastructure, and assesses the economic and social investment by the creative and cultural industry, would expose many layers of contribution to the region that are currently undervalued. Where, for instance, is the category for Creativity and Culture in the Gippsland Business Awards? A mechanism for cross-portfolio, cross-sector, cross-border integration, would strengthen recognition and understanding of the vital social and economic contribution of this valuable industry.

Gippsland’s Cultural and Creativity Industry at Work

‘Lockdowns’ exposed an underclass of arts workers and the extreme vulnerability of small tourism operators and their supply chains when borders close. At high risk were creative practitioners, many sole traders, who were ineligible for employment subsidies. And yet, artists and creative entrepreneurs were amongst the first to be called upon to breathe life back into community recovery. The rise and rise of East Gippsland’s Winter Festival and the Paul Kelly Concerts demonstrated demand for creative and cultural makers and shakers when the going gets tough.

Think Gippsland Art Gallery and its vibrant program of exhibitions including economic blockbusters such as the travelling Archibald Prize. Think Gippslandia boldly publishing our regional story, putting a contemporary face on Gippsland. Think Float and its edgy community enterprises, redefining tourism’, sensitive to nature, community and culture; the small East Gippsland Art Gallery, pushing above its weight to publish the work of artists in 'lock-down'. Think Fish Creek and its flourishing arts and cafe culture attracting new settlers. Think of all the region’s art galleries, large and small, and in every village, showcasing artists who capture the beauty and vulnerability of the environment and regional life. Think festivals that bring communities together from across the region for entertainment and celebration of place, identity and culture. Think First Nations dancers and performers welcoming to Country, telling stories of traditional culture. Think ‘Shakespeare’ at Stratford, a festival that has evolved into a cultural-tourism hub; Farmer’s Markets throughout the region that connect producers and artisans to consumers; citizen scientists who guide visitors through the spectacular biodiversity in wetlands and forests; young film, video and virtual reality producers imaging Country and documenting culture. There are architects putting Gippsland on the global stage, artisans and designers, web designers, garden designers, interior designers, graphic designers, fashion and furniture designers, all part of the creative industry.

Gippsland Water Factory ‘Vortex’ by Design Inc. The Sand Dune House Inverloch by James Stockwell; TAFE Gippsland by Modscape.

Yanggurdi Fashion and Walkabout Jewellery Weaving Bushtukka Culture Art by Designer- Cassie Leatham, Boisdale, Furniture design by Strating & Son Warragul, La Trobe Regional Gallery detail featuring Gippsland Sculptor Clive Murray-White.

There is the Art House Sun Cinema bringing world culture on the big screen into rural communities, dance studios, architects, writers, bookshops and libraries that form community hubs. The Heesco public art murals at Yarram announcing a rebirth of creativity and industry in a timber transition community. There are Gippsland bands, The Gippsland Symphony Orchestra and amazing choirs, like the Toongabbie Choir, 'Slighly Out of Toon', the Nowa Nowa Men's Choir, the sell-out annual ‘Opera by the Lakes’ and the virtuoso violinist from Bendoc performing in unlikely pop-up venues. There are the unique and unpretentious eateries and wineries where chefs interpret the fresh, ‘green’ regional produce and young winemakers and brewers attract awards for their bottled 'nectar'. This is but a snippet of the rich and prolific culture and creativity industry at work in Gippsland.

Historic Walhalla, Teapot by silversmith Hendrik Forster, Celia Rosser Banksia Gallery Fish Creek

Cultural-Tourism Differentiates

Recognition of the creativity and cultural sectors as an industry is critical to differentiating Gippsland as a destination and attracting high-yield tourism. As an ‘Eco-Tourism’ destination, Gippsland is positioned in the Bass Coast ‘Nature Park’ catchment and therefore in the fiercely competitive Eco-Green-Nature Park market that stretches along the entire Australian eastern seaboard to Tasmania. There has been multi-million-dollar investment in infrastructure to compete with mountain and coastal walking and bike trails that offer close-up interaction with native wildlife and an ambitious program of Eco-Tourism certification with the Queensland-based Eco-Tourism-Australia organization.

As an ‘Eco-CULTURAL-Tourism’ destination there is greater opportunity to unlock the region’s unique cultural heritage, to incubate smart cultural-tourism enterprises, unleash creative links to global markets, document and digitize products and services and boost the innovation and trans-generational opportunities to offset the ‘persistent and multilayered disadvantage’ that besets Gippsland [i].

According to Austrade, there is a growing market that is coming from Asia. It is a culturally sensitive, conservation-minded, educated, curious about First Nation’s culture and it is high-yield. There is also a rapidly growing domestic market seeking connection and greater understanding of First Nation’s culture[ii].

First Nation's Culture Differentiates

The Gunaikurnai Bataluk Trail, amongst the oldest human travel and trading routes on planet earth, is arguably the most valuable and unique repository of culture and heritage in the region, including its precious collection of artifacts and images in the Krowathunkooloong Keeping Place, located in Bairnsdale on the Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne touring route.

The Bataluk Trail Maps, rocks Cape Conran Salmon Rock and Gunai boardwalk

By respectfully supporting First Nation's-led regeneration of culture and heritage and up-skilling an Indigenous cultural-tourism workforce, organizations like the Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation (GLAWAC), can develop rich, cultural heritage experiences, train cultural custodians, curators and guides, and create the jobs and economic returns for their mob.

According to Phil Lockyer, Head of Indigenous Affairs at Tourism Australia, there is a surge in the Indigenous Tourism market that has risen by 40% since 2013 and has continued to rise by 9% each year up to 2021. These visitors are staying longer and spending more. Trends in the International Indigenous visitor’s profile (2019) indicated that they:

  • spent a total of 45 million visitor nights and $7 billion dollars in Australia

  • stayed longer than other international visitors (average of 45 compared to 31 nights)

  • spent more per trip than other international visitors (per visitor $7,286 compared to $4,792)

The CEO of Federation of Victorian Traditional Owner Corporation, Paul Paton is proudly embracing the invitation by the State to put First Nations people at the “forefront of Victoria’s cultural tourism industry” at the Gippsland hosting of the Commonwealth Games in March 2026. According to Paton, “We have the need to create cultural capacity (and) support the development of creative practices”.

Festivals and Events Value-adding

Like nature parks, festivals and cultural events are enterprises that need significant financial and infrastructure investment over a period of years to enable them to establish, grow audiences, compete in the festivals market, and to flourish. Staging of events in make-shift conditions with amateur technical support in high-risk outdoor venues leads to volunteer ‘burn out’ and implosion. Where there is strong industry development support, professional management, fit-for-purpose facilities and technologies, strategic audience development and marketing, festivals grow and can have major social and economic impact e.g. Clune’s Book Festival, Lorne’s Sculpture by the Sea, The Port Fairy Folk Festival, or the unique Arte Sella, the Contemporary Mountain sculpture trail in the remote Northern Italian Alps. Festivals attract local sponsors and build private sector investment and engagement in the industry. Festivals can transform local communities, and, if adequately supported, generate economic opportunities and create jobs over the longer term.

Creativity and Culture Value-Adding

“We make hand crafted, artisanal beers that explore an ever-changing selection of styles with a diverse array of farmed and foraged ingredients that showcase the“terroir” of place and are an expression of our areas agricultural & maritime history and the pristine wilderness that we call home.

Building a business based on a fair price for farmers, rural mental health & suicide prevention and kindness.

Making Culture and Creativity Count

There is a groundswell of demand for a cultural and creative industry voice that reflects a wider cross-section of stakeholders. There is a need to address the fragmentation and lack of cohesion across the public and private creative sectors in Gippsland. There is potential for strategic alliances, consortia, clusters to build and enrich supply chains and cross-industry relationships for value-adding and growing investment opportunities. Academics, consultants, the social enterprise movement, cultural entrepreneurs, conservation groups, community and arts groups and advocates are pushing for a stronger voice.

Its time to acknowledge their substantial investment, creative and cultural, to make Gippsland a better place to live and to visit.

For models of regional creative and cultural industry development look across the border into NSW to ‘South East Arts’, a successful regional industry development organization with serious expertise and weight. It is funded to help artists and arts organizations to become viable. It assists communities to build capacity to develop their own creative projects, social connection and well-being. They advise local councils and augment their work in areas including arts, tourism, economic development and community, cultural and strategic planning.

We recommend a series of co-design sessions, to bring together the broad range of creative and cultural and wider industry stakeholders to explore and test strategic opportunities and strategies namely:

  • scoping the regional Creative and Cultural Industry - its impact on tourism, education, media, trade and manufacturing and community well-being

  • regional Cultural and Creativity industry governance and strategic alliances

  • protocols and how to support Indigenous Cultural-Tourism leadership

  • opportunities for ‘whole of region’ collaboration

  • cross-industry, cross-cultural, cross-border opportunities

  • auditing Gippsland’s Cultural Heritage – sites, assets and archives

  • connecting communities and cultural-tourism supply chains

  • enterprise and cluster development in Gippsland’s Creative and Cultural Industry.

Sanctuary East Gippsland Inc. (a non-profit) will advocate for leadership action and support to drive further discussions, co-design workshops and a regional symposium to take this initiative forward. If you are interested in getting involved or contributing to this discussion, please make contact

Author: Jo Moulton. Convenor Sanctuary E.G. Inc; former Victorian Cultural Industries Development Manager & Policy Advisor, Business Victoria. Publisher


[1] Dropping Off the Edge - DOTE 2021 Jesuit Social Services

[11] Austrade (Australian Trade and Investment Commission Opportunities for the Visitor Economy. A modern, diversified and collaborative path to 2030 Summary Report June 2021) p 17.


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