Culture and the Sunshine Coast

In contrast to how the proposed Cultural Plan for the Sunshine Coast Region defines culture it is interesting to note how Arts Queensland defines it in their new Sector Plan 2010-2013:

‘Arts and culture can be defined as all forms of creative practice and artistic and cultural expression and activity. This includes but is not limited to visual art, music, dance, writing, craft, theatre, media art, multi-arts, design, public art, events, festivals, exhibitions, community cultural development and preservation of knowledge, stories, heritage and collections.’ (p8)

This, while being very broad, is still much narrower than the definition which SCRC Cultural Plan is adopting. Arts Queensland focuses on ‘culture’ as Arts and Culture rather than the ‘culture’ of a society which is, clearly, a much less specific thing, including, as it does, business (and the many ways business is transacted, all forms of work, parenting, sport, in fact the whole kit and caboodle.)

The problem arises because the word ‘culture’ has two distinct meanings which often get mixed up, in particular because, when we think of defining it, a confusion arises between the sub-categories within the meanings rather than the definitions themselves; the issues associated with high and low culture impose themselves on our ability to think about it rationally.

If we can dispense with those problematic issues for a moment we see that ‘culture’ is either the thing that differentiates one society from another in the way, for example, that Sydney people are different from those who live in Guangzhou, or, for that matter, Melbourne; or, alternatively it refers to that part of society which might be summed up as the historic amassing of our artistic and philosophical achievements. We could take as examples the (possibly contentious) statement: ‘European culture up until the Twentieth century was rooted in the Christian Church, both as a director of thought and as the agency thinkers opposed over the last millenium; music, art, writing have been manifestations of our relationship to God as defined by the Church in all its different sects.’ Or, less contentiously (because it is easier to make statements about other cultures than our own) we could take the Chinese example: ‘Chinese culture arises out of a schism between three distinct world views, those of Confucius, Lao Tzu and Buddha; generally speaking art, music and writing in that country have come as a response to those beliefs, either in favour or against them.’

The latter definition, it is clear, which in the dictionaries often includes the word intellectual, is about the aspirations of people, the way they define themselves both within and against the world views of society.

If we’re going to develop a ‘cultural plan’ for the region and base it on the first definition then we are entering a self-defeating process; all we’re doing is producing a map of what we already think. We define ourselves as what we are and then leave it at that.

By doing so we leave no room for aspiration. We abandon all those people in the society who are working to provide some sort of self-reflection and their goal of encouraging us to see ourselves more clearly. We walk away from the idea that we can become ‘more cultured.’

site of Caloundra South, note the proximity to Pumicestone Passage

We also run into some serious problems with the scope of development proposed for the region. The indicative surveys that have already been done (on the basis that we’re making a plan for the generic culture of the Sunshine Coast) put ‘environment’ as the most important quality. At the same time we are planning several new towns or ‘communities’ of significant size with very little recognition of that very aspect.

The example which springs to mind is the development of the greenfield site for South Caloundra, a planned city of 50 000 people. A city the size of Dubbo, (39 000) or Gladstone, (49 000). The very concept is problematic in itself, and I will be returning to this issue later, but it is made more so because we intend to simply place it into the landscape as if nothing already lives there.

We’re still engaging in the terra nullius syndrome: we need to expand, there’s a bit of land with nothing on it, lets use it. Only this piece of land does happen to have several things living on it; a single example: One of the few known major colonies in Queensland of the Vulnerable Water Mouse (Xeromys myoides) is found in the area. This small endemic rodent is listed in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red Data Book, the Federal Government’s Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC) and the Queensland Nature Conservation Act. This is only one endangered species identified on the site. It is not even known if a proper study has been done to indicate if there are endangered species, either plant or animal, but it seems highly likely more are present. Moreover the development of a town the size of Dubbo in that area will undoubtedly impact on Pumicestone Passage, already recognised as a site of environmental significance. It cannot help but do so.

If we’re developing a Cultural Plan based on the present society’s wish to put environmental protection as the number one priority then we’re clearly in trouble.

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2 Comments on “Culture and the Sunshine Coast”

  1. Judy Barrass Says:

    Nicely argued Steven – but there is at least one councilor on the coast who is certainly culturally aspirational for our community.
    Lew Brennan has justified his plans for creating a ghetto of unrestricted alcohol sales and amplified music in Noosa Junction as a plan to create a ‘more cultured Coast'(Noosa News April 16th), saying it would lessen rather than increase anti-social behaviour. It’s an interesting take on the idea of ‘culture’.
    Cr. Brennan certainly doesn’t see his ‘cultural’ aspirations for the community in any homeostatic way. He recognises that the current community won’t like his plan, but that’s their bad luck as far as he’s concerned. He suggests they should simply move somewhere else and can be replaced by others who share his ideas.(Perhaps he would also use this argument to destroy the habitat of the water mouse?)

    It’s one way of bringing about cultural change – this arbitrary imposition of unpopular changes. The State Govt. is doing it by imposing population growth on a region that does not want it, but it also seems our Council is also very much into the swing of this style of imposed cultural change.

  2. fringe dweller Says:

    I suspect there is more than one Councillor and a large body of staff who like the top down approach.

    While a top down approach can provide wonderful technical solutions to urban congestion it is the people who live there that will determine its workability. Master planning, social planning cultural planning badly done will amount to social engineering and we can have faith that the high spirited among us will ensure human nature prevails.

    Culture changes, for sure. I’m thinking of the meat packing district of New York. A little while back it was a place of warehouses 9-5 Mon – Fri. Today the railway track is a garden and the area is very popular on weekends. From a working man’s place to a middle class leisure centre.

    Culture is based in history, embedded in the psyche.

    Cultural development seems to be driven from two different fronts, one aiming for sustainable economic, social and environmental and the other purely financial gain for a few.

    The problem for us poor souls out here in the dark is that sometimes it looks and feels like we are being herded by both those drivers into a very uncomfortable place. Are we going to be fleeced or have our throats cut? to use the meat packing analogy.

    It may be that some aspects of the top down imposition of cultural planning are good for us but for me the development industry has taken too much for too long, they behave like bullies and the level of trust between them and the community is too low to even contemplate working together.

    It’s a shame because as you say Steven, there are opportunities to make this a better place but it can only happen to everyone’s satisfaction if everyone participates.


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