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(What if) The bright lights aren't in the big city (?)

Galah Press founder, Annabelle Hickson shares the origin story of her publication and why, 'it’s really exciting that there are so many different ways to live a country life in 2023'.

Jan 5, 2023


Words: Emma Hearne
Images: Supplied

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Thank the publication gods for handsome farmers.

Before Annabelle Hickson met Ed, a handsome farmer of the pecan variety, she’d never owned a pair of gumboots, thought her 10-minute drive to a supermarket was a bit inconvenient and had certainly never had a brown snake slither into her kitchen while she was chopping onions.

“I’d grown up in a very suburban way in Sydney. I'd never thought about life outside the city. Working as a journalist, the stories that popped up about regional Australia were of floods, fires, droughts, lack of access to health care and education, doom and gloom… And, because I didn’t know better, there was a sense that living regionally was a bit of a second-rate life.”

But love inspires bold ideas – ideas like sacrificing a dream career at The Australian and giving regional
living in Tenterfield a try, where the nearest supermarket is an hour’s drive away…

“When I moved regionally, I discovered there was so much more than I had naively assumed. There is freedom, innovation and positivity. There are opportunities and really interesting people – and they are not the sort of people who haven’t been able to make it in the city.”

“When I moved regionally, I discovered there was so much more than I had naively assumed. There is freedom, innovation and positivity...”

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Like Gippslandia’s founders, who started this publication in response to the negative press surrounding the 2017 Hazlewood mine closure, Annabelle wanted to change the narrative about regional towns. “I wanted to be one of the voices that created a more rounded picture of what regional life is like, reflect the kind of people I was meeting and be a bridge to connect people, like me, who knew nothing about regional Australia.”

Galah Press is what resulted – an award-winning independent print magazine documenting regional Australia. Print media is a bold (and risky) venture in the age of pixelated media consumption, but there was no alternative for Annabelle. “I love being able to hold a publication, fold the page and underline things. For me, it differentiates digital reading, like the daily news, from reading for pleasure.”

This medium also reflects what Annabelle loves about regional life – the unhurried pace, the enduring quality and the space to explore the rich nuances present.

With eight thoughtfully crafted editions out in the world, Galah has told 240 stories from regional and rural Australia, published 106 writers and 93 photographers, and most recently established a photography prize to celebrate, support and advance the practice of regional photographers.

Finalists were exhibited in a beloved northern NSW gallery and there was $25,000 prize money for the winner – which Annabelle proudly notes is “on par with the most prestigious, long-running photography prizes in the country”. This fact sends a powerful message about the excellence of regional Australian artists and the investment they deserve. “You can be top of your game as a photographer and live in Bourke or live in Boomi.”

According to the Regional Australia Institute, more people are migrating from capital cities to regional Australia than ever before – during the last census (2016–21) 614,144 people made the move. The net gain for the regions in this period was almost triple that of the previous intercensal period.

So what role do regional publications play in this period of growth?

“I don’t think regional publications can take any significant credit for the tree-change movement – although city readers often email me, saying Galah makes them feel more confident about a move to the country – but I do think we have a duty to reflect the changing culture of regional Australia.

“The culture of old-school farmers and cups of tea on verandas remains, but there is so much diversity beyond that. Young professionals working remotely, thriving artists, people saving the spotted quoll, immigrants setting up their own businesses... the list goes on and on and on. It’s really exciting that there are so many different ways to live a country life in 2023.”

Adele Packer, cofounder of the Halfway Print Fest, adds, “Independent publications play a huge role in celebrating regional communities. Whether it be a community newsletter, an anthology of poems, a quarterly magazine, the local high school’s yearbook or a one-off zine made by your neighbour's kid – all of these publications hold value. Storytelling has the power to foster belonging and connection, build communities and sustain cultural futures for regional areas. When regional stories are told, they are valued.”

While enthusiastically agreeing with Annabelle and Adele, Gippslandia’s own editor, Tim Leeson, adds, “An independent regional publication can shine a light on people or facets of the community you may not otherwise see. There’s a real impact in fulfilling ‘if you can see it, you can be it’, which benefits us all.”

So, more accurately, thank the publication gods for Annabelle Hickson, for Adele Packer and for everyone who has contributed to Gippslandia.

For every voice from the bush, boldly sharing their story.

You can find out more about Galah at galahpress.com and @galah.press.

Another cracking regional publication is Pandaemonium, who recently penned this rad piece on independent media (which we feature - thanks) and a cool article titled 'Are all the cool kids leaving the city?'. Learn more about this wonderful media outlet here: www.pandaemonium.org

Gippslandia - Issue No. 29

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