Cultural policy in an Australian suburb : a study of Campbelltown, Sydney, from the mid-1950s to 1988

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From the mid-1950s to 1988 Campbelltown, an area located fifty kilometres south west of Sydney’s central business district, underwent physical and social change that was unparalleled elsewhere in Australia. Overarched by the post war nation‐building project, a series of ambitious metropolitan and national growth plans re-imagined rural Campbelltown as an outer suburban utopia. A new city centre surrounded by carefully planned residential, neighbourhood and industrial estates was proposed and residents would enjoy a high quality of life. By the 1970s, however, the realities of Campbelltown’s suburbanisation had deviated radically from these post war ideals. Whereas planners had based Campbelltown’s future success upon a set of characteristics that had defined it since the early 1800s—its sense of independence, civic pride and white settler history—by the 1980s, it had become a notorious suburban ‘bad land’ and ‘a welfare electorate par excellence’. Concepts of culture featured within the ideologies and processes that were at play in the creation of ‘new’ Campbelltown. Governments at three levels—local, state and federal—fostered cultural activity in order to achieve specific policy objectives as Campbelltown became incorporated within the Sydney metropolitan area. At the same time that cultural policy directions were employed to determine what sort of place Campbelltown would be, local leaders were pursuing agendas for cultural development that encompassed a set of particular aspirations. As these various developments and forces took shape and converged, tensions, ambiguities and paradoxes became apparent. This study of the relationship between cultural policy and suburban Australia situates the topic within a particular place over a three‐decade period—Campbelltown. By doing so, it provides an expansive account that considers how the cultural development objectives of governments and communities have interplayed within and contributed to the creation of suburbia itself. The complexity that arises from this situation adds weight to a viewpoint that suburbia is a multi-faceted and evolving concept. It is for this reason—combined with the importance that suburban life has had in Australia’s development—that it merits a level of attention in cultural policy discussions, which is currently lacking.
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