CDU identifies secret weapon for economic success 


A secret weapon in the fight to establish Darwin as a creative tropical Mecca is being unveiled in a project that could help determine the city’s future.

A radical Creative Tropical City project by Charles Darwin University (CDU) aims to identify who is involved in creative industries in Darwin in a bid to harness their talent to boost the economy and transform the city.

As a sector, creative industries has lacked a self-conscious identity in Darwin yet it includes people working in academia, architecture, arts, crafts, design, fashion, film, music, performing arts, publishing, software, radio and television; and elsewhere is the target of deliberate policy.

So far 98 people working in creative industries, or creative practitioners, have been interviewed as part of the project and asked where they feel creative, what inspires them around Darwin and what is needed to boost creativity and creative opportunities.

CDU Head of School of Creative Arts, Associate Professor Donal Fitzpatrick said initial research has revealed a number of creative hotspots throughout the northern suburbs and central business district but also many “dead zones” including the inland area of Casuarina as one of the main offenders.

“There is a ribbon or corridor of creative practitioners through from Rapid Creek, Nightcliff, Parap and Fannie Bay,” Dr Fitzpatrick said. “But most surprisingly what we unearthed is a hotspot of creative activity in Winnellie where there are a lot of creative small businesses working hard without much support.”

Dr Fitzpatrick said that identifying where people were being creative would enable the Northern Territory Government and other industries to provide more opportunities to entice other creative industries to these areas by providing work and office space, subsidised accommodation, more venues and outlets for creative work, and public interaction with creative producers.

The project’s chief investigator and Director of CDU’s School for Social and Policy Research Associate Professor Tess Lea said it was vital to harness Darwin’s creative spirit. While international theorists believe it is these creative thinkers with new ideas that attract and retain the science, engineering and finance professionals who boost the economy, if everyone takes the same view, the playing field becomes level again. “The trick is to build from our existing strengths and not do what everyone else is doing: in Darwin that means drawing on our ethnic diversity and regional alliances with Timor, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand and Papua New Guinea,” she said.

In addition to attracting new people, the development of local strength in the creative industries may serve to reduce the “brain-drain” of Darwin’s creative youth and graduates to “down south”, and make those who move to the Territory capital on short-term contracts want to stay longer.

The seed for the idea to transform Darwin into a tropical Mecca for all industry professionals germinated at a symposium run by CDU in Alice Springs in 2004.

In the same way that a body can’t work with just muscles, arms and legs, a city needed its creative people to be the heart, soul and creative side of the “brain”. Dr Lea said she believed the NT Government, just like any “brain”, needed to get in touch with its creative side to be successful.

“Our initial research shows that places creative people find inspirational include open space, parklands, beaches, wildlife and they value anywhere that still breathes a sense of wildlife into the city like mangroves,” she said. “They need energy, buzz, a little bit of anarchy, plurality, difference. We need to protect the creative hotspots that inspire people and change the areas that are sterile, urban dead zones. We need to attend to the practices of exclusion which expel Aboriginal people from our parks and malls.”

Dr Lea said Darwin was lagging behind the other states in competing for creative professionals despite the city’s close proximity to South East Asia, its unique role as a border city, and strong Indigenous presence in its cultural mix. “Darwin has all the ingredients. It even has a university. In any other city this size – Ann Arbor, Dunedin, Fort Collins – the reputation would be built on us being a university town as part of the talent-attracting magnet.”

Creative Tropical City project officer Karen Hughes, who is also a violinist with the Darwin Symphony Orchestra in her spare time, believes many creative people don’t realise their economic value or potential.

“This research shows Darwin has a wealth of talent and unique opportunities but there is no collective response to the creative needs in Darwin,” Ms Hughes said.

Dr Fitzpatrick said that while the first step in the project was to identify who was part of the local creative industry, the next was to educate them about their role in the economy and the value they have as a lobby group or pool of talent that can help shape the future of Darwin as a creative tropical city.

The Creative Tropical City is funded by the Australian Research Council. The CDU research team is partnered with investigators from the University of South Australia and University of Wollongong. The Department of the Chief Minister & NRETA, Darwin City Council and Tourism NT are the project’s industry partners.