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Strategic summary

The City of Busselton, a two-and-a-half hour drive south of Perth, has a population of over 39,000 people making it one of the largest regional cities in WA. Busselton is one of the fastest growing LGAs in WA outside of Perth (N.A. N.D.). Between 1991 and 2016, Busselton’s population grew at an average annual percentage change of over 5%, almost double the population growth of Perth during the same period (Productivity Commission 2017: 121-122). While Busselton’s average population growth rate between 2009 and 2019 was solid at 3% (ABS 2019a), between the census dates of 2011 and 2016, total employment grew by an annual average of 4.7% and creative employment grew by 7.03%. As such, at the time of the 2016 census, the broader workforce was growing stronger than population growth, and the creative workforce was growing stronger than total employment growth. 

A major tourist destination in regional WA, the city is home to the longest timber piled jetty in the southern hemisphere (1,841 metres long) that draws many intra- and interstate tourists to the region. Most importantly, the city is a lifestyle services hub and the gateway to the internationally renowned wine region and popular tourist destination of Margaret River. Promoted by the City of Busselton council as the ‘Events Capital of WA’, though perhaps more accurately the ‘Events Capital of Regional WA’, Busselton has a strong festival and events economy that fuels local creative and arts production. 

This study examines the creative/arts ecosystem in the City of Busselton Local Government Area (including the large township of Dunsborough), a key city in the broader South West. The South West, a region located in south-west corner of Western Australia, is a diverse geographical region comprised of two cities: Bunbury, historically a mining, agricultural and port hub and the  administrative capital of the South West; and Busselton, historically a retirement village and agricultural region, that is now a growing services and lifestyle hub. The region is also comprised of 10 smaller Shires: the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River, Shire of Boyup Brook, Shire of Bridgetown-Greenbushes, Shire of Capel, Shire of Collie, Shire of Dardanup, Shire of Donnybrook-Balingup, Shire of Harvey, Shire of Manjimup, and the Shire of Nannup. 

While this study focusses on Busselton’s creative and arts ecosystem, there is significant overlap and linkages with the creative industries and festivals that occur in Margaret River. Consequently, this report cannot discuss Busselton as a creative hotspot without to an extent discussing some creative activities that also occur in the broader Margaret River region. 

Background: Population and demographics trends 

Population growth and a growing workforce, changing demographics and lifestyle factors are driving growth in the creative industries in Busselton. A coastal city buttressed by bio-diverse national parks and picturesque beaches, the city is a major attractor of young families who move to the region for a change in lifestyle, retirees looking for a temperate coastal lifestyle during the warmer months, and creatives drawn by the coast and the natural beauty of the region. Interviews suggest that many creatives and their families who move to the region could potentially earn higher incomes in Perth, or elsewhere in the world, but these families choose to move regionally for the lifestyle, and other intangibles such as inspiration for their practice. 

Busselton has an older population than regional WA as a whole. Over 53% of the population are 40 years in age or older: 27.2% of the population are between 40 and 59 years old, while 26.2% are over 60 years old (ABS 2016). However, on average in regional WA, only 48.8% of the population are over the age of 40 (ABS 2016). At the same time, interviews suggest that Busselton’s demographics are changing. In previous decades, the city was largely a retirement village; a coastal region that wealthy farmers would retire to (Andrew Adams 2019). Yet in recent years the city’s demographics are becoming younger. As the then Shire of Busselton (2005) explained in their Cultural Plan:  'Young people can now come home to Busselton, Dunsborough, Vasse, Yallingup and surrounding villages because there is a sustainable future here based on the culture: the creative, environmental, social and innovative economic features and the community values that this region has been built on (p.24).'

Moreover, 51.1% of Busselton’s population are female in comparison to an average of 48.3% females in the rest of regional WA (ABS 2016; see Appendix Figure 4). 

There is a degree of brain drain in the region. Central Queensland University, based in Busselton and offering online courses, and Edith Cowan University’s Bunbury campus are the only universities in the region. Consequently, most young people growing up in Busselton or the South West, must leave to pursue tertiary education or professional training. However, interviews suggested that many creatives who leave often return to Busselton to raise a family (Robinson 2019; Adams 2019; Lewis 2019). In a case of reverse migration, those creatives who do return, tend to be highly qualified and highly experienced practitioners. Another major reason for the city’s appeal for  creatives and their families is that it offers the services and infrastructure of a major regional city including a hospital, an airport, and a large range of schools and so on. 

Characteristics of the arts and creative ecosystem in Busselton 

Population growth and a growing workforce, lifestyle factors, return migration, changing demographics, and relative affordability is leading to growth in the number of creatives living and working in the city. The arts and creative industries ecosystem of Busselton are notable for several reasons: 

  • An integrated and responsive arts and creative industries strategy between State Government economic plans, South West Development Commission (SWDC), and the Cultural Development department of the City of Busselton Council (part of the Directorate of Community and Commercial Services), and the Creative Corner, a not-for-profit peak development agency for the creative industries.
  • The creative ecosystem is fuelled by the tourism and the festival/events economy, public support through both investment and facilitation, and strong community-based volunteerism.
  • Employment in creative and cultural production are overwhelmingly characterised by a gig economy and portfolio careers, and creative employment is strongly associated with embedded creatives and the provision of creative services to marketing and tourism, wine, and hospitality industries.
  • A fledgling culture of entrepreneurialism, innovation, and business start-ups supported by publicly encouraged development programs and networks.

Public support for arts and creative industries comes from various sources, including key public institutions invested in developing creative industries in the South West such as the SWDC, the City of Busselton, and the Creative Corner. While direct funding for creative activities and production from these institutions is often limited, they also facilitate the flow of funding from other State-funded programs and agencies, notably via Royalties for Regions, the Western Australian Regional Film Fund (WARFF), and other State-based arts and cultural funding mechanisms. Furthermore, there are important instances of private investment in art and creative industries from the mining sector and wineries. 

Public support goes towards: 

  • Festivals and events.
  • Direct investment in projects that trigger funding from the above State-funded programs.
  • Investment in key cultural infrastructure needed across the South West region generally.

The creative ecosystem in Busselton is characterised by activities in cultural/arts production such as music, visual arts and crafts, and writing, but there are also numerous creatives working in the creative services such as graphic designers, web designers and illustrators, and photographers. There are plentiful arts societies and groups, festivals and publicly supported networks for creative practitioners and small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs). Volunteerism in the region is substantive. A large portion of volunteers are retirees and women who provide labour for the panoply of festivals that fuel Busselton’s creative economy. 

The city’s economy, and the livelihoods of creatives, are heavily dependent on tourism. Both Busselton and Margaret River are the two most visited areas outside of Perth. In the South West region more generally, of which Busselton and Margaret River are the key destinations, tourism was estimated to generate $1.1 billion in value in 2018, and based on 2016 Census data resulted in employment for 4,877 people (Regional development Australia: South West 2018). Non-creative festivals held every week of the year still source creative inputs for their marketing and promotion and draw on visual arts and live entertainment in delivering their program. 

Creative employment in Busselton is characterised by a gig economy and portfolio careers. Many creatives work multiple gigs and often a combination of non-creative jobs to pay bills in addition to paid-creative pursuits and passion projects. The interviewees reveal that it is highly likely that official ABS Census data massively undercounts the number of creatives living and working in the city who may have a non-creative primary source of income but identify as being creative practitioners who earn some form of income from creative activities. 

Due to limited opportunities for full-time employment in creative occupations in a small regional economy, creatives either run their own business as sole-traders or work multiple creative gigs to earn an income. Like other hotspots examined in WA, entrepreneurism and a do-it-yourself ethos necessitated by the region’s isolation are defining characteristics of arts and creative industries. There is a growing number of start-ups and entrepreneurs in the region, as well as a significant number of female entrepreneurs running their own creative enterprises. 

Creative businesses are supported by adequate broadband infrastructure. NBN Co. announced in late 2020 that Bunbury, Busselton and Margaret River will be Business Fibre Zones making Enterprise Ethernet available in the respective CBDs and surrounding areas. This infrastructure can provide businesses with symmetrical high-speed broadband of potentially 1Gb/s. Consequently, those practitioners providing creative services or ‘exporting’ creativity state-wide, nationally, or internationally are well supported by broadband infrastructure. 

Margaret River is widely recognised as a creative hotpot in the South West. Interviewees often asked the lead author of this report why Busselton was the study’s focus instead of Margaret River. A key reason is that although Margaret River has a higher creative intensity in creative occupations than Busselton – a measure of the percentage of creative occupations as a portion of the overall workforce – there is a much larger and growing number of creatives and creative SMEs concentrated in Busselton. Furthermore, albeit before COVID-19, strong population growth over a long period of time was also leading to significant investment in the region. To meet the demands of a growing population and because the city is a significant tourism destination, both in its own right as well as a destination to stay to explore the Margaret River region, there has been major investment in infrastructure and civic amenities, including almost $40 million in cultural infrastructure investment earmarked for Busselton and the Margaret River region in the last 5 years. 

Download the full report.

Page reviewed 11 September 2023