There is no doubt the culture of many regional towns (particularly larger towns and regional cities) is shifting. This shift has been happening gradually over decades as previous city dwellers shift for work relocation, more relaxed and affordable lifestyles. The sheer cost of living (and affordability of country living) indicates this will no doubt increase into the future.
Despite the changing culture there is still a set of secret rules which govern regional life, particularly in smaller regional communities. Unlike Commonwealth, State and Local Government rules there is no Hansard nor meeting minutes to tell the unsuspecting newcomer about the rules. In fact, as if decreed by a secret cow cockie court the rules are discovered by running slap bang into one and making mistakes.
What are these secret rules?
1. Business/social relationships are blurred but should not be exploited: The smaller population size of regional communities can mean you bump into your service providers in community as well as in their offices. Yes, it’s likely that the GP who administered your pap smear on Tuesday could be the parent standing shoulder to shoulder with you at the kids soccer training on Wednesday.
Hot tip: If you do run into your service provider at a social occasion utilise the opportunity to build the relationship, not launch into a business conversation.
2. The community is closer than you may think: Need a recommendation? Ask anyone, it’s likely they will know someone, or at least someone who knows someone.
Hot tip: Build a network of recommenders you can trust. You will identify these people as the breadth of their recommendations will extend beyond their family and friends and the services recommended will always be quality.
3. Family networks are as broad as they are deep: There is every chance that your butcher’s mother is the second cousin once removed of your new neighbour. Mess with the neighbour and expect some special ingredients in your mince. Of course, there is always a chance the butcher actually loathes that cousin. The risk is in your hands.
Hot tip: Just assume everyone is related in some way and don’t make associated jokes about what that has done to the gene pool, that’s the privilege of the long-term locals.
4. Gossip is a commodity: Don’t be misled by gossip you hear indicating a general tone of discord among two parties, it’s just as likely they are best buddies every other day. While country folk may outwardly irritate one another on a regular basis, they also have a strong sense of loyalty and compassion when a fellow resident needs help (or defence against an unknown entity).
Hot tip: Believe 36.5% of what you hear via gossip channels and 3% of the intent in which it is delivered and learn to nod more than speak.
5. Parochialism is alive and well: Think your community could do with a change of any sort? While it may seem the residents of your community are oblivious to outside opportunities and change you are likely to find they are very aware, however have avoided the conversation because of the battle they know will ensue.
Hot tip: If you are hell bent on creating change in your town have others (note, more than one) on your side before you launch into action. If you are still confused watch Leadership Lessons with the Dancing Guy.
6. Alcohol is one determining factor in your trustability: As Australia’s relationship with alcohol gradually shifts, booze is still a go to regional relationship builder. In fact it’s likely imbibing on at least a few occasions will build trust with your chosen circle. (NOTE: I DID NOT ENDORSE THIS AS A GOOD DECISION nor A GOOD IDEA).
Hop tip: (aside of all obvious health related tips) Don’t decide to snot (or snog) the wrong person and know your limits. Someone who ‘can’t hold their grog’ is likely to be as much of a social outcast as someone who didn’t start in the first place.
7. There is an underpinning sense of pride: No matter what you hear people say about their community, just below the surface is a bulging sense of pride when activated you will notice a twinkle in the eye. This is where the good stuff lies and showcases what is unique and loveable about a community.
Hot tip: Ask people what they love / admire / enjoy about their community, their responses will intrigue and delight you.
So what happens to the unsuspecting newcomer who falls foul to one of these rules? It’s quite likely first offenders will be adorned with a loving label such as “Johnny come lately”, “uptown” or even “up yourself”. But never fear, there is always redemption but that will be the topic of a future post.
The views in this article are the author’s own and in no way related to any organisation nor contract she may represent.
Kerry Grace is a community engagement practitioner currently leading a regional development organisation in NSW Australia and managing her own company Evolve Group Network (est 2003).
Kerry’s work focuses on enabling economic sustainability in small regional communities. With a strong consultancy background she has worked with all levels of government, not for profits and Aboriginal corporations. She is often called upon for her facilitation skills to moderate pathways forward for contentious and complex issues.
Kerry regularly blurts words about accidental leadership, being a mum in business, self-care and adapting for an uncertain future. www.kerrygrace.com.au