Researching Vernacular Creativity in Wollongong

Since 2008, Andrew Warren's PhD research for CAMRA has investigated grassroots, everyday or 'vernacular' forms of cultural and creative practice in Wollongong - including custom car design, surfboard shaping and Indigenous Hip Hop - and their social, cultural, and economic contributions to the region.  Here, he writes about his research journey so far.

Shaping Wollongong's Identity

Wollongong has a proud industrial heritage, with longstanding ties to steel making and coal mining, where Port Kembla has expanded to become one of Australia's busiest and most important harbours. The region is also renowned for its proximity to stunning natural amenity, and is flanked by the Royal National Park to the north, Tasman Sea to the east and Illawarra escarpment to the west. Indeed Wollongong has a unique Geography.

Having lived in the area all my life, I began this PhD with an 'insiders' view of Wollongong, overtly aware of the inadequate documentation of the city's vibrant cultural life. So, using existing contacts within the local community, drawing on help from local council planners and community groups - all the while galvanising new social networks as I went along - I have been able to draw out three unique cultural and creative case studies, involving a diverse spectrum of participants. These are activities which have not traditionally been thought about as 'cultural assets' for Wollongong, but for which I will argue make not only important contributions to the city's economy, but also to the making of Wollongong as a region itself. These activities are as much a part of Wollongong's identity as coal mining and steelmaking.