Reflections on Cultural Mapping Lounge @ Viva La Gong

On Saturday Nov 7th a team of CAMRA researchers (Chris Gibson, Andrew Warren and Ben Gallan from UOW; Lisa Andersen and Josh Edwards from UTS) staffed a stall at the Viva La Gong festival in Wollongong. We asked festival attendees to spend a few minutes of their day with us to record their views about where 'cool' and 'creative' Wollongong was in their city. We recorded what they said on MP3 recorders, and asked them to draw on maps as they described in words where 'cool' and 'creative' Wollongong was in their minds.

All up, over 160 people participated - giving us a very large dataset to analyse - a good kilo of A3 maps and nearly half a gig of MP3 recordings!

It's worth having a semi-public debrief on the method - hence this blog.

What worked - what didn't... what are the possibilities and limitations of using a festival as place to conduct a cultural mapping exercise?

I have many thoughts and I'm sure the other members of the team do too - I'll start by saying that I was surprised by the positive response, the number of participants we recruited, and the manner in which people responded. Very few people seemed uninterested; virtually noone said 'no' outright.

And most interestingly, a kind of 'learning curve' was observed among many of the participants: to begin with, people struggled to think of what places were cool or creative, but as they started the mapping process, things started to kick into place and by the end of each interview/mapping exercise, people were freely talking about Wollongong's sites and cultural activities using the map as a constant visual prompt. Scores of interviews that looked like being short 2 minute ones ended up lasting for 10, 20, even 40 minutes. I think there's a story here about how hard copy paper maps play a role in cementing a particular kind of thinking about a place. Maps are initially an interruption to people's thought processes - they catch newly recruited informants by surprise and stop people in their tracks. But eventually maps become a solid foundation for more detailed and insightful comments than might have been the case without them.

I think it worked.

I invite others on the team - and members of the public who participated on the day - to make comments about this method on this blog...



Caroline's question got me

Andrew Warren's picture

Caroline's question got me thinking - for something 'billed' as a lounge, we actually had everyone standing all day!

I didn't hear any complaints from participants, but perhaps as Chris G said, next time we can work on creating a better lounge experience. Our next venue - The Wollongong City Gallery - should be more roomy, so we may have more of an opportunity to set that up.

Also, i wanted to say that Wollongong can be proud of the way it has encouraged and participated in our work so far. We have received great support from council, local TV, radio and newspaper. That support can only help in spreading the CAMRA word.

See link for local news article:

For me it was a really

Ben Gallan's picture

For me it was a really enjoyable experience. Having lived in the centre of Wollongong for 5 years and in the region for most of my life it was refreshing to see how many of the respondents had a real pride about what they were explaining in terms of personal experiences but also in terms of the city and region itself. I didn't expect so much POSITIVE feedback.

One thing that I thought could use some re-thinking was gettin people to individually complete the exercise. In my encounters people looked more at ease and enjoying themselves more in groups or couples and it was good that we could allow a certain degree of flexibility about this. I think it could reveal some interesting points after analysis, and will give a clearer indication if this was beneficial or a hinderance in data collection.

We talked on the day about the terminology being difficult to understand for some people ('cool' seemed a problem with older generations). I think more preparation for continued prompting would definately of helped me on the day to coax along people who were having trouble. 'Cool' ended up being substituted by 'fun', 'happy', 'where do you spend your spare time?', 'exciting'. It was good though to see how openly people interpreted the terms.

The highlight of my day was my 40 min interview with the head of the local area ukelele club!! It was a great education about the regions folk/acoustic music scene that praised blues-jams, school-concerts, live venues, pubs, bowlo's, RSL's and beach front spaces as something creative and cool in Wollongong. It really is amazing the things people are willing to share with you if you just ask!

Everything worked so well

Lisa Andersen's picture

Everything worked so well that we would not have changed it. I did think that if we wanted much lengthier interview-responses - rather than setting up lounges - we might have set up some sun-shade umbrellas over seating and tables with cold water on such a hot day. A mapping 'cafe'.

We will be able to report back on how the Outhouse works for engaging the communities in the Central Darling region - eg during the Waste to Art Festival in Mennindee in June 2010.

To lounge or not? In answer

Chris Gibson's picture

To lounge or not?

In answer to Caroline's question, I think 'lounge' made approaching our stall more inviting, or at least made it a bit more intriguing.

I had at one stage hoped that we might actually be able to get a lounge-room feeling going with arm-chairs and drapes. But then reality kicked in... how would I realistically manage to get such gear to the festival without up-scaling the transport and logistics considerably?

At mapping lounge II, at W'gong City Gallery, Dec 1, we may have more scope to re-create a genuine lounge-like environment. It'll be interesting to see if it works.

Caroline's comment does invite a very interesting discussion about how to construct a venue to interact with the public as part of a research process. What immediately came to mind was the great work the Trax team have been doing with the Outhouse - using a converted portable dunny as a semi-public video confessional booth. See

It is possible - with use of simplified GIS (computer mapping) platforms and hardware, to set up an on-screen drawing/map-making interface. It could also be possible to kit out a small physical space like an outhouse or the back of a truck with such screens and to make the mapping lounge mobile. We used paper maps at Viva La Gong, which means lots of back-office processing by us now at UOW to get them all scanned and digitally synchronised... if we had an on-screen interface in a fully kitted mobile lounge, such back-office work would be eliminated. But a fully-digital mapping lounge might also alter the feel of the whole exercise... the basic signs, sticky-tape and rough tables at Viva La Gong fitted the festival setting and added to the sense of it being a community, rather than university or local government operated research exercise.


Did identifying as a Lounge

Caroline Knight's picture

Did identifying as a Lounge help attract people?

Looking at the photos the stand you used seems quite basic - and based on my experience at similar events (including the Newtown festival this weekend just gone), similar stands with a few people and some bits of paper aren't always the most eye catching and appealing.

But despite that you seem to have enticed people to get involved. Would you say that marketing the stand as a "Lounge" increased the appeal to those walking past?

Yeah i wholeheartedly agree

Josh Edwards's picture

Yeah i wholeheartedly agree with everyone else, it was a huge success and I appreciated a thorough education of the Gong! Thanks to the Chris for organising it all. It really intrigued me to explore alternative methods of data collection. I found the idea of story-telling quite relevant. A lot of the time people, although they may fit into a certain age bracket, would start retelling the tale and meaning behind why they think the place where they marked with a blue highlighter is THE coolest place in Wollongong. An example of this are the orchard farms at Mt Kiera, where you could take a bucket and fill it up with apples for a dollar.
I thought the interpretive nature of cool and creative combined with the visual aspect of a map collected a lot more richer set of data than other forms. However, people's interpretation of creative sometimes alluded to them suggesting it is up in the northern suburbs because "they're more arty up there". Perhaps the term 'creative' has certain connotations that imply that one must be artistic or dress in a particular way in order to be creative. Whereas if the term was offered in a sense of articulating ones thoughts or expressing themselves in some manner. I guess what I'm trying to say, is that, similar to the Central Darling Shire, the term 'artist' is overlooked. In that Fred that makes leather whips is not considered an artist, but rather barb's brother who makes whips.
A huge response on the day was that there needs to be more events like the viva la gong festival, to get people out and about and mingling. More areas that act as a social hub.

Good luck with the transcribing and I can definitely say that I am a lover of Wollongong!


Thanks for posting the

Lisa Andersen's picture

Thanks for posting the piccies Andrew.

I also wanted to add that it was nice work for a researcher - ie, didn't feel like giving up a Saturday to 'go to work'.

One of the things that Josh and I both commented on was the lack of locally produced/made 'stuff' at the Festival (apart from some local food stalls). Maybe I have to go to the 'artsy', 'hippy' market in the North to find local arts and craft for sale?

For me the Viva La Gong

Andrew Warren's picture

For me the Viva La Gong mapping lounge was a roaring success.

I agree with Chris and Lisa that there were some initial barriers for many people concerning the maps. I had some mention that they couldn't draw very well or weren't very good at reading maps. However, once you explained to people that they could just mark a 'rough' point on the map, and verbally explain the place they thought was cool or creative, things became more comfortable for them.

Like Lisa said too, it was really encouraging to actually see people waiting for their 'turn' at doing the mapping. The line was 3 or 4 deep on some occasions. I could see passers by showing great interest in what was going on, often coming over and telling me that they would like to do the exercise - "I want to do that", a few people told me!

It will be interesting to see how the maps and interviews turn out, and it will take some time to get through the 160 maps/interviews. But, from the 30 people that i worked with, the region's beach culture and forest bushwalks came through as cool places, while 'creative' was associated with the northern beach suburbs like Austinmer and Thirroul. What i did also notice though, which surprised me as a fellow Wollongong resident, was how alot of people valued the industrial suburbs like Cringila, Coniston and Port Kembla, explaining their enjoyment at observing the busy steelworks or watching the ships dock in the harbour, loading their cargo, before departing again.

On the other side, what problems did i find?

Well, I encountered some problems with the word 'cool', especially when used with 'older' participants. On these occasions, you had to be aware of how you structured the question and i often associated 'cool' with fun, enjoyable places' that people liked to visit. When you re-phrased things with those words, the question became more relational, and their maps were quickly dotted and marked.

So, for me the mapping exercise was an encouraging experience. I think people enjoyed filling and drawing on maps. It seemed to spark memories of their experiences around the region.

I'm not sure about you, but i am excited to see how our maps turn out and what they will reveal to us!

People were genuinely

Lisa Andersen's picture

People were genuinely engaged by the process (a few people mentioned they had heard it on the news the night before) and only two people said 'no' to me - both because they were in a hurry and one promised to come back (and did). The only friction I observed was when an older married couple I was interviewing together had a slight disagreement on his thoughts on the most 'creative' place in Wollongong - she walked off.

For some periods we had short queues of people waiting to 'have their turn' and we had run out of maps by 4pm. I thought  the JB Hi Fi prize was a useful incentive as there were a few people who would not normally participate in this sort of research who did so because they were interested in the prize draw.

From the 40+ people I interviewed, a few didn't know the 'pinpoint' location of the places they were describing so was good to be able to tell them that the recorded interview would be used to locate the place they 'nominated'. As I - being from Sydney - was not familiar with the area, I was not able to help them.  However, the strength of being from 'away' was that a number of people wanted to describe their enjoyment of the local area in great detail - so the mix of local and not-local researchers may have been a good balance.

I interviewed older couples, mothers with circus children, skatie boys, a group of Muslim women, a South Asian, German and Canadian families, young Aboriginal-Islander church singers, and a fanatical fisherman.  The crowd was a great mix of the local community who had self-selected as cultural consumers (ie, they were at the Festival).

What do I remember hearing on the day?

The beaches (and Austinmer and North Wollongong were most commonly mentioned), Mt Keira, 'downtown' Wollongong and people's home suburbs were probably the most often mentioned for the 'coolest place'.  Specific 'creative' places I heard most often were Wollongong University, the nearby youth centre, IPAC and the various cultural venues (library, art gallery etc...), the Science Centre, and the 'artsy' suburbs of Thirroul and Austinmer. 

(I personally was thrilled when) Two people (home renovators) mentioned Bunnings as a 'creative' place and one guy said the 'Dapto dogs' were cool.

Most often heard complaints?

1. Difficulty of finding out what's going on in the region.

2. Not enough for young people to do.