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To shine a spotlight on local literary magazines, Kill Your Darlings is showcasing the work of exciting publishers across the country. In this latest instalment, meet Galah, an independent publication based in regional NSW. We chat to founder Annabelle Hickson, who shares an essay from the magazine’s latest print edition, Galah Issue 09.

Why did you start Galah?

A few years ago, I started a print magazine from my kitchen table on a quiet pecan farm in a small valley. I had no real publishing or business experience, no employees, no money, but I did have a dust-covered dictaphone from my newspaper journalist days and a borderline desperate desire to read stories from regional Australia that weren’t all doom and gloom.

We’d just gone through three years of drought, mouse plagues, fires and then floods. It wasn’t an easy time, but even at its worst, I still felt that living in the country was a great privilege. The stories on the news about life in regional Australia were all so bleak and depressing, but I didn’t feel like a victim, and I didn’t see victims when I looked around me. The stereotypes of simple, complaining farmers or backward hillbillies didn’t ring true to my experience. Instead, more often than not, life out here felt full of excitement, opportunity and delight.

I became obsessed with the idea of creating a platform for stories from the country that weren’t all about hardship. I wanted to read stories that reflected the modern and diverse people who chose to live outside of the city. I wanted to read about creativity, success and opportunities. And I wanted to read them on things that didn’t flash or beep, that I could stack up on the kitchen table and that I could hold in the bath without fear of mild electrocution. So I started Galah.

If you could sum up the magazine in five words, how would you describe it?

I’ll do it in four: Life beyond the city.

What kind of writing do you publish?

Galah is a national cultural magazine focused on life and creativity in regional and rural Australia. At 180 pages, it’s more like a book than a magazine. It’s both brainy and beautiful. It’s definitely not fluffy, nor is it gloomy. A reader described it as ‘the New York Times meets Country Style’, a description which made me very happy. We publish a huge range of stories—3000-word features on how to solve the housing crisis, 1500-word artist profiles, stories about gardeners and producers and people with original houses or creative practices…

The best way to understand what type of writing we publish is to read a Galah. I get lots of emails from people saying that they’d love to write for us, asking me to keep them in mind for future stories, but I don’t really know what to do with these emails because they lack specificity. I love to receive emails from writers with specific ideas.

Any exciting projects that writers should know about?

We have a book coming out via Murdoch Books! Across six themed chapters, I share a different perspective on life in regional Australia, featuring stories from the coast to the farms, from the bush to the towns, from the rainforest to the outback.

Galah (2024). Image: Murdoch Books. Annabelle Hickson. Image: Supplied.

In terms of the magazine, we’re just about to launch a digital world for Galah. Up until now, you’ve only been able to read our stories in the print mag form, but we’re making a digital home for our magazine stories where they will sit alongside our two regular newsletters. We’re also going to launch a couple of new monthly newsletters from regional writers. I am actively on the lookout for writers who can pitch and deliver funny, smart and original stories somehow linked to life out of the cities for this new digi world.

Also, we’re thinking about starting a new series in the print magazine: writers on writers. I want to hear about why you love a particular Australian writer—contemporary or from the past—in about 1000 words. I’m not looking for academic-style pieces. I’m more interested in smart, funny and /or moving personal essays.

Where can writers and readers find you?

You can find Galah online and Instagram.

Writers can find out more about writing for Galah here.

Can you tell us a bit about the piece you’re sharing today?

I travelled to the small town of Mungindi on the NSW–Queensland border to watch a musical Shrek adaptation performed by a 40-strong cast of farmers, teachers, nurses and ambos. Anyone who wanted to be part of the production got a role. If there wasn’t a suitable part, director Emily Harris wrote one. Some could sing very well. Others couldn’t. But they were all glorious.

I can’t overstate how powerful it was to see this. It’s so easy to be a political hobbyist with good parlour chat, but it’s another thing all together to forge genuine connections across a community in real life. This is a story how and why real-life connections matter.


‘When Shrek came to Mungindi’ by Annabelle Hickson 

Tonight is the final dress rehearsal for a musical adaptation of Shrek in the small farming town of Mungindi on the NSW–Queensland border. This weekend, the 40-strong cast of farmers, teachers, nurses, crop-dusters, postmistresses, ambos and agronomists will perform two sold-out shows in the town hall in front of their friends, family and community. Only some of them can sing. But being able to sing is not the point.

Anyone who wanted to be part of this musical got a role. If there wasn’t a suitable part, Emily Harris, the writer and director who moved to Mungindi about 25 years ago when she married a local farmer, wrote a part for them. They play well-known characters such as Shrek and Princess Fiona and new bespoke additions such as the Three Little Pigs.

The youngest cast member is 19. The oldest is 68. The Three Blind Mice are played by three generations of one family. There are extroverts like the fairy godmother, played with panache by a young agronomist in drag, and Snow White, played by a young South African woman of short stature. Others are more introverted, like the crop-dusting pilot who stays back of house as the stage manager and the two young ambos up in the sound and lighting box. Some are juggling a lot of stuff outside of the musical, like the 30-year-old high school teacher and youth pastor who, on top of her two jobs, has become a guardian to a local teenage girl.

Whether introverted or extroverted, everyone who came together to perform this wonderfully bizarre version of Shrek has worked hard. For six months the cast and crew have been practising for four hours, twice a week. Harris, the director, also played the role of team coach, keeping everyone motivated to turn up with ‘finding your why’ speeches and ‘summiting Everest’ analogies. (‘If my kids were here and could hear me talking like this, they would have died,’ she says, laughing.)

There are lots of good reasons why a commitment such as this would be too much, even for Harris. She has a big family to look after. She and her husband run a large agribusiness. She’s working on a novel. So why is she doing it?

‘I want to live in a town that has things like this,’ she says. ‘I want to live somewhere where we all get together and work towards a common goal, not just individual things. I mean, look at us,’ she pauses. ‘We’re fat, we’re thin, we’re rich, we’re poor, we’re black, we’re white, we’re short, we’re tall, some of us can sing, some can’t and look at what we’re doing, all together.’

In Mungindi (pronounced mung-in-die), multimillionaires live alongside others who have very little. Economic inequality in the small town is plain to see. ‘But you can find a commonality,’ says Harris. ‘I mean, we’re all people. We all breathe in and we breathe out. And with the musical, that commonality is laughter.’

In Mungindi (pronounced mung-in-die), multimillionaires live alongside others who have very little.

Harris is not alone in seeing the value of commonality. One of the great American political thinkers of the 19th century and the designer of New York’s Central Park, Frederick Wall Olmsted, believed small associations such as community theatre groups played a crucial role in making democracy work. The ‘commonplace civilisation’ of a liberal society depended on these groups, he believed, not because of the end result but because of the relationships and trust built along the way. He didn’t use the term ‘social capital’ as modern political scientists and corporate marketing departments do, but he meant the same thing. Networks of relationships between people who live and work together enable society to function effectively. In his day, building a park was a way to provide a space for and encourage commonplace civilisation and set a stage for social capital to grow.

In 1993 political scientist Robert Putnam published a famous study that supported Olmsted’s insight with quantifiable, empirical data collected over 20 years. The central finding of Putnam’s study of democratic institutions in Italy was that the performance of governments is closely related to the vibrancy of associational life in each region. The more citizens actively participated in sports clubs, book clubs, choirs, service groups and choral societies, the more regional governments were ‘efficient in their internal operation, creative in their policy initiatives and effective in implementing those initiatives’. His study found that social capital plays a vital role in how communities function and has significant implications for economic development, political participation, and overall social wellbeing.

‘What makes democracy work,’ wrote journalist Adam Gopnik of Putnam’s study in the New Yorker, ‘is the presence of what, in sociologese, is called “horizontal” leisure groups. Choral groups make good government.’ Or in our case, Shrek musicals ‘protect from tyranny’.


Mungindi is a town of contrasts. Some of Australia’s richest farmers live and work on the black soils surrounding the town, growing wheat in the winter and cotton in the summer. Children are sent to private boarding schools. International ski holidays are booked. When it’s dry, it’s tough, but when it rains, business booms.

There’s another side to the demographics, too. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ 2021 SEIFA data, which offers a snapshot of relative socio-economic disadvantage across Australia on a scale of one to ten (where one indicates the greatest disadvantage and ten indicates the least), Mungindi scores one. About a third of Mungindi households earn less than $650 a week. About a third of people in Mungindi finished their education at year ten or earlier.

Mungindi is part of the Moree Plains local government area, which ranks the highest or second highest in NSW for domestic violence, assault, robbery, break-and-enter, car theft, stealing and malicious damage to property.

On paper, Mungindi has plenty of reasons to have plenty of problems. Yet both the local police and ambulance officers say that crime and drugs are much less of a relative problem in Mungindi than in Moree, the biggest town in the LGA, 90 minutes south-east along the Carnarvon Highway. There is a huge spread in the socio-demographics of Mungindi, but there is cohesion.

On paper, Mungindi has plenty of reasons to have plenty of problems.

Anna Harrison runs a farming contracting business with her husband and plays the character of Mirror, Mirror on the Wall in the musical with sequined aplomb. She has lived in the main street of Mungindi for eleven years and has had only one brush with crime. ‘And that involved someone from out of town,’ she adds. ‘We just have this ability in Mungindi to all get in and do stuff together. Everyone in town—elderly, Indigenous, anyone of any demographic—everyone knows everyone and everyone feels a responsibility for their town. I am so glad my kids have grown up here and have that.’

The Shrek-inspired changes have been profound. ‘It’s honestly impossible to work out how valuable the musical is for our town,’ Harrison says. ‘It totally changed my relationship with so many people. Before, they were people who I would have known to say hi to when I walked past. Now, when I go to the pub or see them at Flock [cafe], we’re actually mates. I think because we spent so many nights and so many hours together, and we were in a situation where everyone was so vulnerable—some people were singing, some were dancing, people were out of their comfort zone—we developed these amazing friendships with a lot of respect for each other. We spent so many hours together—it kind of takes me back to boarding school—and that’s something that doesn’t happen in adulthood very often.’

Social researcher Hugh Mackay touches on the increased sense of diversity experienced in a small town in his 2018 book Australia Reimagined. ‘We are often culturally richer when we live in smaller communities where diversity has more immediate meaning for us than in a huge metropolis,’ wrote Mackay. ‘In big cities the sheer size of the place encourages people to congregate within their own subculture, rarely interacting with those from other subcultures. They live in small homogenous sections. Whereas in a small town, you’re all in it together. You all shop at the same supermarket—the mayor, the doctor, the welder, the council worker, the teacher, the stay-at-home mum, the farmer.

‘Big city dwellers can easily become more parochial than those in diverse, smaller communities because although their city seems so culturally rich and diverse, they don’t actually brush up against much diversity in their daily transactions or personal relationships.’

The Shrek musical took those brushes with diversity and put them on steroids.

Peter is a Prince. He’s part of Mungindi’s Prince family, a local Indigenous family known for their strong women and sporting prowess. But in the musical, he plays the King. Dressed in the royal garb of a red cape and crown, the 25-year-old opens the show with a welcome to Country. An Indigenous man playing an English king welcoming the rowdy audience in the packed-out hall feels very Mungindi.

Prince is a teacher at Mungindi Central, where he went to school until a few years ago. ‘It’s definitely weird because it’s not “Uncle” at school. It’s Mr Prince.’

When asked about how it feels, the blurring of roles in small towns, where you can be uncle, teacher, king, all in one, he gently replies: ‘But this what I know. Wherever you can, you do your part.’


So what kind of an impact does an amateur musical have on a town?

Two performances attracted 560 audience members (more than the population of the town) to Mungindi’s town hall. There were 80-plus hours of rehearsals, a cast and crew WhatsApp chat with hundreds of messages, one—possibly two—motivational speeches about summiting Everest, and one lacerated liver.

Most importantly, the 42 people in the cast and crew have built between them 861 relationships. And so now when the next fire comes or the next flood cuts off the town, there are 435 friendships that are strong and ready to share the load. And when the next wedding happens, or graduation or birth, they’ll all be there to share the joy.

The 42 people in the cast and crew have built between them 861 relationships.

Ben Lewty is the Shrek stage manager and a pilot who moved from Ayr to Mungindi for work, where he can spend fourteen hours a day aerial spraying. He says it is these relationships that motivate him to stay in town. ‘Mungindi is very contagious—the people in it. If you just drove through, you’d go “ho-ly, do people even exist?” But when you get involved and get to know a few people it’s a really good community.’

How bigger regional towns replicate the Mungindi method of social cohesion is the next question. The bigger a town, the more stratification there is. The less ‘brushing up’ against each other there is.

Mungindi shows us how a musical can create social capital at the community level and how that has the power to trickle up and positively affect life in a town. Perhaps the first step to re-create the Mungindi Shrek Effect to see the real joy and benefits that can come from hanging out with people who are different from us, and to want that for ourselves. ‘If you want to build a ship,’ wrote Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, ‘don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.’ Maybe Mungindi can teach us to yearn for more for our communities and our relationships in them.

This is an abridged excerpt from ‘When Shrek came to Mungindi’ from Galah Issue 09. Find out more at Galah.