The Little Island That Did: Related Variety, Branding and Place-based Development In South Australia


  • Neil Argent University of New England


While the vulnerability of natural resource-dependent rural communities and regions to environmental, technological, and market-based shifts and shocks has long been recognised there has also been recent appreciation of the fact that more remote, non-metropolitan places can and do thrive in neoliberal spaces and times. Drawing on the notion of related variety, itself an offshoot of evolutionary economic geography, this paper examines the factors that best explain the relative robustness and adaptiveness of Kangaroo Island, South Australia, economically, in the face of a severe market and regulatory crisis. Based on semi-structured interviews with local farmers, other representatives of the local business community, and key members of local and State Government and regional development agencies this paper argues that Island producers’ dedication to overcome the region’s isolation, together with their commitment to quality, niche and value-added products carefully tuned to export markets, has been a key element of this success. Local spillovers within and between sectors and firms sharing cognitive proximity have also been fundamental in fostering production, processing, marketing, and logistics innovations. This case study demonstrates how the local farming sector was brought into a new direct relation with major international markets for food and fibre, based on the Island’s developing global reputation for high quality, high value produce. It underscores the capacity of local scale businesses to develop innovative market strategies and to combine efforts in order to form broader networks that ‘jumped scale’ and ensured their farming business success and, crucially, their ties to the land. Keywords: related variety, evolutionary economic geography, branding, place-based development, Kangaroo Island