#TasmanianLitMonth – Brand Tasmania: an interview

Interview questions by guest curator, Bec Taylor

Early in my research for Tasmanian Literature Month, I fell down the rabbit hole that is the Tasmanian. – a luscious storytelling website created by Brand Tasmania, a government funded organization that both promotes this extraordinary island state and encourages and inspires Tasmanians.

I spent hours trawling the stunning pages reminiscing about businesses and creators I remembered, and being inspired by the deep sense of culture that is being showcased by the website. It made me immediately, and deeply, proud to be Tasmanian.

I was fortunate to interview Brand Tasmania’s CEO and author, Todd Babiak, about the work that went into creating such a beautiful welcoming to, and celebration of, Tasmanian culture.

Bec: Navigating through the website, I know that I’m being sold a product, but it feels so authentic, like I’m being embraced into a place that will welcome me. The fact that Brand Tasmania speaks to both existing and potential Tasmanians is an incredible feat. What makes this possible? What strategic decisions have you had to make to balance these two demands?

Todd: From the beginning we wanted our work to be inside-out. Our first audience is Tasmanians. We want to inspire and encourage them to understand the pattern of success in this place and to be a part of it, and we wanted to do this by distilling the story they told us in our interviews with them. For external audiences, we began with the premise: “Tasmania isn’t for everyone, but for some people it’s exactly what they are looking for.” In this sense, being Tasmanian isn’t necessarily about where you were born or where your grandparents were born. It’s a set of values, a story that either resonates or doesn’t.

Ultimately, Brand Tasmania exists because of a population growth imperative. We have added tourism, trade, investment attraction, and student attraction to our efforts. We call it a “unifying cultural expression and strategy” but it’s all based on what it is like to live here.

Bec: The Tasmanian Stories section is my favourite part of the whole website and the reason I contacted you in the first place. How do you decide who writes which content on the site and what is the process for featuring a creator or business?

Todd: We’re a small team, so we don’t have many choices. I wrote the early stories, to develop an “in-house style” based on the Tasmanian brand story. I’m blessed to have colleagues like Jemima Phelps and Marisa McArthur who are excellent writers. We have a couple of Tasmanian freelancers who have joined us. The photography and design are crucial, and that’s Jemima’s domain – making sure these charismatic Tasmanians look as good as they sound.

As for the Tasmanians we write about, we want to make sure we capture the sparkling diversity of this place in every way. Whether you’re a man or a woman, gay or straight, born here or somewhere else, a businessperson or an artist or a community leader you are adding something special to this place. We’re conscious that it should not be a collection of “the usual suspects.” Now that people understand what we’re trying to do, most of our stories come to us through word of mouth.

Bec: The process of conducting, analysing and synthesizing 400+ interviews from a cross section of the community in order to create Brand Tasmania’s website must have been both fascinating and exhausting. How did you convince the Tasmanian government that this was going to be the way to ‘sell’ Tasmania?

Todd: It’s deeply Tasmanian that Tasmanians were so open to doing this in a different way. It isn’t controversial, to Tasmanians, that this place is different. They had just lacked the language, the story to tell. And the people who first hired me, as a consultant, were convinced that doing this the usual way – with a few workshops, survey data, and some social media scraping – was going to result in a superficial outcome. They wanted Tasmanians to help create this, from the ground up, and they were interested in a new way of doing it. In an isolated place, you’re often more open to inventive ways of solving problems.

You can read more about the creation of the brand in Todd’s substack.

Part one – what even is place-branding and how did it work in Tasmania?

Part two – what does it mean to be Tasmanian anyway? And how on earth do you distill that?

Part three – you do it by telling authentic stories.

Bec: We have discussed the idea of ‘brain drain’ and the inevitable need for younger people to explore the world. What work is Brand Tasmania doing to counter this?

Todd: Young people often want to leave the nest and explore, to test themselves in the world. This is perfectly acceptable. What we want, for young Tasmanians, is for them to see a future for themselves in this place, now or in the future, even if they choose not to grasp it. The state is, in many ways, what the rest of the world wants to be: net-zero, running on renewable electricity, with forests and lakes and rivers and pristine beaches. It also has to be an ideal place to launch and grow a career. Tasmania can’t be all things to all people, but it’s an excellent workshop – a place for entrepreneurs to solve problems and then to scale solutions around the world. We want young Tasmanians to understand the pattern of success here, to feel invited into it, and to know if they want to come back someday… we’ll be keen to welcome them home.

Bec: Your own literary career is decorated and expansive. Yet, out of necessity, it’s on the back burner while you pour your energy into the CEO role.
What is it going to take to bust out the next novel? Has living in Tasmania inspired you in any way to include the place in your next piece?

Todd: I wake up early in the mornings and make progress on whatever creative project I am working on. At the moment I am writing a novel called ‘The Meditations of Waylon Gans.’ It is not set in Tasmania. There are so many excellent Tasmanian novelists, who know this place and its people intimately. I have so far felt too intimidated and bashful to try and write a novel set in Tasmania.

To get a little insight into the magnificent area in which I grew up, check out the guide to eastern Tasmania, linked from Tasmanian. Seriously, it really is that spectacular.

About Guest Curator, Bec Taylor

I’m Bec Taylor, the EY3 – Grade 2 cybrarian* at the International School of Beijing, China. I’m a global nomad with Australian roots and a Chinese family home – all my immediate family have lived and worked in Beijing as international school teachers for many, many years.  

Overly enthusiastic about everything especially children’s literature, Australian Rules Football (go Doggies!) and food, glorious food, I am easily bribed with coffee and dark chocolate. I am a passionate advocate of social justice, female financial literacy, and finding ways to tread more lightly on the planet. Alongside the demands of a busy family and professional life, I enjoy cultivating community through volunteer work that focuses on healthy families.

I am the current Chair of the Chinese international schools reading promotion, the Panda Book Awards. Titles chosen for the shortlists of the Panda Book Awards meet selection criteria that focus on social justice, diversity and inclusion by up and coming authors and illustrators from across the world. There is an added spotlight on titles that feature Asian settings, characters or creators. 

Twitter is my favourite professional development space so please come find me there: @becinthelibrary

The educational hills I will die on are:

  • a child’s right to choose what they love to read,
  • there is serious magic in reading aloud,
  • and the belief that schools are happier, more equitable places with better academic outcomes when the properly funded school library is well staffed with qualified, collaborative and passionate professionals.

*a fancy name that formalises and acknowledges the incredible work teacher librarians do each day to find authentic ways to integrate and explore educational technology in order to capture, expand, and enhance student learning.

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