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Social entrepreneurship and capacity building in linking Australian show people and regional and rural communities

Geoff Danaher, Beverley Moriarty and Patrick Alan Danaher
The authors of this paper apply the concepts of social entrepreneurship and capacity building to their research with Australian show people. They also draw on that research to examine the topics of school- community links and university-community links that are significant in fostering rural education and to which the show people contribute particular understandings. The authors argue that the concepts are useful in illustrating many of the problems and possibilities of understanding education as development in regional and rural communities in Australia and overseas.

Australian show people constitute something of a paradox in relation to rural communities: they travel regularly through those communities, yet in many ways they are not of them. Drawing on ongoing research (Danaher, 1998, 2001a, 2001b) into the educational aspirations, experiences and opportunities of the show people, the authors of this paper use that paradox as a springboard for highlighting the multiple links and associations necessary to supporting rural education and hence crucial to understanding the proposition of education as community development.

As we elaborate below, we argue that the concepts of social entrepreneurship and capacity building are particularly helpful in mapping and making clear those links and associations. The paper therefore brings together these two concepts, the research with show people and the other articles in this special theme issue through a necessarily brief examination of two topics:

The unifying idea in this discussion is the examination of the problems and possibilities of education as community development.

The Australian show people belong to a proud and resilient mobile community with occupational and often familial connections with American and European fairground families. They follow a large number of circuits that cover the metropolitan, regional and remote areas of Australia, bringing sideshow alley with its 'joints' such as shooting galleries and its rides such as ferris wheels, and also selling plush toys, fairy floss and hot dogs (Danaher, 2001b). They are internally differentiated according to four occupational groups: members of the Showmen's Guild of Australasia; itinerants who sell novelty items; workers who help to (dis)assemble equipment and to operate joints and rides; and 'horsey people' who operate dressage and show jumping (Danaher, 1998). Despite this internal differentiation, show people are conscious of their perceived difference from permanently resident Australians (although many of them have their own permanent residences in addition to their mobile caravans) and of the educational consequences of that difference.


One of the most notable features about the education of travelling show children in Queensland has always been the types of school-community links that have developed and existed, in terms of both the show community (which is our focus in this section of this paper) and the communities through which the show people travel (Danaher, 1998, 2001a). Two distinctive phases of school-community links have emerged in our research, with the year 2000 representing the beginning of the second phase with the establishment of the Queensland School for Travelling Show Children. These phases match two separate stages in our research: the first was constituted by almost annual contact from 1992 to 1996 inclusive, while the second was an intensive visit to the school in August 2003.

Education has always been problematic for the children of show people because of the difficulty of gaining consistent access to schooling while they travel around the state (Danaher, 1998, 2001a). Prior to 2000, show children gained their formal schooling through distance education or they attended boarding school. Both options presented exceptional difficulties and it was the concern of the show community that led directly to the establishment of the present school, with its dedicated staff and state-of-the-art travelling classrooms. This school caters for primary level children and has brought with it changes for the show community in ways that we are still beginning to identify and understand. For example, regular school hours and attendance, the wearing of a uniform and the need to pack lunches and to complete homework have all imposed a type of regulation on the lives of members of the show community that differ from the rhythm of life prior to 2000. An important part of our present and future research is to detail how such changes impact on cultural practices within the show community and the community's capacity to continue to pass on knowledge of its cultural history to the younger generation.

Despite its achievements, this particular show community still has dilemmas facing it with regard to its children's education beyond the primary level. Members of the community have made considerable progress, however, in using their improved educational circumstances to build into their children a type of capacity building that offers those children wider and better options for their future lives, either within the show community or in the wider community should they eventually leave the show circuits. It is also anticipated that the high level of social entrepreneurship that the community drew upon to lobby politicians to get the school established will be part of the heritage that they leave to their children and upon which their children are likely to draw when they are older and circumstances demand.

Our interest in social entrepreneurship and capacity building takes on an intriguing and significant dimension as we begin to compare the circumstances of Queensland show people with two renditions of rural education in overseas countries. Oyanagi's (2003) account of social entrepreneurship in the Nara Prefecture in Japan offers potentially a richly nuanced comparative analysis of the similarities and differences between the Japanese and Queensland regional and rural communities, including the extent to which the understandings of educational aspirations and outcomes held by members of such communities and officials in educational bureaucracies are consonant and/or divergent.

Similarly, Leffler and Svedberg's (2003) focus on the impact of learning networks on capacity building in the northern areas of Sweden offers a particularly insightful analysis that will help us to view the Queensland situation with a renewed perspective. For example, the authors' account of the projects together c alled Företagsamhet i skolan (or 'Enterprise in schools') is followed by a conceptual analysis of learning networks, which are likely to have several kinds of resonances with the readers of this journal issue. These international studies, which of themselves involve university-community links through their authors' links with the respective communities under review, are also of particular interest to us from that perspective as well, as indicated in the next section here.


An integral part of the authors' research with Australian show people has been a focus on the implications of that research for evaluating the effects, effectiveness and ethics of the relationship between the authors as university-based researchers and the show people as community members (see for example Anteliz, Danaher & Danaher, 2001; Moriarty, Hallinan, Danaher & Danaher, 2000). This focus is instructive in demonstrating the applicability of the two concepts underpinning this theme issue to university-community links as much as to school-community links as outlined above.

Increasingly, university academics are having to take on the role of social entrepreneur, by contributing to universities' search for non-government funding sources and by continuing to highlight the practical application and social relevance of their work. For the authors, while this role does not necessarily sit comfortably, it has informed relations with the Queensland School for Travelling Show Children, for example, through the recent submission of a joint application for funding comparative research with the European Union, with a view to bringing together currently separate bodies of knowledge about the implications of information and communication technologies for Traveller education in Australia and in Europe. This submission, drawing as it does on such skills as seeking funding opportunities, brokering and communicating common interests among stakeholders and negotiating different bureaucratic hierarchies to attain a shared objective, encapsulates the social entrepreneurship that the authors have to some extent adopted in their dealings with the Australian show people.

Similarly, McConachie and Simpson (2003) argue that the STEPS pre-undergraduate preparatory program at Central Queensland University constitutes a vital element of that institution's responsibility to its regional communities. This is particularly the case when those communities are traditionally under-represented in taking up higher education. As McConachie and Simpson demonstrate, such a community mission represents a potentially powerful counterbalance to the massification of higher education and the commodification of knowledge that often privileges the economic to the detriment of the social dimensions of community life, particularly in regional and rural areas.

The authors of this paper also view capacity building - again not without a certain ambivalence - as a significant part of the relations between show people and themselves. While this is less direct and immediate than some critics of educational research would like, it is nevertheless situated in the authors' efforts to use their research and publications to extend understandings of show people's lives and education, and in continuing to seek opportunities for funding programs that might assist show people's educational outcomes. As part of this process, of course, the authors continue to benefit from the research training and recognition that their publications provide. While this relationship is intended by the authors to centre on reciprocity and mutual benefit, it is appropriate to acknowledge the advantages accruing to the authors from the relationship.

That same acknowledgment underpins Penman and Ellis's (2003) examination of the links between the Whyalla Campus of the University of South Australia and members of its constituent community, specifically older people. Through a range of initiatives, the campus and the community learn from each other and in doing so build the capacity of each. Like the STEPS program at Central Queensland University, the University of South Australia's connections with its regional community constitute indispensable ways of strengthening university-community links and hence of exemplifying the potential of education as development in regional and rural areas.


We have sought in this paper to articulate our ongoing research with Australian show people about their educational experiences and achievements to this special theme issue's focus on education as community development. We have worked to explain this articulation in terms of the multiple links that the show people enact with different kinds of communities: the regional and rural communities through which they travel; the community of the newly established Queensland School for Travelling Show Children; and our own research community within Central Queensland University.

We contend that these links are particular kinds of the broader associations, constituted by school-community links and university-community links, which the other articles in this theme issue also analyse. In this and the other articles, the concepts of social entrepreneurship and capacity building have been valuable in explaining those associations and in connecting them with current practices and future prospects for regional and rural areas, whether in Australia, Japan, Sweden or elsewhere. The intersection of these concepts and the associations that they help to illuminate is one among many means of exploring and explicating education as community development.


Anteliz, E. A., Danaher, G. R., & Danaher, P. A. (2001). Norias and ferris wheels: Benefits, interests and ethics in researching Venezuelan and Australian fairground people's educational experiences. Queensland Journal of Educational Research, 17(2), 221-236.

Danaher, P. A. (Ed.) (1998). Beyond the ferris wheel: Educating Queensland show children (Studies in open and distance learning number 1). Rockhampton, Qld: Central Queensland University Press.

Danaher, P. A. (2001a). Learning on the run: Traveller education for itinerant show children in coastal and western Queensland. Unpublished Doctor of Philosophy thesis, Faculty of Education and Creative Arts, Central Queensland University, Rockhampton, Qld.

Danaher, P. A. (2001b). Travellers under the Southern Cross: Australian show people, national identities and difference. Queensland Review, 8(1), 77-85.

Leffler, E., & Svedberg, G. (2003). Enterprise in Swedish rural schools: Capacity building through learning networks. Queensland Journal of Educational Research, 19(2), 83-99. http://education.curtin.edu.au/iier/qjer/qjer19/leffler.html

McConachie, J., & Simpson, J. (2003). Social entrepreneurship: An Australian university transforms a regional community through diversity and innovation. Queensland Journal of Educational Research, 19(2), 100-118. http://education.curtin.edu.au/iier/qjer/qjer19/mcconachie.html

Moriarty, B. J., Hallinan, P. M., Danaher, G. R., & Danaher, P. A. (2000). All I know is what I learned from my colleagues: Reflections on research from Australian Traveller education. Queensland Journal of Educational Research, 16(1), 56-75.

Oyanagi, W. (2003). Difficulties and problems in building schools based on community needs: A case study of educational reforms at Nara Prefecture in Japan. Queensland Journal of Educational Research, 19(2), 67-82. http://education.curtin.edu.au/iier/qjer/qjer19/oyanagi.html

Penman, J., & Ellis, B. (2003). Mutualism in Australian regional university-community links: The Whyalla experience. Queensland Journal of Educational Research, 19(2), 119-136. http://education.curtin.edu.au/iier/qjer/qjer19/penman.html


The authors are grateful to the Australian show people, and to the Principal and staff members of the Queensland School for Travelling Show Children and to the Executive Director of the Education Queensland District in which the school is located, for their support and encouragement of the research project reported here. The final version of this paper was considerably strengthened by the constructive feedback of an anonymous referee and Dr Simon Clarke.

Author details: Geoff Danaher is Lecturer in Contemporary Communication in the Faculty of Informatics and Communication at the Rockhampton Campus of Central Queensland University.

Beverley Moriarty is Senior Lecturer and Subdean in the Faculty of Education and Creative Arts at the Gladstone Campus of Central Queensland University.

Patrick Alan Danaher is Associate Professor and Head of the Learning, Evaluation, Innovation and Development Centre in the Division of Teaching and Learning Services at the Rockhampton Campus of Central Queensland University.

Please cite as: Danaher, G., Moriarty, B. and Danaher, P. A. (2003). Social entrepreneurship and capacity building in linking Australian show people and regional and rural communities. Queensland Journal of Educational Research, 19(2), 59-66. http://education.curtin.edu.au/iier/qjer/qjer19/danaher-g.html

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Created 1 Sep 2004. Last correction: 31 Dec 2004.
URL: http://education.curtin.edu.au/iier/qjer/qjer19/danaher-g.html