Dreams Into Reality: Annabelle Hickson Dared to Start Her Own Magazine
Annabelle Hickson is one of those gals I’ve admired from afar for a long time. Annabelle’s love of flowers and her ability to bring beauty together whilst moving from one creative field to another appeals to my maximalist heart. Author of A Tree in My House, photographer (her images are like a long table loaded with deliciousness with every detail a work of art), a former columnist for Country Style magazine, coupled with living on a Pecan farm on the border of Queensland and New South Wales, her life feels like one big beautiful artistic moment.
When I saw that Annabelle was launching Galah, a new magazine celebrating country Australia, I couldn’t sign up quick enough. The idea of having a little bit of Australian country arrive on my Parisian doorstep four times a year felt like a beautiful way to connect with all the great things going on in country Australia now. And I knew it would be a visual feast.
Annabelle shares with us how she turned her dreams into reality.
What was the moment/catalyst/inspiration that turned Galah from an idea into a storyboard and eventually to a beautiful magazine?
I am not exactly sure when Galah went from being a storyboard in my head to something printed and real and beautiful, but I know it came about — at least in part — from the frustration at time and time again seeing regional life portrayed through a lens of disadvantage when my own experience was one of joy and opportunity. I would regularly catch myself yelling at the TV things like, “We are not all simple country folk, sipping tea on a verandah or walking around with a piece of grass hanging out of our mouths,” (although, for the record, I very much enjoy both of those activities). Everywhere I look around in regional Australia, I see innovative, dynamic, complicated, and interesting people. I wanted to read stories that reflected that.
Although to be honest, I certainly wasn’t always like this. I grew up in Sydney, with zero curiosity about where the country boarders came from who I was at school with. When I first moved out to the farm, I did so with a city-centric perspective. I thought it would be the end of my career, I thought it would be the end of my social life. I thought it would be good for my young family, but death for my own ambition. I could not have been more wrong.
Australia is such an urbanised country these days. The myth of the Man from Snowy River hangs on (perhaps by a thread) but the reality is about 85 percent of us live within 50 kms of the coast. I, like a lot of Australians, was not at all intimate with country life and, as is the way when you have no first-hand experience of a place or a group of people, you can make some pretty unfounded assumptions about what happens. Or rather what doesn’t happen. I think a lot of the news coverage shows regional Australia through a lens of disadvantage too — bushfires, terrible droughts, doctor shortages — which adds to a sense that ambition and opportunities exist in the big smoke.
But my own experience of life out of the city has been one of great advantage. To my great surprise and delight, living on a farm an hour out of a town with population 4,000 has been the making of me, not the end. I am surrounded by a strong supportive community, business opportunities — and not just ag ones — are plentiful, there are smart, sophisticated, innovative people everywhere I look. I feel incredibly lucky to live in regional Australia.
Somewhere, somehow, Galah came out of that. I am not sure exactly when. But here she is.
Courage is essential when we do something new or dare to move towards something we care about. What role does courage play in your life and how does it keep you motivated, inspired and feeling alive?
Instead of asking ‘what do you want to do?’ or ‘what do you want to be?’ (don’t those questions just fill you with dread), I think it is much more helpful to think about what kind of values are most important to you. What are the values you want to live by, no matter what you do? For me, courage is everything. I want to be someone who is not scared to give things a go. And that is something I can take that with me wherever I go, into whatever I do.
I thought I was going to be a newspaper journalist forever. Then I met a farmer. During the first few years of life in the country, I floundered really. If I wasn’t a newspaper journalist at an important paper, what was I? What could I be? I kept asking myself again and again, until I eventually realised that it didn’t really matter was I was going to be. What mattered much more was how I was going to live. What values were important to me. Life takes many twists and turns. You can carry your value system along that path, whereas fixed ideas about wanting to be a doctor or a journalist or a dancer or a really good and happy mother might not be so easy to cling onto for the whole ride. At some stage, it became clear that more than anything else, I wanted to be a person who was willing to give things a go, who was willing to fail and who would dream big.
Now when I fail, or when some sort of conflict comes up, or when it all feels too hard, I find it really useful to ask myself, ‘Are you giving something a go? Are you dreaming big?’ and if the answer is yes, well good. It means I am living in a way that feels meaningful to me, even if the results aren’t ideal. I don’t know what is more satisfying than that.
What was an obstacle creating Galah that you needed to find a creative solution for? Were there any Blue Ocean strategy moments when you had to break the traditional magazine mold?
There is something that is so depressing about the traditional magazine model where ‘content’ (what a terrible word that is) is effectively a vehicle for advertising. Magazines are created for advertisers rather than readers, and the goal is to have just enough content to be able to get the ads in front of eyeballs. Perhaps that sounds cynical, but that is how I see it.
I started wondering what a magazine would look like if it was made for readers rather than advertisers. More of a book model. A high cover price and no advertising.
(Although, as a side note, isn’t it interesting how we value things: $30 is an expensive magazine, but it’s a cheap book. It’s what I’d spend on a bottle of wine to take to someone’s house for dinner. I also caught myself paying more than $30 for one of those lovely Japanese notebooks that is literally full of empty pages, which made me both want to laugh and cry knowing how much work went into filling the pages of Galah).
Under this model, if I can regularly sell 10,000 copies of each issue, which does not feel too greedy, it’s a great business that can pay contributors, designers, production staff, me and a business partner a wage. I would love the business to grow so that it could employ a number of regionally-based people full-time, as well as providing mentoring and publishing opportunities for up-and-coming writers/journalists/podcasters based in the regions.
I don’t know if I’ll be able to do it without ads. We’ll see. But first and foremost, I want Galah to be for readers.
You’ve had many incarnations as a creative, what has been a useful talent, skill or value that has helped you bring Galah to life?
The ability to complete. Ideas are easy. Seeing them through is the hard bit. Not that all ideas should be seen through to the bitter end. Some should definitely be abandoned, but unless you finish some ideas your work will be, to quote Paul Keating, all tip, no iceberg.
As a writer/photographer/pecan farmer/ex city slicker/journalist/cook reader what allows you to move from one creative field to another. What is one habit/tip that supports your ongoing creativity?
I think living in quite an isolated spot has forced me to learn how to do things I would otherwise have outsourced. And it’s good to keep those cogs well-oiled because it makes the notion of learning something else seem not too daunting. I think it’s made me more flexible than I otherwise would have been.
When I fail, or when some sort of conflict comes up, or when it all feels too hard, I find it really useful to ask myself, ‘Are you giving something a go? Are you dreaming big?’ and if the answer is yes, well, good. It means I am living in a way that feels meaningful to me, even if the results aren’t ideal. I don’t know what is more satisfying than that.
What role has community played in Galah and how has being part of a rural community changed your life?
Diversity has taken on a more immediate meaning for me now that I live in the country. In a small town, you are all in it together. You all shop at the same supermarket. You know almost everyone by name. And even if you don’t agree with someone’s views, you cannot help but see them as a fellow human because there they are, putting a bag of apples in their supermarket trolley. When I lived in Sydney, there was very much more of a birds-of-a-feather cultural life. You’d congregate with people with similar socio-demographics. Even though the city as a whole was very diverse, I didn’t actually brush up against much diversity in my daily life. So, somewhat counter-intuitively, my small-town rural life has done a lot to teach me about the importance of a diverse cultural, racial, socio-economic community. We are all doing the best we can. We all have a right to be here. We are all humans. It has without doubt made me a more empathetic person.
What’s a quote (about risk) you would like to paint on a road as you move from the city to the country? And why?
This is more a quote I’d like to paint on the road for life, rather than from the city to the country…
“A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.” – E.B. White
Work with what you have. The conditions may not be ideal, but they never really are. Just start.