I have fallen in love with The Country.
Not The Old Country, as stuck up Australians used to refer to Britain.
The Country. The Bush. That place/culture/state of mind which conjures up sheep and cattle, Akubras and Jack Thompson’s (younger) wiggling bottom in the iconic shearing movie, Sunday Too Far Away.
I know The Country isn’t perfect. I know there is the occasional redneck hiding out here. I know there are still divisions in all these tiny towns, like the townies versus the farmers, the Catholics versus Protestants and the blow-ins versus locals.
But those divisions are like the cracks in a hard-boiled egg. We are solid under the surface. We are held together by our stubborn oppositional defiance. If it’s not the bloody city people, it’s the bloody government. If it’s not the bloody government, it’s the bloody banks.
Luckily, we’re OK because we are tough as.
I was born for this place.
It is a truism but as late as the sixties and seventies, most Australians knew or had relations in The Country. When I was growing up at that time as the daughter of a Chinese migrant in Sydney, we didn’t know a soul who lived west of the divide.
But I did learn one important survival technique from my experience. How to use outsider status.
So as I packed up my inner city latte views 20 years ago to ride on the sheep’s back, the rest of Australia has dismounted.
At the time, it felt like moving to a foreign country and my first observations still hold.
Observation number 1. The rural belt, in between the multicultural cities and the indigenous centre, is snow white. This is not a criticism. It is a statement of fact.
In the cities, the future face of modern Australia could be Eurasian. At the last Census in 2011, the Chinese were about to take over the British as largest immigrant group in Sydney. The population has concentrated in metropolitan and coastal areas and in those areas, the nation has become more multicultural.
Just not out here.
Migrants don’t generally move to rural centres and if they do, they are usually British.
Observation number 2. Old Australia, the people on which historian Russel Ward based “The Australian Legend”, does still exist.
“According to the myth, the ‘typical Australian’ is a practical man, rough and ready in his manners and quick to decry any appearance of affectation in others,” Ward wrote in his 1958 classic.
“He is a great improviser, ever willing ‘to have a go’ at anything, but willing too to be content with a task done in a way that is ‘near enough’. Though capable of great exertion in an emergency, he normally feels no impulse to work hard without good cause. He swears hard and consistently, gambles heavily and often and drinks deeply on occasion.”
I recognize a lot of these features in my country mates, not to mention myself.
Most of all, I love the improvising streak. It grew from the ability to fix everything with a piece of number eight wire and a pair of pliers. Darryl Kerrigan summed it up best in the movie, The Castle.
The Ideas Man.
At the backyard end, it may refer to our local bloke that tied three push lawnmowers together with a piece of dowling to get the back acre mown quicker. On the farm, it is the patched up century-old machinery, held together with a few pop rivets and strip of sealant.
At the pointy end, it is the Blantyre piggery that captures methane from its manure and turns it into electricity. That business has swapped a $15,000 a month power bill for a $5000 credit.
Observation number 3. There is a distinct feeling that metropolitan Australia is moving on and we are being left behind. A bit like cultures which leave their elderly out under a tree to die.
This belief is based on a feeling that grand city-country contract is broken. There is still a strong feeling out here that the costs of the nation – for services and infrastructure across the whole country – should be shared by all Australians.
“What are you going to do if people don’t live out here?” one country politician asked me. “Leave it to the rabbits?”
Part of appeal of National Broadband Network in the bush is the fact that everyone will receive it and when they connect up, it will be the same price for everyone. Whether you live in a high rise in Pitt St Sydney or a battler’s block in Bourke.
Let’s face it. There is a strong streak of agrarian socialist about us.
But things are looking up.
Towns are now busting a gut to modernize, find a theme and attract new residents. The NSW town of Orange is a beautiful example of town re-badging as a gastronomic haven.
The good burghers of Orange and their real estate agents are welcoming cashed up tree-changers, those inner city foodie types carrying a hessian bag and a dream of a vege patch bigger than the inner city terrace will allow.
And who wouldn’t want to swap city for country. As Darryl Kerrigan, used to say, after he jumped out of the car at Bonnie Doon: “How’s the serenity.”
I would love to hear your stories, particularly if you live in rural and regional Australia. Tell me the good, bad and the ugly. Tell me what issues you would like to see addressed by our politicians. Start a conversation.