Little has illustrated the divide between urban and regional Australia quite like the events of 2020. I feel reasonably qualified to comment here having grown up on a broadacre farm, then winding up working for an international professional services firm. I’ve pulled handles at the local pub, acted on international arbitrations in London, and done all manner of things in between.
And in recent times, I’ve noticed that our city cousins understand progressively less about what goes on in regional Australia and how the regional economy makes this country tick. In years past, city kids would visit family or friends in the bush during school holidays. Nowadays, they think milk comes from cartons.
This year started with bushfires on the east-coast aggravated by, amongst other things, a lack of hazard reduction. Country people want hazard reduction during winter so they are better able to protect their homes, crops and stock from bushfires in summer. Meanwhile, city people don’t want hazard reduction because the smoke might impede their view of the Opera House or make them cough.
The breach became evident again when regional communities around the country, which were and remain largely free of coronavirus, were forced to suffer the same restrictions as the cities. Those policies added greatly to the adversity these communities had already suffered through drought, fires, and reduced tourism. And all without any qualifiable benefit.
One of the greatest challenges now faced by the regions is the dissipation of its seasonal workforce due to closed interstate and international borders. The federal agricultural minister has been trying to negotiate arrangements with state governments, but alas, playing politics on borders is more important than helping farmers get crops harvested and getting Aussies fed. I’m sure if food shortages or price rises hit supermarkets, inconveniencing city people, the narrative and the policy would change. Until then, regional areas have been given little reason to expect change.
Granted, it was a good idea to have an advertising campaign to encourage Perth people to take up seasonal work in regional WA for fruit picking, grain harvesting and the like. Credit where it’s due. The problem is how that idea played out into one of the most cringeworthy and fallacious adverts known to modern marketing.
In short, it depicts peak hour in the Margaret River as going for a surf, watercooler chat in Exmouth as drinking at the pub and the company car in the wheatbelt as a $750K harvester — something a little more complicated than the average Volvo SUV. No wonder city people think country Australia is a burden rather than a driver of our national economy — they think we are all surfing, drinking or chilling in an air-con cab all day. When you stop to think about it, it’s actually quite offensive.
It even made ALP MP and state Agriculture Minister Alana MacTiernan uncomfortable.
But the most hideously unrealistic part of the advert was when it cut to *cough* fruit pickers styled head-to-toe in agrarian chic. Let’s be clear, when you pick fruit you don’t wear an off-white cheesecloth shirt cinched at the waist and an oversized boater while you frolic through the orchard giggling semi-stoned in the soft late afternoon sun. That said, seasonable labour would probably be less palatable to the soft-palmed, knot–bun barista set if they knew they’d be dressed in work clothes and a baseball cap, while they sweated their bollocks off up the top of ladders in the summer heat.
Anyway, this latest display of dimness cements my view that the public service has no idea why people live in the country or what they do there. Country people are more than just whingers who want money spent in areas where the votes don’t justify the expenditure.
We are also the people who allow the shiny bums and their inner–city elite mates to crow about their low food miles, line–caught snapper and small-batch truffles.
We deserve better.
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