BY BEN HABIB.
In this podcast I am joined in conversation with Professor Judith Brett, Head of School in the School of Social Sciences at La Trobe University, to discuss her Quarterly Essay entitled Fair Share: Country and City in Australia.
I first read Judy’s Quarterly Essay last year on the plane en route to Portugal and was struck by the resonance that many of the essay’s themes had with my own life experiences. I am very much an urban-regional hybrid, having grown up in Mount Gambier, South Australia, before moving to Adelaide for study. I now find myself again living in regional Australia as a happy resident of Wodonga, Victoria. I’ve also lived in or visited for extended periods Melbourne and Asian megacities including Beijing and Seoul, as well as smaller cities such as Dandong (China) and Daegu (South Korea). My experiences and observations straddling the urban-regional divide, in Australia and elsewhere, inform my questions for Judy in the interview.
In our discussion, Judy interprets some of my observations and experiences growing up and living in regional areas, in the context of the themes of her essay. Topics covered in our discussion include the brain drain from the country to the city, efforts to attract skilled personnel to regional centres, the urban-rural culture clash, intellectual capital and bigotry, along with politics, multiculturalism and environmental issues in country Australia.
As always, reader comments are welcome and encouraged.
Once the country believed itself to be the true face of Australia: sunburnt men and capable women raising crops and children, enduring isolation and a fickle environment, carrying the nation on their sturdy backs. For almost 200 years after white settlement began, city Australia needed the country: to feed it, to earn its export income, to fill the empty land, to provide it with distinctive images of the nation being built in the great south land. But Australia no longer rides on the sheep’s back, and since the 1980s, when “economic rationalism” became the new creed, the country has felt abandoned, its contribution to the nation dismissed, its historic purpose forgotten.
In Fair Share, Judith Brett argues that our federation was built on the idea of a big country and a fair share, no matter where one lived. We also looked to the bush for our legends and we still look to it for our food. These are not things we can just abandon. In late 2010, with the country independents deciding who would form federal government, it seemed that rural and regional Australia’s time had come again. But, as Murray-Darling water reform shows, the politics of dependence are complicated. The question remains: what will be the fate of the country in an era of user-pays, water cutbacks, climate change, droughts and flooding rains? What are the prospects for a new compact between country and city in Australia in the twenty-first century?
Bio: Professor Judith Brett
Judith Brett has been at La Trobe since 1989, teaching and writing about Australian politics and political history. She is committed to engaged political research, bringing the fruits of her enquiry to the general public through books written for a broad general readership and through the media. Currently she is working on a new biography of Alfred Deakin in order to re-enliven his place in the contemporary Australian political imagination. She is also Head of the School of Social Sciences where she is overseeing a process of generational change so that younger scholars can have as satisfying and productive a working life at La Trobe as she has enjoyed.
Dr. Benjamin Habib is a Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at La Trobe University, Albury-Wodonga. Ben is an internationally published researcher with interests including North Korea’s motivations for nuclear proliferation, East Asian security, international politics of climate change, and undergraduate teaching pedagogy. He also teaches in Australian politics and the international relations of the Middle East. Ben undertook his PhD candidature at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, and has worked previously for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. He has spent time teaching English in Dandong, China, and has also studied at Keimyung University in Daegu, South Korea. Ben is involved with local community groups Wodonga and Albury Toward Climate Health (WATCH) and Transition Albury-Wodonga.
Ben welcomes constructive feedback. Please comment below, or contact Ben at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views in this story are those of the author and not necessarily those of Our Voice: Politics Albury-Wodonga.