Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Belshaw's World - losing country connection

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday  17 February 2010. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010.

Given that I’m now living in Sydney, I get my Express’s with something of a lag, sometimes I don’t get them at all. It seems that someone in the postal system must like the paper because sometimes all I get is the wrapper!

This makes it difficult to respond to letters to the editor.

To John Bergin first.

At the risk of causing acute distress to my editor, if you write a letter to the editor setting out in more detail where people can find out information about the constitutional structures and implications of different Republican options, I promise to run it on my New England blog as a straight information piece. .

To Dr Fidlon who challenged my constitutional interpretation in Crisis in the Westminster System.

Now I may be wrong, but I think that you are confusing adjourn and prorogue. However, I need to check my own facts.

Turning to other things.

Each year at the start of the new school term I start getting hits from students on the various blog posts I have written on the poetry of Judith Wright. One of my posts drew a very strong response from an anonymous student. I quote:

“Judith Wright, writes about nothing, she created pictures not poems, and as a painter she seems to be rather shitty. I was googling for a school project, i ovbiously have my own opinions on her but this is just a load of bullshit, you think u can relate with her? she creates PICTURES of LANDSCAPE. you relate with a landscape? your a rock? or a fucking tree? or a wave, congrats.”

I limited my response to “City boy are we anon?”. However, it got me thinking further on a topic I have written on before.

I have a very strong sense of country and country side. It may not be quite the same as the Aboriginal sense of country because it lacks the mystic connection with place and object, but it is still very strong.

Growing up, I knew the precise point just to the west of Armidale at which the vegetation switched from Tablelands to Western Slopes.

Driving home to Armidale from the south over the years, suddenly, the cleared tablelands of Kentucky emerged at a particular hill. I was home in my immediate country.

In posts like the colours of New England - - I have tried to capture and explain this sense of country.

When I look at anon’s comment, he (I assume that it’s a he) has captured the fact that Judith Wright’s poetry does indeed provide pictures of a landscape. However, given my sense of country, I then really struggle with his suggestion that one cannot relate to a rock or a tree or a wave. He seems quite alien.

In some ways and on some topics I may be a boring old fart. My family and friends quickly recognise and move away hastily when I fall into a particular lecturing mode.

Yet I do worry that, as a country, we are losing our sense of country.

Modern Australia is a very urbanised society in which the majority of people live remote from the countryside. I see this all the time because it affects every aspect of life and thinking.

At personal level, people’s knowledge of their country has shrunk. They lack the context to understand local events elsewhere, let alone key discussions that depend upon country knowledge.

At policy level, people pontificate without taking into account the almost infinite variety in life across the continent. Governments impose generalised national or state based solutions that simply cannot work given local variety.

Most importantly in all this, too many Australians have lost the joy that comes from actually understanding what it is to identify with the rhythms and detail of the country.

Sorry for the lecture on this. I told you that my family and friends move away when I get into this mode!


I have checked my facts on the points raised by Dr Fidlon in response to my column Belshaw's World - crisis in the Westminster system. I was wrong in my understanding of prorogue, although I don't think that it affects the substance of my argument. I have set the facts out as I understand them in a post on my personal blog, Problems with prorogation.

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