Thursday, April 9, 2009

What Real Internet Means To The Bush

Nowhere Bob offered the following comment:

"Man, I'm seriously risking troll status here, but you have kicked one of my hot buttons.

My father's family come from out near Cunamulla and I live in regional Qld so I have some rural chops. But when one chooses to live in a rural or regional community one weighs up the pros & cons.

Pros - kids are unlikely to learn how to steal cars & take speed in grade 7 in the one room school. Clean environment, relationships with neighbours & natural beauty yah di yah.

Cons - Limited facilities taken for granted in the Big Smoke eg; No Choice of Thai takeaways, no high-end medical facilities and limited web speed.

When I hear a rural community moan that they don't have XY and or Z I think - well you chose to live there.

Now before you roast me I do believe there should be a certain standard maintained, but (using the medical an example) I can't imagine a time when the very latest MRI facilities are in every 2bit hamlet.

What is that standard? F*ck knows. It's beyond my payscale. Should that decision be left up to the profit margin of some corporation? definitely not.

So, do I think 512 is sufficient? well no.

Do I think the good folks of Bumble-F*ck or Kickatinalong should get exactly the same level of service as the urbanites - it'd be nice but I canna see it happening.
And if I had my hands on the consolidated revenue piggy bank I'd be spending it on medical & social services long before I upped the intramanet speed. I recognise the arguments about Tele-medicine & Web based education, but for the $ wouldn't rural communities be better off with additional teachers, community nurses, GPs etc?

Perhaps my thinking is short term & as the network is rolled out new apps will develop to a point where a town with out high end Broadband will be as disadvantaged as a town without a sealed road.
But from where I stand it aint there yet."

My reply: N-Bob, we're not asking for Thai take-aways and top-level medicine. And in fact, you've got this argument backwards. You're saying: 'why should we spend so much money on this little thing for the bush?' , but the real question is this: why the fuck should people like Natalie and I bother to stay out in the bush so you can live comfortably in the city?

Thing is, there's bugger-all keeping folk in the bush. The previous generation is slowly dying, and the younger folk are leaving. The little towns are dying. The rural identity of the nation is petering out, and the people who COULD make a difference -- people like myself and my wife, with useful skills that can really change a small country town -- don't want to be out here because there's nothing for them.

Now, for Nat that's not quite true -- she likes the challenge of rural medicine. But she's uncomfortable with the schooling provided for her kids. And she's unhappy with the lack of learning facilities, and the lack of cultural interaction. And myself, as a writer: I like the quiet, sure. But I don't like being so cut off from my fellow writers. And as a martial arts instructor, I don't like being so far from the mainstream of what's going on.

The Internet offers really useful answers. Elder Son plays math games online. We get a lot of our Spanish material that way, and a lot of our other stuff too. Natalie takes fiddle lessons from an Irish fiddler in Florida, USA. I keep in touch with you guys -- but also, with my fellow writers and publishers. And I teach via the 'Net.

Get the picture? It's not about bringing the rural experience up to the city level. N-Bob... I can live without immediate access to live theatre, coffee shops, cinema, markets, funky little stores, social events, nifty foreign cuisine, etc. I'm happy to trade all of that stuff for my clean air, clean water, open sky, and freedom for my kids.

But the truth is, N-Bob, that you WANT me out here, and my wife. You and the rest of Australia: you want the doctor out here who delivers babies and handles outbreaks and deals with industrial accidents. You want the bloke who teaches a generation of kids physical skills and self-reliance and self-discipline. You want the amateur musician who forms a local band and inspires thirty or forty kids to play music. You want the writer who's prepared to teach high school kids. You want the three smart kids who make it 'cool', in this local school, for kids to read, and learn, and study.

You want all of us out here, because our presence here makes towns like this one -- which supplies your onions, and your potatoes, and your milk, and your rhubarb -- continue to be viable. And when we've finally had enough... when people like Natalie and I, or our PhD neighbours Tony and Anna who run the nursery, or our neighbours Mike and Eddy who work at the university and so forth... when we've had enough, and we pull the plug and go because we've had a gutful of being left in the Victorian age, you will very soon discover that your city existence is a lot less comfortable as a result.

We don't need Thai restaurants. We don't need MRI machines. We don't need modern airports or public transport. We don't need international sporting venues. We don't need visiting artistes from far-flung lands. But you know what we do need? We need to stay in touch. We need to feel like we belong to a nation, not to an isolated community out the back of Ratfuck, Nowhere. We need feedback, so we know that what we're doing here is part of a larger picture. We need to believe our voices can be heard too, that we've got a stake in the dialogue and the ideas and the future of this country.

That's what real broadband means to the bush. I realise that in the city, as often as not it means gaming parity with the Americans (thanks, Moko!) -- but for all your country origins, I don't think you quite understand. You can talk about the convenience of downloading movies, for example -- but where you live, you can always drive a suburb or so and rent the movies on DVD. We can't do that. Being able to download movies out here would be... amazing. Music, too: you've got your couple-dozen radio stations, and your music stores in the malls. We don't. TV? Same thing. We can't just change cable providers, or switch to another satellite company.

Music, movies, entertainment, stories, dialogue, discussion - it's a broad, bubbling stream of ideas, and that broad and bubbling stream is the fountainhead of everything that makes us a nation, and a people. Out here, we're slowly, slowly becoming something that's not Australia, as the thoughts of the nation pass us by, and the younger ones leave, and the old folk get forgotten, and die.

Here's one for you, N-Bob


This bloke died not long ago in Scottsdale, here where I live. You should look him up. Natalie was one of the doctors who helped him out as he got older. But... shit, man. Webster was history. He was part of an amazing time in this country's growth. He was an astonishing human being, with an incredible story. Every time I ever got to talk to him, I learned the most amazing things. And if I'd had more time, if I'd had the facilities, I would love to have been able to help him chronicle his life.

If I'd had the facilities. But I didn't, did I? And so his amazing icon of Australian history perished, and with him a whole era died, and all I could do was look on and wish to hell I could have used a fast broadband connection to put him in contact with the National Archives, or someone, anyone... but I was busy struggling with three kids and day-to-day life, and the whole task of getting into contact with someone who might have supported the project was just too damned much for me. Too damned much for me, yes, and even for the PhD History professor who lives near me.

The country loses people like this every day, N-Bob. In the city, people like Webster get SMH obituaries, celebrity funerals, biographies, and lengthy, archived interviews. Out here in the country, we all knew what we were losing -- but there was no way we could do anything about it.

You need us out here. You eat the food we raise, drink the water we guide, burn the gas we drill, light your houses with the coal we mine. You clothe yourself with our wool and cotton. You holiday in the lands over our back fences, come bargain-hunting at our church sales and estate auctions, and laugh ironically at our cheesy little festivals and parades. You depend on the roads and the railways that run through our little towns.

We don't need all those marvellous things that make a city what it is. We can live without them. That's why we're out here: we value what we find here more than we value what we could find there. But we're still one nation, one people, one bubbling stream of dialogue, thought, story and culture.

At least, that's how it's supposed to be.

That expensive broadband network? Probably the single most important investment Australia will make this century -- and it will be an utter waste if it doesn't include those of us out here in the bush.


  1. Cap'n I hear and I believe understand.
    I should have crafted my reply more carefully.
    My profound apologies for offence caused through careless words.

    I certainly do not think that bucolites should suffer 2nd rate treatment. However I do believe that there are certain compromises inherent in life outside the megapoli.
    In 2002 SWMBO & I consciously made the choice to trade Big Smoke facilities for a regional life. For example the return journey down to Bris-a-pulco for The Bobettes Paedo-Gastro appointments are a full day affair. Not quite the week long trek required of my western Qld kin to access Brisneyland, but an effort none the less.
    I have (I still think legitimate) beef with the clowns who come up here then bemoan the lack of facilities. Largely Victorians - but that's beside the point.

    I did underestimate the critical social mass required to keep a community viable and I under-estimated the significance / opportunities of the WWW & broadband in maintaining the social (wish I could think of a synonym for) fabric. "You want all of us out here, because our presence here makes towns like this one [snip] -- continue to be viable." An excellant point I had not considered.

    Webster sounds lke a hell of a man and I totally acknowledge the loss to us all of his passing without his oral history recorded. Anyone linked to Mosely AND marrying a woman of Jewish faith is instantly interesting. (one small point & risking another go-round) There was much excellant & interesting social & oral history was done pre WWW.


  2. N-Bob: absolutely no apologia required whatsoever. Your comment was thoughtful, and pertinent, and polite. Further, it made me think at length, and it inspired me to post in detail with a great deal of thought. I'm very grateful to you for raising the point and making me consider my position on the matter.

    I used your comment as the focus of what I had to say not because I wanted to chide you, but because you very nicely put into prose a position which, I am sure, reflects the underlying attitude of 90% or so of Australia. And even if I think that the attitude in question does need to be reconsidered, I still didn't intend my words to sting, or rebuke, and if anything, I owe you an apology -- you got a lot more reply than you bargained for, and obviously, it wasn't just yourself I was aiming at. Once again: thank you for raising the question and making me think. I appreciate your comments around here, and I'd hate to think I put you off voicing your opinion.

    The Webster thing amazed me. The local people here... they knew him, exactly as the SMH bio says, as "Webster". Furthermore, they were surprised as hell I'd not heard of him. His past history was well known, and taken for granted.

    And that's the point I'd really like to make about him. His passing really illustrates what I'm saying about the danger of 'two nations'. Out here, he was known and valued, and the people around here simply assumed that he was as well known and valued back in the Big Smoke -- so they didn't bother doing anything special to record his words or his life. But the folk in Sydney - well, once he came out here, he was gone, forgotten until he became an obituary.

    From the little I know of Webster, he actually spent time living in a community with Gandhi, the Mahatma, and occasionally arguing philosophy and politics with the man. My neighbour the historian tells me that Webster was embroiled in one of the major early scandals regarding Communism in Australia -- some event or another that changed government policy and public opinion back in the 30s.

    But when he died, there was nobody here from the archives or the histories; just us country folk. Webster wasn't much on talking at length to the people out here; my impression is that he saw it as bragging, if you like. He didn't feel that his personal history was of much interest hereabouts; it was private, and it wasn't relevant to Scottsdale.

    I suspect that if he'd been formally approached by someone with the right credentials, a really goddam fascinating bio could have been put together. But it didn't happen, because the people he might have spoken to live in another Australia to the one where Webster died.

  3. PS: I agree with you completely about the people who come out to the country and then whinge that it doesn't have the city conveniences. And I don't even expect broadband at the same speed as the city. But I do think it should be affordable, and universal, and capable at the very least of delivering decent real-time audio-visual conferencing.

    As Damian observed elsewhere, broadband Internet is a whole lot of answers in one package. A doctor or a nurse will help a community medically. But broadband connectivity is libraries, research, instant consultancies/expertise in medicine, law, science, engineering... it's mentorships and networking and gaming and political awareness and more: it's a voice.

    It goes both directions. The aboriginal kid living out past Mt Isa not only sees the rest of the country, but for the first time, he too can be seen and heard, like the rest of us.

    I know. I'm getting started all over again, right? Sorry about that...

  4. My parents are both from Chicago, and after marrying, moved to New Jersey, settling down less than an hour and a half by car/train from New York City, so I grew up with just about every modern convenience you could imagine (short of legalized fireworks). And, it was the part of NJ that transitioned from suburbs to country, so in a 5 minute drive, I could be surrounded by beautiful farmland (which has since been purchased by developers and turned into McMansions). I elected to attend a university in a more countrified area, in NW Arkansas, and eventually settled just outside of Atlanta.

    Upon retiring, my parents bought a house an hour away from us, and about 45 minutes to an hour north of Atlanta. For 2 years, my mom did nothing but complain about how far they were from anything civilized, how people talked funny, how there were no delis, and even how they hardly saw us (note, they chose to buy a house an hour far to visit during the week). We, on the other hand, love living here, being close to the country, fresh air, being able to see more stars at night (my dad was an astronomer, you'd think he would've appreciated that), but my mom was one of those you described, whinging incessantly about the lack of civilization (and it's hardly like they were where you are....they were in the suburbs of Atlanta, for Christ's sake!).

    We move to an area, and try to embrace the things that are different....OK, the pizza wasn't as good, but the BBQ is outstanding, for example. Others bitch and moan about everything that is different. To them, we usually say, "don't let the door hit your ass on the way out."

  5. Mate, I could not agree more, especially having come from a country town and being now, located in one which would also be slated as the same. What I find however is, that as politicians are holding the decision making levers on this one and as we all now the majority of the population lives in the capitals, which happen to be situated on the east coast, we will in all probability see a significant portion of the country miss out on the HIGH SPEED connection. AND THAT’S A VOTES BASED ITEM!.

    What I HOPE we do see, is that competitive pressure lowers the overall costs and this filters through to the outer reaches of the population, I am not holding my breath on that one.

    A similar issue is roads, we sit astride the main link from Adelaide to Melbourne, situated about 5 k’s as the row flies from here is a series of cuttings which are the scene of a never ending series of car and heavy vehicle accidents, you would have hoped by now a series of new bridges by passing the Dangerous stretch would have materialised, alas, we lake sufficient volume, further, its not the link to Sydney. You need only look at the continual upgrades and expansion of the Hume highway, all the funding, or at least a disproportionate amount gets funnelled in that direction. Likewise, Melbourne. The Frankston freeway, the new section just announced, the Scoresby bypass, east link and the list goes on. SHIT, Geelong on JUST recently got its bypass, why the hell would they spend money on infrastructure that takes you to ADELAIDE. ITS VOTES and that’s mass.

    I’m not really saying anything here that you would not already be acutely aware of, its just another item which in the whole scheme of gummite tends to crawl under my skin, getting them to do the right thing is kinda like trying to get a dog to NOT PISS ON THE TREE in you garden ..nup, not gunna happen, just the dog being a dog. Of course, we have the advantage of scolding the dog, locking him up, smacking him if you are that way inclined, not many of those are apply able to our elected officials unfortunately.

    BUT, like all things, if we keep at it, chip away, bitch and yell and scream, we stand a chance of getting it at some point, sooner rather than later is the preference, but if it means that my kids, children get it, then that’s better than not at all. That, might sound somewhat forlorn, hell even defeatists perhaps, but I think not, its being a realist I suspect and in the mean time, we hope that for some unknown reason we get a miracle and they bring it forward and expand it rapidly.

  6. They might not have to run the pipe right to your door, but what they should do is offer plans and services at the same rates as what people have access to the pipe get, not ream an unhealthy extra profit out of the small minority.

    Lots of professionals move to the bush and their expertise is often forgotten to the greater nation. But here is a quick example of how tech can work. A chinese language teacher wants to retire or have kids, but would like to teach part time. Education boards should snap her up to teach over the net. It wouldn't just be for really remote kids but also schools like where my buddy is just out of Mackay, in a small school of 20 kids. He just doesn't have enough pull to have a warm body standing in a classroom for that sort of thing.

    Asking for a teacher that has specialized knowledge of cooking, gardening, five languages, music and art is a pipe dream, but access to those skills shouldn't be.

  7. Beeso -- it would be nice to have parity of access, but realistically, I don't expect that. Adequate access would be just fine. It needs to be affordable, and it needs to be able to handle... well, I'd be over the moon if I could get ADSL here. More than that? Wow!

    You're absolutely right about the skills of people who move out of the city centre. And further: nice for the families that live in the bush to be able to stay in real contact with the youngsters that move away, too. We need to reconnect the cities with rural Australia, because the divide is damaging us both.

  8. Flinty, your arguments are beautifully crafted and made me take a different perspective on this issue. Thanks.