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.