The drought currently afflicting much of Australia has reached a new level of urgency at the same time as David Kemp reaffirms the government’s stance against the Kyoto accord, claiming that its implementation is not ‘in Australia’s best interests’. The most appropriate response to such reasonimg would be to roll up a rainfall contour map and bop the minister over the head with it repeatedly. This being impractical, a range of luminaries have pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to help out farmers, and to restructure inland water supply. In response to these suggestions, Marcia Langton and others have pointed out that many inland indigenous people live continuously in conditions of poverty worse than those being borne by many farmers during the current Dry. One could add the urban poor, whose struggle is equally desperate and unremitting, but which cannot avail itself of the mythical and historical imagery of the struggle against a sunburnt country.
Much of this criticism has focused reasonably enough on a perception that the farm sector is unwilling to be reciprocal in a range of matters including environment and native title.
A better response to the crisis from all sides would necessarily be collective and communal and would require a recognition that city and country are bound up with each other, and not seperate entities. It would require relief plans and restructuring by region, rather than by economic sector, so that the needs of all who live in such areas would be taken into consideration. And it would require a commitment by the farmers’ bodies to make a real and greater commitment to curbing wasteful land and water use as part of a reciprocal commitment to the vast amjority of Australians who do not work the land.
Beyond that, a more fundamental rethinking of the relationship between city and country is required. Left to itself, an urban information-industrial society like contemporary Australia will simply forget that the country exists as anything other than a tourist spot. Left to the market and cultural forces of globalisation, many areas which once supported viable and vibrant communities will become semi-ghost regions.
Only a free-marketeer who prefers his earth not merely baked but scorched would see this as the best way to restructure Australian society in an era when argiculture has been so wholly industrialised that it can no longer support communities who lived off its earlier forms. An effect of globalisation is to make city and country strangers to each other and heighten parochialism. (This only seems paradoxical if you believe the hi-tech hype about globalisation). In deciding how we will live together on a changing continent, the mutual obligation of city and country, indigenous and non-, to each other, and an abandonment of old mythologies of an ‘authentic’ Australia is required. Large sections of the country can only survive by convincing the cities and suburbs that it matters to us all that the country survives, and that a more far-reaching plan for non-urban Australia is necessary. Otherwise the city will cut them loose. That is harsh and unfair, but that is the changed climate under which we currently live.