In her Quarterly Essay, Judith Brett — award-winning author, professor of politics at Latrobe University and one of Australia’s most original and respected political thinkers — reflects on the relationship between country and city in our politics and culture. She spoke to acclaimed writer Don Watson about her essay at the Wheeler Centre.
For many decades Australia was the country that rode on the sheep’s back. No more – now we are a country of mining and services. What will be the fate of rural and regional Australia in an era of economic rationalisation, water cutbacks, climate change, droughts and flooding rain? Does urban Australia care for or understand the country anymore?
Brett and Watson discuss the fate of the rural population — its wellbeing, its economy and its longevity. Observing the shift from ‘rural’ to ‘regional’ and from ‘country’ to ‘bush’, they unpick the complex relationships between urban dwellers and their pastoral counterparts, tracing the political lineage of the country through farms and towns, agriculture and retail, tribalism and independence.
Throughout this hour-long discussion, including numerous questions from the audience (many of whom, to Watson’s delight, have come from South Gippsland), the pair consider how regional Australia has changed over past decades, and ponder the role of government in propping up ailing communities and industries. They talk about the waning influence of the National Party, Labor’s inability to act decisively in the bush with minority government, and the rise of the rural independents.
At the heart of it all lies the broader question: what exactly is ‘the country’?
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