This week regular commentor here at Life In The Country Kin is getting out of her niche. Enjoy!
Believe it or not I had chosen my topic for this post before Mr Howard called the election, but small town politics (both official and unofficial) is such a huge part of my town, that to discuss my life here without mentioning it would leave such a huge hole in the story, I may as well not tell it.
We moved here 5 years ago. From one tourist strip, to another. Our previous tourist strip had 200,000 people. Here there are just 5,000. While a fairly small community, it’s different to the “country” town 15 minutes down the road, where surnames are street names, and several generations have lived in the same house. My town is transient, full of backpackers and young people working their way around Australia. Retiree’s are also well represented. I mean where else would you want to retire to?
We’re never short of anything to do in town here. Apart from the Great Barrier Reef being on our doorstep, there’s a seemingly continual procession of activities that start in January, and only let up in December for all the Christmas functions.
But when there’s such a small community, it really requires a large proportion to be involved to make any kind of impact. Our family is and has been very involved in various community groups over the years we’ve been here. And the politics within community organizations will always be an issue, wherever you live. But it certainly makes life a touch more interesting when a member of your committee is married to the local mayor. And half your committee is actively involved in protesting against various “decisions” the local council has made.
See, our council seems to know exactly what to do to ensure maximum reaction from the community. An old car park in the middle of town? We’ll just build a resort on it, provide less parking for locals and visitors – oh and a few hundred pokies next to a family lagoon. What reaction did they think they were going to get?
Fortunately, a community so used to being actively involved in organising events was quite able to turn in a petition with 1,700 signatures from locals (remembering a town of 5,000), 3,000 objections to the development application and a protest march the likes of which our town has never seen (and our town has seen a few!!!). The developer formally withdrew the application this year (finally!).
Or my favourite – the airport that didn’t make a profit in 2001 (did any regional airport?), so we’ll sell it to someone who wants to close it down so we all have to travel another 30 minutes (total time = 1 hour) to the nearest airport. The actions against the foreshore development were repeated, and the issue ended up in the Supreme Court, which finally found there was no contract for sale and that our airport could stay where it was. Amazingly the airport is now turning a massive profit, and redevelopment works are underway a mere 6 months after this finding.
When I stop and think about these political events in our town, and compare them to our previous home, I can’t help but notice the striking differences. Petitions had similar numbers of signatures, despite the massive difference in population. Protests were all but unheard of. And if they did happen, they were something like restoring the local post office or banning skateboards on footpaths. Things that while important, don’t necessarily impact the entire community in quite the same way.
This hit home to me on Friday night as we made our annual pilgrimage to the lagoon for “Cracker Night” – the start of the October/November festival of choice – to realise that had the development gone ahead on the car park site, there would be nowhere to launch the fireworks from. I compared it to the Brisbane “River Fire” where 500,000 people line the banks of the Brisbane River, crowded, on top of each other, to watch fireworks and the crowd favourite – F1-11’s. We lay on the grass next to our town’s “swimming hole”, with kids playing in the water til late, and chatted with our neighbours who were sitting not far from us. And we watched a somewhat less impressive display of firepower.
Less impressive it might have been, but it wouldn’t have happened at all if not for the hard work of a community not afraid to take on their alleged representatives, and stand up and fight for their community.
With our impending move South to the Big City, these types of reflections are getting more and more common. I wonder if the things I’ve learned living here will stay with me, or if they’ll get lost among the sheer number of people.
Kin – I have no idea how I would cope moving back to the Big City now. A busy night at the local Chinese Restaurant is too noisy for me. I’ve become used to the peace and quiet of our new home very quickly. It happened so fast I can’t even remember what life in the city used to be like. I don’t know if I could handle it again. You’re a braver girl than I am, that’s for sure!
I have begun to see some of these small town politics in action myself since moving to a town of less than 5,000 and it is highly interesting to watch.
Remember, you can get out of your niche too – all bloggers are welcome. Just contact me.