“Go West!” was an exhortation to 19th century Americans to open up the wide expanses of their great country. More recently in Australia there has been a revival of talk at government level about encouraging populations of workers to relocate to far flung parts of Australia, such as regional Queensland. During the recent Federal election campaign proposals were canvassed about tax breaks for businesses to relocate in northern Australia. But like the weather there is a lot of talk about it but little action. In the meantime regional communities get on with the job of developing their country in the only way they know how – that is to apply a healthy dose of pragmatism to everyday life.
Like being very visual with your road signs.
Organisations in the Outback
I have long marvelled at the resilience of people who live and work in remote communities around Australia. For those who grow up in rural and regional towns it is second nature to be content with their confined location. However it takes a special personality to leave behind many years of living and working amongst the gregarious throng of the metropolis to take up employment in the many small towns in Australia’s regions.
Yet I have many colleagues who have done just that and now revel in their new found freedom and love of small communities. They have no regrets about leaving the big city behind and indeed have found with modern communication that not too many sacrifices are demanded at all and those that are, probably represent more of a blessing in the form of a downsizing of an otherwise cluttered lifestyle.
We can learn some valuable lessons from our pioneers about making do without some of those metro creature comforts that in regional areas are no more than encumbrances. Our pioneer forebears had to adopt a minimalist approach to goods and chattels focusing on essentials only, keeping it simple and limiting expectations. Except perhaps for explorers such as Burke and Wills whose entourage on leaving Melbourne in 1860 comprised 26 camels, 23 horses, 19 men and six wagons to carry the expedition’s 21 tons of supplies. They made just 11 miles the first day.
(Memorandum of the Start of the Exploring Expedition by Nicholas Chevalier – Art Gallery of South Australia)
Even today organisations working in regional and remote areas of the country often follow minimalist philosophies, only creating structures, processes and procedures that makes sense in teh context of their remoteness. Rules are important but only those that can be realistically applied and enforced. Dogma is not recognis in the outback.
It’s the people that count
Living in remote communities emphasises the need for collaboration and partnership. The concept of mateship was born out of the necessity to be able to rely on someone else when things get tough or when challenges come along. It was central to survival on the rugged frontier and whilst the ruggedness is now somewhat reduced reliability of your co-workers is still essential today.
I have observed in many of the business and government organisations operating in regional Australia a stronger camaraderie and team spirit than exists in their larger counterparts in the big cities. I have also seen how these organisations have a closer association with their local communities and how there is a kind of seamlessness between the men and women in these organisations and the various community groups, associations and volunteer services. They are in fact the very same people.
Community solidarity is an issue of more importance in country towns and local connectedness is much more relevant to settling in and staying. Sustainability is a priority in local economies and local communities to help develop young home grown talent and provide opportunities to prevent their leaving.
In many small centres a strange co-dependence has arisen between local businesses and the growing army of grey nomads that sweep into town at regular intervals to reprovision and have a look around.
You can feel a difference
History is much more of immediate relevance in regional centres. Many a main street or Information Centre is decorated with iconic relics of bygone eras. This is especially so in areas that have seen past glory days during the gold rushes or when agriculture and pastural industries were at their zenith.
Distance is not the tyranny it once was but it is still a significant factor in limiting face-to-face encounters both within and between organisations.
Patience and forbearance are also qualities embedded in the make-up of regional communities and their organisations. Whether it is waiting for rain, waiting for the mail, waiting for product deliveries, patience is a necessity. This is especially so for those organisations forming part of a wider network or being a subsidiary to a larger organisation and dependent on a decision that must go to head office in the state capital city rather than being dealt with locally.
Even public art takes on a local flavour influenced by everyday objects in their matter-of-fact surroundings…like this roo-ral art made of old chains from a long abandoned gold mine.
Decentralisation has been a policy that has been on and off the table of legislative assemblies for the last century or more. Conceptually it is a wonderful idea but in practical terms the challenges faced by individuals and organisations are significant deterrents to any substantive wave of migration away from the sea board.
Nevertheless the immense value of our regional resources in people and organisations are worthy of our admiration and continued support.