Identity Calling

 

I am currently devouring one of the best book series I have ever read. The Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry won the Pulitzer Prize in 1986, and the four book series has me living vicariously through an epic adventure centred around Texas and mid-western USA. Set in the mid to late 1800s during the great railroad boom and through the US Civil War, the book meanders through the life of two Texas Rangers and their battles with nature and their fellow man.

 

Amongst many other things, the book got me thinking about the wonderful names that syndicate the United States. Wyoming, Nevada, Montana, Colorado, Arkansas, Alabama, Tennessee, the list goes on. Such iconic names that evoke strong imagery and help continue their traditions and the unique identity of the people who live there. Anyone who has travelled throughout the USA will understand the incredible diversity and fierce individuality of each state. After all, a New Yorker is as different to an Alabaman as a Swede is to a Spaniard. When you experience the diversity first hand, you realise what a remarkable achievement it has been to keep that nation whole for the past 150 years.

 

I could not help but contrast the names of our six states and two major Australian territories. Tasmania is a pretty fair effort, but we certainly didn’t go too far out on a limb when we conjured up a general direction with ‘South Australia’ and ‘Western Australia’.  Of course, we could explain names like ‘New South Wales’, ‘Victoria’ and ‘Queensland’ by virtue of our strong colonial rule. Yet, even when we had probably had a free hit in 1911, the best we could do was the ‘Australian Capital Territory’. For goodness sake, where were the creative types when these naming competitions were running. Most can’t even be shortened with any dignity, says the Queenslander! A country festooned with brilliant names like Rooty Hill, Wooloomooloo, Boozer Creek, Yorkeys Knob and Woodie Woodie, we certainly had it in us.

 

We are a hyper-homogenous country, which is perhaps both a source of great strength and weakness. Australia is one of the few counties never to experience a civil war, and our rivalries are now pretty much reserved for the sporting field. Even then, with the increasing nationalisation of sport, state-wide provincialism is mostly confined to a ‘state-of-origin’ football game. Nowadays, modern aficionados are mostly team based, with key internal state leagues having been relegated to obscurity or even dismantled. Let’s face it, state-of-origin’s are becoming more about the opportunity to see all the stars of the game on the same paddock playing at the highest level. I think that our states are now reduced to more of an administrative convenience than a definition of character.

 

A friend of mine is a teacher in Italy. An expat Kiwi, she asks her students each year how they define themselves. Invariably, they are principally people of the town in which they live, then region, and finally their country – certainly not a European. Despite being the perennial political basket-case, this provincialism is one of the things I love about Italy.  When living there, I learnt very quickly never to schedule a dinner party when the local soccer team was playing.

 

I think we could do with some more local pride. We know that strong social connections help reduce stress and contribute to general health and well-being, yet apparently half of suburban Australians cannot recognise their neighbours in the street. I know our political debate is focussed on building large-scale infrastructure, but what about a focus on building our community infrastructure? Of course we need great railways, hospitals, roads and tunnels; but what really impassions people are things like sport, music, art, literature, charity, nature, religion, vocations… These are the things that unite and can build character and strength – the real nation-builders and stress-busters in my opinion.

 

Like the great railroad boom of the US, good infrastructure is a key enabler for community. However, infrastructure alone can’t build community. I see this as infinitely more difficult, as it requires people to work together. There might not be as many ribbons to cut, but investing in community and our community builders seems like a pretty good deal to me. Along the way, we might even reduce some of our other infrastructure demands.

 

The ‘High Five’ Interstate interchange in Dallas Texas.  The word Texas comes from an Indian Word meaning ‘friends’ or ‘allies’.  The name ‘High Five’ come as a result of this being a five level stack intersection that is as high as a 12 storey building (Source: Wikepedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_Five_Interchange)

About Peter Robertson

Born and bred in Eumundi and Nambour, in strong company indeed. After studying Maths and Physics at uni in Brisbane, I pursued a business career that I sometimes worry is best described as 'Jack of all trades - master of none'. Having safely made it to my mid 50's, I am still yet to have a real job - but I expect to grow up someday. My love of sport has never waned and I regularly play tennis, golf and surf. Other pursuits include fly fishing and trekking. I have been serving on a few private and NFP boards in sports and other areas to keep me out of mischief.

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