My train reading has switched again, this time to Isabel Wilkinson's Forgotten Country. The story of the Upper Clarence Gold Field (I Wilkinson, 1980). Completed by Isabel when she was an award winning student at the Northern Rivers College of Advanced Education, it tells the story (among other things) of the search for precious metal in part of the wild New England ranges as they fall away to the coast.
As I read this book, I thought of the now forgotten stories buried in the Australian landscape,
Australia is a new country so far as later settlers are concerned, the Aborigines have a different perspective, yet even in that newness so much has been forgotten.
Many of the mining towns that sprang up in the Upper Clarence, rose and then vanished. Timbarra Tableland, for example, is now frozen in a wilderness description. The town, those who lived, worked, loved and died there, have vanished.
This is a different world, one increasingly remote from modern Australian experience with its rules and complexity. The new settlers demanded basic services across an ever changing landscape. Government responded.
Increasingly, I am struck by just how amazingly efficient and effective those earlier Government officials were. Postal services were created and then closed. New ways were worked out for providing basic services. Public works were created, land was mapped, town plans created and all in very short time spans.
Local MPs would express demands and expect to be answered. Those MPs had their own business interests, their own special pleadings, but they were integrally connected to their local communities. Those communities exercised their own controls. They made their own judgments.
Life was raw in some ways. Yet through the ubiquitous public meeting, the formation of committees, the composition of petitions, the local fund raising drive, you saw real local control at work: schools were built, race meetings created, the whole paraphernalia of life built, We can't do that today ,or at least not in the time horizons involved.
I hadn't quite expected to go this way when I began this post. but I think that it's true, What's true?
We can send someone into space, but we can't fix a local transport problem. We can create a complex research institutes, but we can't ensure the basic supply of minimum Government services to particular areas. Yes, the definition of minimum has changed, but the principle is the same.
Have we advanced? Sometimes I wonder.