Sunday, June 5, 2011


Author – Millicent Ffulke-Hope, Arthur’s new found friend.

It began with a putt* -
My first encounter with the ambience of this ‘regional centre’ in Queensland. Australia was described in that last article of Arthur’s.
I have been asked to provide an account of my observations which hopefully shall be published, with Mr. Reinhardt’s approval, as an ‘interest piece’; a ‘visiting fireman’s’ impression of the district and its local history.

Apparently Mr. Reinhardt had a classic fit of the sulks yesterday evening when he read Arthur’s comments about him in draft – especially the part about ‘his rubber band being so easily wound up to snapping point’. (NB – this wasn’t deleted, was it? – D.R., Editor)
At the time I had been invited to join in an ‘evening editorial soviet’ combined with some refreshment – or as Arthur put it so succinctly, “a bit of a well deserved piss-up after roaring everywhere around the boondocks on that old rattletrap.”

It may well be that Django’s (Mr. Reinhardt’s) concerns about the present day, allegedly tourism focused, dysfunctional regional economy hold weight.
*(Putt – casual, easygoing, hopefully enjoyable, outing on a motorcycle.)

Followed by an argument -
How could a complete stranger, a foreign national, (and a Seppo at that – D.R., Editor) assess the merits of any place after visiting for the first time and, at that, for only a few days?
But once dear Django climbed down out of the chandelier he reluctantly agreed that such is exactly what tourists and visiting business people do by the million in countless locations every year.
Therefore Mr. Reinhardt has promised, at least in this instance, that there shall need be neither self-censorship nor other ‘constraints on the media’.

We shall see if he keeps his promise (and hopefully works out that calling a Southern Belle a ‘Seppo’ is like waving a red flag before a bull).

First impressions -
Are based on value judgments – or so any person concerned with projecting a positive first impression must assume.
My first impressions may well have become biased, firstly, by what I had come to understand from discussing the district’s history with Inge, then shortly after arrival totally skewed awry by what I can only describe as the remarkably culpable behavior of a certain trawler coxswain.

His act of gratuitous aggression seemed to span the years.

All I could think was, my God, if there were a couple of hundred colored people swimming the river to escape madmen with guns out there on that island - he’d have just plowed on right through them.

The reader may rest assured that were I some ‘Ms. Moneybags’ visiting this city in order to establish something, for instance, in the seafood industry, that visit would have been short, sharp, and with a decidedly negative outcome.

See what I mean – first impressions stick like ‘Elmer’s Glue-All’™.

Second impressions then -
Shoot me down in flames but I cannot accept that a town can set itself up as a tourist trap without having something entertaining to offer transients like myself.
I am reliably informed that this city has indeed absorbed its fair share of tourism development funding over the recent decades.

Many cities around my part of the world (Birmingham, Alabama) just up and invent something if that is what it takes. (for instance, some good ol’ boys there invented my scooter)

In the circumstance that other, more acceptable, sources of income are lacking for cultural centers and sporting venues then people of an entrepreneurial bent will set up with a dude ranch, a garage museum, or a humble clapboard home with a hand painted sign on the fence offering, say, the last chance for the lucky tourist to buy (Yes Ma’am, genuine) Jesse James’ very own six-shooter. (I have three myself. One even shoots well.)

While it is true that eminent travelers like Bill Bryson often comment that what is on offer at tourist traps in the USA can best be described as tacky; it must be declared in the same breath that at least they are there in abundance.

Here in this burg these parameters appear to have been somewhat tweaked.

As if unable to reject the bipolar approach to tourist traps and in the circumstance of lacking abundance, it is if the of what is offered here must be transcendently tacky and be stretched to unprecedented heights of utterly disarming disinterest.

I apologize if I seem to be saying that it is a boring town. I am struggling to describe why it is a boring town without being too insulting to the inhabitants, all of whom, no doubt, are honest and God fearing people.

Image –  If a certain European power, confronted with a fraught economic and political situation, can set up a decent combination waterslide and go-kart track, then why the hell can’t we?

Leading to an insult -
I have spent my money here and there over the years, even at some tourist traps flying that all too often suspect ecotourism banner.

It brings joy to spend time close to nature and with luck witness new life come into this world.
I am not a particularly early riser however do recall a cold, frosty dawn at a Texas ranch.
I was privileged to witness a colt being born in a flurry of sanguinary mucus and steam.
My excitement at his first trembling steps, his elation at being born alive on the face of this earth, the recognition in his eyes of the mare, his mother.
That experience was overpoweringly enriching and rejuvenating for this old farm girl.

In comparison, watching turtles lay eggs, though the act itself is of undoubted merit, is too much like watching paint dry, and as Arthur succinctly put it “As intrusive as watching a cat take a crap.”.
A person might have more fun visiting a hen coop at dawn.

Something evidently less than an inspiring occasion for the observer or for that turtle.
And that is the way it should be what with the poor turtle being a solitary animal.
What immeasurable harm is being caused their kind with people gawping, stomping about and shining lights in their eyes at birthing – distracting that most necessarily secretive time of that noble species existence?

Something less acceptable –
Why not speak forthrightly and in the regional vernacular – ‘just spit out my dummy’.

I have been informed that this city I am visiting now has sold off, permitted to have sold off, or maybe mislaid – its heritage along with its industry - the essential reasons for its being.
For instance, no one told the locals that their locally owned cane harvesting firm had been sold to drug dealers.

Oh, fair enough; you want me to explain such an outrageous statement -
‘Jardine Matheson’ were Imperial drug dealing ‘factors’ back in the good ol’ days destroying the resolve of millions of decent Chinese – that’s how they first made their moolah.
Then they came here.
And no one noticed that once bought by foreign interests an Australian entity could end by being sold on to a hostile interest.

I wonder what reception I’d get from a government if I placed a bid to buy out one of their most important home grown technology and manufacturing assets.

I can see it now. The Aussie trades commissioner or whatever casually asks me something like –“So what did you do to set up in business and put enough capital together to make us this offer?”

If then I casually replied – “Oh nothing much, flogged off a couple of thousand tons of opium to the Chinks, helped cause a couple of wars and amongst other things even kept operating in Honkers by selling beer (and the odd ton of opium) to the Japs in World War Two  – Got a problem with that?”

Let’s just say I could reasonably predict the outcome if I had to admit to that.

Other visiting profiteers, (including the British Royal Family, leastways their sharebrokers) have stripped assets, made their packet and now moved on.
They tell me it does wonders for the local economy when the biggest cane harvester manufacturing plant in the southern hemisphere gets picked up holus-bolus and shipped off to Brazil.
No, That wasn’t Jardine Matheson. They just sold on to the outfit that did that later.

They tell me it has a ‘domino effect’ -
Absentee rentiers and foreign interests more concerned with neutering global competition than fostering regional prosperity began a process of asset stripping while simultaneously lobbying and maneuvering the political masters toward deregulating those industries vital to the region’s prosperity.
The agenda appeared to be to strip assets, then dissolve or dissipate secondary industry preparatory to the fait accompli of denying the agrarian industry of its markets, its reason for existence.

Domino, knock on effect or whatever you may choose to call it, the outcomes for the region have to be disastrous – bankruptcy, unemployment, familial disruption, suicide, crime and outright misery.

As Arthur keeps reminding me – there is one of those key players, of that time, still holding a parliamentary seat here.

(Hey Arthur, what’s his name again – Benedict Arnold, or was it ‘Bully’ Hayes?)

So what remains?
Other than those few outstandingly persistent examples of secondary industry kept operating, maybe as exceptions that prove the rule, there are dwellings, underutilized shopping barns, a partly depopulated ‘central business district’ and precious little else that may remotely attract entrepreneurs, ‘team leaders’ or the upwardly mobile to this corner of the world.

It is almost (or so I was informed) as if all the local potentates had a meeting one day and said – “Let’s see, now that we’ve folded like squashed spiders for the big boys, what can we do with the least amount of effort to stuff the remaining profitability of the district up as much as we can, as quickly as we can.”

The impact, visual and virtual -
Believe me when I say the evidence is there to see.
As I say to my students – don’t look at the forest; go and check out the trees, their species, their diversity and consider what life they should sustain.

My immediate gut assessment after the tour of the town with Arthur the other day was to believe this to be some sort of administrative center – by far out of sight too many dwellings for what I could see of industry, commerce or services.
This is incredible, thinks I – corn and circuses but without the circuses.
What the hell do these people do when they become bored?
Maybe they come down town to watch tourists fall asleep?

Then I began to take more notice of people about in the street.
Far too many were obviously not employed and (back to prejudicial value judgments again) far too many of them by any acceptable standard appeared to be unemployable.

In the scheme of things it is not unreasonable to ask how this could come about.
How, precisely, could a well established regional city strongly involved with regional agriculture be divested of its extensive, locally owned, self-funded support industry in a few short years?

What factors are at play here other than the obvious shortsightedness and greed?
The obvious questions to ask are what influences and personalities converted or diverted the community from ‘what it was then’ to ‘what it is now’ and who was running the show during the conversion from ‘past relative prosperity’ to ‘present marginality’?

The present marginality -
A previous Federal administration had deemed the region as ‘unsustainable’.
Surely that says it all?
Federal funding amounting to millions of dollars was expended in the region with little actual effect.
What of that became visible out there on the street?
From this visiting fireman’s perspective, precious little

Were the seriously large numbers of southern immigrants suddenly gifted with meaningful regular employment once they had arrived in this burg?
Evidently not.
Was there an increase in the number of ‘stayers’ – those who had bought into the region intending to reside here?
The record indicates that the regional population has increased dramatically out of proportion to meaningful employment opportunities.

Or were they merely being exploited and drained of their last resources by the closest thing the regional magnates could put together as an ‘industry replacement program’?
I have been told about this and am not impressed.
I’m told that people are being’ sucked in, chewed up, then spat out. This is a phenomenon well evidenced by the extensive number of for ‘sale signs’ appearing in front of the same dwellings on as often as a twice yearly basis.
I have seen this for myself and to my eyes it is a symptom, not of mobility resulting from prosperity, but of unethical exploitation amidst large scale economic failure.

The last big question – If locals or those hoping to be locals are being denied employment – then who is getting all the available, mostly marginal, underpaid, rural, work?
That one is easy peasy.
Which means more callous exploitation; this time of another itinerant ‘human resource’ more ill resourced to deal with dishonesty and manipulative employment practices than those southern emigrants.

“In a nutshell”, as we’d all like to know – “What the friggin’ bejeesus is going on here?”

What is going on –
It might surprise you all to know that the story of your city  is not at all different to what has been happening elsewhere. Ask them in Chicago, Detroit and Milwaukee.
Imagine, will you, what happens when the reivers move in for a kill.
If you don’t know what reivers are, then now is your chance to learn.
That might be useful for you later in life.

Apparently there is at least one reiver left here in elected office.
I’m told he used to be with the tourism and development board so most likely he played a part and is still playing his part in the region’s demise.
But a reiver is an officially condoned and sanctioned outlaw who combines with others of his kind in order to exploit districts deemed to be marginal, ungovernable, and therefore unprofitable. In the past reivers were typically involved with roving in bands over marginal territory usually involving themselves with such pastimes as theft, murder, rapine, slavery, manipulation, victimization and harassment – but only of those who could not defend themselves or lacked the societal status to seek justice before the courts.

While such immoderate methodology is now almost universally frowned upon there are other, less strenuous, forms of intimidation and knavery equally as successful in the modern context.

Conclusion –
This Burg has a climate almost as benign as California. They have their earthquakes and you have your cyclones – so in some way that levels out on a par.
It could be that citizens here may not appreciate the unwieldy conurbation that California appears to have become.
Some might justifiably opine that California right now is ‘broke’ too.
There is however a Golden Mean in all that we strive to achieve and there are lessons to be learned.
I make the point that if this region is ever to succeed as a tourist trap (and that has been the public posture of your elected chief reiver all his career) then you must cease being an overgrown retirement village and haven for the unemployable.
If it is tourists you want then it is tourists you must get and to get them you must hitch your skirts up high and flash in their jaded eyes something more interesting than ankle.
But stop there. Prostituting the region will reclaim little social capital. Nor will it provide satisfying career paths for the more accomplished inmates of your zoo.

I understand that some locals have slaved away for years developing a putative aviation industry.
It is such a shame that they’ve been more successful at sucking up government funding credits by the bucketload than they have at producing an elegant and sprightly performing airplane.

That’s the way it has to be in order to compete these days.
No boring high wing spam can with a fixed pitch prop will ever compete in the near future – even if it is made of plastic.

My final words are that this dump needs industry replacement, like yesterday, and that the new industries have to accept that part of their tasking schedule is to be meretricious - as attractive in their presentation and promoting their charms as they are cut-throat in clinching a deal.

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