Fireworks Or No, Country and City People Are Already "Two Classes Of Citizens"
Every year my family would watch the Sydney New Year’s Eve fireworks from our agricultural-driven home of Griffith, NSW.
The annual joke is to commentate the famous bursts with, ‘Oooh there goes a hospital’ and ‘Ahh that was a lovely school’.
This year NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro called for the show to be canned to avoid having “two classes of citizens”, as dangerous conditions have forced the cancellation of many regional fireworks.
It’s a point to ponder but let’s not pretend it’s pyrotechnics that puts country people second -- it’s the city-centric attitude.
While politicians like to hone in on how bushfire and annual celebrations unite Australians, the raw truth is that the urban-rural divide is severe. Research by the Royal Flying Doctor Service found the seven million Australians living in remote and rural areas have poorer health outcomes and live shorter lives on average than their city counterparts.
Growing up regionally you notice things like door-knocking to fundraise for local chemotherapy services when there were none -- or driving three hours to get your wisdom teeth out. As an adult, it’s seeing families torn apart for months, even years, as one parent lives in Sydney with a sick child and the other stays home with the others to run the family business.
Rates of suicide and self-harm are also higher, so much so that those in very remote areas are twice as likely to end their own life as city-dwellers. It’s a tragic reality our community has suffered through on too many occasions. My school lost a 12-year-old school mate when I was in Year Seven.
This limited access to health services is alarming when the aging population is growing at a faster rate in rural and remote areas. However, improvement is possible with a new report finding up to 80 percent of cardiac disease premature deaths could be prevented if rehabilitation services are made available in the bush.
Part of the battle is decentralising the workforce, creating more jobs and increasing educational opportunities in rural and regional areas.
It’s slowly starting with the Regional Investment Corporation being based in Orange and a Murray-Darling Basin Authority office in Griffith.
For two years my partner and I had looked for regional opportunities but it proved near impossible if we both wanted to follow our career dreams. The jobs simply aren’t there. Unfortunately, it’s a similar situation for young people already living rurally where youth unemployment rates are higher than in city areas and continuing to rise, according to the Australian Council of Trade Unions.
I lapped the main street with my resume countless times as a teen looking for casual work and almost broke a friendship going for the only role in town that my best friend was also vying for.
Young rural people also face poorer educational outcomes. A recent Deloitte Access Economics analysis found city students are around eight months ahead of their regional classmates.
I had a great schooling experience overall. But I couldn’t study courses like Extension English because there weren’t enough students. And those I could take were sometimes held outside because it was too hot in the un-air-conditioned classrooms.
(Even 10 years on, some classrooms still don’t have air-conditioning.)
Living in Sydney, mum worries when I get the train at night but as Our Watch reports, women from rural and remote areas are more likely to experience violence than their city-living sisters.
While violence against women is not driven by geographic location, rural characteristics like isolation can reinforce it. Working as a regional journalist I was shocked by how many times a woman asked not to be filmed because she was hiding from a violent partner. There were many shocking stories of women having to sneak hundreds of kilometres from home to another town for safety. They were afraid of the public scrutiny that comes from naming a perpetrator with a high community profile and resources to help them and over survivors were stretched.
Then of course there’s topics of the moment -- bushfires and climate change. It flows from the ashen-faced farmer standing in a dirt paddock filled with dead lambs to the families leaving town as businesses close and schools lose teaching positions.
The differences between rural and urban life have already created "two classes of citizens". We don't need politicians using shiny things like New Year's Eve fireworks to distract us from what actually needs to be done to level the playing field.
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Feature Image: Getty