Rusted Off: Why Country Australia is Fed Up by Gabrielle Chan didn’t quite live up to my expectations, or to her marvellous Introduction. In fact, the rest of the book was little more than an extended version of the fine points she made early on.
I’ve spent most off my life in rural Australia; this last decade in Sydney has been a complete change of pace for me. Therefore I have my very own deeply rooted, nuance awareness of what life in small country towns looks likes and feels like. Reading Rusted Off, in the end told me nothing I didn’t already know and I’m not sure that my city based born and bred friends will see any more value in country life than they already do, after reading this.
One of the main values in country living is how every single strata of society is right there in front of you. City living has become so insular with certain socio-economic and cultural groups tending towards one suburb or another, that most Sydney suburbs are basically a mono-culture. It takes a determined individual to seek out differences and diversity. Living side by side with families who look and sound just like you makes it easy to forget and hard to understand when someone holds diametrically opposed views, or experiences hardship or privilege beyond anything you have every experienced yourself.
Not that country living is a paragon of virtue or an ideal arrangement either. Prejudices still abound and it’s not always easy for newcomers to ever feel like they belong or are fully accepted. I miss my country lifestyle, even though Chan’s book reminded of all the reasons why I was often uncomfortable, alone or dissatisfied with my life there.
Although I’m not sure if I learnt anything new, Chan’s account of country life, certainly got me thinking about where I belong and where I feel most comfortable. I love the wide, open space of rural life, the big blue skies and the connection to country that I struggle to see and feel in Sydney. But I love the cultural advantages of city living – the diversity of restaurants, galleries, parks, theatres and other cultural events. I live in a suburb that has a very real village atmosphere, a place where I can walk down the street and run into people I know, where I know most of the shop keepers by name and the local barista knows how to serve my coffee without me even asking.
It seems to me that both country folk and their city cousins are completely fed-up with politics and the way our politicians have been carrying on. So what I did find inspirational was hearing about the small and large community projects that Chan’s particular small country town had instigated all on their own. Instead of waiting for politicians to decide about climate change or funding for educational, social and health related programs, they had just got in a started making plans to protect their towns and the citizens themselves.
Chan obviously loves her small country town, and I understand why. I also completely understand how it can frustrate her at times. Perhaps the secret to wherever you live, is being present and accepting with gratitude the joys and pleasures (as well as the niggles and annoyances) that abound in any place, with as much good grace and mindfulness as you can manage.