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Two Countries For The Price Of One


Wyndham5Heading into the North from the South is a little like leaving one world and entering another, not just like crossing the tropical line, entering the tropic of Capricorn really means changing country. Heading South from the North is much the same only in reverse.

The Top End is just not like the rest of Australia. It has different resources, different needs and different problems to the South.

In the case of the Northern Territory it has the added complication of Federal oversight in local issues of governance and that means cash needed to solve the problems floods to Canberra but the responsibility for the problems of the Territory are handed over to locals without the money and resources to do anything.

The problems of the Northern Territory are so dire and disturbing that it beggars belief that Australia is a first world country.

Its third world problems are not a joke, they are decidedly unfunny.

The conversation about it is difficult and would require maturity in the society and our political representatives and since Australia has neither of those things, some of the most treatable third world problems persists on our own mainland and the great national dialogue on what to do about it is completely muted.


The population mix which is so obviously changing heading further North along the West coast into the Northern Territory means this other Australia has a very different racial mix. The multiculturalism of the South is still around but less in evidence here where there are essentially two races still failing to integrate much at all and with that failure to integrate there are two life expectancies, two different sets of education standards, two self-segregated cultures leading to two economies.

There is a social segregation so glaring and throroughly enforced, it is not apartheid by direct policy, it is a kind of fenceless apartheid through inertia. It is segregation through economics, through a two century long history of legal, state sanctioned cultural annihilation. One federal apology later, the same problems continue to persist.

From Katherine to Tennant Creek, all the way to the QLD border, there is the sense that the deserts have made the water and the fertile agriculture disappear, as though the deserts have made the tropical weather itself dry up. The few dead livestock in the NT and the many dead livestock on the Western Queensland roadsides mark the entry into smaller but more lucrative cattle towns. Some of the Northern Territory’s problems are related to drought, desertification and these are self evidently problems which are not going to be fixed by a change in federal interest in the problems of the NT.


The Northern Territory is both where the greatest effects could be felt with a change in funding and law enforcement policy and it is also where there is the greatest need for new resources. Sadly it is partly trapped under the heel of a remote federal government, a government which is presently more intent on disassembling the policy of previous governments than on protecting the human rights of people inside its own single largest jurisdiction.

West Queensland towns are also left baking in the extraordinary dry kind of I-Can’t-Believe-It’s-Actually-Tropical heat. These are places where the old dudes dress like Texans and where water is so very precious. Cost of living as measured by the petrol and diesel pump is generally quite expensive and judging from the average speed of the locals in this part of the world, it is a life led slowly, it appears to be a life without many frills.


Like all other places in the Top End I have seen, the Queensland outback is a place where creature comforts are not easy to come by. There is no KMart. There is no Target. Streetlighting is a bit hit and miss. Towns which have given a lot have received nothing much back and here too, just as in the West the money moves South and the locals seem to accept it as a fact of life.

What seems missing in much of the Top End is any sense of security about all of these smaller towns and their futures.

There is no shortage of resources and there is no end to the pillage of resources. But the money doesn’t stay put to do any work in the North to make the towns places where more people want to stay. Instead it moves South very rapidly indeed and so although the money made in the North adds a lot of comfort to the cities of the South, it also creates a real rift between those who live at the Top End and the Lucky-As-Fuck Country to the South. The South is lucky-as-fuck to the extent that it can spend and accumulate the money made in the North about as fast as the North can produce it. The cities all run on deficits, the main commodity available in any Australian city is real estate. The only reason they are so sprawling and so rich is because the bulk of the money for development originates from the resources and agriculture sectors. The vast bulk of it from the Top End.

If there is one question which keeps coming back to me as obviously missing from the national dialogue it is this: given the amount of money controlled by Canberra, given how lucrative the Top End is, why is the Northern Territory of all places not so much better resourced?

Why does the money sent to Canberra by the big money states of WA and Queensland aggregate there in Canberra or move to Sydney or Melbourne so quickly when there are so many resources needed in the NT?


That is not to say there are any obvious solutions to the related crises of education, homelessness, health and alcoholism. Instead it is just the observation that the cash glut of money flooding down from the Top End to the South helps the South but it also harms the North and the place which has the greatest need is the NT.

If this is a nation which really believed in a fair go, if that were a proposition which belonged in its cultural mirror, the Northern Territory could not exist as it does. The social policy disasters of the past would not be perpetuated in the present, the resources boom of the North would leave the North a glittering and wealthy place with a clear future and a sense of financial security independently from the South, the Lucky Country would be a luckier place for its least fortunate people, those without a culture to call home, those without shelter, those without access to medicine. If a fair go was our true history not our least convincing national mythology we’d be a nation without a history of racism.

Instead we have Australia and two almost completely different nations of the North and the South. Between them there is also a growing financial rift which is predicated on an act of pillage and sacking of the wealth of the North for exporting from the North generating money quickly funnelled to the South. It is a financial game which is easily continued and economically and socially justified so long as it remains a nation populated by cities focussed solely on its fair go urbane interests.

There is no clear stopping force for the social inequities this allows, it is easy to create a comforting illusion of a nation which is very beautiful and lucky.

All over the country people consider themselves lucky.


I have asked around, everyone I asked says that this is a beautiful place, we are lucky, it is a lucky country. It is not living in poverty which makes an Australian feel unlucky. It is not colour of skin either. It is a universal view that the country is beautiful, we are lucky to be in it.

As a person moving through this place I can also see how the geographical cashflow of the national economic river brings the North almost no good luck at all and it gives the South a false sense of security about its own affluence and prosperity. What the South really has is population density and therefore it has a political stranglehold over the spending of taxes. The South also enjoys a monopoly on what goes in and what stays out of the national discussion and so there are no debates, there is no discussion at all in the national press, there are no plans and no pressure exerted on politicians… the people of the lucky country do not want to solve the single biggest and longest lasting crisis in Australia’s history.

Australia cannot respond to a national-sized crisis with a lack of national will. We will not find solutions to any of our most serious and enduring problems with the present lack of national imagination. We cannot change anything if there’s a lack of political courage and at present, no question, political courage is more rare than gold.



11 Responses to Two Countries For The Price Of One

  1. Avonia says:

    Access is the word in your above post that jumps out and hits me between the eyes. I was in a meeting not so long ago where someone said that living 500 m from the front doors of Princess Margaret Hospital did not mean having good access to child health care. The point being made was that physical/geographical closeness did not equate to access. There are myriad factors involved in creating good access. The challenge is to bring those factors together reliably and consistently to create accessible healthcare (my personal hobby horse).

    Did you have a chance to explore the Batchelor Institute while you were in the NT (or are you back there?)? I think we passed it on our way to Litchfield National Park when we were there.

    Anyway, enough pondering the wicked problems of our society for the time being… here is a Christmas wish (courtesy of Neil Gaiman, who said it so well – sentence starting with ‘And…’ notwithstanding – that I couldn’t in all conscience better it)…

    ‘May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art – write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.’

    Probably coals to Newcastle, but still worth wishing for.

    Happy Chrismas Bart.



    • Bart says:

      Passed through Batchelor and had no idea there was an institute of any kind there. There’s far too much to take in along the way around Oz and hindsight always provides for a lot of missed opportunities.

      The point you make about access is so obviously true. I distinguished between the cure and the treatment of social problems partly because there’s not going to be cures for any of the most complicated problems but there are definitely treatments to some of the problems and even that is shockingly under resourced. How effectively infrastructure and resources reaches those in need is going to be end up unpacking a lot of complicated and sensitive issues like access. One guy I met in Darwin lamented that his Auntie needed to be in the city to get medical treatment but for her mental health, to get off the booze, eat bush tucker, be with family she needed to be in the country. The problem of access creates logistical nightmares. Nothing is simple of course.

      It’s my opinion that the real problem, the problem at the root of most of these other problems is likely not a matter of funding or treatments working ineffectively but just the obvious: deep social divisions going back over two hundred years and also the perpetuating causes of those divisions: wiping out of the cultural traditions of scores of cultures over that same period of several centuries. If the broader society which is so good at pillaging resources to float a national economy, if that same society could be even half as effective at learning from other cultures instead of wiping them out, then a lot of these problems could not have persisted into the present day as badly as they do. Like all opinions this one is based on flimsy evidence and not much by way of reasoning. It just seems the simplest explanation.

  2. Avonia says:

    Oops – writing on my iPhone… I meant Christmas, of course! 🙂

    • Bart says:

      Merry Christmas to you and your family! Hope your festive season is crammed with big laughs and good times. And here’s three cheers to a year ahead of enjoying all good fortune disguised as setback, celebrating what you already have and enjoying the good company of the people you love.

      : )

  3. Avonia says:

    Hi Bart

    Happy Oz Day. Which part of our wide brown land are you in just now?

    Anyway, enjoy your day.


  4. Avonia says:

    Very un-Australian. We went to an outdoor movie… slight disturbance from a fly-by and some loud bangs. 🙂

    Are you settling in Brisbane for a bit, or will you continue your travels? It’s been fun watching your progress to date – your photography is poetry through a lens.



    • Bart says:

      Sounds like you had a nice un-Australian Oz day!

      It’s a nice day to not have to prove any patriotism. That’s kinda easy to enjoy about having these political freedoms, we have the freedom to find nationalism and patriotism absurd, which they are of course.

      Seems to me that’s a pretty realistic response since if patriotism is to ever mean anything real at all to people who also like thinking, then it has to be motivated by a sense of rational affiliation for rational reasons and not due to mindless coercion and a kind of peer pressure to march in some kind of lockstep. Mouthing false sentiments and spouting exactly the kind of awful crap which TV morning show hosts are paid to say just doesn’t appeal to a lot of un-Australian Australians.

      Yep, looks like I’m set to be in Brisbane a while longer. Am working on a few things at the moment.

      Have some original amateur work in astrophysics I hoped to get seen by professional types over here in the East but have never had a paper I was completely happy with.

      Been working on rectifying that as best as I can for a few weeks now. The work I have done has no truly radical theory in it so to speak, every last assumption is orthodox or convention to someone in physics, but it is radical in the sense that it assumes what particle physics people assume to solve problems but at the scale where galaxies assemble.

      Normally to get to a model of galaxy assembly pretty much all of cosmology is assumed and you start from building galaxies by creating a universe from a hat. That seemed a bit odd to me. So I threw out the assumptions of cosmology and went instead with different assumptions from an experimentally far, far more assured and well verified area of physics. Coming to galaxy assembly like a particle physics person might leads to a completely unconventional looking theory of galaxy assembly.

      The fact that it comes to the problem of galaxy assembly without reference to the Big Bang theory makes the presentation of it completely unconventional too and that means it is a lot more complicated than it might otherwise be. It means more or less inventing a way to present the model as well as inventing the model itself.

      The present draft of the work has been done while I have been staying with a very patient and tolerant mate in Brisbane. It’s almost finished and I have made significant progress in how to develop the presentation. From prior experience I know I have to write the draft and then shelve it for a while before editing it.

      So maybe a few weeks more working on this before leaving QLD makes sense anyway.

      Car is also in a workshop and it has the mechanics here totally stumped – after a bunch of work on the engine it still has serious problems. So there’s no clear ETA for repairs to get done. It’s rather frustrating not having wheels after getting half way around the mainland. But, you know, being stuck in Brisbane is kind of like being stuck in a paradise. Gives a bloke a lot of opportunity to look around and learn about the place, see stuff, meet people, attend BBQ’s and other important stuff.

      Thanks for your very kind words about the photos, a bit blown away by that. Pretty sure I blushed, hey.

      Hope you and your family are all well!

  5. Avonia says:

    It sounds like your car is pretty keen on biding a while in Qld too! 🙂

    I’m not surprised to hear you blushed – you clearly put a lot of yourself into your work.

    I’m intrigued to hear what you say about astrophysics. While I was politely asked to leave my physics class half way through yr 11 never to return, Your ideas resonate with Gregory Bateson’s notion of ‘the pattern which connects’… sets my mind fizzing like fine champagne with happy, delectable thoughts to savour.

    What a pity I can’t post pics on your website. I’m at Cott looking at the sun setting just to the left of Rotto on a still, balmy evening.

    Send me a sunrise if you can bear to get up that early! 🙂

    • Bart says:

      The web development is my own work as you can no doubt tell and I am just not skilled enough at web development to work out how to allow photo uploads from the comments section. There’s possibly a simple way to upgrade the comments to add features like that, will look into that because getting pics into the comments would be super cool!

      Sunrise I usually see from staying up through the night rather than getting up early. I can definitely work something out one way or the other though : )

      And yes! “the pattern which connects” really seems a very apt description of the physical laws, to me at least. It is a quote which also touches on the only real goal of physics: to describe all of the measurable phenomena of the natural world using as little theory and thinking as is possible.

      More surprisingly because it is less common, that quote also touches on a key assumption of modern physics not so talked about in the classical era which is the notion of beauty, meaning elegance, symmetry and simplicity in the laws. It is an assumption that there is an elegant mathematical unity in nature as beautiful as any sunset to a nerd, this unity is already there waiting to be found. And so there are also assumed to be subtle but powerful connections which are also yet to be found. They are assumed to link up the still seemingly unconnected phenomena of the world. That would mean linking up gravity and particle physics.

      It’s a kind of “one equation to rule them all” type philosophy. The big, warm and fuzzy physicist, the late John Wheeler, summed up this rather mystical view of physics emphatically when he said he believed that ultimately a set of final laws of physics would be found to explain absolutely everything, laws which could be related to people without the need for any advanced mathematics at all and that it would prove to be so simple a set of ideas that pretty much anyone at all would be able to understand them.

      You can see Wheeler’s vision is a kind of democratisation of what is today abstruse and technical knowledge. Wheeler believed nature was so simple as to allow for that, ie, mother nature would have to be so simple that she can be understood in a very complete way, even by the more sluggish members of Parliament.

      That seems to me to be a real article of faith and an unfounded prediction about science, it is not a prediction of science and yet you ask almost any physicist about such articles of faith – I have many times – and they generally get very twitchy indeed. One method for finding laws is knowing enough about the experiments to just guess the deeper laws. How is guessing a law using an experience of equations and evidence somehow a quantifiable thing in any sense at all? It’s become an art at that point. The results of creative thinking are equations which are absolutely quantifiable but the thinking which generated that equation was human and creative and complicated – in and of itself that is clearly not a scientific process of any kind at all – it was forged by raw, creative thinking from inside a human crucible.

      I think of peer review as a process, like some kind of a machine. Ideas go into it and are sorted into useful and not so useful according to their predictive power. Where the best ideas came from doesn’t ultimately matter except to historians and fans of science like me. How weird or crazy the ideas sound at first is not the point either. The machine will take a while but it eventually sorts good from not so good ideas through the peer review of evidence – the power of the ideas to calculate and churn out accurate predictions is all that really matters.

      The processes of getting at those new ideas on the other hand, locating new stuff to throw into the machine, that is where creative thinking and imagination must rule and where any methodology eventually runs out of fuel. So it is irrational processes and daydreams, mystical notions of simplicity and beauty which lie at the source of fastidious, incremental technical progress. What’s so interesting to me is that none of that creative stuff needs to be remotely rational for progress in science to be made. Just as well really because humans are too often rational as a last resort and not as a first principle.

      Anyhoo, just ranting now. Back to work!

    • Bart says:

      Okay well I tried changing the comments section scripts by adding a plug in to handle the comments better and that made it possible to upload pics but I found that it messed up the scripts on the home page. So it solves one problem but creates a larger one in the process. So I have removed the offending plugin and have returned to the old, less flexible comments section.

      Will maybe try again another time, see if I can figure out the problem because uploads of photos into the comments would be nice.

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