While looking at what is involved in estimating the maximum possible population for Australia, I, as an engineer, have naturally been drawn to the provision of the physical requirements, such as services, infrastructure, food production and the like. However, my attention has been drawn to another feature of remote village life, which is the importance of community participation (for want of a better word). In a recent post at a blog site called The Conversation, the writer discussed the surprisingly positive aspects of village life in India, where the standards of living (as we would understand them) are very low. He found that there were a lot of offsetting features which made day-to-day life a lot more rewarding than one would have thought. Now, I am not suggesting that we should adopt the local attitudes and customs that were identified in the post. However, I do now believe that we should be looking at what our remote communities do find rewarding and when we develop new communities and reinvigorate old ones, we must try and provide appropriate support for all those features, physical and mental, which would make rural living in Australia worthwhile in the much more restricted economic landscape which will almost certainly be experienced in the future. The post I am referring to can be found here.
As it happens, I do have some experience of the old-style village life which could still be a model for the new rural communities. As a small boy, I was evacuated during World War II to live in a small village near the Scottish border while my parents were engaged on war work. I lived with my two maternal grandparents, with an aunt further up the same street and a paternal grandmother and uncle and aunt just round the corner. A few miles away, another uncle and aunt ran a large farm, with a row of labourer’s cottages just round the corner from the farmhouse. My grandfather was a retired bank manager who, as he opined “could still tell to the pound how much he could lend to anyone in the village”. My point in mentioning these relationships is that everyone knew and were friendly with a lot of people, and because there so many interactions on the street or in house calls, I got to know them too and, more importantly, they got to know me. For a small boy, whose parents are elsewhere, just to be greeted frequently and asked how well things are going for me, was an immensely comforting feeling.
I attended the local government primary school, which was loosely associated with the nearby Anglican church, but most of my really close friends were fellow evacuees, for obvious reasons. There was a Catholic primary school at the other end of the main street and relations between the schools were fiecely competitive, though the only time they ever degenerated into open warfare was when the snow was a foot deep on the ground and the urge to throw snowballs became irresistible.
I was very well taught at my school and eventually, I scored the highest marks in the county of Northumberland for the 11+ examination (the door to a good secondary education), while my best friend and fellow evacuee came second. We were both offered scholarships to some of the finest grammar schools in the area. Now the point of this story is not to blow my own trumpet (frankly I was rather astonished to have done so well) but rather to describe the effect it had on the village. We were absolute heroes and for days we were stopped in the street by people who wished to congratulate us (and even buy us an ice-cream!). Our success was taken to be a reflection on the village itself and the sense of pride in our achievement was palpable.
It is this feeling of togetherness which makes remote village life viable and any planning for upgrading an existing community or creating a new one must ensure that whatever resources needed to promote this feeling must be made available.