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Wednesday / June 19.
HomemitwocentsWho’s for a United Summer?

Who’s for a United Summer?

In Australia we like to quibble over which is the favoured State – and dream the dream of secession. But really, when you think about it, we’re one lucky, united nation “hidden in the summer for a million years”.

Summer time in Australia can be a delight but it carries with it some of the world’s leading dangers. Mosquito attacks, sunburn, daylight saving and shark bite are at the top of the competition ladder. Those who live near the water or venture to the coast need to take swimming lessons and/ or floatation devices. The surf lifesavers and swimming pool fences stand sentinel, preservers for those too young to have attended swimming lessons, too old to remember or for the tourists from nations that shy away from immersion. Out of all the annual deaths from drowning at Australia’s beaches, the tourists and first generation immigrants lead the way, with a staggering 85 per cent of victims. You don’t have to read English to note the red and yellow “swim between me” flags: colour defectives take note of the shades of grey.

Summer time means more travel for me, but only within the nation as the national broadcaster informs the public of the progress of the country’s cricket team. The international fixtures are played mostly in the state capitals with an occasional visit to Canberra for a single day. I have been doing this since I finished being a player so the ritual is an expected and organised one. Including the playing career, I have been visiting the state seats since 1978. Much has changed in the cities over that period. Skyscrapers have grown like forests in the concrete desert, bridges and road tunnels have burrowed and sprouted, urban edges have spread and you can get a drink on Sunday.

Summer in the 70s

Sundays in the late ‘70s were quiet times. Hotels were prohibited from opening beyond a couple of hours (certainly not the hours that cricket matches occupied), restaurants were either Chinese or fish and chips and the coffee came out of a can, as did most of the food. For a cricketer on Sunday there was no room service, after hours food consisted of a toasted cheese sandwich and a look around. Some had
a cigarette for dessert.

Skyscrapers have grown like forests in the concrete desert, bridges and road tunnels have burrowed and sprouted, urban edges have spread and you can get a drink on Sunday…

When in Brisbane one had to be careful not to walk the streets as a team in search of a café; it was illegal to gather in groups of more than five and the Queensland police under their illustrious leader Joh Bjelke-Petersen enforced the statute rigorously. I do not jest. Brisbane is now a magnificent modern city, having a beer on a Sunday is all but compulsory, sun block is dispensed free of charge, the mossies are still around, and they do have problems with high water now and then. The concept of daylight saving has, like losing the State of Origin Rugby League series, been rejected as too difficult for the general population to comprehend.

Dreams of Secession

Queenslanders can be parochial – some would like to secede as a discreet nation. But the sunshine state is not alone with that ambition within our federation. Since 1901 the disparate states have become one glorious island nation, despite different rail gauges, state taxes and clock settings. Yet the rumbling of disunity from the arms and legs of our sunburnt land continues. The Golden Westers feel that possession of large chunks of the mineral wealth, that has insulated the entire country from the deleterious effects of the global financial crisis, allows them a passage to secession.

The export dollars and tax revenues from the dirt dug up from anywhere between Albany and Kununurra are significant and the entire nation has benefited.

Sandgropers – as we once called the residents of WA – and those who have moved there since the mining booms, feel they have personal ownership of that dirt, which is a peculiar notion at best.

Western Australians have some like-mindedness to their fellow Australians sitting several thousand kilometres away to the north-east – they reject daylight saving as a curtain fader and dairy cow disrupter. A three-hour time difference between Perth and Sydney is the same as London to Moscow. Those travellers who have endured the “midnight horror” flight back from the west will understand how you can get jetlag within a nation’s borders.

South Australians and Territorians seem content with their federated status, perched in the middle of the nation with a mere 30-minute time difference… half an hour?… that’s a throw-back to political compromises of the 19th Century! Provincial Adelaide is a beautiful city and, not far from the suburbs, you will find some of the world’s best wines. Why go upsetting the grape cart when life is smooth and unhurried?

New South Wales and Victoria have a faux rivalry, which may have carried substance before the Molonglo Valley became the compromise site. The Sydney Swans AFL, formerly the VFL, premiership is elegantly balanced by the Melbourne Storm’s NRL, formerly NSWRL, title. Coming from Wagga Wagga, I don’t quite get the north versus south angst, but it makes good fodder for comparing ‘places to live’ in the Sunday paper lift out section. Neither state deems it necessary to be their own national entity when they have Canberra to argue ceaselessly with.

Tasmanians have a different view altogether. Separated not by a few thousand km of desert and a couple of time zones, the Apple isle’s detachment is tangible. Bass Strait provided a formidable barrier for Matthew Flinders, Abel Tasman and Anthony Van Diemen, who all had a go at naming rights. It is a truly beautiful place from the Franklin River gorges to the rugged west coast and the delightful east coast sandy beaches. They just adore daylight saving, which is quite sensible given the long summer twilights, but are not enamoured by the major airlines’ flight schedules. It’s a hard joint to get in to and out of. My favourite anecdote, that displays some mainlander’s isolationist views of the island state, is of a cricketer from the Golden West who turned up at Hobart airport, passport in hand, searching for the immigration desk.

When Tassie was left off the official map of the 1986 Commonwealth Games, insurrection stirred the inhabitants as much as indignation. Happily their state is still one of the six of our wonderful nation.

The contrasts of our nation are many – from the obvious geography to philosophies of time measurement and the quality of a latte – but the language is universal and the accents discernible only by rare syllable or idiom.

Yes, it is nice to be able to quibble over sporting rivalries and restaurant quality but this is one nation united on an island “hidden in the summer for a million years” as Iva Davies sang. And I like to think that all of those Aussies with notions of a breakaway state or three see a greater good in the sum of the disparate parts. If only they could find some common ground on when the sun should come up.