Blainey’s Perceptive Tyranny


When we were at Kiddo’s home in Canberra over the Labor Day long weekend, I picked up Geoffrey Blainey’s “Tyranny of Distance” from her shelf. What an irony. I was reading PG Lim’s memoir and so I didn’t start this Aussie classic until about over a week ago. I’m just a little over the half way mark.

Last night Tress rang her parents and I think for the first time it hit Tress’ mum just how oppressive that tyranny can be. She sounded shocked to learn Canberra is about 7 hours away by road. We must have mentioned it to her several dozen times before in the many years our lives have been subject to that tyranny but now that people close to her – people like Uncle Jin’s family and Auntie Hooi’ – will be making this trip, it hits her. It finally sank in and she sounded horrified. I had just finished cooking the week’s meals – chicken curry with home made spices – after catching up with some office work, and Tress had just done the brekky after having finished the ironing earlier. So I was a little relaxed as otherwise I would have uttered even louder, what I said under my breath, namely “mum, we have been saying that to you for years”.

Distance is a tyranny for Australia. Even here in Melbourne. Ruth my cousin is technically living and working in Melbourne. Their new home – a farm out at Woodend – is on the fringe of the western suburbs but she works for Western Suburb health so that’s fine. For us to visit her however, it’s a 90-minute drive each way. That assumes traffic flows reasonably well and most Melburnians know that is not always a safe assumption. And so although she’s moved into her new home for maybe a month and a half now, we have yet to visit them. I guess that is partly down to us being busy in recent weeks but the tyranny of distance is the bigger culprit, as our “busy-ness” had included back to back footy at the MCG and meals with the Hipos and Chews and time with our home group, including that very thought provoking memorial service for Elena on Friday arvo, for which I was able to get away from work to attend.

This tyranny of distance is not just for relationships and well-being within Australia. It affects how Australia relates to the rest of the world too. Since moving to Melbourne, our overseas trips have dwindled dramatically. Last winter Tress and I had a quick escape to Hawaii and the warm weather and warm beaches were great respite in the middle of winter. It was a lovely holiday but everytime I asked Tress if she’d like to go again she shuddered at that 10+ hour flight. Our friends have loved travelling to places like Japan, Korea, Taiwan and such other destinations but I have zero inclination to visit. The sheer thought of making those long flights kill any interests I might otherwise have had. My bucket list for travel remains jumping on the Ghan to vertically traverse the Outback and see Ayers Rock. The tyranny feels far easier to tame when one embraces the journey, especially the romance of being close to the red earth and being up close and personal with the monolithic behemoth.

It is hard to embrace the monotonous behemoth that is The Hume Highway however, and Canberra as an institution of federalism and its consequential governmental webs of tentacles around the lives of Australians, remains such an artificial and manufactured place that one needs to be totally philosophical about the journey to deal with the tyranny. As usual, Geoffrey Blainey is such fun to read because what he says resonates with our experience of this vast sunburnt country.

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