Upper Middle Bowral

It’s not always easy to express what it’s like to live in a rural town to an outsider. Bowral is one of three major towns located in the Southern Highlands, a catchment area for Sydney Water. Bowral is known for being the birthplace of Donald Bradman, Mary Poppins and the seasonal Tulip Time Festival, which doesn’t last long enough to truly justify the hype.

To those who come from out of town, Bowral may seem to be a quaint, upper class seat of rural suburbia. And they’re not wrong. But beneath the manicured facade of side streets lined with cherry blossoms lies a more sinister side to this country village setting. An underground drug trade blossoms behind schoolyards and in pub bathrooms. Everything from marijuana to PCP to crack cocaine can be bought and sold with no questions asked.

Sadly, this is the fate of most rural towns. Moss Vale is often referred to as “Pill Hill” by many young locals for the alarming number of drugs pushed on the streets. Despite being placed almost equidistant to a number of major cities along a major railway line, steadily rising youth unemployment have driven a majority of teenagers in the local area to attend house parties in the suburbs further from town so they can ‘experiment’ without prejudice.

I attended a party in the outer suburbs while collecting photos for this article, where partway through the night a young man, who we’ll call Sam, attempted to flip from the shed into the garden, resulting in a concussion. A fellow partygoer made the call to emergency services as Sam started to lose consciousness. Later, he confided in me that it wasn’t the first time he’d had to call an ambulance, though the circumstances had been far more severe. Four times before he had seen his mother overdose on drugs, each time with the same crushing sense of helplessness. On the night in question he had been quick to act, but as the adrenaline wore off he steadily grew more shaken over the course of events.

As terrible as these circumstances can be, many are left only with the option to grin and bear it, or worse, to partake in substance abuse themselves. All would agree that it’s worth the cost to spend a night free of anxiety and perpetual boredom, and enjoy being young.

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Cultural Appropriation: A Monopoly On Thought

It’s no surprise that Australia has heard of Hollywood, or even Bollywood. Our culture has been heavily influenced by America all the way through the 20th Century, and our population is 2% Indian, with the highest percentage of permanent migrants (15.7%) coming from India between 2011 and 2012. But if you stop and ask anyone on the street, almost none of them would tell you about Nollywood.

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Nollywood is the largest film industry in Nigeria, and second largest in the world. In 2013, 1844 films were produced for direct to DVD release. Aside from the name, Nollywood operates very differently to other film industries around the world. Most films are produced on a budget of around $10 000, and never shown in cinemas. They adapt African stories and storytelling to the medium of film and create jobs, economic growth and they create a culture of African celebrities that local people can relate to.

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So why haven’t we heard of it? For the most part, Nollywood films are not transnational productions. Only a handful have been screened off the continent, and those that did received poor critical acclaim. Not only that, in a post-colonial world, Western civilization isn’t greatly involved with African countries. Australia’s largest trading partners sit on the Pacific Rim, or very close to it. And of all the things we might import from Nigeria, Nollywood DVDs aren’t one of them.

Due to globalisation, and the incredible amount of money Nollywood makes each year, its existence is becoming less and less of a secret as time goes by. As the world grows more and more aware of the veritable goldmine sitting in Nigeria, the mater of cultural appropriation comes to the fore.

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Hollywood has come under fire in recent years due to a lack of diversity in the film industry, and many companies are making the effort to diversify their productions, from the actors through to the producers. But increasing cultural awareness for the sake of spectacle and profit does not serve to educate the consumers about the different ethnicities and beliefs on display. From here, misinformation spreads to cultural appropriation for exotic appeal and stereotyping, reducing an entire group of people down to one identity. So when those European film festivals hold a Nollywood film to their standards, they’re actually applying a pressure to conform.

It is undoubtedly important that there be an even representation of cultures and ethnicities in film. With technology providing near unlimited access to content made all over the world, the cult of personality perpetuated by the paparazzi must focus on idolizing people from all walks of life. Here Nollywood has a power that Hollywood has left neglected for generations; its resistance to conform to Western film culture empowers African filmmakers to tell African stories for an African audience. On the whole, local communities in Nigeria are disenfranchised with Western media. In this burgeoning market, Nollywood provides some much needed creative competition for a largely monopolised industry.

Why So Parochial?

The people of Australia have, until recently, been somewhat distant from global politics. For about 60 000 years or so, the native Aboriginals lived in harmony with the land, completely undisturbed by the outside world. Then nearly 240 years ago, the outside world came knocking. For the most part, the colonies were left to their own devices, being about half a world away from what the Europeans called home. But the nation slowly came together, finding a way to overcome their differences and unite under one binding constitution. Not long after, our country was launched onto the world stage when we landed at Anzac Cove on 25th April, 1915.

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Our nation has come a long way since then. In the latter half of the 20th Century, we began to integrate a policy of multiculturalism into our legislature, after we discarded the White Australia policy which had stood in its place for over sixty years. But despite that, we as a people are often slow to change. Since the creation of our constitution, there have been 144 referendums, only 8 of which were successful. The greatest success was the 1967 referendum, where just over 90% of the population voted “yes” to recognise and account for Aboriginal people in our national legislature.

The impending postal plebiscite is another example of our unwillingness to change. Despite our ties to the UK, the US and being neighbours with the first country in the Asia-Pacific region to legalise gay marriage, the current government of Australia will not move to a direct vote in parliament due to fears of losing favour with their largely conservative voter base. This inability to act decisively only encourages the traditionally parochial perspective many Australians carry.

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When you observe what drives the Australian economy, it becomes easier to empathise with this narrower view point. Seven of our 10 top goods and services exports are based in agriculture and natural resources such as ores and natural gas. The people responsible for providing these goods aren’t nearly as concerned with social progression as they are with how their goods will sell on the global market. Conservative economic policies speak louder to these citizens because their livelihood is dependent on fulfilling a quota every financial year. This problem is even more pressing to the factory workers who are losing their jobs to automation. The first concern for all Australians working blue collar jobs is when they’ll get the next paycheck, and not necessarily when they can get married.

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Our largely parochial approach to problems is slowly being forced into retirement. The technology boom of the 21st Century, which made Australia the regional power it is today, is shaping a generation of future leaders that will be influenced greatly by how the world sees us. Soon, what room there is for ethnocentric intolerance will be squashed by the progression of cosmopolitanism, as we continue to grow in a shrinking world.

The Search For Utopia

Humanity has always desired a perfect world. A world where there is no suffering, no grief, and a permanent stay of happiness for all. In 1516, Sir Thomas Moore gave this idyllic place a name: Utopia. The irony which has been lost to time is that Moore’s book is, in part, a socio-political satire of what was widely considered to be the perfect society. Utopia, when translated from the Greek roots, literally means “no place”, which was Moore’s way of suggesting that it is not within our capacity to create the perfect world.

But that hasn’t stopped us from trying. The rise and fall of empires throughout our long history is proof of our efforts to try and create a unified world that conforms to laws intended to reap the most benefit for society. The idea of utopia seemed even closer once the world entered the industrial era, launching advanced technologies and philosophies across the globe in the preliminary stages of globalisation.

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The problem with this industrial surge is that it only created the illusion of a possible utopia in the minds of the wealthy and the enlightened. Factories didn’t run themselves, and as was the case in Great Britain, millions of poor and disenfranchised were forced to work and live in dangerously unhealthy conditions. On the other end of the spectrum, colonisation of foreign lands such as India, South Africa, Haiti and the Americas slowly forced native ethnicities to conform to the new way of life or be destroyed through superior military strength. Native resources were pillaged and cultural boundaries were overruled by the sanctions imposed by Western jurisdiction. The push for utopia only seemed to drive humanity deeper into the gulf of war.

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It took nearly a hundred years for the world to stop all conflict brought about by the expansion of empires, from the Boer War (1899-1902) to the end of the Cold War (1949-1990). The world is still feeling the ramifications of these conflicts in the 21st Century, our greatest period of peacetime in recent history. Globalisation has helped to bridge the gaps between cultures, economies and schools of thought, but we are still a long way away from utopia. It has been said by many that the end of the Cold War marked the start of the decline of Western civilization, with the United States of America at the helm.

Racial hate groups and violent demonstrations of intolerance to ethnic minorities in recent weeks has only cemented the reality of our future; the West will not fall quietly. The fear of change and of losing power will drive many to violence and to extreme political ideologies such as fascism. Conversely, in recent years, the left wing politicians and advocacy groups have alienated many of the “privileged” members of society, greatly increasing the social divide almost beyond recovery.

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That’s not to say that the world is beyond redemption. The protests in Charlottesville may have initially drawn attention to the rise of white supremacists, but the aftermath has shown that people will come together in the harshest of times to protect one another. The world will never be without conflict, especially in a post-colonial era. If we want to find utopia, perhaps we must embrace the irony with which Moore imbued the word five hundred years ago; no one place can be perfect, but many can find harmony in a long lasting tolerance and mutual respect.

Twitter is a Rabbit Proof Fence

In the past, people who held power kept it through the use of superior technology. It started when nomadic tribes came together under the control of a small few who owned farms. Then power was taken by those who had the best weapons, and kept by the people who controlled the flow of information. Unknowingly, innovation in the control and storage of information has ultimately led to a great destabilising in the hierarchy of power. With writing came the printing press. With electricity came telegrams and telephones, and later on radio and television. With the internet came citizen journalism.

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The resurgence in right-wing politics in Western government and the ever increasing instability in the Middle East has created a sense of unease and insecurity throughout the world. This rising fear has forced two different reactions from society as a whole; an emotional and an intellectual. Emotionally, many have reacted to things seemingly innocuous, such as somebody having a different opinion to theirs, or immediately reacting to an article they read the headline of but weren’t bothered investigating further. But that’s a blog post for another time. The more internet savvy produsers engage in what is now known as citizen journalism. This form of independent research and reporting can throw things into the spotlight that otherwise would not have been seen by the greater outside world, such as drone footage of conflict in Syria or Turkey. There are more accurate battlefield maps of which forces are where and controlling what on Reddit than are published by any military organisation or news outlet in the world. All of this is the work of citizen journalists.

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With the whole world sitting in our pocket, and all social media hell bent on getting their users to document and share their lives with the internet, the rise of citizen journalism was inevitable. The impact of this new phenomenon is more prevalent on Twitter than anywhere else. Live coverage of natural disasters, political events, Adele concerts and how many steps little baby Brian took today are all processed through the rapids of the Twitter feed, which is why professional journalists love promoting their Twitter handle every time they show up on the news. This newfound freedom has left many politicians afraid that they can no longer beguile and misdirect the same people who elected them into power, which has lead to many discussions on the regulations and segregations on who has the right to what online. But despite the realised fears of power hungry politicians the world over, no law they impose can truly restrict the flow of information. No looming threat of a publicised internet history or wiretapping by government intelligence operations can stop the onward march of the citizen journalist.