Where did the BloggerMe map come from?

The Rudd ascendency

On 3 December 2007, Kevin Rudd became the 26th Prime Minister of Australia. Rudd was the first Labor Prime Minister in over a decade. It was a moment of considerable optimism; a huge number of voters were relieved that the Howard era had finally come to an end and were looking forward to a new era and hopes were high. He broke records for popularity in opinion polls, and retained very high approval ratings for more than two years following his election, which almost never happens.

His theme during the election made reference back to the Whitlam era, “It’s Time!” This era had entered into folklore in the Australian national psyche, and the ousting of the royalist Howard rejuvenated interest in republicanism. This was across the political divide, as witnessed by the elevation as leader of the Liberal Party, in September 2008 of Malcolm Turnbull, well known and respected for his efforts to move Australia towards a republic.

Early initiatives by the Rudd government included the signing of the Kyoto Protocol, the Apology to the Stolen Generations, and the 2020 Summit.

It was this ‘2020 Summit’ that gave rise to the BloggerMe map.

The summit

Early in his first term Rudd called a get-together in Canberra under the banner of ‘Australia 2020’. It brought together one thousand ‘important persons’ to discuss "a long term strategy for Australia’s future directions". The planned event was generally well received. There was some cynicism about the “true agenda” but generally optimism was in the ascendency. The one thousand important persons came to Canberra in good spirit and broke up into 10 ‘working groups’ to discuss key elements of that strategy. These included productivity, economy, climate change, rural life, health and ageing, family, indigenous life, creativity, governance, democracy, and security and prosperity.

I wasn’t invited, but, in an attempt to make the Summit more inclusive, Rudd had invited submissions by ordinary battlers to be discussed by these working groups.

As an ordinary battler, I jumped at the opportunity to have my ideas included. I wasn’t in the cynical crowd but I wasn’t starry eyed, either. I had tried to take part in similar calls for ‘inclusion’ at the State level, only to be ignored dramatically. So I was realistic in my expectations.

But I saw it as a real opportunity to get together ideas I had had in my head for years, ever since my university days, and share those ideas with important people. Opportunities like ‘the Summit’ almost never happen, and so, when they do, I felt that one is obliged to take them on. If you don’t, you are just a whinger, great at describing the problems, but incapable of coming up with any solutions.

The BloggerMe map

The BloggerMe map addresses the fundamental problem of the States: that they are out of date, and were virtually out of date at the moment of federation, 1901. Let me explain:

Political boundaries

The boundaries of the States are purely political; they answer no other question than the impossibility in the period from 1788 to 1900 for a governor to take responsibility for all of the colonies on behalf of the Crown.

Too big to control

We have to remember that 1788 - 1850 was a period in which the main means of transport were the bullock teams or a ship under sail, and to go with some luggage or goods anywhere at all in any direction (even from Sydney to Parramatta) took more than a day, and sometimes several weeks or maybe even a couple of months. So to control six diverse colonies in a big island continent from one place was virtually impossible.

Six major centres

The initial focus was the royaly, the King and the 'Mother Country'. The colonies that developed were all on the coast, allowing proper connection with the ‘Mother Country’, and the developments that were happening inland were mainly providing for the colonies on the coast and their powerful elite, in the interests, ultimately, of the Mother Country.

Coming together

Unlike the African continent, where colonies were often limited to the process of extraction, with borders based on protecting a river being used to ship out the goods being extracted, in Australia, the Mother Country saw the whole continent as ‘uninhabited’ and felt the need to stake its claim to ownership of the whole country in the eyes of the rest of the world. So there needed to be a continuous boundary drawn between areas that could be controlled by the various colonies. This meant, on the whole, a simple straight rectangular division between one colony and another: the ‘border’; a purely political division.

Where that boundary was likely to be, like the border defined by the flow of the Murray River between ‘New South Wales’ and ‘Victoria’, just represented a measurement of the difference between the power of those powerful players, say, in Spring Street versus those in Macquarie Street, nothing more, and nothing less, and not at the moment of federation, but much earlier, like at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Who will rule?

So if you are shipping things using a bullock team, your focus can only be very small. But by the time federation comes along, in 1901, there are big changes at play, with the introduction of the steam engine and locomotives in the 1850s and the combustion engine to drive a car at the turn of the century.

1850 -1900 saw a lot of railway development, but no ruling elite in any one colony was yet powerful enough to take charge of the whole country, so federation was the result. The existing political structures, although already out of date, guaranteed local power bases a special relationship with the King and the Mother Country, and if there was ever a dispute between the ex-colonies, it could be worked out by reference back to the Mother Country, via the Privy Council, so no attempt was made to change any borders.

The end of the Mother Country

The States lost their right to confer to the Privy Council in 1986, with little or no fanfare.  We were always told that it was that right of appeal that gave the States an independent and special relationship with the Mother Country. Now that it is gone, it seems hard to understand why these changes couldn’t have happened at the time of federation or at any time since. The most romantic notion we can muster is half a dozen Treasurers getting into a back room and arguing and ranting and raving and holding the federal government to ransom for an extra slice of the cake. It is obvious now that these changes were always available, we just couldn’t see it because we bought the romantic lies of colonialism, hook, line and sinker.

Political focus is making it impossible to deal with the real issues

If the borders were ‘out of date’ at the moment of federation, they are meaningless and anachronistic in a ‘global’ world. They are holding us back and need to be changed. Because they are political in nature and because the politics focuses on six major centres, it means that it is virtually impossible for the States to focus on the real issues that we are facing.

When Australia becomes a republic, we have a real chance to address this issue, once and for all.

We need a map that is geographic not political

The BloggerMe map introduces the concept of boundaries between States that are not political at all, but are based on the flow of water. At first glance they may appear to be political because almost every large town has its own State, but there is a good reason for this; in a parch semi-arid and arid environment, towns have a natural tendency to develop around the flowing rivers. The boundaries therefore make absolute sense.

And in these times of climate change, water is becoming more and more precious, and so the boundaries make sense in another way. Each new State capital is focussed on a particular river and each river therefore becomes paramount in its own right, not overlooked and forgotten because it is a long way away from the out of date, anachronistic, centre of political power and influence.

Steve Irons
Nov 2012