Perspective and middle distance

10 07 2007

I had a little memory flashback today. We were talking about regional and remote communities, distance, the Outback as a myth/idea/dream, things of that ilk.

For new players, I spent my childhood in a patch of dust at the end of a dirt road in the Top End.* For very new players, the Top End is the top bit of the Northern Territory. We like to keep things simple there.

My flashback was about my own remote community experience. That is, when I first moved down South for uni (note: for Territorians, ‘down South’ means pretty much anywhere else in Australia), I had a call from Centrelink, to tell me I was eligible for some sort of special allowance because I was from a “remote area”.** My first thought was that they had the wrong person – I know Sherdie seems like quite the unusual moniker, but I sometimes go by another, very common, name, and there’s a surprising number of us with the same first name and surname out there. Because, of course, I wasn’t from a remote area. Not even close. Sure it was fifty kilometres to town, but that was a quick half hour jaunt. It was hardly like we lived somewhere inaccessible in the Wet when the creeks came up. I mean, by the time I finished school they’d even tarred our road! Remote was those places further out, where you had to cross creeks full of crocs and you could get Imparja without a satellite dish.

But it was me they wanted. And that’s when I started to realise something else. Distance is different down South. Meeting the other teenaged newbies fronting up at uni ressies, a standard conversation starter was home towns.

Me: Where are you from?

Other newbie: Grafton.

Me: Where’s that then?

ON: Up near Queensland, about 10 hours drive.

Me: Oh, that’s nice, not too far, is it? Will you go home for long weekends and stuff?

ON: *stares*

ON: …are you taking the piss?

Me: What?

ON: It’s near Queensland. Ten. Hours.

Me: Er… so that means you will go home for long weekends?

ON: What?

Me: *confusion*

ON: Well, how long does it take to drive to your town?

Me: You can do it in four days, if you push it, a bit longer if you don’t want to drive at night in case of running into the wildlife.

*crickets*

Then we got drunk and all was well, but it made me realise something. I viewed the world through a slightly different lens than many of the people around me. Not better, or worse, but definitely different. If a place was within a days’ drive, it was close. Within two days, it was reasonable. Any temperature below 25 degrees was cold, and you told the weather by the calendar: June, dry. November, humid. January, pouring rain.

I realised how my perspective influenced my judgements, my perceptions, my expectations. I also saw that other people were interpreting the world through their own filters of experience and understanding, and even with the same, seemingly simple information, they wouldn’t necessarily arrive at the same conclusion as me. Of course ten hours is close. It’s just common sense. Of course ten hours is a long way. It’s just common sense.

There’s a whole range of things that seem to be common sense, an obvious conclusion, to every individual. Things we don’t bother to think about because they are so glaringly simple and clear-cut. Our families, our upbringing, our experiences, any number of things quietly shape and form our thinking. Of course it’s polite to eat soup with a spoon. Of course it’s polite to drink soup straight from the bowl. Blowing your nose instead of sniffling? Only polite! Disgusting and shows a lack of restraint! On other levels: Of course the environment should be protected. Of course the environment is there for our use. Women are equal to/the property of men. Refugees should be helped/suspected. Education is a right/privilege. The list is endless.

Loosely wrought, then, it’s culture I’m talking about. People in a culture, as a general rule, see the world through the lens of that culture. If we all went around questioning every single cultural norm we came across, we’d barely do anything else. But a level of understanding can be useful, and if nothing else, can reduce the number of awkward pauses and miscommunications in conversation. Oh, my understanding of normal and acceptable is this, and yours is that. Righto. You can move forward from there, and if you’re lucky, not get bogged down in the I’m-right-no-I’m-right quicksand. Or you can come back to that later, if that floats your boat, but at least you’ll know you’re dealing with different understandings of right and wrong, not a (to you) clear, obvious right and a (to them) clear, obvious wrong. And you’ll know that sometimes, your idea of remoteness is someone else’s idea of the local neighbourhood.

————————
* aka Paradise.
** This is absolutely true. Centrelink called me to offer me money. This is how you can tell I started uni many years ago.

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6 responses

10 07 2007
alby

So true, in Hobart it’s considered a long way to go over the bridge into ‘town’ (15 mins)…now I live in Perth.As the Dalai Lama says, it’s all about having compassion. I’m working on it. But the guy behind me with the incredibly loud text alert is REALLY pissing me off…

11 07 2007
mangoman

It seems such obvious stuff. I am inclined to wonder why people don’t understand that they all have their own mores and perspectives just as others do. But I still find it hard not to turn to a sniffer and say ‘blow your damned nose. Don’t sniff!’ I did learn, though, not to find it strange that people didn’t mind having graffiti on their houses, particularly if it is ‘good’. ‘Like in the movies brother!’

11 07 2007
GigPig

If your particular filter remained constant, you should be scheduled to arrive here sometime early Saturday morning. Excellent. Will make up the Lounge Trampoline.

11 07 2007
IHateToast

lived in tx, studied in ohio. every break i drove 16 hours. not 3-day weekends, but 7+ days for sure. one time i took my roommate from my year in vienna. she was from a small austrian town. i heard “are we there yet” from arkansas to ohio. it’s perspective and also the willingness to take time. i prefer the roadtrip. others want a flight. i want to be awake the entire time, others might want to sleep through it all. i’ve decided i am better. it’s my little world and i rule it with a balsa fist, toots!

12 07 2007
bros

I can understand this from a couple of different levels.Having lived in the ‘outback’ and being 2 hours to the nearest pub, that wasn’t even a pub, just a roadhouse that sold takeaways, and thinking it perfectly acceptable to drive that far for an evening and drive home (obv. not if I was drinking – that would be foolish and dangerous)Then being a London Dweller and it be perf accetable to jam yourself into a metal cylinder with 3 million other sweaty people for a 45 min journey home.Then being Australian in London and thinking it is perf acceptable to tell people what you really think (this one does NOT go down well at dinner parties over there – please note)And being an expat in the middle east and find it perfectly acceptable to live somewhere for 3.5 years and only know 5 or 6 words in arabic, still read the Observer and go home to Australia for 4 days holiday…..I do love that whole perception thing, very very trippy.But one of my fav. moments was having a ‘girle’ conversation with friends from boarding school and told regarding a firaly tame sexual act “You would know more about that than us Bros, you are the kinky one…..”Laughed and Laughed.We are all creating our own realities, so here in mine, as long as there is access to music, wine and good friends (and no-one is shitting on my chest), it is a good one to be in…..

12 07 2007
bros

BTW – you going to this big music cocerty type malarkey at the uni on the weekend?THE SAINTS HAVE REFORMED!!!We must go and make MSKP jealous.

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