THE FIRST WORD
We were trying to book a game of golf on the NSW coast. Two had already rejected us with the advice “we’re not taking bookings from Sydneysiders. Locals only here” but the third club seemed more promising. “We can take a booking from you, even if you’re from Sydney, but you have to prove that you’ve been living in our area for two weeks before play and then produce proof that you’ve had a negative COVID test.”
The Dan Andrews of golf courses was so delighted to relay the rules that he repeated them twice. And it was this delight that most rankled. This guy loved telling a Sydneysider to suck it up.
We’re all xenophobic at the moment. It starts at the international border, moves to the state borders, rears its head in golf club meetings and goes right down to the X mark we must not breach at the local cafe. The question is, are we trying to keep our space safe from others or are we trying to keep others out? There’s a difference, and I’m trying to work it out.
For the past six months, we’ve had the opportunity to do something normally denied to us — dictate who gets into our spaces and who doesn’t. And if that sounds like John Howard’s 2001 election speech, “we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come”, well, that’s no coincidence.
Australians have wanted to control who’s in their space for a long time. The people of the land of sweeping plains and long, white beaches have repeatedly told pollsters they don’t like high rates of immigration, they are concerned about the impacts of globalisation and don’t like population growth, especially in their own street. And, yes, they think of it as their own street.
This is despite the fact that governments of all persuasion have tried to convince us that globalisation brings a higher standard of living, that immigration grows the economy and population growth keeps tradies employed. It’s as if we don’t believe it or don’t care. Or both.
So we have our geopolitical history repeating on X marks across the country. Queensland is happy to keep NSW peeps out, even if we are healthy and have lots of money to spend on fruit punch and dated 1980s accommodation (oops, does that sound bitter?).
Western Australia doesn’t want to see anyone east of Kalgoorlie for the next few years, not that anyone east of Kalgoorlie notices that speed bump on the way to Bali. Tasmania only wants essential travellers to cross its borders, which doesn’t include those with essential golf clubs.
Even if the rules aren’t explicit, wariness pervades our outings as we navigate QR codes, pump packs, crosses and nervous coughs from people behind us. “Do you take bookings from Sydney?” we ask when we venture out into regions that have declared they are desperate for tourist dollars. No, says the pottery course instructor; yes, says a regional restaurant; no say the golf courses. And, we’re not even from Victoria — bless our southern neighbours.
In the reinvention of identity politics, it’s easy to feel like you have an X marked on your forehead when you wander into a new town. It’s easy to feel as if you’re trespassing just because you don’t know your way around. It’s easy to feel guilty for just asking. Who knew you could feel like an outsider in your country? But that’s what we’ve become. In our efforts to keep it local, to defend against the threat from elsewhere, we’ve made ourselves outliers. We’re all migrants now.