THE FIRST WORD

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - DEIRDRE MACKEN macken.deirdre@gmail.com

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.

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