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Is there a prosperous future for the Australian bush?

By Everald Compton - posted Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Out where the sun goes down, the people of the bush call him "Flynn of the Inland". He was the man who, in the first half of the Twentieth Century, made a valiant attempt to create a "Mantle of Safety" across the remoteness of the continent by building hospitals and hostels in places like Birdsville, Innamincka, Oodnadatta and Halls Creek, creating the Pedal Radio and establishing the Flying Doctor Service so that ordinary Australians could make a new life in the Outback and feel secure.

He also enlisted a team of Padres who ministered to people in areas covering countless square miles - marrying, baptising, counseling and burying them - no matter what their faith or lack of it. By any standards, his life's work was a notable achievement which will be honoured by historians for generations to come.

Now, sixty years after his death, we should be honest enough to admit that we have not built on the solid foundation created by his extraordinary endeavours.


Bush towns are dying, miners won't live out there because they want to fly in and out, and we haven't even attempted to solve the water problems, nor the tyranny of distance that makes the Inland uncompetitive.

We have lost the spirit of nation building and have reached a point where we need to take stock of our negligence and revive the vision that Flynn had of a great and prosperous society spread across the entire continent.

Let's look at the challenges - water first.

Flynn lamented the droughts that ravaged the countryside every decade and brought great hardship to the people whom he regarded as his 'flock', often advocating the drought-proofing of the continent. But, he was a clergyman with no money, and so politicians and economists told him to concentrate on the Bible.

Nevertheless, he could see how the countryside became a swathe of green within days of enjoying some drought-breaking rain. All that those vast black soil plains needed to become great areas of food production was a steady and reliable source of water.

Flynn backed Dr Bradfield, builder of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, when he advocated the so-called Bradfield Scheme of diverting water inland from tropical rivers. Few others did, so the grand plan died.


The Country Party, now the National Party, ignored the challenge to their eternal disgrace, but they now have an opportunity to come good and change the face of Australia if they have the guts and vision to look after the people whom they were established to represent.

This comment does not absolve from blame either the ALP or the Liberals, who rarely look beyond suburbia.

The reality is that Australia, by itself, can feed the rapidly-growing middle class of Asia, now numbering a billion people, with the quality of food that they want. And those who grow it out there in the neglected plains of the north and west should be able to live in pleasant rural communities that can be created by enlightened initiatives of progressive governments, complete with good facilities for health, education and culture that will recreate for them the mantle of safety that is Flynn's legacy.

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This article was first published in Everald@Large.

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About the Author

Everald Compton is Chairman of The Longevity Forum, a not for profit entity which is implementing The Blueprint for an Ageing Australia. He was a Founding Director of National Seniors Australia and served as its Chairman for 25 years. Subsequently , he was Chairman for three years of the Federal Government's Advisory Panel on Positive Ageing.

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