Would you know a Massey if you saw one?

Would you know a Massey if you saw one? Photo: Paul Rovere

"Whattaya mean you don't know what a Massey combine is?" said the fifty-something canola farmer, shaking his head at my producer's ignorance.

"I'm from the city," he cried in defence.

We were shooting in the picturesque NSW country town of Young, three-and-a-half hours south-west of Sydney, and the chasm that had opened between us and this man of the land was as old as civilisation; the soft-handed city-slickers looking cluelessly at the people who feed them.

Reading our newspapers, watching our terrible television, it's easy to forget there's a vast green, brown and red expanse of agricultural land inside the coastal ring of our cities that fills our bellies and contributes $36 billion to our exports.

Our cities' self-absorption augments a feeling in many rural areas they're taken for granted - rightly so when you consider there are kids who actually think milk comes from cartons and parents who expect it to be cheaper per litre than petrol, orange juice and printer ink.

If you live in the big smoke, imagine a bloke walking into your local pub wearing an Akubra hat and Driza-Bone oilskin and tell me they wouldn't get a few strange looks. Cover his boots in mud and cow dung, and it's a good chance the bouncers wouldn't let him in.

Australians are obsessed with urban culture to the extent more city-dwellers could name you a member of One Direction than tell you which direction the wind is blowing from.

When's the best time to plant wheat? How to butcher a cow? How to operate a Massey combine? I reckon you'd struggle to find one person in a hundred in your suburb who could do any of these things competently.

As of 2010, two-thirds of Australians lived in a capital city and, as was much-reported at the time, this was also the first year more people lived in urban than in rural areas, globally.

According to the World Health Organisation, 100 years ago, only two out of every 10 people lived in cities. Despite this, history and its greatest names, thoughts, laws, art and inventions is almost entirely the story of urban life.

"Civilisation is nurtured in an urban environment," says US academic, Professor Greg Aldrete, "so when we examine the history of civilisation, what we should really say is we're studying 'urban history' because it is from cities and the people who live in cities that almost everything we study emanates.

"The problem with this approach is it really does not represent the typical experience of the average inhabitant of the ancient world. For every person that lived in a city, there were probably eight or nine who lived on a small family farm."

Most of us have thus been educated to think the atypical human existence - life in the city - was the norm and, though that may now be the case statistically, agriculture and farming remains the most important endeavour in this country, in any country, if you consider eating important.

A Coalition federal government may not be to everyone's tastes but you can be sure with Warren Truss, leader of the National Party, as our new deputy PM, we're going to hear much more about regional issues and the challenges facing our farmers.

Who knows, we might even see the odd animal husbandry course inserted into compulsory subjects along such "real world" lessons as balancing a budget or applying for a personal loan.

Personally, I'd like to learn how to operate a Massey combine harvester.

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