Almost exactly 130 years ago a war of words erupted between Australia's two unofficial poets laureate, Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson, over which was best; to live in the city with all its creature comforts and conveniences, or to experience the delights, and challenges, of country life.
Lawson started the controversy with seven pessimistic stanzas entitled Up The Country published in The Bulletin on July 9, 1892.
The bush, he claimed, had been overly romanticised (by poets such as Paterson and Ogilvie) and lyrical descriptions of "sunny plains" and "shining rivers" were little more than code for "barren wastes", "thirsty gutters" and "strings of muddy waterholes".
His melancholy conclusion was "the southern poet's dream will not be realised, till the plains are irrigated and the land is humanised" and "I intend to stay at present, as I said before, in town, drinking beer and lemon squashes, taking baths and cooling down".
Banjo was quick to respond with a paean of praise to the beauty of the bush, and to the ability of the landscape and the people to adapt and to regenerate. This was published a fortnight later.
Noting that within a month or two Lawson's "sunbaked earth" would be covered "with grasses waving like a field of summer grain" and that the "thirsty gutters" would soon be "mighty rivers with a turbid sweeping flood", he wrote: " ... the bush hath moods and changes, as the seasons rise and fall, and the men who know the bushland - they are loyal through it all".
That, it turns out according to ACM's Heartbeat of Australia study conducted in partnership with the University of Canberra and released this week, is as true today as it was when Paterson penned his rebuttal.
When we asked 6367 Australians from the capital cities and the regions to rate their lives on issues such as feeling safe, their standard of living, personal relationships, community involvement and their financial security the results were astounding.
Regional Australians rated the quality of their lives more highly on each of these issues by at least 10 percentage points compared to the residents of Paterson's "squalid streets and squares". The biggest differences were in terms of feeling safe (47 per cent compared with 27 per cent), personal relationships (39 per cent compared with 25 per cent), and standard of living (37 per cent compared with 20 per cent). This latter figure reflects that while incomes are generally lower in country areas the cost of living, including for housing, is often less.
The pandemic has changed the housing market but it's still easier to realise the dream of home ownership in the regions than in a capital city. This flows through to other aspects of people's lives.
These more positive life outcomes were consistently reflected in how regional residents felt about life with 74 per cent describing themselves as happy compared with 65 per cent of capital city dwellers, 66 per cent optimistic compared with 62 per cent, and 67 per cent content compared with 58 per cent.
Capital city residents were more likely to be stressed (56 per cent to 47 per cent), anxious (54 per cent compared to 44 per cent), lonely (34 per cent compared to 26 per cent) and angry (28 per cent to 23 per cent).
The survey also confirmed a strong correlation between feeling involved in your local community and knowing what was going on. This, according to Professor Sora Park of the UC, highlighted the work of regional publishers such as ACM in keeping communities informed and individuals engaged.
"There is a thirst for localised, quality independent news across Australia, particularly in the regions," Professor Park said.
That's because regional residents care about their communities and their communities, in turn, care about them.
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