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Boofheads and the bush.



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Perspective

Tuesday 8 April 2003

Alan Knight, Professor of Journalism and Media Studies, Central Queensland University

 

Boofheads and the Bush  

 

Sometimes I think that city dwellers believe that those of us who live in the bush are pretty much boof heads who can’t tell the difference between a cappuccino and a café latte. Certainly when I lived in Sydney there was an assumed intellectual superiority over those who lived in outback locations such as Brisbane. Now I find more than a few Brisbane sophisticates similarly look down on culturally deprived bushies such as myself. 

 

Where do these stereotypes come from? 

 

Most of our media and many of our cultural institutions are city based and city oriented. In practice, most ideas emanating from the rural other are largely ignored by what’s called the mainstream. 

 

Metropolitan newspapers which started as 19th century, steam driven industries still operate at the railway junctions, which once distributed their manufactured paper products. Even the organisation and preoccupations of the electronic ABC, still reflects the early 20th century telephone exchange systems which linked its terrestrial Valve powered radio stations. Irrespective of twenty year old satellite links, most information, stereotypes included, is managed from head office in Sydney.  

 

Meanwhile, many rural people still believe and even promote these stereotypes about themselves. 

 

I work in a town called Rockhampton, which calls itself “Beef City” even though abattoirs have closed and the cattle industry is just a shadow of what it was in the nineteenth century. 

 

But the old rural industries are being joined by information operations using broadband links which allow them to establish in regional towns which have cheap housing, clean environments and under utilised schools and hospitals. The Internet is decentralising intellectual work, just like Bill Gates said it would. 

 

“Beef City” is actually the home to a flourishing regional university, which has become its biggest export industry. 

 

How did this happen? 

 

Regional universities still get most of their government funding from Canberra whose budget cuts have encouraged or rather forced us to look interstate and overseas for fee paying students. As a result, about half of the total student enrolment at Central Queensland University where I work, is made up of foreign students. While the courses and programs are created and administered by intellectual workers based in central Queensland, the students use the Internet and tutor supported external studies to attend ten different campuses along the eastern seaboard. Our second largest campus is in Sydney, which always comes as a surprise to southern cappucinocrats who dismiss us as Rockhampton University. 

 

While we like to listen to Radio National, to hear what Sydney and even Melbourne intellectuals are up to, we no longer depend on those provincial cities for our information.  

 

Let me give you an example.  

 

A couple of years ago I co-wrote a book, Reporting Hong Kong, about media coverage of the hand over of Hong Kong to the Chinese motherland. My fieldwork was carried out in mainland China. Translation and research was conducted in Hong Kong. The writing took place in Tokyo and Yeppoon on the Queensland coast where I live. The editing was done in Brisbane for a book, which was published in New York and London. It’s sold on Amazon.com. 

 

We have already globalised our ideas.  

 

But we should never forget our roots. 

 

Regional universities remain firmly planted in the states whose legislation created us and whose governments demand we service the country communities, which claim us as their own. 

 

Regionally based Universities therefore need to be increasingly entrepreneurial, while at the same time, affirming traditional university values, which afford intellectual and career opportunities for rural students and staff. The new communications technologies allow us to re-invent ourselves in ways that might overcome geographic isolation, which has previously restricted course offerings, limited research resources and hindered wider public recognition.  

 

While as regionally based academics we must address an internet linked world, we must simultaneously integrate our teaching, research, public relations, vocational programs and work experience with the regional and rural communities that nourish us. 

 

As an afterthought, you might consider that I wrote this piece with my laptop, sitting on my back deck, overlooking the Barrier Reef islands. I was drinking a cappuccino which I made on my own expresso machine.  

 

I am learning to make café lattes.  

 

Guests on this program:

 

Dr Alan Knight  

President of the Academic Board 

Professor of Journalism and Media Studies 

Central Queensland University