…and it’s got worse

Parts of this piece were originally published under the title Back home to what? on a now-defunct blogsite. I wrote it almost in despair on arriving home after five years in Stamping Ground, Kentucky.

KENTUCKY, that beautiful, down-in-the-dirt poverty ridden State is now behind me, along with the bloody minded bedlam that is US politics and the shadowy, home-grown militias and aggressive Christians who wield power and influence out of all proportion to their numbers. It wasn’t all Thompsonesque of course. The jist plain folks that were our friends and neighbours were wonderful, some of them devout Christians, but unlike the moral minority kept their faith for church and home. There were the music and food nights that did the rounds of our friends’ houses – Kentucky cooking may one day kill you, but it’s something else I tell you. In the next holler to ours there were a fiddle player, an extremely gifted songwriter/singer and a guitarist vocalist who was also the local pharmacist. Just up the road was another guitarist whose voice and singing style reeked of the mountains where he was born. Every weekend we would get together to eat and sing and play: guitars, fiddle, autoharp, banjo, dulcimer and whatever other instrument might turn up along with the wild and beautiful harmonies that seem to be genetically imprinted in most of the mountain people.

Kentuckians love a good yarn and one of my favourites concerns a hamlet up in the hills whose residents had been waiting months for a new minister to shout the gospel, bury the dead and save the young folks from sin by marrying them. Word got out that there was a new man on the way, heading for the house of Cletis MacFarlane, a pillar of the community. One hot afternoon, Cletis was ploughing the tobacco patch on the bottom land when his oldest son came racing down the mountainside: “Paw, Paw, the new preacher’s done come to the house.”
“What ‘nomination do he be, son”
He hain’t a said, Paw.”
“Well son, y’all git on up the hill to the house quicker’n get out and ask ‘un. If’n he’s a Baptist, hide the whiskey; if’n he’s a Methodist, hide the ham; and if’n he’s an Evangelical, y’all git up on your Ma’s lap and don’t move till I gits there.”

When I arrived back in Tasmania, it was only to be confronted by a late blast of winter and a far bleaker election result. What astounded me about the campaign was some of the policy ‘promises’: Turn back the boats, abolish the mining and carbon taxes, wind back the NBN and on and on. All tainted with the same ideology as espoused by the US Tea Party, a bunch of intelligent nut-cases and misfits yearning for 1950 and given an unwarranted respectability by media networks afraid to report objectively for fear of ratings reprisals. Abbott’s “This is our country and we will decide who comes here” was almost word for word for statements made at Mad Hatters’ rallies in the US.

I was also puzzled by the Julia Gillard TV chat with Anne Summers. Ms Gillard’s rise to PM was unreported in the US and I only knew of it when I did my monthly rounds of the Australian online news sites. She is obviously very popular – more widely so than she was given credit for, it seems – so who allowed her to be stabbed in the back? Was there an uproar? Was the Labor Party told that it had done the wrong thing? It seems not. During the campaign, Rudd was as smug as a rat with an umbrella and even her former supporters seemed to take the drainpipe exit: “It was for the good of the party.” From what I could glean from my distant perch, Julia Gillard was the subject of the same sort of institutionalised abuse aided and abetted by Murdoch’s shit spreader that Obama copped in the USA, and for many of the same reasons: different, attempting to do the right thing, ignoring the naysayers and putting bills on the table that outraged the Gina Rhineharts and her ilk – the born-to-rulers.

Back to the NBN for a while. Abbott (he’s not worth a title) and his cronies obviously wanted to sell it off to another provider and go for the cheapest and quickest option – and it was also pretty obvious that they were more than a little motivated by wanting to get rid of anything that might be seen as a legacy of a woman who had made them look fools by showing them up for what they are. Stupid.

What I experienced in the US has more than ever convinced me that Australia should head back on the course it once started unless we want to emulate the States and settle for appalling internet and phone services – unless you live in a major city and even then it’s not too flash. A couple of years ago, a survey found that a shade more than half the population had access to high-speed internet and of those who did, in 40 per cent of cases it could not technically be classed as true broadband. Less than 30 minutes from the State capital and about 40 from the second largest city I was paying $80 per month for a satellite link that delivered half the speed I paid for, dropped out every time there was heavy rain and delivered slower times than I get from ADSL here on the outskirts of a small Tasmanian town. The satellite TV cost $80 a month and also couldn’t cope with heavy rain (common in Kentucky) while the phone – a shaky landline and antiquated exchanges that played up in wet weather – cost $60 for basic service under which calls to the same area code could be treated as long distance in some areas. There was no mobile coverage.

A lot of things in the US are mired in the 1950s, including politics, social attitudes and attitudes to religion. Though a little over half the population classes itself as “no religion” or “other”, the religious extremists and the mainstream churches hold sway at all levels. The US is also, generally speaking, a very prudish country and for me all these factors marred an otherwise wonderful time. Yet now Australia is rushing headlong down the slope that will land us back in 1945 or even earlier. It is beyond comprehension.

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