I have just returned from the UK following the passing of my mum of 94 years, this has meant a return to my former home city of Sunderland, in the United Kingdom.
It is a place from where I was born over 60 years ago and left rather unexpectedly in 1985 due to career progression.
Periodically over that time, I have visited the once town now a city to connect with my family and friends. As a person who holds a degree of sentimentality in his heart, I have always left feeling a little sad when time came to leave.
Of course, this particular visit was distressing but added to this my observations of the current plight of my birthplace and in another context my now permanent home in Adelaide, South Australia.
For those who have no knowledge of Sunderland, it was at the heart of industrial Britain from the early part of the nineteenth century, including coal mining, shipbuilding and glassmaking. It even had a role in the wars between Cromwell’s fight against the Royalists. For a more modern perspective, they have just been relegated from soccer’s English Premier League.
Its inhabitants could be defined for their resilience, hard work and laconic humour, (something I am grateful to have inherited).
The unfortunate decline began in the 1970s and 80s with the closure of its coal mines and shipyards. The demise of the city can be blamed on a number of factors including the actions of both political parties, Labour whose stranglehold on the city has been almost permanent and the Conservatives who have never been able to secure any affinity with the region. The population’s slavish devotion to socialist values has always won out.
Notwithstanding my former city’s problems, the United Kingdom seems to be in complete turmoil politically as it has reopened the gap between north and south with the rather strange decision to elect to leave the European Union.
Change has never come easily to the population with hardened political views and evidence of that today as over 60 % of its people have voted through Brexit to leave the E.U. This decision seems to be at odds with common sense as the largest employer Nissan ( established after the traditional industries have fallen) with a combined workforce of over 18000, whose main market is to export to central Europe its future could be in serious jeopardy because of this decision.
On my latest visit, I witnessed the result of such dynamics, a city with a mainly tired and dispirited people (mostly within the older generation) who have relinquished thoughts that life will get better.
The stench of inevitability pervades the air although major changes to infrastructure have been introduced by the local authority. The majority of conversations I engaged in with people were overwhelmingly sad and I would assert that major change will not be able to be achieved until this generation passes on.
This social decline is masked by the plethora of new cars and supermarkets but there can be no doubt the fabric of the city has been shredded.
One has to contemplate that “her” regeneration may take several decades and in fact, it may be that the city will be forever held in the grip of political machinations, a population stuck in a mindset of past memories and glories and now at the mercy of global change.
So the reader’s may be puzzled what has this to do with Adelaide, South Australia and Australia as a whole. Well, there are some significant similarities to these two different situations. I can foresee the modern equivalent of my former home if we continue down the path of negativity.
The first thing one must point out Australia is blessed with a really wonderful climate, Sunderland is not, and it is harsh and sometimes bleak for a good portion of the year.
Both have golden histories of industrial achievement but in recent times have seen decline especially in heavy manufacturing through change, technology and competition from other less mature countries around the world caused by globalisation.
Both are locked in bitter political struggles with rising distrust of the people who were elected to represent them.
Both are seeing the growth of SME’s as their saviours into the future although the numbers being employed in these sectors are considerably less than years gone.
Both have excellent academic institutions with many talented people within,
Both have sections of their populations who constantly vocalise their wish to return to the way things used to be, which inhibits progress. We all know this cannot happen yet they both persist with their respective laments.
In truth, the situation is more pronounced in the UK than it is in Adelaide at the moment but nevertheless it is growing sentiment that is being expressed here.
So why do I worry about my now home, the reason having lived in both locations I see the modern equivalent of Sunderland In Adelaide. The correlations of some of the negative aspects of their communities are startling. One admits the history of this trend goes back decades in Sunderland but increasingly Adelaide and Australia has adopted this stance and patterns of behaviour.
This continuing mindset can become crippling to the state and we can easily be known as the modern day “Whinging Poms” at I sit here today I believe we are only a few steps to assuming that title.
It would be foolish to suggest we don’t have several serious problems within our state. The difference being the opportunities for improvement and growth are huge if we choose to adopt a more positive attitude. The key to success will be how we handle the transition to a different type of economy in the coming years.
During my visit, I entered into a conversation with a good friend she uttered a rather pessimistic comment that “Perhaps the good times for Sunderland are behind us”, unfortunately, I have come to the conclusion that view is correct.
I do not accept for one minute that this is the case for our state and country. Getting perspective is a valuable emotion, this is something all Australians and especially here in Adelaide need to grasp. Whilst our situation is far less dire than most of the world at this point in time there is a major requirement for education about this fact.
The celebration of such events as Australia Day has to be more than one day in the calendar in January but a continuing tool to remind us how blessed we are., It is too easy to put away the flags until next year and go back to our daily lives putting it to the back of our minds how good we have it.
We are involved in exciting work in both our private sector and academic institutions, the creation of great cultural developments but we are letting our emotions cloud our judgement. It might seem unpalatable to some but we have to move on and seize the day. The time of the idea we are like a large country town needs to be banished from our lexicon.
This article may be viewed as just another meaningless collection of sentimental observations and comments but believe me when I tell reader’s I have never written such a truthful and heartfelt article in all my life.