I have just returned from a short visit to my birthplace, Sunderland, England, which I left over three decades ago to forge a new life here in Australia. The occasion was to be a joyous one to celebrate my mother’s ninetieth birthday with friends and family. Unfortunately what I found left my visit tinged with sadness as I surveyed what fate has befallen my former home.
In its heyday Sunderland was a powerful industrial city with industries from coal mining, shipbuilding, glassmaking and general engineering; with their outputs rivalling many other centres around the world. A gritty tough environment known for its peoples values and resilience, whilst not a pretty English postcard scene what it lacked in aesthetics was amply made up in community spirit.
Like similar communities the winds of change have swept through the city, a mixture of misguided political ideology, lack of vision, a failure to promote civic pride and other global events have left it a mere shell of its former self. Morale is at an all time low with a massive crisis of confidence for the future. Conversations held told a story of a search for meaning of their current predicament and concern for their family’s fortunes. The only positive addition to the ledger has been the automotive industry which now is the city’s only major employer. Registering the second highest unemployment figures in the nation, only the intervention of substantial amounts of social welfare sustains an ever increasing desperate population.
Now if I may ask for your indulgence, replace the place name Sunderland with the name Adelaide and you can begin to see some startling comparisons. Whilst our natural environment certainly cannot be compared with my former city there is a correlation. We have lost some major industries, we have experienced some poor leadership at a political level and we have seen a definite drop in positive thought in our city. Take a cross section of similar conversations held here and they display a growing sense of similar negative sentiment.
In our case there are opportunities for us to take advantage of but they will not be achieved by us continuing to display such negativity about our prospects. No doubt we are experiencing a slight downturn in our fortunes but for what is being witnessed in the rest of the western industrial world our position is comparatively good.
There are many fine organisations doing tireless work to promote our state but unfortunately we tend to hear only a cacophony of naysayers from certain parts of the media and other commentators.
Although it may be seen as unfashionable today to champion optimism for our city and state, I believe it is the duty of leaders in our midst to start promoting and believing of a brighter future.
My personal experience of the last week confirms my belief, of the great benefits we have by living where we do, let’s not self implode and allow the experience of cities like Sunderland to become our reality too.
14th January 2013
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