Monday, 10 September 2007

Future tense

It is hard work getting my family to all go in the same direction. It’s hard work in a marriage to keep your paths intertwined and expectations in synch. It’s hard work keeping strong ties with relatives and friends. Imagine how hard it is to get a large group of people of different ages, experiences and expectations to sit down and come up with common goals for the future of your town.

It was a surprisingly large and congenial gathering at the community centre on Saturday who gathered to discuss this very thing. On a clear, sunny weekend afternoon, it was a miracle to get a good turnout. Not everyone could stay for the three hours, but many made the effort.

And it was an effort. These were not easy things that we were thinking about, nor were people used to thinking in abstract terms about their community and lives. We talked about what things people valued about Marburg. We talked about challenges and opportunities. We tried to think about what we would like to see when we walked down the street in ten or more years.

I met people who previously were only names to me. I found out that some devils aren’t so devilish in person and I found out that claws lie beneath friendliness. Everyone has an agenda and an ideology, even those who stoutly deny it and swear by the gods of functionalism and pragmatism. The goal of this meeting was to put these agendas on the table and try to find some commonalities, some things that people could agree upon as “good things.”

The workshop had a professional, non-local moderator which elevated the tone of discussion and kept old rivalries quiet. I was impressed at his ability to draw things out of people and to hold clearly antagonistic ideas in balance in the discussions.

I can’t imagine such a meeting taking place fifty or more years ago. The township was thriving in the early part of last century. There were three pubs, multiple businesses, a railway, a School of Arts and a circuit court, amongst other things. The main road to Toowoomba ran through town and provided much passing business to cafes and shops. People didn’t have fast reliable cars that they could use to drive elsewhere. Everyone’s children went to the local school because that was the only option. Now there are a handful of schools both private and public within a twenty minute drive. Most of the residents were at the Saturday night dance because there wasn’t anything else on offer. No-one went clubbing or to concerts or movie theatres or sporting matches on Saturday night.

Yet part of the decline of the town can be attributed to a lack of planning, at the individual and corporate level. People did not think about the implications of everyday decisions. Some of those at the meeting complaining about low numbers at the school, chose to send their children elsewhere. Some of the people upset at things local community groups have or haven’t done aren’t part of these groups themselves. Our moderator said that “he who plans wins.” To that can be added, “they who take part have a voice.” And the great thing was that there were plenty of voices at this workshop.

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