A SALUTE TO THE PEOPLES REPUBLIC OF MALLACOOTA,
A THOUGHT EXPERIMENT
I was sitting around one morning at Lucy’s a couple of weeks ago having a cup of coffee. At the back table you can always count on a good, if often laconic, conversation. For some reason ‘The People’s Republic of Mallacoota’ bumper stickers came up. Some had been appearing again on cars about town and there was a certain amount of curiosity about their source. Now, the last one I had was given me by the famous bluester and Buddhist Mike Tahana from a small cache he had retained from their first appearance about twenty years ago. It had long ago succumbed to the rigors of time and weather and I made the passing comment that I would like to get another one. I was considerably surprised, a few days later, when one just appeared on the seat of my car when I came back from a shopping expedition to the supermarket. I stuck it proudly on the tailgate of the old Magna. I have been further surprised about how much comment it has aroused from people in the shops and in the street. This set me thinking (which is no mean achievement) about how it would go if Mallacoota did succeed and become a separate country.
Even when Mallacoota was part of Orbost Shire local residence complained of ‘being at the other end of the shire’ and getting a raw deal. Since the shires amalgamated and you practically have to cross time zones to get to Bairnsdale complaints have become more strident and to some extent more justified. It’s a salutary thought that East Gippsland Shire (21,800 sq km) is bigger in area than both Israel and Wales – 20,700 sq km and 20,780km respectively. Of course we have a much smaller population than either Israel or Wales and most of it is at the other end of the Shire. As one of our more charming councillors once remarked when a rate payer from Mallacoota complained about the lack of representation and unfair distribution of Shire Council generated goods and services ‘It’s too bad trees don’t vote’.
Let us embark on what Albert Einstein called ‘a thought experiment’ and put ‘The People’s Republic of Mallacoota’ through its paces.
One of the first things that comes to mind is of course how would The PROM pay for itself. You might think a small place like Mallacoota would never raise the revenues to provide all the goods and services necessary to maintain an independent state. We, however, have a few advantages that other communities do not have.
The Tourist Park plays host to thousands of visitors a year. It would be a substantial source of revenue. Currently in progress is an attempt to find out how much. A request was sent to the Shire of East Gippsland for figures relating to the income derived from the tourist park. The request was refused on the grounds that it might provide damaging information to competitors! The request was repeated through a freedom of information submission and this time the refusal was given on the grounds that the information did not exist. Separate books were not kept on the individual Shire managed parks and they were all run as one big enterprise! As Groucho Marx once famously remarked – ‘If you believe that, you’ll buy this watch!’ Anyway a couple of minutes with a pencil and the back of an envelope reveals a ballpark income for the tourist park well into seven figures per-anum.
With the recent influx of relatively wealthy seachangers into Mallacoota substantial revenues are also available through rates.
Then there are the Abalone Licenses, if we became an independent state the licenses issued by the Australian Government would no longer be valid. New ones would have to be paid to The PROM.
Stamps would be huge. The novelty value of a tiny republic cocking it’s snoot at The Australian Government would insure huge interest. Print our own stamps and put out first day covers on a monthly basis and stamp collectors will beat a path to our door. We could raffle opportunities to have your own face on a postage stamp.
So The PROM would not be short of a quid and we haven’t even got to the tiresome business of income tax and GST.
In order to create a viable quasi-independent community we would need economic activity. Jobs. As I have mentioned elsewhere mass tourism is not a medium or long term option for Mallacoota. The reason for this revolves around our distance from everywhere else. We are encouraging development of the kind that destroys Mallacoota’s primary asset – its unalienated wilderness (so Mallacoota will become just another seaside fishing town) which, with rapid increases in fuel costs will remove tourist reasons for coming here. So we will need to look elsewhere for economic development.
The answer is in the services sector. Mallacoota’s close proximity to relatively isolated marine and wilderness environments creates an opportunity for the establishment of partnerships with tertiary institutions with faculties in marine biology, environment etc. The establishment of a campus in Mallacoota would create economic opportunities across the board.
As I have discussed elsewhere the possibility of creating ecommerce villages in Mallacoota where telecommuters could work and have the wilderness at their front door. I was reading in Deadly Magazine (March 2011) Where a young Aboriginal lady had tried to buy a little black dress on line and couldn’t. She used her IT skills to discover that up to 7,000,000 women worldwide were trying to buy a little black dress on line monthly with similar frustration. So she set up an internet business marketing black dresses – very successfully. Now, her main ambition in life was to find a job that allowed her to spend a maximum time outdoors bushwalking and fishing. She has. As she says in the article. ‘All I need is my laptop, I can be anywhere’.
With fuel soon to start rapidly increasing in price the grey nomads will be looking for places to settle. Partnerships with relevant institutions and enterprises could establish retirement villages with the necessary medical support would provide a broad range of employment opportunities.
Mallacoota currently does not have secure reliable highspeed broadband because of our distance from main communication trunks. With increased economic activity and technological innovations it is possible to establish an independent community telco based on satellite technology. This has already occurred in the US, in isolated communities, with such success that some of the community initiatives have been able to expand outside to the world at large.
Small scale successes in the growing of niche organic produce like garlic (which is low volume/high value) could point the way for other successful small business enterprises.
Then of course there is the matter of energy. Mallacoota is sadly deficient in deposits of brown coal or subterranean oil. However one thing there is little shortage of is wind and waves. So we need to set up a partnership with company like Energy Matters and set up a wind farm on Gabo Island and maybe a tidal generator between Gabo and the mainland. We could then be self sufficient and sell energy to communities north and west of here more reliably than they are currently being supplied from The Latrobe Valley. This would add to the output of the huge take up of solar electric systems already in place in Mallacoota.
Water might be an issue. Recently we have seen press releases from Gippsland Water assuring us that all the new wells they have sunk have the capacity to supply us for fifty years. However, consumption figures seem to have been taken from house holder data from census statistics which were collected in June when Mallacoota had its lowest levels of occupancy. There is no mention that our aquifer is a small isolated and self contained. I could not get any information on the recharge rate, dependant as it is on local rainfall. Climate modelling for this part of the world predict a reducing rainfall over the medium to long term. Application of the pencil and envelope seem to indicate that to be sustainable Mallacoota may either needs to limit its population growth or find another source of water.
Sustainable food security is a big one. We have been building houses on our agricultural land local to Mallacoota. There is however all those river flats along the Genoa River, currently used for grazing. The silt goes all the way to China and it would make brilliant agricultural land for market gardening and orchards. With the application of modern techniques and technologies including hydroponics and solar houses Mallacoota could become self sufficient and a net produce onseller in everything but cereal crops. The ridges would make fine olive groves for cool weather adapted olive trees.
Politically we could have lots of fun. With the abolition of the wards in East Gippsland Shire any pretence of real accountable representation disappeared. It was never very robust to start with. On this score Mallacoota could go back to the Greeks. The (soon to be refurbished) amphitheatre could hold the entire population of Mallacoota residents. In bad weather we could all fit into the Main Hall. So for big issues we could all turn up to discuss and vote. The division of Mallacoota and district into small wards coupled with the use of social media and other digital technologies could enfranchise every resident directly in the process of governance. As a republic we would need a head of state, if we rotated it on a monthly basis, we could all be president about once every ten years. A cabinet with portfolios of different areas of policy and government could be elected on a preferential system where the candidates presented their CV and policies to the community digitally and meet for Q & A sessions with members of the different wards. These would mostly be management roles where they implemented decisions made by the polity at large – at town meetings and digitally. We might end up with the first fully practical democracy ever! Mallacoota could take over Adelaide’s reputation as being ‘The Athens of the South’.
It’s possibly heartening that recent remarks made by shire representatives at Mallacoota Planning Group Meetings indicate that The Shire Council is moving more towards a Bottom Up/Top Down approach to planning and decision making. Should this be the case then we may be able to avoid debacles like The Boat Ramp, The Urban Design Framework and Zoning/Rezoning controversies. No more scuttling around with briefcases and ‘important men’ meeting in dark rooms many kilometres away deciding what is good for us (or worse – deciding what is good for them is necessarily good for us).
Much more could be said and dreamed about a Peoples Republic of Mallacoota but this has rambled on long enough. Even though the implementation of such an idea is impractical, many ideas and possibilities arise from the dream. In a nutshell, we as a community can follow the well worn track to selfish mediocrity, spoiling what is of lasting value for the sake of short term gain. The other possibility is we can find out about, and take advantage of, all the dazzling possibilities sustainable 21st century technologies and ideas make available to us. We choose.