Einstein in the barn

Einstein in the barn - image for article by Greg Alder

Every home has a space where things are stored. The attic. The basement. The garage. The barn.

We put things there we no longer use. We don’t toss them out because we think we might use them in the future. We never do.

Once stored, they are forgotten. Dust settles. Webs are woven. Nests are built.

Meanwhile, the rest of our homes become our whole worlds. We lavish money on our living rooms and bedrooms, kitchens and bathrooms, on the spaces we use daily. We buy the best appliances our budgets allow. We redecorate in the latest trends.

We never venture out to the barn. We don’t think of it. When we look out the window, we don’t even see it. It’s our blind spot.

Is it too much of a stretch of imagination to use this allegory to symbolise the chasm between cities and regional areas?

Bear with me. Allow the pampered home to be our capital city. Our politicians live here. Our business leaders live here. Our policy makers, media companies and most of our population live here.

The latest technology and infrastructure are here. The best education institutions (or at least the most prosperous ones) are here.

Out the back, in the barn, are our farmers and small town business owners. In the house, if pressed, we acknowledge the existence of those living in the barn. But in our daily lives, we rarely give them a nanosecond’s thought.

There’s something else in this barn. Something that the farmers and business owners possess. There’s genius.

There are ideas that can change lives. Ideas that can improve the world. Ideas that can transform life in our home.

Up in the house, we don’t hear them. Never see them. In our living room, the roar from our home entertainment system drowns the distant “Eureka” from the barn. “E=mc2” blows away with the autumn leaves.

It’s not the tyranny of distance that makes it hard to live and conduct business in the country.

It’s being invisible. It’s being an asterisk on a policy document. An etcetera.

Here in Australia, a third of our population lives outside our capital cities. The space they occupy is vast. Nearly 7.7 million square kilometres.

We don’t provide them with the creative stimuli that we take for granted in our cities. We don’t make it as easy for them to innovate as it is in our cities. We don’t recognise their genius.

We leave them, forgotten, ageing, gathering dust, full of unrealised big ideas. What ifs. What could have beens.

Since moving from a major city (Sydney) to the far north coast of New South Wales, I have seen what’s wrong with our metrocentricity. Since starting to conduct creativity and innovation workshops for regional councils, I have a newfound awareness of and respect for regional ingenuity.

A lot of my energy right now is going into advocating for regional Australia, for creating a showcase for regional innovation and promoting regional opportunities.

The advocacy platform is called City of Oz, because it seemed that calling it a city might be a way to get those in the city to realise how big it is. Might.

I’m taking my message up to the house. I’ll let you know if they hear me.

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