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Down south of the Murrumbidgee, giving some “northern comfort” to those shell-shocked Kennett groupies in the shadow of the Crown (Casino), I realized that few people in Melbourne really wanted to lose their larrikin leader. The schism between the cowboys and the city slickers was never more evident than in the Victorian election results, which were as close to an earthquake as they have been able to arrange in Melbourne. Politically, it was about 7.8 on the Richter Scale.

This problem with regional Australia is getting out of hand. Remember, the American Civil War was a conflagration between the industrial North and the agricultural South – in a word, regional America. The issue of slavery and its abolition was no more the cause of the war than the persecution of the Jews was the cause of World War II.

There has to be an end to the alienation being felt by our country cousins but this has to begin with a sense of responsibility at both ends. The media treats the problem as if the rural voters are justly aggrieved but there is a chasm between the worldview of the backwoods voters and urban electors. They are often backward in the backwoods.

Take for example, the Court’s treatment of five white teenagers who attacked a homeless Aboriginal man in a Cairns park on August 28, 1998. They set upon him with baseball bats and hockey sticks as he slept with other Aborigines dossing in a public park.

The attackers, all aged 17, laughed and jeered during the assault. The Prosecutor described the night attack as, “Like something out of Mississippi or Alabama in the 1950’s”. Queensland District Court Judge, Peter White, found that the attack was not racially motivated because it stemmed from the assailants’ contempt for the Aborigines’ itinerant lifestyle (His Honour missed the point: Aborigines do have an itinerant lifestyle). The Defendants were ordered, on their pleas of guilty, to do 100 hours of community service with no convictions recorded!

In the Mississippi or Alabama of today, such a sentence would be a scandal but the same nation which has dispatched thousands of peacekeepers to Timor, tolerates judicial conduct, let alone KKK-style brutality, more in keeping with the inhumanity of the pro-integration militias towards the pro-independence Timorese – and of the militias’ accomplices in the Indonesian military.

Are our troops there just to keep the coloureds quiet? It depends on your perspective. For many thousands in regional Australia, that is how it must seem.

The city/country divide does not just arise from perceived inequality of treatment. It proceeds from disparate values that we must make a real effort to transcend.

While we may abhor the policies of One Nation, they reflect the attitudes of many in country electorates. For Australia to go forward, inspiring and inclusive programs and goals must be formulated so that, unlike in Victoria, we do not all take two steps forward and one step back.