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Country living

Melbourne locks down again, but in regional Victoria people are meeting and talking almost normally. Not completely - people are still cautious, but visiting Beechworth recently put me in mind of the way networks are different in the country.

Digital platforms have created a new culture of networking where how many people you know matters more than the way you interact with them.

Living in the country drops you into a time before the digital, to old-fashioned networks where people meet in the street, are friendly with their neighbours and help each other out. They're not after career advantage - they make connections and share connections as part of living in a specific place.

I grew up in Melbourne, but in my last year of high school, my family moved to Sydney. I walked in a daze through Hyde Park and swore I would never come back to Melbourne and its depressing drizzle. I lived in Sydney a few years, then in Perth, but a decade ago, I moved back to Melbourne, and soon after that, to Riddells Creek. Here I sit, on the south side of the Macedon Range, under cold grey skies, and drizzle!

It was a big shift professionally, and my networks were thin on the ground in Victoria. Melbourne is a difficult town to break into. Unlike Sydney, where everyone is on the make, Melbourne people keep you at a distance if you're not 'from here'. Seven years, people said: it takes seven years to break into Melbourne networks, and that's how it worked out. After about seven years, people I met had sometimes heard about me through another channel. I wasn't an utter blow-in. I had a bit of social standing in work networks.

It was different locally. For two years, I listened to the sound of construction and came and went without seeing people I knew. After a couple of years, I got out of town and for the price of a one-bedroom apartment in Fitzroy, I bought five acres and a small cottage in Riddells Creek.

Two weeks after moving in, I went to the local market. Modest size, people browsing the stalls, standing around in conversations. As I checked it out, a couple of women strolled over to welcome me. They had heard I had moved in (but how?). What was I planning to do with the old winery (nothing). Was I going to join the Landcare group? (well, umm ... yes) "It's good to have you here,' they said.

It was a bit unnerving being swept up into their easy friendliness, but I felt good too. I was welcomed in. Seven years versus two weeks: that's the difference between city time and country time.

Why are things different in the country? People take more time in the country. They like standing in the sunshine chatting on their way out of the postal agency. And people depend on each other a bit more than they do in the city. They live in the same place: they lend a hand, and they know they can call on people when they need to.

There's a kind of commerce at work here, a give-and-take, but something else, an affiliation based on living in the same bit of country. In 'Sand Talk', Tyson Junkaporta takes a long, hard look at the modern world through indigenous ways of thinking and relating. For Tyson, living in a community in a specific place is central to a culture that can change and adapt.

The evolution of culture, he says, is 'a group effort aligned with the patterns of creation discerned from living within a specific landscape.' It might be good to grab hold of that, and rather than getting swamped by the global culture thrust down our throats by media outlets and entertainment, be part of shaping how we live together locally.

A specific landscape. Country. Not the country, but your country. The mind might roam widely, but the local is where the heart lives. The dirt in your hands, and the people you live alongside, tell you what's real.

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