One of the less attractive qualities of Melbourne is its inferiority complex vis a vis Sydney. I know that to my parents’ generation they’re very different cities, but I’ve always been skeptical that they’re that different. But there are clearly differences.
It may be a clich© that Sydney is much brasher with more ‘new money’ whist Melbourne is more focused on its establishment. My three years at the Business Council with the odd trip to the Melbourne Club led me to believe that Australia’s growth rate might have been a tad higher if the BCA and its companies were based in Sydney. In Melbourne the question ‘what school did you go to’ has an intensity of meaning and social placement that I’ve never encountered before. Having spent many years in Canberra it took me a while to realise it wasn’t just a quaint way to search for common things to talk about.
Be that as it may there have been a few things that have highlighted cultural differences for me recently. The least compelling of the three Sydney shock jocks I know of Stan Stan Zemanek had a stint in Melbourne and didn’t make it. People didn’t know what it was all about and he didn’t make the ratings. His main strategy is to abuse listeners to generate a bit of excitement. We have irritating radio announcers, but no-one as odious as the Sydney trio (actually I don’t mind Lawsy too much he’s quite charismatic and enjoyable to listen to even if I don’t agree with him much.)
Secondly I gave a talk yesterday to CEDA based on the paper I wrote for them (pdf) on where to focus tax cuts to maximise growth. After it went quite well I asked if they were interested in doing it in Sydney and the answer was that no-one would turn up well not enough to make it viable.
I was also at the Cranlana Foundation today – an outpost of the Myer family’s philanthropic endeavours. Their ‘colloquium’ is a one week seminar in which participants usually about half from business and a quarter from the public and academic sector and rest a collection of artists and others who are generally shouted their place at the table. When I was involved in it, I expected it to be rather wet. The reading was a few pages of about twenty great political thinkers down through the ages.
As someone who reckons that the only education he ever got was in history, I was appalled at the idea that this was a useful use of one’s time, because one can’t really get the hang of what such people are on about by reading a few pages in an anthology one needs to immerse oneself a little more. But it was highly successful, not because we learned much about the great texts, but because they were simply the conversation starters in a week of asking the question ‘what is the good life’. Even that too sounds a bit effete for my taste.
I thought it was marvelous because the people involved were mostly pretty lively, thoughtful types from a range of different backgrounds and so the one week intensive was a marvelous experience where, like characters in a novel we talked about things that were important. The great social conspiracy which says that it’s impolite and overly heavy to speak about important things – at least without a lot of introduction and circumspection was simply thrown out the window. It was a great way to meet and come to know to some extent 15 odd interesting people. Then various people came and gave speeches which were thoroughly compelling. And we had a string quartet play for us one evening.
Anyway, talking to Cranlana today about an upcoming function of theirs conversation turned briefly to other cities in which they held colloquiums. So far only Perth. Sydney, they told me is a very hard market to crack. Perhaps it is because others are already there the St Johns ethics centre (which was funded largely by HIH woops!) and Gerard Henderson’s Sydney Institute. But perhaps it’s also because the Cranlana colloquium style of function isn’t very attractive to businesses who pay for it when they send along one of their executives to a colloquium. It’s hard to justify on the bottom line but Melbourne firms are sending their execs along in increasing numbers.