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Letter 59: Small-Town Wisdom for You and Me

And in conversations from the pub to the piggery, I heard both pride and frustration: pride, because people felt that what they had learned about how to build a multicultural community should be applied more broadly; frustration, because small-town views are so often ignored.

Canberra, they said, was too focused on petty squabbles and the problems with immigration. City elites, they added, rarely invest much time in engaging with people who are different.

“City people are so wrapped up in their own world,” said Gail Smith, the breeding supervisor at Kia-Ora, the pig farm Tom runs with his sons. “They need to broaden their horizons.”

Letter 59: Small-Town Wisdom for You and Me
Letter 59: Small-Town Wisdom for You and Me

Many of the Filipinos I met in Pyramid Hill agreed, having moved from cities like Brisbane.

Their comments made me think not just of my own life in Sydney, but also New York — a diverse but highly segregated city by race and income, where people often think they’re open-minded simply because they share a subway car with people from different backgrounds.

In fact, it takes quite a lot more than proximity to create social cohesion — a society that truly reflects the Enlightenment principle of equality for all.

Australia does plenty of academic research on the subject. There are some inspiring speeches to be found from government officials, too — like this one from 2015. There are even sizable grants for projects that address social cohesion.

But Pyramid Hill speaks to something else: the power of individual actions, sustained over time.

At the end of the day, many people told me, countries — like towns, or city neighborhoods, or even sports teams — only cohere when people prioritize getting to know each other and looking out for each other.

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