Our son lost his adult front tooth in the sea in Queensland when he was only seven. It was a bizarre beach incident involving another family and a big, hired, rubber innertube – relatively passive play and not a brick wall or bike in sight.
All three kids stood in front of us on the beach with eyes like saucers - the oldest with a river of blood pouring from his mouth.
I hid my shock and played the ‘everything is fixable’ card. It was only when the bleeding had stopped and the dentist had advised that nothing could be done that the grief peak hit. Everything was gone, the tooth is still drifting somewhere in the Pacific Ocean - root and all.
The gaping hole was raw and shocking, but it was clear that, as parents, we had to lead the family reaction. I thought we’d rationalised the enormity of it by saying, “Gosh, it’s no big deal really, it’s not like it’s an eye or an arm.”
By day we masked our sadness and the simmering anger at the unfairness of it all. But once the kids were in bed we bemoaned the lifelong impact of extra dentist visits, braces, implants and the potential ridicule from peers of our handsome, golden-haired child. We wanted to wrap our boy in cotton wool and not let him out of our sight.
Then, three days later a tropical wind whipped the town and a four-year old boy was killed by a falling tree in front of his father in the main street. That put us straight.
It was like we’d had a magnifying glass on our situation and suddenly we ‘zoomed out’ and saw the whole life map in a different context.
Seeing the future with the gift of perspective is a beautiful thing.
In listening to people talk about Geelong’s future the magnifying glass is certainly on the table if not firmly in hand.
There was an avalanche of visionary talk during last year’s mayoral campaign, but no one really nailed it. All candidates, myself included, talked about ‘a city in transition’ and dabbled with mentions of the good work of Vision2.
But it is the symptoms of regional growth that continue to hit the spotlight as issues, most notably parking, safety, the CBD and that deliciously nebulous phrase, ‘the economy’. What is still lacking is a long-range and insightful description of what Geelong can be, who is included and what the people of the region want it to be.
Is becoming a ‘major city’ inevitable? Are we keen to preserve the ‘big country town’ aspect? Will our satellite townships become more like suburbs? Have we considered the pros and cons of all the possibilities?
“We are Geelong” is the catchcry. Yet it is clear that on the Bellarine not everyone identifies with that. The northern suburbs are consistently singled out as separate and somehow needy – treated as broken and isolated in conversation, along with other ‘under-resourced’ areas. Lara appears left out. Armstrong Creek is a breathtaking project, but will it ultimately be identified with Geelong? Or Torquay? Or will it overtake both in stature?
Geelong is not Melbourne. Nor is it Ballarat, Bendigo, Newcastle or Ipswich. Personally, I think it’s potentially better than all of them. Put together. We should be aspiring to Monaco, not Moe.
I believe we have a unique opportunity to create a new future, something that has not necessarily been seen before. A place with no compare.
But it needs to be bigger than the picture we’re seeing. It also needs to be smarter than the current thinking. And it must be more sustainable than today’s planning.
Can the word Geelong encompass all the incredible attributes of our coastline, farmlands, bay, volcanic plains, rivers and townships? I think it can, but right now we have to add the word ‘region’ to justify including so many bonuses and not everyone has (or wants) a sense of ownership to the city’s name.
Surely that’s a clumsy approach? Even a bit vague?
We have such an exciting opportunity to define ‘regional capital’ and create the benchmark. But first, we all need to belong to Geelong.
Secondly, a clever, innovative vision will never be developed using the paternalistic and patronising approach we are so used to seeing from consultation processes.
Instead, imagine if we could come up with an inclusive and inspiring method to gather people’s ideas and encourage participation. We have smart people here, lots of goodwill and commitment and a global university. Creating our future and following up with an appropriate brand should involve more than just the business community.
I have great respect for groups like G21 and Committee for Geelong, who do a marvelous job of lobbying and politicking to keep the funding ambitions on the radar. But it is not the charter of these groups or the Council to decide for the people what Geelong stands for and how it operates.
I propose that it’s for the people to decide, using common sense and simple, transparent ways to explore the future. Golly, it could even be fun!
Most important, from my experience, is remembering to step back and see the helicopter view when considering the future. That in itself should guarantee representation from the large and diverse group that makes up our region.