Thursday, 20 June 2013

Another couple of days

I spent yesterday and much of today trying to get a grip on elitism and professionalism in Broken Hill.

I started on foot, with naught but a photocopy of 1971 census data between me and the people I came across. Why 1971 census data? No reason, really, except that it is data and I could indicate the type of thing I was looking for. Everyone was very helpful - the Broken Hill City Council, Chamber of Commerce, the local MP's office - giving me a sense of scholarships, businesses, organisations and structures (including Lions and Rotary, but several others) that see their task as building community capacity at least in part through education - but who also consist themselves of society's educated elite.

I was able to ask about the past - which was helpful when I was back again today looking through records, as it meant I could interpret them based on what locals said- and in some cases based on what locals said they had heard about the past.

This has led me to think that my instincts two days ago were probably right. The Broken Hill Club represented a professional elite - doctors, lawyers, bankers, some graziers, mine managers - from its founding in 1888. But after the Second World War, two things seem to be changing. Firstly, the sense of class - everyone had fought together, and now they worked together, so class barriers seemed less important. The other is that the professional class is getting bigger and therefore less elite.

The two things seem to coincide in the establishment of a range of community organisations. I am finding Rotary the most fascinating.

In the 1950s, it looks a bit like the Broken Hill Club. Not that I've seen much about its membership, just that its guest speakers were consistently esteemed men - the NSW University of Technology Vice-Chancellor, professors, international visitors of repute who spoke about large, universal issues. There is a great deal of discussion about the common good that results from professional behaviour - a key argument of the professional class, Harold Perkin maintains, in showing society why they should be paid well without assisting in any way in anyone's material well being  - as in, they don't create goods or provide food.

In this decade, the Club gained its own premises, which must have made it seem like the 1950s was its glory days.

But a decade later, in the 1960s, it is all far more mundane. The focus for Rotary shifts to school teaching and the curriculum and some local projects, still with an international focus.

By the 1970s, systems have been formalised, for scholarships and international exchange, discussion focusing on the value of community service to the town.

A downturn in wool sales impacted the spending of graziers, so the Club must have suffered.

In the 1980s, the numbers of professionals listed in the BH yellow pages are higher than in the past. [Yes people, I have been reading the yellow pages today...].

Clubs in general go into decline. The Broken Hill Club suffers financially - almost certainly also suffers from a lack of elite clientele - and loses its status all together in 1992 when it amalgamates with (of all things) the musicians' club.

Broken Hill still maintains a professional elite, evident through the various organisations I visited. But that elite is less elitist than before, more community-minded than in the late 19th century, but not as organised as in the mid 20th Century moment when they began to move from the snobby top end of town to a growing professional middle class.

A key message of it all is the place of social organisation in providing the infrastructure for a professional class.

A town like Broken Hill where class is starkly obvious, is discussed daily and is built into the city's bones, offers a useful place to see interactions of class and work wherein the people and their classes and occupations need not be static to examine them, but where the sense of class is sufficiently overt to be able to see the things that are at stake as they change.

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