Common Wealth

You hear a lot about ‘common wealth’, here: this is, after all, the Commonwealth of Australia - which is part of the Commonwealth of Nations (along with Canada, New Zealand, the UK, and many former British territories around the globe). We have a Commonwealth Bank, with branches everywhere, and Commonwealth St is just a few blocks from where I live and work in Sydney.

I like to imagine that all of this adds up to something, that the principles of the country are that good fortune is to be shared; and yet what we see more and more isn’t a collection of boats rising with the tide.

What’s rising is the gap between those who have wealth, and the rest of society.

When we decided to make this month’s essays around consumerism, it took me a while to see what was right in front of my face - that it’s not just the small things we buy every day that are the problem. It’s an entire mentality, the idea that everything is improvable, replaceable, disposable - including the places we live, work, and go to for fun.

This is is most obvious in the centre of the city, where old buildings are torn down to be remade with newer styles, higher heights, and more offices - to create more revenue, out of the same patch of land.

I enjoy seeing the history of the place, myself - like the faded hand-painted sign of a business long since closed - so I’m always sad to see something that’s stood for a century or more now missing its roof, becoming just a facade to be retained.

And it’s not even limited to commercial enterprises - the nearby football stadium, which is barely 30 years old, is being (somewhat controversially) demolished and replaced by the government right before an election; one of Sydney’s theatres is shuttered by a new owner, because its existence was based on a handshake deal, never written down; and meanwhile, schools and hospitals spend their time fundraising to provide essential services for the residents of New South Wales.

So…is Australia’s wealth really for the common good, when ASX-listed companies pay no tax? Is redevelopment the same as progress?

Is this the year of the pig - or is it the century of self-interest?

Robert Catto

I'm a Canadian-Kiwi photographer in Sydney Australia, specialising in performing arts, live events, editorial and corporate / commercial work.