Creative vision and some order

June 27, 2017

Sam Birrell took in Blue Poles, a work of abstract impressionism, at the National Gallery in Canberra. Picture: AAP Image/Alan Porritt

Committee for Greater Shepparton chief executive Sam Birrell.

I spent part of last week in Canberra.

The main topics for discussion were water policy and infrastructure and the Greater Shepparton Council and Committee for Greater Shepparton were both represented.

We based ourselves in the Member for Murray’s office in Parliament House for part of the visit, but our main meetings this time were with members of the Labor party.

They will be in government again one day and we need to have all bases covered in relation to the interests of our region.

Meetings in Parliament House can be intense.

You have a very short time to outline an issue to a minister, or shadow minister, whose mind is full of the concerns of other regions and groups.

The accompanying staffer is a highly educated, ambitious individual, who will be prioritising the merits of your message for his or her boss.

Concise communication, an extensive knowledge of your brief and a clear passion for your issue are the tools you need to cut through.

Federal politics is particularly chaotic at the moment, with a close house of representatives, and neither of the major parties holding a majority in the Senate.

After a day of meetings, and feeling mentally tired, I called into the National Gallery of Australia on the way back to the hotel.

The most famous exhibit in the NGA is Blue Poles, by American Jackson Pollock.

Blue Poles is a work of abstract impressionism, which means it is a flurry of somewhat randomly flung paint on a canvas.

There is a little structure to it — the blue lines which appear vertically across the work (the poles).

Blue Poles was bought by the National Gallery in 1974 for $1.3million.

Procurement rules at the time required the government to sign off on purchases of more than $1million, so then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam had to personally approve the acquisition.

The government was accused of wasting a lot of money on art that nobody wanted.

We in Greater Shepparton know all about that debate.

Blue Poles is a major drawcard of the National Gallery and is now valued at about $350million.

Canberra is a well-planned and ordered city.

Because we could not as a nation decide on Melbourne or Sydney as our capital we built a city on a sheep station on the Monaro plain.

It is not everyone’s cup of tea, but the close connection with nature (you can see the forest on the surrounding ranges from anywhere in the city) and the modern design appeals to me.

Canberra has been built to a plan and not just allowed to sprawl. It could be argued Shepparton would benefit from a bit more strategic planning as it grows in the future.

We all need a bit of chaos and some random creativity. It makes life interesting and causes us to think about what could be and not a narrow view of what is.

We also need some order and to have a clear and precise vision of what we want as a region.

Only by being creative in developing a vision and then being ordered in creating a precise message will we gain the assistance of decision makers in achieving what we see as our potential.

Sam Birrell is chief executive of the Committee for Greater Shepparton.

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