On the joys of blogging

A group wear flags in Sydney on Australia Day, 2008 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The blog witnessed three prime ministers, drought, floods, cricketing decline and four Australia Days

When we launched this blog on the eve of the federal election in 2007, we thought it would have about the same shelf-life as the campaign itself.

Going into polling day, I did not think it would survive much longer than John Howard. Thanks, largely, to your continued support, however, we are still in business almost four years on.

And what a four years it has been. We've witnessed the end of the Howard era and the demise of another prime minister who also looked like he would have the word "era" attached to his name. We've seen the elevation of Australia's first female prime minister, and also the appointment of its first female governor-general.

We've seen the worst drought in 100 years, the worst flooding in Queensland's history and the worst bushfires that Australia has endured. Over "the ditch" in New Zealand, the residents of Christchurch continue to struggle with the after-effects and aftershocks of the costliest earthquake in the country's history.

We've seen Kevin Rudd apologise to indigenous Australian for past injustices, an act of national atonement that even brought tears to the eyes of leading "sorry sceptics". Never in Australia have I seen anything quite so stirring as the sight of indigenous Australians turning up at parliament dressed in t-shirts emblazoned with the word "Sorry" and leaving in new tops printed with "Thanks".

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The nation watched Kevin Rudd deliver a historic apology to indigenous Australians

We've seen Australia avoid recession after the global financial crisis, resume its mining boom and benefit hugely from the seemingly inexorable rise of China. In recent months, we've also seen a "wonder from down under" economy replaced by a "boom and gloom" economy.

Republicanism has been put on hold, successive governments have struggled with a policy response to climate change that is politically sustainable and the asylum seeker issue has continued to inflict reputational damage on a country that prides itself on being genial and welcoming.

On the sporting front, Australian cricket was still on a high from thrashing England 5-0 when first we went to press. Now it is only a middle-ranking cricketing nation, while England is number one (you knew I could not leave without mentioning that!).

My posting draws to a close at the end of the month, and I'll file a final blog before heading off into the sunset. Ahead of that, I thought I would share some thoughts on blogging, which is something of a virginal experience for most BBC correspondents.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The start of the year saw some of the worst flooding in Australian history

First the plusses. As most of you probably know, the main focus of our journalistic endeavours continues to be radio and television, but the blog has enabled us to touch upon subjects that would not have caught the eye of the other, more traditional BBC outlets. Film, literature, the arts, architecture, history and the kind of day-to-day politics that, for the most part, goes unnoticed by the rest of the world. Most of the work we do for radio and television still has to meet a "global resonance" threshold. It has to be internationally relevant. The great thing about the blog is that it has allowed us to discuss subjects of primarily local interest - although in a way, I'd hope, that can engage people who have never stepped foot in Australia.

Some of the subjects have been deliberately obscure. Some of them probably self-indulgently so. Still, you have been kind enough to embrace them. Who would have thought, for instance, that a blog on Robin Boyd's early-sixties opus, The Australian Ugliness, would attract 117 comments? Not me for sure. I thought we would be lucky to reach double figures.

A second major plus? For me, the cross-flow of ideas and information has been particularly useful and hugely educational. I have learned heaps from your comments, especially from some of the old-timers like Wollemi, who have leant a lot of historical knowledge and perspective. I've looked upon some of you like curators of the comments section, giving the blog a kind of institutional memory that I simply do not possess. I've tried to read a lot of Australian history, but I have not lived Australian history, and obviously, there's a huge difference between the two that commenters have helped fill.

Your comments have also toughened me up. All foreign correspondents now go on hostile environment courses to help deal with the most unwelcoming of situations, but one thing they never prepare you for is the brickbats occasionally hurled in an ill-tempered comments section. When I started blogging, I was ridiculously thin-skinned and vulnerable to attack. Now, thanks mainly to this blog, I have the hide of a rhinoceros.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The blog may have been Sydney-centric but its writer has travelled across Australia

That said, most of you have been unusually kind to a Pom trying to make sense of this often confounding land - and often hilariously funny in the process.

I'd also like to thank the vast majority - the silent majority, I sometimes think of you as - who have never left a comment on the blog. But many of you I have met in person: on planes, at airports, in the streets, at sports stadiums, at universities, in newsrooms, on Parliament Hill, and, inevitably, at the cafes where many of the blogs were composed, usually with the mind-stirring help of a couple of skinny flat whites.

I'd be the first to admit to the shortcomings of this blog. They have been in the moment, and the analysis has often been pretty shallow. Factually, they have often been incomplete. They have not always benefited from what foreign correspondents value the most: the luxury of patient observation.

True to the spirit of the genre, I have tried to draft them quite quickly, which has often been evident in the inelegance of the writing, and, more occasionally, in errors that have crept in. They have always been my own. Indeed, at this point, I should thank the team in London, particularly my colleagues on the Asia-Pacific desk and Julian Duplain, for saving me from more blushes.

Looking back, I wish that I could have been responded directly to more of your comments. My failure to be more responsive was partly due to my technological ineptitude, and partly due to time constraints. As I said, the blog represents only a small fraction of our output from here. In my defence, I have read probably about 95% of your comments in full, and started reading virtually every one. As I hope you already know, I've never had any contact with the moderators and never sought to influence who gets put in the sin bin.

Subject-wise, a few too many blogs have concentrated on cricket, rugby and Australia's sporting sectarianism. Some of the arts coverage has been very superficial. National identity questions have also got a lot of play. Perhaps too much. There has also been a Sydney-centric bias and doubtless an urban bias, too. Over the years, we have visited every state and territory, and spent a good deal of time in the bush and the outback. In the main, however, the view has tended to be from my window in Sydney.

As some of you know, I'm staying in this fair city for the time-being, and I'm hoping I'll get to meet more of you over the coming weeks. By a strange quirk of scheduling, my new book comes out the day after my posting ends, a hefty chapter of which deals with the last five years in Australia. So over the coming weeks, I'll be speaking around the country.

Of all the things I have done as the BBC's Australia correspondent, this blog is actually the one I have enjoyed the most. By far. It's a rare treat in journalism to be allowed to write about whatever happens to be on your mind, and a rare treat to get to interact with the people who take the time to read what paltry thoughts you have.

From start to finish, this has been a rare pleasure. Thank you for making it so much fun.

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