Fostering creative communities key to escaping limiting island mindset

We all know that we can't succeed alone. Our very literary Louise is constantly quoting John Donne's words that "no man is an island", to which Charlie always replies "nor any nation either, including Australia".

We all know that we can't succeed alone. Our very literary Louise is constantly quoting John Donne's words that "no man is an island", to which Charlie always replies "nor any nation either, including Australia".

The fact that we are an island geographically, and that in every other way we are not, is at the heart of understanding our past, present and, most importantly, our future.

We can see this when we realise up to 25 per cent of our 1850s goldfields population came from China and their name for this great southern land was "Xin Jin Chan" - new gold mountain.

One feature of early Chinese migration and its contribution to Australia was the formation of societies such as the See Yup Society in Melbourne, which supported these enterprising people in business and family life.

The Chinatowns of Melbourne and Sydney grew out of this skill of creating favourable localised environments to work and live in.

I started my advertising business in South Melbourne, and while it was a humble beginning with just a desk, a phone and a second-hand brown Torana, I was not alone.

All around me was a generation of young Turks in the advertising and media business who were headed for great things. Tony White, Mike Strauss, Wayne Wood, Bob Talbot and others were "stealing" all the clients from the old guard agencies.

Music studios sprouted up with Bill Armstrong recording jingles as well as top 10 hits by people like Hans Poulsen, who could sell a product with a song. Johnny Farnham was starting to create hits in the same studio.

In Sydney, John "Singo" Singleton's Spasm agency was born in a burst of inspired energy and he became the country's retail advertising king. His incredible energy and gregarious manner brought a host of other people along with him to greatness - from wholesalers like David Holdings' legendary "Where do you get it" campaign, to Bob Hawke's successful 1983 election. Singo is a classic example of how to be a winner by being with winners.

Allan Johnston and Alan Morris (known as Mo and Jo) formed MoJo with great jingles like, "I feel like a Tooheys or Two", and launched Kerry Packer's cricket with "Come on Aussie Come On". And Dennis Merchant and John Pettett formed Merchant Pettett, one of the great media buying companies.

History tells us that when like-minded people come together, great things happen. Silicon Valley in the latter part of the 20th century is a perfect example, where the extraordinary creativity and invention of Steve Jobs and his ilk allowed America to reinvent itself after grim times in the 1970s with the savings and loan scandals, the Vietnam war and the impeachment of its president.

For nearly three centuries, Europe was undergoing its renaissance and the consensus is it all began with the association of like-minded artists, scholars and philanthropists in Florence.

Virtually no aspect of European life was untouched by this astonishing flowering that gave the world the genius of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.

And what better modern example could there be than another island that is no island - Manhattan - that mecca for the dispossessed and war weary from Europe, who worked together on a piece of land 20 kilometres long and 4 kilometres wide to create the powerhouse for the beginning of many modern industries including advertising and media.

And down in Tasmania the same process is under way today, as David Walsh's multimillion-dollar private Museum of Old and New Art pulls in record numbers of tourists and spawns all sorts of new artists and events that are beginning to change the character of Hobart. MONA is the new Mecca for the arts in Australia.

So as we contemplate our next week back at the shop, it's worth remembering if we want to build a business, we have to build a community. If we want to continue to build a great country we have to ensure creative enclaves of winning communities continue.

That's the only way we can make the most of our individual capacities and assets and get beyond any thought that we are an island unto ourselves.

Related Articles