Team VA's Wonderings

Friday, March 30, 2007

Australia Reflections

When I left Africa, I did a post where I had a jolly good ruminate. Well, I'm going to do the same here. I'm going to try to stick to a couple of points, so I don't ramble on and, wonderful as Australia is, it was obviously less surprising and alien than Africa. And in any case, the flight from Sydney to Christchurch is a lot shorter than Johannesburg-Perth.

No country is perfect, it's almost as if every country has to have at least one major flaw. I'll hardly be the first to observe that Australia's is the mess that's been made of aboriginal relations and perhaps more significantly the government initiatives with an aboriginal focus, which include policies of near genocide, the lost generation and the creation of the welfare dependent urban aboriginee. Some of this was done with good intentions, but all seems to have been a disaster.

Many are apparently still living a relatively traditional life, but those in the cities seem to live a strange ghost life. Although white and black share the same space, they appear to inhabit different dimensions as neither black nor white seem to see each other. In all the hostels and services I've been to in 4 months, Jo on Fraser was the only aboriginee I encountered outside an aboriginal craft centre. I don't have any answers, but there's still a lot needs to be done.

There is a generally racist attitude, especially in the older set: I had a long chat with one guy, basically telling him I thought his statements on the 'crisis' of illegal immigration in Europe was a load of bollocks. The world's wealthy countries have a responsibility to the others-where you are born is pot luck, and is the single biggest determining factor in the course your life. In my opinion, this is thrown into sharper relief in Australia: from a certain point of view, in addition to immigration, Australia also has to deal with the fact the current state is the result of the occupation of someone else's country.

Kick out the racism and this place will have it made.

So how do I feel on leaving Australia? When you leave somewhere as far away as Australia, I tend to wonder if I'll ever return. There are of course places I hope I never go back to-Tenerife, Denver, Middlesborough. Obviously at some point it's the last visit to any place, but I'm sure I'll visit Paris again, even though I haven't been there since the world's most famous car crash. I don't think I'm good enough to die young, but a trip to Oz is a big undertaking, so who knows, I may not be back. I hope I will; 15 years ago, I spent 1 week in Australia and left feeling I had unfinished business in the country and wanted to come back one day. 15 years on, I've been in Oz 4 months and leave feeling much the same.

I couldn't think of a better way to spend my last night in Australia than to take an hour walking round the Opera House. As it turned out, after walking past the harbourside bars and restaurants, I had the place almost to myself. I've not been to the pyramids, but I don't think I've been to a human creation more wondrous and inspiring. I savoured every moment and view, making a mental note to remember the spirit of equanimity the evening gave me. All this in a country, where the country is the real star. It puts Man firmly in perspective.

From a purely rational perspective it's a folly: the Opera house was something like 10 times over budget, the external structure is much more complex than the interior needs and it provides venues for the sort of cultural activities that engage a minority at best. However, a building like this transcends balance sheets and is for the soul as much as its function. If humans can make something like the Opera House, can create something so unlikely and marvellous, then we sure as hell ought to be able to solve the world's problems.

It seems trite that the Opera House and Uluru look like being the two enduring images in my mind, but they're really pegs on which to hang my memories of city and country, man and nature.

The Opera House left me with a beautiful melancholy; I walked away and it felt like leaving a friend. I know I said before that I thought Melbourne more liveable, but if I could go to Circular Quay every day, I think I could spend many lifetimes in Sydney. I may learn to drive a ferry. Or dress up as Captain Cook and sell harbour cruises.

Oz. Good on ya.


  • Hi John,

    I came home after my October trip to Oz with far more photos of Uluru and the Opera House than was healthy - every time I passed them (the Uluru experience being somewhat more brief) - I was concerned I hadn't captured the image which was in my mind. I still don't think I did.

    I have loved your Australia tales - and in a smaller way your notes on Africa (my safari experience was very different to yours) - as they've transported me back to my experience last year.

    Look forward to swapping stories at Glastonbury...

    By Blogger Sarah, at 8:14 AM  

  • hello mate. I'll second what Sarah says about your aussie posts. I think it's here that you've really got the hang of how to write down here what you are seeing.


    A couple of points:

    1) When I first stood by the opera house and looked out across the harbour, I was actually disappointed. I'd seen them so many times before, that actually seeing them in the flesh seemed a little disappointing, in a "is that it?" kind of way. It took a couple of days for Sydney to work its magic on me, but by the time I left, I thought it was a wonderful place. Uluru had a much more instant impact on me just because I was so struck by the *feel* of the place. I've never been anywhere that has felt as spiritual - certainly not a church, anyway.

    2) On my last night in Ecuador and in desperation, I swapped a book at our hostel's exchange. I picked up the one book I could see that wasn't written by John Grisham or Dan Brown and took "The English Passengers" by Matthew Kneale - to cut a long story short, it is the most wonderful, wonderful read, and it tells the story of a voyage from England to Tasmania in the 19th Century in a rather foolish attempt to prove that this was the site of the Garden of Eden (it's fictional incidentally - both this book and the bible). What I hadn't realised when I picked it up, was that the book also weaves in the story of the aborigines in Tasmania from the arrival of the white "ghosts", seen through the eyes of one particular native character, and it's here where the real power of this story lies. It's a brilliant read, and I strongly urge you (and anyone) to seek it out and to read it. As Sarah was telling me the other day, she met some people in South America who were bemoaning their fate at being colonised by the Spanish and how the English would have been so much better. I hardly think so.


    I look forward to reading about your adventures in NZ.


    link to a description of the book on Amazon here

    By Blogger swisslet, at 1:01 PM  

  • Why thank you both very much. Tickets permitting, I expect to be boring a lot of people at Glasto.

    Sozz-you need to read the book I've got on Keith Miller, I'll bring it in June.

    Miller walks onto the field, another player alerts him that there are 12 of them on the field, Miller turns round-'I say will one of you chaps piss off.'

    Still have to read the Hoff, but that sounds a good one to follow it. It's pretty shameful being English when you travel. Anyone who thinks the Empire as being anything other than shameful is an idiot.

    By Blogger Poll Star, at 12:30 AM  

  • glasto sorted, incidentally - mainly thanks to Sarah.

    By Blogger swisslet, at 9:19 PM  

  • BIG THANX Sarah. Rest assured your commission will be paid at the Mandela Bar in the usual way.

    By Blogger Poll Star, at 9:15 AM  

  • in other Mandela bar news, they are no longer sponsored by budweiser, so you won't have to put up with that piss. Carlsberg, apparently....

    Pear Cider anyone?


    By Blogger swisslet, at 9:29 AM  

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