The closest I have
ever been to Australia - and this may not qualify me as an expert in
all things Australian is to regularly open a bottle of Hardys
Shiraz Cabernet from the Stamp Collection. This is a great solid, full
bodied wine, that is astonishingly always honest, always exactly the
same and as you can trust it, you dont even mind that its price
fluctuates so much from supermarket to supermarket. There are few wines
in the world where you can say it will taste exactly so every time,
this is one of them. Of course you cant judge a country by its
wine and there are some that are just plain awful, nevertheless, Id
like to think that in Hardy country at least Id find a welcome
and enjoy myself there. (OK I know its a blend but I am not a
Australia has other exports. You know probably know them. Muriel, Priscilla,
Mad Max, Crocodile Dundee, Strictly Ballroom, The Cars that ate Paris,
all these films have found a worldwide audience and all of them have
a common theme. They are constantly portraying Australians as uncouth,
boorish, crude, overweight, scheming, angst ridden, sexually ambiguous
and just slightly desperate. When not living in a post-apocalypic nation
or driving across the wilderness wearing womens clothes, they
live in garish suburban houses with all the taste of sudden lottery
winners who have done a splurge at Harrods and come away with all the
gold taps and cerise leather sofas money can buy. So nice, so naff.
They talk pretty loud and what they say often isnt pretty.
Everyone had pretty much thought that the One Nation party
had gone away at the last election but as the last surprising result
in Queensland revealed, there an xenophobic appeal to an all white Australia.
I am not sure what kind of place Australia would be if it tried to send
away all the asians, jews, blacks and any anyone else they dont
like (homosexuals and intellectuals) but it sends a signal to the world
that Australia may not be politically or psychologically stable. The
trouble is the One Nation party of Pauline Hanson comes with a pretty
thick sugar coating and many Australians are falling for it. A recent
quote from Senator Hanson in January this year. Criticism is not
racism, equality is not racism. Having a difference of opinion is not
simplistic, but more times than not, regarded as a common sense approach.
I see many of my fellow Australians facing loss of job security, suicide,
family unit breakdowns, unemployment, drugs, escalating crime, their
way of life and right to a decent standard of living in this great nation
of ours, stripped away because of present and past governments legislation
imposed upon Australians.'
of Porpoise Spit
The Democratic opposition are struggling - xenophobia is growing. What
the Japanese must think who own most of Queensland I am not sure. Australia
was where you used to go if you couldnt stand the evils of apartheid
- to see it possibly reintroduced there is an anachronism too far.
My image of Australia is of a one class paradise - if you like that
kind of thing. A sort of Blackpool with sun, better food and lattes
in the shade. Possibly they are as sick of seeing the Sydney Opera House
in the tourist brochures as we are of Big Ben. Perhaps they would rather
I didnt think of their country as the wild west with rabid corrupt
politicians and theyd try to steer me towards the civilised ambience
of Melbourne. Nevertheless I know the truth is that towns like St Kilda
are plagued with street prostitution, that drug trafficiking is wreaking
havoc in certain city economies. I know that we are sold on Sydney and
its perfect climate. (So no one noticed the hail storm that caused $2.2
million dollars of damage in 1999?)
There are, of course, famous Australians. Right now women the world
over drool over Russell Crowe as they did a few years ago over Mel Gibson
(who turned out to be American in the end. The men have gone weak at
the knees for Nicole Kidman (who also became an American) and Kylie
Minogue. We love to see the most successful films they export and now
they have a pretty good secondary industry making Hollywood films as
well The Matrix I & 2, Mission Impossible 2 and
now Star Wars. Nevertheless I believe it is the Aussie
films we enjoy rather than these transplants. We like to see Auatralians
make a mess of their lives. Its justice for living in the sun,
getting a chance at the good life. Strictly Ballroom was
a perfect example and if you havent seen it, rent it and peel
away the layers of pretensions and dodgy scheming. Australians are terribly
good at sending themselves up. Self deprecation is a national trait.
Layered over this cultural desert is a sophisticated economy in world
class cityscapes. Australians are also great architects, ruthless business
people, brilliant writers, artists and great innovators. Yet squint
hard and the matrix can be seen. The Aborigines live between the cracks
waiting for the time the cities will disappear. Supposed icons like
Bondi Beach grace Sydney, but no one mentions the tensions between racial
groups there, the drug problems, the fights. Australia also leads the
world in skin cancer statistics. It is axiomatic that paradise will
self-destruct. The most spectacular places always seem to breed the
most volatile people. The crime figures of Los Angeles, Rio, Cape Town,
Sydney and Adelaide are testimony enough to that. The late Don Bradman
used to say that Australia was Gods own country. But
perhaps if you are an aborigine, or poor or inadequately educated immigrant
it might not seem that way if you live there.
They also say that the best Australians always travel. Scratch any city
in the world and youll find a nest of them, usually running the
IT system in hospitals, schools, major companies, gap years that turn
into a decade or more. Filling gaps that we cant fill. Teachers,
paramedics, doctors...they have the skills and they get the experience.
Australia educates its young well and they are well equipped to handle
themselves when they go abroad.
I have driven eleven wild college educated Australians in an un-aircondtioned
van clear across America and they were drunk most of the way. They tried
to beat someone to death with a park bench on Galveston Beach. They
seemed completely oblivious to any evidence of culture or landscapes.
Maybe they got more at home? Eleven Aussies may not be much different
to eleven British students on a similar trip, and just as soccer hooligans
dont represent all the English, nor do these Aussies. But they
are symptomatic and they do conform to the terrible stereotype that
appears on the movies.
This is a personal view about the image Australia has in the world.
You could turn it around and what would be the UKs image? Millions
of our animals been burned with the ruthlessness of the Gestapo, our
trains seem to be constantly derailing killing passengers, our kids
drunk on the streets at night, rising crime, food poisoning on the rise,
schools short of ten thousand teachers, a government that has done nothing
in four years except spin and spin. I guess we look pretty bad. Set
us alongside Australia maybe we look crude and TV The Royale Family
typifies us. They have Muriel, we have Venessa Feltz, they have One
Nation politics, we have a Tory party that wants us out of Europe, they
have natural disasters on a fantastic scale, we have the weather.
I may never go to Australia, but as long as the movies remain so riveting
and the Hardys so reliable, I have a little drop of Australia
© Marcel D'Agneau 2001