Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Oz Day blog.

It’s Australia Day, anniversary of the First Fleet’s landfall at Botany Bay in 1788, a fact little-noted up here in North America. But I’ll mention it, because I like Australia. I’ve always been fond of the place, even before I visited, and before I met anyone from there.

Why? During my few idle moments today, I thought of some reasons.

It’s far away. Say “Australia” and see if the very name doesn’t sound beyond the beyond, at the remote edge of human civilization.

And yet, they speak English. Across the vast Pacific, a dozen or more time zones away, in a place where January is summer and July is winter, I can still order a beer effortlessly. Which is just the thing to do when you get there.

A right colorful English, at that. Whose ear is so tin that they don’t smile at the lilt and vigor of Australian English? That, and some fun vocabulary. I won’t make a list, mate, you know a lot of them already.

Interesting flora and fauna. I hardly need to make a list of them, either.

The shape of the continent. If I sat down and drew the outline of a really cool landmass, it might look like Australia. Broad lobes on either side, a variety of irregular bays and inlets, a periscope of a peninsula up top (Cape York) and an island dangling at the bottom (Tasmania).

Excellent place names, both aboriginal and English. For this, I will make a list, picked more-or-less at random: Darranbandi, Coonabarabran, Murwillumbah, Kalgoorie, Fremantle, Southern Cross, Broken Hill and Brisbane.

They’re on our side. Australia’s been consistently at our side in all the important wars of the last 100 years.

Australian books and movies. For a country with a small population, it’s produced some exceptional literature and cinema. I only have a passing knowledge, but I know first-class works when I read or see them: On the Beach, The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, Schindler’s Ark (List), Breaker Morant, Gallipoli and Mad Max.

Australian stereotypes. What fun. I think the National Lampoon said that an Australian was someone who’s idea of a good time was throwing up on your car.

Real Australians I’ve met. Fine people, the lot of them. With one or two exceptions.

Of course, there’s a whole vein of self-loathing criticism within Australia that damns the country because, essentially, ogres embarked from those ships in the 18th and 19th centuries to settle the country, and Australians since then have been lazy, narrow-minded ockers. Public loudmouths like Germaine Greer have badmouthed Oz (her native country) along these lines, to which I reply by applying thumb to nose, Germ.


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