Thursday, June 07, 2007

One Hundred Things I Love About Australia: Part 2

Right. Now, where were we? Ah, yes:

11. Tim Tams. Just another chocolate biscuit? Nah. Not even. Two chocolate wafers - not too wafery - stuck together with a layer of soft, almost vapory chocolate frosting as thick as the wafers (not that lardboard stuff in Oreos, though I'll eat a sleeve of Oreos from time to time). Coated in chocolate. Descriptions, though, are useless. If you haven't tried 'em, DO IT. The legends are true. Some aficionados like to nibble off opposing corners and sip their coffee through a Tim Tam, which then gets melty. I've tried it -- it's not quite for me, but I'll try it again. There really ought to be a Kama Sutra of Tim Tam eating.

12. Question Time. Just as ugly as any reality TV, except that it's the government in action! Parliament Question time is the real stuff -- hideous to watch, embarrassing, and biting. It's the MPs in debate, taking turns on the floor. They have to address all remarks to the Speaker, even though they're clearly directed to various members of the opposite party. The Prime Minister, the cabinet, and the Opposition members are all involved; imagine President Bush having to roll up his sleeves and argue his points in the pits with Congress, while they shout him down. That's the stuff. I can't stand watching this, but at the same time, I love it.

13. Cricket. Sure, a Test match can go five days and result in a draw. But, let me tell you -- as a lifelong baseball fan -- it's great theatre. No "three strikes and you're out"; the batsmen (two at a time) are in until the defending team can get them out. And it's not a sissy's game: you've got to catch the ball - it's much like a baseball - with your bare hands, and bowling at the body is fair game. How the pitch wears over time, and how the ball wears, are all part of the strategy. And sportsmanship rules. Get too stroppy with the umpire, and you might lose your match payment (if you're pro, that is). Sure, it takes getting used to as a spectator, but it's a fine, fine sport. Plus, any sport where the Aussies can wallop the Poms on a regular basis is great fun.

14. Pubs. One of the things I noticed when I first arrived is that everybody goes to pubs. Sure, there are nightclubs and such, but what I like about pubs is that they're inclusive. All ages. My now-fading memory is of bars targeted to age groups -- most everyone in the place would be within five or ten years' age of everyone else. Or that's how it seemed. It doesn't seem that way here; at a pub, you'll see people from eighteen to whatever. And they're more social, in a broader sense: you could take a family to a pub for a meal, although the kids might not be allowed in the bar area. And (this might be a recent development) the food's likely to be decent or better. The footy and the races will always be on the TV, of course. If you find one with a bandstand instead of a roomful of pokies, so much the better!

15. Meat Pies. Fantastic. The standard stadium-fare 'meat' pie may not have much in the way of meat, but otherwise, they're brilliant. Warm, with a flaky crust and savoury filling, with tomato sauce (it's not "ketchup" here) on top, they're a joy. And, to be honest, the hot dogs you find at stands outside the pubs late at night are definitely best avoided. Good hot dogs are as scarce here as good Mexican food; fortunately, they're redundant, thanks to pies and chips (and kebabs -- another story altogether). There's a French bakery across from where I work, and it sells the most wondrous concoctions under the banner of Meat Pies: chicken forestiere, steak and mushroom, boeuf bourguignonne, lamb and black pepper, standard mince. Sounds chi-chi, but you just get here, and I'll take you there for a pie. You'll see.

16. Butchers. We get so used to supermarkets. Everything's all wrapped up in neat packages. But here, in many places, you'll still find the small shops: the fruit-and-veg shop, the bakery, and the butcher. In my suburb -- one main street, less than half a kilometer -- we have four or five butchers, two or three bakers, and a fruit-and-veg shop. That's in addition to the supermarket and the two seafood shops. Getting meat that's been fresh-cut, and recommended by the butcher who cut it -- often to your order -- is fun, and it's vastly superior to the shrink-wrapped supermarket fare.

17. Parks. Cities in Australia have a lot of open space. They protect their parks and invest in them. The playground equipment is modern and innovative, the jogging and bike tracks get used, and the playing fields attract all kinds of activity. Kids, dogs, joggers, touch footy games, ibises and cockatoos. And even in the city, grassy places to have lunch. Sydney's urban planning problems are bad now -- the roads and public transport can't cope with the burgeoning population, and we're running out of water -- but, fortunately, the parks are already there. And the local councils fiercely defend them. Quality of life gets top priority here; Australians know how lucky they are to have what they do.

18. Bluesfest. Every year at Easter, there's this wonderful festival at Byron Bay, in northern New South Wales -- the East Coast Blues & Roots Festival. We've been five times, and when my youngest is older (maybe next year), we'll go again. It's four-and-a-half days. Byron's historically sort of a laid-back, tie-dye and surfing town, but it's become hugely popular. Still, though, it's wonderful. And the Festival is brilliant; the headline acts range from ZZ Top to R.E.M. to James Brown to Parliament/Funkadelic to Dave Matthews to The Wailers, but it's almost always the lesser-known acts that wow me. Lots of blues, and a touch of everything else. I could rattle on for hours. The music starts every day at 1PM and goes to 11PM, with four stages going. So, in the morning, there's the beach -- the place is known for good surfing, and we've seen pods of dolphins on more than one occasion -- and the rest of the day there's food and music. And as big as it's gotten (not Woodstock-big; they limit the ticket sales, and the festival sells out every year), I've never seen or experienced the slightest aggro. People take their kids (we did); kids go on their own. We rent a place on the beach, with friends, and take the week. It's bliss. The only hard part is having to leave.

19. Vegemite. As with Tim Tams, the legends are true. It's dark-brown, salty gunk. It's fermented yeast. Whether it is actually a byproduct of the brewing process, I don't know. But, strangely, it's good on toast, and it's full of Vitamin B (a very good thing to have in the morning when you're 'not feeling the best'; Aussies know a little something about next-day recovery). I have mine on a toasted bagel with Tasty cheese (something like sharp cheddar). Kids grow up with it and actually ask for it; if you try it for the first time as an adult, you won't believe me. But it's true; ask my kids!

20. Seafood. Seriously wonderful. All kinds of fresh fish and seafood -- king prawns, crab, yabbies, scallops, calamari, octopus, mussels, the lot. The restaurant eating is divine, and reasonable. (Remember, no tipping!) If you enjoy wine, Australia does very, very well at that too. But one of the greatest archetypal Australian experiences is fish and chips on the beach. Fresh fish and hot chips, with a lemon squash or a cold beer, with your feet in the sand, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience you can have every weekend. There's always an option to order specific fish -- "John Dory and chips" or "Barramundi and chips" -- and that's great -- but, when I'm taking it out in a cardboard box and sitting in the sand, the regular "fish and chips" (usually flathead or something like it) suits me very well. Fried or grilled. I love it.

Coming up: Fishing, sports news, Blundstones, roo bars, touch footy, crosswalk signs, and more.


Crabby McSlacker said...

Damn, except for the vegemite which I refuse to believe is edible, your last two posts make me want to move to Australia, like, yesterday!

(Well, New Zealand sounds nice too.
And Canada. I really like Canada).

But you make it sound really appealing. Will you be running a list of 100 not so wonderful things for balance?

Great posts!

Pat Baker said...

You really should do some travel writing, Rob. You are tempting me with numbers 1, 4, 5, 9, 17, 18, 20...and I'm sure the list will go on! I look forward to the next installment; meanwhile I think I'll go plan my cruise....;-)


Nichola said...

If I ever end up in Sydney you're taking me to a biscuit bar (is there such a place?) to do the Tim-Tam slam!

robeiae said...

Pretty good, Rob.

Except for the cricket part. When I was in NZ, I enjoyed the hell out of rugby. But the cricket matches were like watching paint dry. And next time my wife goes to Aussie land, I'm goin to--with the kids! So watch out...

:) Rob

licity-lieu said...

Gee you make me go all gooey inside. You write great stuff about this great land. Glad you love it!

Anonymous said...

I have a jar of vegemite. As I recall, I fired off a note to the sender of this delicacy that read something like this:

Dear _______,

Please send more vegemite. There's something wrong with the one you sent me. The label says 'Kraft Vegemite' but what's inside is the shit that you'd scrape off the bottom of a inner-city dumpster in August. I don't know how they could have made that mistake...



Dawno said...

When I visited Sydney in '02 nobody offered me a TimTam but a colleague of mine from there came to the States for meetings and she brought some. They didn't last long. Yummmmmmmmmmy.

licity-lieu said...

Hold your tongue're talking about black gold! *grins revealing veggie toast teeth*

Anonymous said...

TimTams were also in the care-package. They were the only thing that kept me from becoming homicidal.

Vegemite is the devil's toe-cheese.

Frank Baron said...

Thanks a LOT Rob! My keyboard is awash in drool. :P

PS - Didn't know you had this blog. Thought you just kept the one with the pics of your family. I'll add you to my blogroll thingie. (Sorry, I try to avoid technospeak but sometimes it's just not possible.)

Jo said...

Isn't a roo bar where kangaroos go to have a few drinks, hang out with the mob, and sink a few shooters?

"I'll have butcher thanks, Skip."


(butcher is a small beer in Sth. Aus.)

;) Jo