Tuesday, June 19, 2007

One Hundred Things I Love About Australia: Part 3

Back again!

First, a couple of people have asked whether I'll do a list of One Hundred Things I Don't Like About Australia - for balance. Answer: I don't know. Balance? *shrug* Meh.

In any case, I'll think about it. But for now, here is the third installment:

21. Fishing. It's all around. Australians love to fish, whether it's perching a rod on the pier, casting out into the waves on the beach, chasing marlin offshore, or -- where I come in -- fly-fishing the streams of the mountains and tablelands. Now, I'm not anything like an avid fisherman. I've caught one fish -- that's right, ONE -- a smallish rainbow trout -- in my thirteen years here. But I appreciate the skill and craft involved, especially of fly fishing. Figuring out what the fish are hungry for, presenting a fly that looks right and delivering it in a convincing manner for the circumstances at that moment, impress me. I always enjoy it when I go. And it's an excellent excuse for a walk in the countryside.

22. Sports News. I remember from The Old Days in the US that the local news gets half an hour, then it's the national news. Here, at least on Channel Ten, it's half an hour of News, then half an hour of sports news. Every night. All the football codes are covered: rugby union and league, Aussie Rules, and football (or TSFKAS - The Sport Formerly Known As Soccer). Then there's cricket, swimming, auto racing, motorcycle racing, horse racing, netball, golf, hockey (if you mean NHL, better say "ice hockey"), basketball, on and on.

The acclimatisation from American sports to others takes some time, but it happens. It's helped by the fact that the commentators are very good; you can actually learn about the sports as you watch. Which is something else; after a lifetime of watching gridiron football, I still don't know what a 'nickel' defense or a nose tackle really is, or why a lineman is more suited to guard than tackle. (I like football well enough, but I don't understand the jargon.)

23. Blundstones. Work boots - ankle-high, brown, clunky but light. A U of elastic on each side, and pull straps front and back. Classic workwear. They're comfortable, and they're uniquely Australian. They work.

24. Roo Bars. I first saw these monsters on the fronts of semi-trailers in Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, back in the US in the Eighties. At the time, I figured they'd been invented for the film -- rough-and-ready highway armor. But no -- they're real, and they're here. Big, heavy-gauge metal frames hung on the noses of trucks, utes, and cars, they protect the vehicle from damage caused by hitting a kangaroo at speed.
It's pretty tough on the 'roo as well.

25. Touch Footy. The social version of rugby league -- backward passes, six touches to score, same-sex or coed. It's great fun - a very good game. Also an excellent pretext for Sunday brunch at, say, a cafe on Bondi Beach, or a Tuesday evening 'cleansing ale' before heading home.

26. Crosswalk Signs. Disembodied legs - pants and shoes - almost Mod-looking. Simple, effective, stylish, amusing.

27. Small-time big-time dramas. In real life and in TV, the scale of sensationalism is lower here. It's crept upward, and the difference may no longer be what I imagine. But, well, too bad. This is my list. My impression is this: Things that might not make US local news still manage to make national news here; a robbery in Melbourne might get reported in Sydney. Imagine a holdup in Chicago appearing in the New York news; no chance.

The great afternoon soaps here are Neighbours and Home and Away. When I arrived in 1993, I got a kick out of watching them, because the big event on a day's show might be that, oh, Shane wagged school that day. How novel, how reassuring, that truancy would be the biggest problem!

28. Handmade chocolates. One doesn't usually think of Australia as a leader in chocolates, but, in my corner of Oz, I do. Within, say, ten minutes' drive of where I live, there are perhaps half a dozen shops that make their own, utterly exquisite, chocolates. The flavours are imaginative, and the pieces themselves are beautiful to behold. One of my favorites is Belle Fleur, which was four blocks from our previous house. They always have a large window display, made entirely of chocolate. This one, from Father's Day several years ago, is one of the classics. It's nearly life-size. Love the white chocolate propane tank.

29. Spitting the Dummy. I'm not a fan of the act, mind you, but "spitting the dummy" is one of the greatest idioms I've ever encountered. Dummy is what Australians call a pacifier; that key bit of knowledge tells you exactly why the phrase is an apt description of a tantrum or rant. It's perfect, and I'll admit to a smirk every time I hear the expression... even when I'm the subject in the sentence.

30. Gum Trees. Wonderful, stark, twisted trees are the eucalypts. There are, I'm given to understand, hundreds of varieties of gum tree in Australia. The dusty green of their long, slender, pointed leaves, and the stripes of bleached grey and cedary red on their trunks, and the dangling bark-strips found on some types, typify the muted range of colours in the general Australian landscape. The wild colours of birds - the parrot-green and purple of the rainbow lorikeet, the rosella's blaring scarlet, and even the snowy white of the sulphur-crested cockatoo - are startling in comparison.

But it's the gum-tree's gnarled, contorted shapes and shadows that make it so haunting and beautiful, even in its vast abundance.

Coming up: Place names, the Sydney Opera House, Mambo, Christmas in Summer, Rocket, Tin roofs, and more.


Kappa no He said...

I have a few Aussie friends here and I LOVE their slang. Spitting the dummy. I hadn't heard that one before!

Anonymous said...

How much do I love "spitting the dummy" and how very, very apt.