Wednesday, June 04, 2008

One Hundred Things I Love about Australia: Part 5

Ahem. Well, it's been a while. But I still love Australia, and here, I finish off - after a ridiculous hiatus - the first half of the Hundred.

Last over before lunch:

41. Roundabouts. If you're in Massachusetts, they're giant, and they're called 'rotaries'. They're circular intersections that obviate the need for stop signs or traffic lights. Just yield to the right, and cruise on through. They're efficient, and if you try hard enough, you can pretend they're something like an ess; if you go straight through, you get the small frisson of a tight set of turns. Well, it's not much, really - but there is no fantasy about a four-way stop sign.

If no one's around, you can drive straight over the hump in the middle.

42. Year-Round Golf... with ocean views. The golf clubs have been in the cellar for a couple years - the weekends belong to the tin lids* now, which is better than any oceanside links course. When the sticks come back out, though, I'll relish getting back onto Long Reef, St Michaels, Mona Vale, and any number of public or private courses accessible to the general public (at least during certain times).

I grew up in Ohio, where the golf season is, oh, maybe six months of the year. I've never been an avid golfer, and have never shot lower than the mid-90's, but I do enjoy playing. Hitting off on a coastline of gorgeous cliffs separated by perfect beaches is, well, divine.

The sea breezes, and my Ginsu-like slice, mean I lose X golf balls per round, where X > 4. The good news is that I usually find X-1 golf balls. Aussie golf is a sharing community.

I particularly love playing at Long Reef, where Long Reef and Dee Why beaches are just off to the south, and the golf course slopes up from the road to the sea, culminating in a hundred-plus metre cliff. The view up and down the coast is extraordinary, and the golfers share the cliff edge with wedding parties, photographers, and hang gliders.

*kids. I have that annoying expat affliction to be fascinated with colourful local slang terms. What a nong.

43. Paterson's Curse. It's a spectacular flower - a column of lush, purple blooms atop a thistle-like stalk, found along country roads and in paddocks (what they call fields or pastures back in the States) - and a noxious weed. Amid the muted greens and browns of gum trees and tussocks, Paterson's Curse splashes a bit of Monet across the Arthur Streeton countryside. The trouble with it is that livestock won't - or can't - eat it. Hence the second half of the name.

The first half is a tribute to the great Australian poet A.B. "Banjo" Paterson, author of Waltzing Matilda, The Man from Snowy River, and The Geebung Polo Club, among others. He wrote about Australian bush characters the way Robert Service did the men of the Klondike gold rush.

It's ironic, and hilarious to me, that some of the most colourful foliage in the Australian bush is also a great nuisance. Aussies don't wear a lot of purple.

44. Comedy films that are actually funny without trying too hard
. Let's overlook everything Paul Hogan did after Crocodile Dundee. And let's forget Yahoo Serious (whose films, in all fairness, I've never seen). Australian humor can be raucous, make no mistake. But few can be laconic the way Aussies can. In large part, it's because they're only too happy to take a poke at themselves without either getting moralistic or putting on the hairshirt.

The following are some of my great favorites - have a look at them; I'll guarantee you'll see what I mean; they couldn't have been made anywhere else.

The Castle - A man and his family, and their pride in the blue-collar house in which they live. It's off the end of the airport runway ("close to transport!"). Some reviewers thought the film was unkind to blue-collar Aussies; not at all, say the rest of us. It's an affectionate send-up that needed to be low-key and low-budget. It's rife with classic one-liners, which - unlike lines more self-conscious films - never sound contrived. Think of "You had me at 'hello'", for example, from Jerry Maguire. That was written to be a catchphrase. "Tell 'im he's dreamin'!" - well, you'll see.

Gettin' Square - Small-time Gold Coast crook gets one back. David Wenham, normally a heartthrob, does a brilliant heroin addict no-hoper. His court testimony scene is utterly priceless.

Crackerjack - Mick Molloy as the yob who keeps his membership in the bowls club just for the parking space. Good, sappy happy ending, and affectionate, funny look at a mainstay - albeit one that's fading - of Aussie culture.

45. The Piss-Take rite of passage. You've only just met these folks, and they're needling you. What gives? How dare they?

Calm down, son. It means you're all right. They don't bother taking the piss if they don't think you're worth the time. I mistook the ribbing at first; apparently, Yanks are popular targets for razzing, because they fall for it. I reinforced the stereotype, but I worked things out eventually.

I like the needling better than the awkwardness and feigned congeniality that usually accompanies first meetings. Aussies get right into it.

46. Lemon, Lime & Bitters. I don't drink booze. Australia is a drinking country. Drinks pervade Australian culture - they're everywhere.

So what does a non-drinker order?

I have never been a cola fan. And you try matching your mates' six rounds of beers with six Cokes. Urgh and gurgle.

One alternative? Lemon, Lime & Bitters. It comes premixed now - doesn't everything? - but the from-scratch method is to line a glass with a few drops of Angostura bitters, then add a dash of lime cordial (or Rose's lime juice). Fill the glass with lemonade (aka Sprite or the like) and ice, and there you go. It's tangy, refreshing, drinkable, and a little bitter.

No, I won't drink six of those, either, but it's very good and eminently serviceable for staying the course over a few hours.

47. Front Seat of the Cab
. Where I come from, passengers always ride in the back - behind the partition, giving directions through the cash slot.

Not here. People get in the front seat, and they talk with the driver.


48. Bodysurfing. Okay, this is not particularly Australian. Except that, well, beaches were always a rare, holiday treat for me. I'd never been to a beach with waves you could ride.

Now, I'm spoilt for choice when I want to go to the beach. And though my surfing skills are still between wishful and rudimentary, I can throw myself on a wave and sail along for a few metres on my belly - over and over again, with the breathless elation of a kid on the roller-coasters.

Once I work out how to keep a board under me, and stand on it for a length of time, that'll be it. Endless summer.

49. Sea Change.

I enjoy a bit of television - really. But I pick my spots. I don't have the Reality TV gene; cannot stand to be in the same room with it. I have never seen Desperate Housewives, The O.C., or any of a long list of Essential Shows (though I'm mighty partial to The Simpsons, Law & Order, and Boston Legal).

Sea Change was an Australian series a few years back; to my mind, it's the best non-comedy television series I've ever seen. It centred around a city lawyer, played by Sigrid Thornton, who chucked it all to move to become the judge in a sleepy coastal town. Some of the story involved the obvious clash between her initial big-city anxiety and rush, but most of it about the local characters: the cop who's a surfie, the dim single dad with the heart of gold, the overbearing, empire-building local real estate agent and his Stepford-by-the-sea wife (or so it seemed), and the rest.

It added gentle drama and clever intrigue to the good-natured self-ribbing I mention in Thing I Love #44 above. It lasted only three years and ended at the peak of its popularity. An unpopular decision at the time, but the series remains perfect in memory.

See it if you can.

50. "The Same, But Different". Australian life is, in many ways, similar to the American life I left; the differences are sometimes subtle, but just different enough to seem like a parallel universe.

But despite the unstoppable march of cultural imperialism across The Sunburnt Country, none of the standards come through unaltered. Nothing deep about this, but it's there. Burger King is Hungry Jack’s; Dunkin' Donuts? Nope - Donut King. Mars bars are like American Milky Way bars. Milky Way? Three Musketeers.

I love the rectangular ashtrays often found outside public buildings and pubs, just because they say "Smokers Please" on them. A passing touch of civility.

Coming Up:
ANZAC Day, Rock-Star Politicians, Utes, and more.


Jamie said...

#45 is my favorite yet and the second biggest reason I want to come to Australia. Also now a fan of Paterson's Curse now that I've looked it up. Gorgeous!

You do love it, don't you? That's tremendous.

The Word Faery said...

#47, all I can say is Oh My God. I could never do this...but then, I'm antisocial.

Anonymous said...

Fun stuff. #46 is some of my favorite stuff, too.

I love that you're into the local slang--me, too.

Denny Crane

poetinahat said...

Denny? Where have you been?

See you on the balcony. Sleepover?


Anonymous said...

Hey Rob, following your story here--lovely, and an interesting and fun read!


Scott said...

Holy crap Rob. Nearly a year it took! I thought I was gonna have to travel to Australia and find my own things to love about it.

Might anyway, who knows?


JJ Cooper said...

Hey Rob,

Was wondering if you were going to get back into these. They're great, and accurate. You forgot to put 'Kenny' in there under the film section though.


poetinahat said...

'Kenny'! I haven't seen it yet, but based on everything I've heard, it should definitely be there!

Priene said...

You have a choice about talking to taxi drivers? I've never found a way to make them shut up.