Happy Australia Day. And a cracker of a day it was. Sunny, high of 30C, slightly humid - textbook summer day. Pastries, playground and bike rides in the park, seeing Dear Son, 4, take off on his two-wheeler, with help only getting started - wow. Iced coffee in a local cafe. Swimming at a local pool, watching Dear Daughter, 6 1/2, swim half a lap, which delighted me -- then turn and swim another, which astonished me. Then another. Rolling onto her back and kicking, she led me up and down through *ten* laps altogether.
Finally, a few hours at a local Australia Day festival - small, impeccably run - marvelous entertainment, fun rides, great food, no crush of people. Perfect.
Today would cover about twenty of my hundred. In exactly a year from now, I'd like to take the oath and become a dual citizen; how fortunate to have two homelands to love this much.
But here we go - with the new ball to open the second innings. Now then: what else do I love about Australia?
51. ANZAC Day April 25 - The Antipodean equivalent of Memorial Day, but celebrated with great poignancy and gravity every year, and with cheery, beery gambling in the traditional games of Two-Up played in pubs everywhere that day. "Lest We Forget" is a familiar phrase, and everyone is familiar with the horrors of Gallipoli. Even today, thousands travel to Turkey to attend the dawn service near the battle site, and people across the nation awake for dawn services at home. At the church I attend, veterans and dignitaries plant small ceremonial crosses to commemorate the fallen soldiers from years past, even to that battle nearly a hundred years ago.
It's a sober, somber, uniting, respectful gesture that transcends jingoism and political bunfights; it represents a universal recognition within and among Australians of the sacrifices made by everyday people, become heroes through necessity and love. And they are remembered.
52. News of the World Australia is a long way from the United States. There are twenty million Australians in a world of six billion people. Consequently, news about Australia does not blot out the the rest of the world from coverage in the daily news hour.
My memory from the US is, in extremely general terms, that after the news of America (and the usual hot spots, such as Israel) is reported, there's precious little time or space for much of the rest of the world. So who would ever know that hundreds of Indians died in a train wreck, or the machinations involved in the Malaysian or Indonesian elections? Japan, maybe.
Then again, perhaps it's not so much what's included, as the perspective from which it's reported. News viewed through a prism other than the American camera lens - never mind the political slant - tends to reveal (again, in my observation) parts of the picture that I hadn't been used to seeing. Or, maybe it's something else again: perhaps that there's less of a rush to see things as black-and-white, Us vs Them.
Australia is certainly America's friend, but we live in Asia's neighbourhood, and we've still got a lot of England's stuff sitting up in the attic.
53. Rock-Star Politicians Remember Midnight Oil? I first heard them in 1985 - "Best of Both Worlds" impressed me immediately; it's a searing, soaring number. Their stock in trade was (is?) political commentary that rocked, that felt immediate. "Beds Are Burning" and "Truganini" dealt unflinchingly and immediately with sore-point issues in Australia, and they gained a worldwide audience. You might have seen the band perform at the Closing Ceremony for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney - after the Prime Minister refused to apologise to the Stolen Generations (story for another time - but a web search will help), the Oils took the stage wearing black outfits with the word "SORRY" emblazoned in various places. Cop that, Johnny.
Peter Garrett, the tall, bald, gangly dancing lead singer, is a Labor Party MP now - and Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts. Which means he's not only been acknowledged by the voting punter, but, rather than caching him softly in the back bench, the Government has seen fit to give him a portfolio. I just think that's fairly cool - love or hate his politics, he's clearly been seen as having cred beyond his, er, rock-star image.
54. Cricket rock-stars In a less serious vein, one of our more prominent athletes of recent years - cricket fast bowler Brett Lee - made a bit of a name for himself with his band, Six and Out.
55. Rock-Star Chefs Australia's long been thought of as a cultural backwater. Given its origins as an Alcatraz the size of the continental USA, that's no surprise.
But visit Australia today - one of the major cities, at least - and walk into any public gathering place, and you'll find four prevalent conversation topics: Sport, Real Estate, Wine, and Restaurants. And not necessarily in that order.
Sydney papers report on chefs switching restaurants, or opening new ones on their own, with a breathlessness once reserved for player trades on the sports page, or sightings of major celebrities (no, not you, Dannii Minogue). Dining is excellent, and apparently, so is the wine (I can't vouch for it personally, but Aussies certainly do study it and rabbit on about it, with good reason, I'm sure).
56. Film-Star Sports Moguls "Aussie" Russell Crowe (like Neil Finn, claimed as a native son by both Aussies and Kiwis) helped resurrect one of Australia's oldest, most storied teams, the South Sydney Rabbitohs of rugby league. Does he know how to run a team? I don't know - but he sure as hell is involved. He goes to games, talks to the players, and bloody well cares. Last year, to motivate the team, he wrote a Book of Feuds for the players, including reasons the Rabbitohs had an axe to grind with every other team in the comp. Unleash Hell, indeed.
57. Actor Rock-Stars Again with Russell - make hay, etc. Mr Crowe, actor, rugby league saviour/demagogue and sometime muso, also plays out now and then with his combo, Thirty-Odd Foot of Grunt. I have absolutely no idea about their oeuvre, but I don't think John Butler is looking over his shoulder just yet.
58. Utes Hey, Americans - remember the El Camino? The car with a pickup-like bed instead of a back seat? Generally remembered as an oddity? Well, that's what prevails here instead of pickup trucks. They are the work vehicle of choice among tradesmen, and they are also a premier muscle car, possibly owing to the V8 engines under the bonnet (that's "hood" for you Yanks).
"Ute", I believe, is short for "Utility". But nobody's called them anything but utes since, oh, Ned Kelly took a hammer and fashioned a helmet out of a billy and a Holden back panel.
59. Priorities - Nudity I've long nursed (ho ho!) a pet peeve about American values as they apply to what makes appropriate entertainment viewing. To wit: murder and all sorts of violence and brutality - much of it graphic - is considered suitable for viewing by nearly anyone. But flash a boob or a butt, or discuss sex, and it's ARMAGEDDON!!!!!!!!! (My material may be out of date, but gimme a break; I've been overseas for sixteen years now.)
No, Australia doesn't have Velvet After Dark in prime time - that's not what I'm talking about, not really. But there isn't this paradoxical dictum that sex is unhealthy to discuss, but violence is, well, a natural part of life.
And, yeah, all Americans seem to take a period to adjust to the relaxed attitude about toplessness on many public beaches here. But most of us manage to adjust; I think I stopped gawking within three, maybe four years.
60. "I'm Australian" Ask an American what their background is, and they'll give you a pie chart; it'll be something like, "Oh, I'm half Irish, a quarter German, an eighth Scottish and an eighth Cherokee". Soon after arriving in the Sunburnt Country, I had a bit of a discussion with an American friend and an English bloke about this. American Friend and I swapped ancestral recipes, at which Sir Pom snorted, "That's preposterous. You're both American, end of story." Then he yammered on about his family having resided in the same shire for a thousand years, at which point I chuckled something about inbreeding, which thoroughly amused his date, a most perceptive and fetching young Australienne.
But I digress.
I don't belittle the American desire to claim our roots by percentages; it's part of the pride in being a melting-pot nation. However, what I have noticed here is that people here, even first- or second-generation immigrants, generally proclaim they are capital-A Australian. They still wave the flags of the motherland at World Cup time (that's the one where they pay "soccer") and retain pride and connection with where they came from. But there's no waffling about being Australians. Sure, I know at least one Australian of Italian background who cheered when Italy beat Australia in the 2006 World Cup quarterfinal (on a dive, let's remember!). But Australians embrace religious freedom.
Finally, in the spirit of Australia Day, I'll share something I picked up at a trivia contest over the holidays:
Q: The Australian coat of arms features a kangaroo and an emu. Why those two creatures?
A: Because they are the only two creatures in Australia that are physically unable to take a backward step.
I don't really care if the explanation or the reason is apocryphal - it's just so fitting that it should be true.
Coming up: England Sports Geography, choice of sauce, seaside pools, and more.