THE DELIGHTS OF DOWN UNDER

My brother and sister in law are bound for Australia this September to visit their youngest daughter, and I envy them, not only their visit to Australia but the delight of their first entry into that country.

Australia is so different and so beautiful. It has a unique smell- not unpleasant but sharp and pungent with overtones of menthol and eucalyptus but more complex than that. It’s huge and empty. Its hinterland is desert. It’s red. When you visit some of its coast – say the stretch from Melbourne to Adelaide, and you see a few small towns strung out along an inhospitable, though beautiful coast, nothing but the fathomless ocean deep between you and the Antarctic, with hours of empty scrubby land in between each precarious settlement, you can feel the weight of the vast empty interior pressing on you, and you think, you could go mad living here. We travelled all day out from Perth on the West Coast, a distance equivalent perhaps of the journey from London to Edinburgh, and we saw two small villages, the geologically interesting Wave Rock, and a dog cemetery. This is a lonely place: the dogs had been beloved companions.

Australia has the most beautiful dawns I’ve ever seen, like a Christmas card, with a silver light creeping up from the horizon into the midnight blue infinity, gradually increasing until the sun actually rises, when it soars swiftly upwards in a ball of burning red gold. There’s no comparison with our own subtle, milky, and also lovely, dawns.

As for its flora and fauna – there are hundreds of varieties of eucalypt. Some have beautiful barks, shining white, peeling copper, or trunks twisted like a stick of rock. Flocks of parrots fly past, brilliant in colour, large and noisy. There are kangaroos or marsupials of every size. You see the kangaroo when he moves. When they stand motionless, they simply disappear. Australia’s insects are terrifyingly lethal. Its beaches may have crocodile or sharks. It’s both very familiar – speaks English, drives on the left, plays our sports, everything works, there’s always hot water. The people are friendly, with a good opinion of themselves, down to earth and refreshingly open and candid. An Australian will surely tell you like it is.

But on the other hand, the land itself is mysterious and utterly unfamiliar, and the native culture is largely incomprehensible. The connection between the white Australian and the land is an uneasy one. He keeps trying to turn it into Europe, but the land resists and it will prevail in the end. A vast burning desert set in the freezing Southern ocean can never be like Europe. As for the relationship between the natïve people and the white incomer : it has been a tragedy and is a great shadow over Australia.

When we were in Brisbane (a pleasant town on a lovely river, largely unsung, a Glasgow to Sydney’s Edinburgh perhaps) I flung a coin in a fountain, and a little girl said to her mother, “Why did she do that?” The mother did not know, so I said to the child, “Because I hope to return.” As I walked away, I heard the girl ask her mother, “Why doesn’t she just come back?”

If only, I thought. I never want to say good-bye to Australia.

I was discussing with my son in law why there was antipathy between his native New Zealand and their Antipodean neighbour (although actually it’s three hours flying away) Australia, and suggested they had much in common. He didn’t agree that they did, and on reflection, I think he’s right. New Zealand is not desert; it’s relationship with previous incomers, while it could be better, is not disastrous; the New Zealanders don’t have the chip on their shoulder that the Australians have because it is alleged that they are descended from criminals (of course they were not criminals but the victims of British injustice); it doesn’t have that bone chilling loneliness. It’s native culture is more Polynesian and its myths and legends much more accessible to us. It was Cook who connected Australia to New Zealand and in the end, the Fijians ate him.

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About adhocannie
I am a good natured woman with a long memory and a swift tongue. I like loooking at things and thinking about them. Also food, clothes, travel, reading, sewing. I try to see the ridiculous in things, but sobriety of reflection keeps edgting in. I have husband, children, grandchildren, friends... I feel rich in things that matter. I am a happy exile. I like writing. I do not like talking about me (though I do.). You willl be much more interesting.

3 Responses to THE DELIGHTS OF DOWN UNDER

  1. Sheena says:

    A masterpiece, Anne.

    One might say, New Zealand is as much like Australia as Canada is like the U.S.

  2. adhocannie says:

    Everybody should visit these countries at least once. I don’t think I’ve seen Rabbit Proof Fence.

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