MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT AUSTRALIA (from Anna Tambour and Anne Sydenham)
Okay, I'll be the first to admit it. Despite reading Peter Carey's book on Sydney and The Fatal Shore, my image of Australia is still colored by Crocodile Dundee, Foster's beer commercial, the insanity that is the crocodile hunter, and movies like Walk About, Hanging Rock, The Wave, and, er, Mad Max. (Nick Cave, The Church, and Midnight Oil, three of my favorites, all come from Australia, btw.)
So I thought I'd kick off the Australia-ization of this blog with a couple of top misconceptions about Australia list from Aussies Anne Sydenham, who runs the Edward Whittemore website, and Anna Tambour, author of The Spotted Lily (which I shall be blogging about shortly).
More posts on Australia, Australian books and authors, will follow until Ann and I leave for Australia and the Brisbane Writers' Festival Sept. 20. Between the 20th and Oct. 10th, a number of Australian writers and editors will be guest blogging here. I'll introduce them closer to my departure.
ANNA TAMBOUR'S TOP FIVE MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT AUSTRALIA
1) Australia is down under. Easy to cure with McArthur's Universal Corrective Map of the World.
2) Something deadly will bite you. As likely as travelling in the US and getting kilt by rattlers, black widders, gila monsters, and bears--not to mention gunshot.
3) The typical Australian "predictably goes walkabout". Too right! Like, say, your typical American predictably leaves every seat a chewing-gum wad richer.
4) Australians are uncouth roughnecks like Crocodile Dundee or Rupert Murdoch--or beach bimbos.
A) Couthness has become such a norm in city and bush that a national identity crisis looms. One local council can't start meetings without a meal with wine for the councillors first.
B) Most Australians are hard-core city dwellers who think that something deadly would bite them if they ever ventured into the outback.
C) As for the bimbos--though the beach is iconic and Australians are mad about sport (real sport--Aussie rules football [all naked thighs and bloody mouths]and cricket) more and more people in Oz (yes, this is Oz) exercise only their eyeballs, fingers and thumbs.
5) "The appalling standard of Intellectual Life among their chattering classes...and the limpness of the humour" might very well be true. http://www.samizdata.net/blog/archives/007840.html#086000
"Intellectual Life" isn't elevated to that standard in Oz.
See OED, chattering, for a possible explanation.
ANNE SYDENHAM'S TOP FIVE MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT AUSTRALIA
I really have no idea how Australia is perceived in other countries. After a bit of research, I have cobbled together what appear to be the commonly accepted misconceptions about this country. Perhaps it could be seen as a primer for understanding Australian culture and customs. As it is a subjective view, other Aussies may have completely different opinions on how we are perceived both within Australia and abroad.
1. JOHN HOWARD - WHO? – The Man of Steel, according to George Bush; is great guy and we are lucky to have him as our Prime Minister.
Not so! – John Howard is a lying, untrustworthy bastard whom half the population of Australia can’t stand. We are embarrassed to have him represent us. The Government of this country is a joke. We even have two cabinet ministers called Abbott and Costello.
2. NATIVE ANIMALS – Australians all live in the bush (even if we live in a capital city) and have kangaroos and koalas as pets
It is indeed a rare thing to see koalas hanging from trees in a city garden, the zoo excepted, or to meet up with a kangaroo hopping down the main street. However, other native wildlife is pestiferous in the extreme. Possums take over our gardens at night, eating everything they can lay their little paws on and fruit bats fly in battalions across the evening sky and hang out during the day in noisy colonies in the Botanical Gardens.
3. BEER – Australians all consume enormous quantities of this beverage especially Fosters Lager.
Admittedly, beer is still a very popular beverage in Australia, but wine buffs are everywhere as well. International tourists are perceived as Fosters Lager or Crown Lager drinkers, as these beers are widely publicized in other countries. However, a wide range of Australian and imported beers are available even at the humblest bottle shop.
Australian wines are among the best in the world and are warmly appreciated by Australian drinkers.
4. CULTURAL DESERT – as well as inhabiting a very dry continent, the cultural scene is a wasteland as well.
The popular concept that Australia is populated with sports-mad, sun-bronzed, beer swilling, out-doors people is quite wrong. The Crocodile Dundee genus is very rare as is the Bazza McKenzie type. We’re pretty ordinary, very well read in the main, respectful of musicians and keen on art in all its forms. Even the remotest country town has some sort of drama society or book club or musical group. Country towns have, for some years, become venues for Music Festivals and are generally included in the itineries of International artists. One observes more than half the commuters on trains in the cities reading books on the journey. It’s not just the latest Harry Potter or Dan Brown, but classical literature as well. Bookshops abound; and small country towns usually have at least one-second hand bookshop where one can unearth rare treasures.
Sport is popular, I must admit. It is not surprising that one of the great heroes of Australian sporting history is a horse – Pharlap. His stuffed hide is on display in the Melbourne Museum and other pieces of him, his heart and his skeleton, are preserved elsewhere.
The Melbourne Cup, a horse race run annually on the first Tuesday in November, stops the Nation and everyone has a flutter on it, even though it is hard to pick the winner. In Melbourne we get a public holiday and just about everyone either goes to the racetrack or attends a Cup Day party. Every workplace has a sweep, which is a kind of lottery. After paying a nominated sum of money one is in the draw for a horse. Traditionally there are 24 runners in the Melbourne Cup, so each sweep is limited to 24 numbers.
The other great sporting hero is Don Bradman - cricketer extraordinaire. In summer cricket is all the rage. In winter football rules – we have three different codes and it all depends on the state you live in, your country of origin or what you played at school which code you will follow. Being a resident of the state of Victoria I would naturally follow Australian Rules, find Rugby incomprehensible and Soccer maddeningly slow in comparison to the fast and furious spectacle of Aussie Rules.
5. LET STALK STRINE*
A common misconception is that the Australian accent is just another English dialect. Actually it is very hard to mimic an Australian accent if you have not been born to it. Australians can pick a false or genuine Aussie accent from a mile away. The accent varies from state to state and New Zealanders sound completely different again.
*The above term translates as “let’s talk Australian”. If read it out loud in a nasal tone of voice one will accurately imitate a broad Australian accent a la Crocodile Dundee.