Friday, January 22, 2010

Travel, tubing and social change in Australia

Into the Vietnamese Consulate yesterday morning so that Helen could drop in visa applications for she and Clare. It was a very familiar building. We had our Sydney office there for several years.

In Sunday essay - a new Akubra I mentioned the travelling habits of Australia's young, making the point that this was one difference between the world I had grown up in and that of my children. When the Belshaws took the trip I described in Bangkok to Seam Reap via Poipet, January 1966 this stood out because it was so unusual. 

In 1968 Francis Letters' book The surprising Asians : a hitch-hike through Malaya, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and South Vietnam was one of the first books by a young Australian describing adventures in Asia. It was then very new. The position today is very different.

In the Cambodian post I mentioned that the girls' Asian visit was part of a much bigger and sprawling mass trip by eldest's cohort. For several of them its an end of university trip, a chance to break out after study. Different people are meeting at different points depending on the time they have.

Jenny, one of the less inhibited girls in the group and a long standing family friend, has been writing a travel blog. I won't give the link because, while it's a public blog, its really being written for the benefit of the group.

I have really enjoyed the trip so far. Jenny writes well and frankly, so its fun. I was really struck by the way in which places once strange to Australians have become so familiar to the young in the forty or so years since we went for the first time or since Francis wrote her book. The popularity of tubing - I had to look 1731806-Tubing-at-Vang-Vieng-0 tubing up - in the little Laotian town of Vang Vieng had completely passed me by!

Dear tubing took me back. Car and truck tyres provided valuable sport when I was young, too. However, as you will see from the photo, this is far bigger.

On the way to the Vietnamese Consulate I commented to eldest on the number of Australian young travelling these routes. Not just Australian of course, but there is a very large Australian presence. She replied that it had become something of a right of passage, the thing to do.

In this context, Jen commented in one of her posts "this would not be allowed in Australia!". By this she simply meant that the activity in question would either not be allowed or at least rigidly controlled because it involved some risk. She is right of course, and it points to a problem. Australia has become a less relaxed society, with ever growing controls intended to control risk.

I know that I have written on this before, and I don't want to go back down this route at any length.

To be young is to test the bounds. Sometimes this leads to very silly behaviour. However, we now live in an Australian world in which a radio presenter can seriously worry on air about whether school camping trips should be allowed because of the risks associated with falling tree branches. Perhaps only if the camp is a certain distance from trees, he mused.

Falling tree branches is a real risk. In this case, a student had just been killed. Yet this type of risk has really to be managed through common sense, and common sense actually comes from experience. So the Australian young will continue to travel not just to experience new cultures, but also to test themselves.

As part of the continuing email exchange connected with the Armidale Demonstration School, there has just been a discussion on the difference between present and past. One commented:

I have often reflected on the late 1940's through to the late 1960's and compared the social aspects (circumstances, freedom, etc.) to those the kids of today have and really think that, despite today's younger generations having the huge advantage of technological, scientific and social "advances", we were much better off.

I suspect that's true in some senses, with perhaps the biggest change the loss of the relative freedom we had.

Mind you, this is the present looking at the past and that set me musing.

When the kids were young, they liked stories out of my past. One problem was just what to tell them. After all, I did not want to tell them some of the more stupid things that I had done! How, too, should I handle activities that may or may not have been legal then, but were now either illegal or at least considered socially reprehensible?

Assuming the girls have kids, I wonder what they will tell them about their pasts? I suspect that they will face very similar problems!

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