Monday, January 26, 2015

A simple Aussie boy

Today is Australia Day. As  have indicated before, I have mixed feelings about the rise of this particular celebration. Still, today I thought that I might talk about the things that I like and enjoy about Australia. After all, I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about what I think is wrong in this country and how it might be fixed! So lets redress the balance.

To begin with,  I love the countryside.

I grew up in the high country, that narrow strip between the coast and plains that runs along Australia's east coast. Most of the visual images of Australia that you will see are coastal or, alternatively, inland or outback. That wasn't my country, although I have absorbed the iconic images of parts elsewhere. I have also absorbed the sounds and especially the smells of the Australian bush. This is the start of my current book project:
Dalwood House stands on a rise. From the side verandah, mown grass runs down to the old vineyard. The Hunter River lies beyond, hidden within its high banks. It was hot and still, the silence broken only by the distant sound of a crow. Even the working properties on the hills on the other side of the river were still, remote in the faint heat haze.
I love just wandering, sitting and absorbing. It gives me enormous pleasure. I also love the country life. the patterns, although I fear that my earlier desire to become a farmer was, with certainty, very unwise. It wouldn't have worked.  I'm just not that way.

I love the diversity of Australian life. Australian life has always been diverse, more so than most Australians realise. Australians now are stay at home folk who travel along limited tracks for business or pleasure. They don't see or, more often, comprehend the differences. As we all do, they see their current life as the norm. However, the reality is very different. There are many norms.

This is a "burqini", a swim suit designed to allow Muslim women to swim in public. Perhaps only in Australia?

I don't quite share the frequently presented stereotype about the expansion in Australian cuisine since the beginning of the mass migration program at the end of the Second World War. I certainly don't share the view that the modern Australian cuisine is now the best in the world and continues to advance. It's not really like that.  There is some very bad food around. However, it is true that I have daily access to a remarkable variety of cuisines. I can't say that Australia is best here, but compared to New York or San Francisco or London or Paris or Florence or Athens, the variety is greater.

What Australia doesn't have is a central unifying cuisine in the way you would find in, say, Europe. Modern Australian food is too much a melange, too much related to trends elsewhere, too remote from regional variations in the supply of produce. Regional variation does exist, but is still poorly developed. We can give the visitor access to whatever cuisine they like, just not our own. I will cook my own variant at home, itself a melange, but you have to visit me to find it. You won't find it in a restaurant.  

Australians are wonderfully polite, more so than we realize. I love that. Get onto a Sydney bus. I am sure that the same holds for other cities, and just watch. Most of those who leave feel the need to thank the driver. Thank you rings down the bus. It's partly our egalitarian nature, more a matter of manners. I have met many rude Australians, but each time I do a feel a sense of shock. That's not the way we do things.

Australians also have a sense of irreverence. Sadly, this has (or so I think) begun to diminish. Traditionally, we haven't taken ourselves too seriously. The reverence that we now attach to Australia Day would have been inconceivable in the past. 

Of course we attach pride to national celebrations such as winning, beating England in the cricket for example. Australians like to win, especially against traditional rivals. But the blind desire to win, the thought that we must always be best, is quite new. The sense of national self-deprecation has its bad points, the sometimes acceptance of the second-rate is one, but it really was a distinguishing feature. What other country makes a military defeat a national memorial, one that recognizes the strengths of the other side?

Sometimes with a friend I describe myself as a simple Aussie boy. Aussie boys may have been guilty of many things. Domestic violence or child abuse may be examples. They may be insensitive to other's needs. They are not necessarily simple in an intellectual sense, nor free of the angst that marks other cultures. Certainly, they are as riven by confusion over male roles as men in other Western societies. 

But yet, I think that we are different, are perhaps a little simpler.When I say that I am a simple Aussie boy, I am making a statement, I am asserting a difference. I think, and this is difficult to explain, that I am rejecting the complexity that is often imposed on us. Lives are always complex.  Our reactions need not be so.


Winton Bates said...

That is a magnificent waterfall. Where is it?

Anonymous said...

Europe has a 'central unifying cuisine'? Well I'm fairly certain that would be news to the Greeks Poles Spanish Italians French and Germans. Not to mention Nordfinswedeland, Holland, England and the Swiss.

They are as amazingly mished up as we are, and long may it be so.

What is this need for a 'central unifying' anything?


Winton Bates said...

Good point kid. I wish I had noticed. I must have been distracted by the burqini.

Jim Belshaw said...

New England High Country did not mention, Winton. I think Wollomombi. That's what it looks like, but with water!

Now, now, kvd. You knew what I meant. Actually, I don't want a single Oz unifying cuisine. I am in favour of regional variants.

Jim Belshaw said...

Your comment crossed mine, Winton.

Evan said...

Have you read One Continuous Picnic? Part of the case is that due to the way we were settled the food was based on army rations and so regional cuisines didn't/haven't had the time to develop (yet?). This is a crass summary of course. Really interesting book I thought.

Evan said...

My sister taught English to Speakers of Other Languages at TAFE.

The students referred to the Aussie teachers as 'the please and thankyous' - because they also said please when asking students to do things and thanked them to.

So it isn't just you who finds Aussies polite.

Jim Belshaw said...

I haven't read that book, Evan, but have been meaning to buy it. I have been writing on aspects of Australian domestic life in my Express column and need to broaden my scope. Time is important.

The story from your sister does exactly fit my point.

Anonymous said...

Have held off commenting on this post, because I find myself struggling to say what I wish to say.

I have always thought the 'burqini' to be quite offensive. It goes against pretty much all my views about the equality and worth of women, and I see it as pandering to, and perpetuating, a view of my (male) outlook which I find even more personally offensive.

I say this as a son, a widower, a father to a beautiful daughter, and a loving grandfather to two wonderful grand daughters. If any of those generations had to deal with this sort of mindview, I would think myself an abject failure.

Australia welcomes all people; but I do not accept such views about our womenfolk, or ourselves.

IMHO, with respect


Jim Belshaw said...

Mmmm, kvd. They don't unless they choose to adopt views that they require it.

Just what views about womenfolk are you finding objectionable? Muslim women use headscarves as a fashion statement. Muslim women seeking to develop a new approach that combines views buy a burqini. Older Greek women wear black. Methodist girls in an environment where mixing of the sexes is very formalized find tennis.

They are all patterns, social mechanisms given beliefs and culture. So if one of your granddaughters became a muslim or a methodist or a feminist would you feel yourself a failure? Or would you only fail if they adopted views that you disagree with?

Anonymous said...

Jim, with respect, we disagree. I do not have your facility to see, much less your urge to reconcile, all sides of any issue - and frankly I think that a fool's errand.

I ended with 'IMHO,with respect'. I am not interested in playing further wordgames.