Australia through American Eyes

Hat tip to Puffy The Magic Dragon for this lovely thread-starter by David Mason, a US writer and professor, and poet laureate of Colorado.  (Note: This article originally appeared in The Age on 26 January 2014.

(Image Credit: The Age)

There’s a lot to admire about Australia, especially if you’re a visiting American. More often than you might expect, Australian friends patiently listening to me enthuse about their country have said, ”We need outsiders like you to remind us what we have.” So here it is – a small presumptuous list of what one foreigner admires in Oz.

1. Health care.

(Image Credit: AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

I know the controversies, but basic national health care is a gift. In America, medical expenses are a leading cause of bankruptcy. The drug companies dominate politics and advertising.

Obama is being crucified for taking halting baby steps towards sanity. You can’t turn on the telly without hours of drug advertisements – something I have never yet seen here. And your emphasis on prevention – making cigarettes less accessible, for one – is a model.

2. Food.

(Image Credit: Toscano’s)

Yes, we have great food in America too, especially in the big cities. But your bread is less sweet, your lamb is cheaper, and your supermarket vegetables and fruits are fresher than ours.

Too often in my country an apple is a ball of pulp as big as your face. The dainty Pink Lady apples of Oz are the juiciest I’ve had. And don’t get me started on coffee. In American small towns it tastes like water flavoured with burnt dirt, but the smallest shop in the smallest town in Oz can make a first-rate latte.

I love your ubiquitous bakeries, your hot-cross buns. Shall I go on?

3. Language.

(Image Credit: UpFromAustralia)

How do you do it? The rhyming slang and Aboriginal place names like magic spells. Words that seem vaguely English yet also resemble an argot from another planet.

I love the way institutional names get turned into diminutives – Vinnie’s and Salvos – and absolutely nothing’s sacred. Everything’s an opportunity for word games and everyone’s a nickname. Lingo makes the world go round.

It’s the spontaneous wit of the people that tickles me most. Late one night at a barbie my new mate Suds remarked, ”Nothing’s the same since 24-7.” Amen.

4. Free-to-air TV.

(Image Credit: Mumbrella)

In Oz, you buy a TV, plug it in and watch some of the best programming I’ve ever seen – uncensored. In America, you can’t get diddly-squat without paying a cable or satellite company heavy fees.

In Oz a few channels make it hard to choose. In America, you’ve got 400 channels and nothing to watch.

5. Small shops.

(Image Credit: Fairfield Village)

Outside the big cities in America corporations have nearly erased them. Identical malls with identical restaurants serving inferior food. Except for geography, it’s hard to tell one American town from another.

The ”take-away” culture here is wonderful. Human encounters are real – stirring happens, stories get told. The curries are to die for. And you don’t have to tip!

6. Free camping.

(Image Credit: Around Guides)

We used to have this too, and I guess it’s still free when you backpack miles away from the roads.

But I love the fact that in Oz everyone owns the shore and in many places you can pull up a camper van and stare at the sea for weeks. I love the “primitive” and independent campgrounds, the life out of doors. The few idiots who leave their stubbies and rubbish behind in these pristine places ought to be transported in chains.

7. Religion.

(Image Credit: David Ould)

In America, it’s everywhere – especially where it’s not supposed to be, like politics.

I imagine you have your Pharisees too, making a big public show of devotion, but I have yet to meet one here.

8. Roads.

(Image Credit: South Coast New South Wales)

Peak hour aside, I’ve found travel on your roads pure heaven. My country’s ”freeways” are crowded, crumbling, insanely knotted with looping overpasses – it’s like racing homicidal maniacs on fraying spaghetti.

I’ve taken the Hume without stress, and I love the Princes Highway when it’s two lanes. Ninety minutes south of Bateman’s Bay I was sorry to see one billboard for a McDonald’s. It’s blocking a lovely paddock view. Someone should remove it.

9. Real multiculturalism.

(Image Credit: The Food Sage)

I know there are tensions, just like anywhere else, but I love the distinctiveness of your communities and the way you publicly acknowledge the Aboriginal past.

Recently, too, I spent quality time with Melbourne Greeks, and was gratified both by their devotion to their own great language and culture and their openness to an Afghan lunch.

10. Fewer guns.

(Image Credit: Despatch)

You had Port Arthur in 1996 and got real in response. America replicates such massacres several times a year and nothing changes.


Our religion of individual rights makes the good of the community an impossible dream.

Instead of mateship we have ”It’s mine and nobody else’s”.

We talk a great game about freedom, but too often live in fear.

* * * * * * * *

There’s more to say – your kaleidoscopic birds, your perfumed bush in springtime, your vast beaches. These are just a few blessings that make Australia a rarity.

Of course, it’s not paradise – nowhere is – but I love it here.

No need to wave flags like Americans and add to the world’s windiness. Just value what you have and don’t give it away.

(Image Credit: Yahoo)

384 thoughts on “Australia through American Eyes

  1. Let’s ditch the Bridget Abbott/BMW thing for good. I hate to defend the Abbotts, but this is one of those Twitter myths, that just keeps coming back, rather like the constant whining about Abbott’s alleged dual citizenship. There are no dots to connect.

    Back in 2012 Bridget scored a few days work as an ‘ambassador’ at Sydney’s Autumn Racing Carnival. The Carnival was sponsored, in part, by BMW and was referred to, sometimes, as ‘the BMW Sydney Carnival’. It’s the usual thing for such events to have pretty young ladies – usually ‘celebrities’ – parade around in attractive outfits and be photographed patting race horses. The designers of their fashionable outfits get lots of publicity. The ‘ambassadors’ are pretty much fashion models. They are paid for their services, I would think the rate of pay varies according to the the celebrity status of the clothes horse. Agents would be involved in the negotiations.

    Click to access media-1404_%20BlackandwhiteotrendforDerbyDay.pdf

    For the real picture, let’s look at what the racing industry had to say. This includes a mention of how Miss Abbott was invited.

    She was at Derby Day at Flemington last year when she was asked if she would be interested in acting as an ambassador for the Sydney carnival

    Bridget landed this job though Peta Credlin who used to work in the racing industry.

    The Australian Turf Club then contacted Mr Abbott’s chief of staff, Peta Credlin, about hiring the teenager to help promote its autumn carnival. Ms Credlin used to be the head of public relations for Racing Victoria.

    Mr Abbott’s office said it had not initiated the discussions but had “embraced” the opportunity when it was presented.

    In answer to a question about whether her surname had helped to secure the role, Ms Abbott responded via an email from her father’s office yesterday, saying: “Of course. I guess the ATC selects people who will get people talking, and being the daughter of a prominent politician is certainly a bit different.”

    I really don’t think a couple of days wandering around Randwick racecourse wearing designer outfits and smiling for the cameras had anything to do with the eventual purchase of BMWs for the official car fleet. If you prefer to see some sort of conspiracy then you can do that, of course, but I’m going to keep on debunking this particular myth.

  2. The BMW is seen by the more bogan and nouveaux of the monied class as the car of choice if you want to show off your wealth.

    It is also considered to confer class on those who don’t have it. Usually it takes the form of the cheapest and smallest of the BMW range, but which still has the “BMW” badge on it. From my experience, these cars are usually not as good a car as the equivalent, common or garden Hyundai or Mazda, but they cost a bomb. And that’s what counts.

    Abbott is just the type of bogan – the type who collects bus tickets so he can make a claim on his expense account, or motel breakfast receipts while on one of his bike-a-thons – who would think that a BMW would confer “class” on him… “statesmanship” if you like.

    The only difference in this case is that, being Prime Minister, Abbott can get the top of the range model, and pay for it with our money as its flies offshore to enrich yet more foreign bank accounts.

    Just like his Collins St. comb-over haircut, and his dark suits and his silk ties (and the suspected botox), the fleet of BMWs would be calculated to cause class envy among the more susceptible of the bogan class, who also think that having a superficially flashy foreign car will impress their beer swilling mates. Them and your upper class bikie/nightclub owner types all think a BMW means “I’ve made it.” But underneath it all they’re still the thugs and simian-gaited halfwits they have always been.

    Then of course there was the embarrassment of GMH being essentially heckled out of Australia over a couple of Question Times late in 2013. An institution gone overnight, and all accomplished by Hockey and Truss – true guardians of national pride and dedicated to manufacturing jobs – while Abbott was away in South Africa pretending to be sorry that Nelson Mandela was dead. We couldn’t have the irony of a GMH VIP fleet when GMH it self had been sacked. In Abbott world, when something or someone is out of favour, everything they do, say or produce – or have done, have said and have produced – is banished to the dead zone. Abbott takes no prisoners. First he betrays them, then he makes sure they and anything they ever accomplished are disappeared forever. Dead. Buried. Cremated.

    So GMH just had to go. It didn’t fit the bogan model of class by association and it would have reminded everyone of how comprehensively this bunch of Lower North Shore idiot sons of dentists, sausage makers and real estate agents had fucked up the nation they promised to govern as adults and natural custodians of the national treasury.

  3. Barbarian Intellectualism.

    “For so many in the techno-elite, even those who don’t entirely subscribe to the unlimited optimism of the Singularity (The Singularity is a notion of some futurists…Google it if you wish), the notion of perpetual progress and economic growth is somehow taken for granted. As a former classicist turned technologist, I’ve always lived with the shadow of the fall of Rome, the failure of its intellectual culture, and the stasis that gripped the Western world for the better part of a thousand years. What I fear most is that we will lack the will and the foresight to face the world’s problems squarely, but will instead retreat from them into superstition and ignorance.” (Quote from the internet.) .

    In an earlier post, I questioned the presumption of what constituted an “Advanced Society”; The notion of perpetual progress and economic growth is somehow taken for granted vs. the concept of creating a deliberate stable, sustainable social environment. While the former demands a “ laissez faire” economy, the latter would encourage a more “softly, softly” approach. To say that the latter would constitute a kind of “anti-intellectualism” is wrong..I would say that it is more of a “steering” of intellectual prowess toward community relevant advances, rather than toward that which enriches and can be utilized only by a wealthy elite. The barbarian idea of plunder and rapine to enrich the few rather than the most is anti-intellectualism..a degree of thought would prove that, like a garden, a sustainable harvest brings greater wealth in the long run rather than a one-off slash and burn approach..”softly, softly catchee monkey”. But that is not to say that the Barbarian class hasn’t learned by their mistakes.

    In ancient times, the Scythians, a most barbaric nomadic tribe from the Steppes of Eurasia , would contract the Grecian artists and artisans to manufacture works of beauty in plundered gold for their own vanity. The barbarian hand, while being adept at wielding a weapon, seems always to lack the finesse and temperament for cultured art. One cannot sing through gritted teeth!

    The IPA. , considered in these days as being THE VOICE of the right-wing think tanks in Aust’, is one such example of “Barbarian Intellectualism”. Reading articles from personalities of this institution, one can visualize through the chosen jargon and clichéd phrases, them trawling through their university days learned texts with “join-the-dots” logic that is more intellectualism by rote than by inquisitive enquiry. They will reach to give ‘legitimizing cred’ to their words by quoting from even dissenting sources, as if the reader cannot discern their cunning…like the schoolyard trick of the older boy offering the younger child ; “One BIG ‘gob-stopper” for all those little jaffas”…we’ve all witnessed THAT scenario and it’s nothing but insulting to have such juvenile methodology foisted upon us in our old age. Truly, many of the arguments put up by the “Barbarian intellectuals” , no matter who they quote, are little more than excuses for behaviour, rather than seeking to discover.

    If there is one famous quote that could embrace the entire Barbarian intellectualism ethos and moral direction, it would have to be that ghastly logic from the Vietnam War , where one ; “…must destroy the village to save the village.” And we have seen just how far such insane logic has taken the governance of this once well-administered country . The social-suicidal implementation of the IPA. “wish list” has driven both the object and the integrity of conversation in this country to a depth never before plumbed. To have to listen to the childish babbling of its’ creators is to give too much valued-time to too little thought. The influence of such puerile philosophy on the ministers of the govt’ demonstrates the even lower level of capable discourse amongst the front bench of that govt’. To call this govt’; “capable” is to outright lie..To call the govt’ of the day “culpable” is to be somewhere closer to reality…as to what they are “culpable” of is for a future commission to ascertain…but the least charge that can be leveled is the one of cultural “Barbarism”.

  4. Verse 2:

    Beneath our radiant Southern Cross
    We’ll toil with hearts and hands;
    To make this Commonwealth of ours
    Renowned of all the lands;
    For those who’ve come across the seas
    We’ve boundless plains to share;

    With courage let us all combine
    To Advance Australia Fair.
    In joyful strains then let us sing,
    Advance Australia Fair.

  5. If I could I’d ban national anthems and national flags, they just encourage jingoism. So whoever came up with this brainfart for Australia Day can shove it you-know-where.

    But perhaps the most ambitious element of the day is the council’s hope that Australians far and wide will down barbecue tools and cold stubbies at noon and stand shoulder-to-shoulder in song for a mass rendition of Advance Australia Fair
    “We encourage people from all over Australia to stop what they are doing and join us in singing the national anthem at midday,” said Australia Day 2015 creative director, former Australian Idol music director, John Foreman.

    FFS! What a dumb idea.

  6. jaeger

    Abbott clings firmly to the 1879 version. Verse 2

    When gallant Cook from Albion sailed,
    To trace wide oceans o’er,
    True British courage bore him on,
    Til he landed on our shore.
    Then here he raised Old England’s flag,
    The standard of the brave;
    With all her faults we love her still
    Britannia rules the wave.
    In joyful strains then let us sing

    Advance Australia fair.

  7. To arms! Two arms, two hands,
    under the Southern Cross he stands,
    no native of that southern land,
    Australia! You beauty!
    Up the little red rooster!
    More piss!

    I always thought that this was the subliminal message being delivered by the Bra boys’ style of nationalism, but now they have ditched the larrikinisms and started to thake themselves way too seriously. Are we all mad?

  8. I noticed Abbott struggling with the words of the second verse at the Whitlam memorial service. He mumbled through the first verse OK, but maybe the words of the second verse choked him.

  9. The backbench revolt that forced Tony Abbott to back down over $20 GP fee

    Tony Abbott faced a backbench revolt on his plan to slash the Medicare rebate for short doctors’ visits with former cabinet minister Mal Brough prepared to go public and denounce the idea, prompting the Prime Minister’s backdown.

    Queensland Premier Campbell Newman, who is in the middle of an election campaign, also wanted the issue killed, fearing a repeat of the Victorian election where federal issues dragged down the vote and the state Coalition government was dumped after one term.

    The LNP polling in Queensland must have been disastrous, to cause such panic.

    Another Liberal said the debacle served as a final warning shot to the Prime Minister that this was his last chance to reform his office

    Perhaps Abbott should have taken his holiday at Kirribilli House. It might have been his last chance to enjoy the comforts of the harbourside mansion.

    Also – the descriptions of what happens in the party room are revealing a government in chaos. First we had Mesma ‘going bananas’, then Hockey had ‘gone off his tits’ and now there are back benchers ‘going spare’. So far no-one has ‘gone ape’. That might be reserved for Abbott, when he gets the boot.

  10. Scorpio referred (last evening) to a mildly critical article in the Herald-Sun over the Sussan Ley press conference and the quite telling headline:
    New Medicare back flip’s a flop for Abbott Government.
    It is depressingly reassuring to read in this morning’s dead tree version that this article is relegated to page 6 to make way for a three page beat-up on “terrorists in our midst.”
    I expect that the Curious Snail will have done something similar, that is if they have found space at all for the news of the Medicare back-down.
    Because I don’t wish to be misunderstood, I hasten to add that I read the paper at the coffee shop and only did so because I was curious to see how this latest Government cock-up was treated.

  11. IT doesn’t matter how patriotic you are, there is one thing most Australians will never know. In fact, it’s almost un-Australian to be able to recite the lines to the second verse of Advance Australia Fair.

    After weeks and weeks of searching, we’ve managed to find the unknown lyrics. They were under the couch cushions.

    It’s sung to the same tune as the first verse, so hopefully you don’t get too lost.

  12. Sussan Ley being interviewed this morning on ch7. Just a couple of things about the backflip before the presenter turned to the Jihadists in Belgium. I didn’t know she had to answer questions outside her portfolio. Anything but the problems here in Australia.

  13. We Aussies can’t even write our own music for a national anthem, apparently.

    Advance Australia Fair bears quite a resemblance to a Welsh anthem – God Bless the Prince of Wales. The similarity was talked about eons ago, as this letter published in the Sydney Morning Herald in June 1933

    And more recently –

    A quick Google will get you many more links to this debate.

    Make up your own mind.

    Me? If we have to have a damned national anthem why can’t we have this vesion? Will I be sent to Manus Island if I sing it at 12.00 midday on Australia Day?

  14. And now they want us to get up on our feet and sing the bloody national anthem !
    Geez!..when I was an apprentice, you counted on your fingers the weeks or days to The Queen’s Birthday, Australia day etc. as a day off work and weren’t you thankful for it!…but to call for one to sing the national anthem??…going a tad too far!..what are they, almost demanding allegiance..; bloody commies or summat?

  15. Here’s something to keep in mind for 26 January.

    On 26 January 1808 the NSW Corps ousted Governor Bligh and took over the running of the colony. You’ve heard about this – it is known as the Rum Rebellion. What if we decided to forget downing drinks at 12 midday to chant the national anthem while wearing Aussie flag capes and undies and instead opted for a Rum Rebellion re-enactment? We could oust a tyrannical, inept, fascist farce of a government and install a decent, caring mob who actually might want to make this country a fairer place.

  16. New Immigration Minister Peter Dutton warns asylum seekers their protests will fail

    Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has dismissed pleas from asylum seekers for a more compassionate approach, warning he is going to be just as tough as his predecessor Scott Morrison.

    In his first media conference since taking over the Immigration portfolio, Mr Dutton said it was his “absolute resolve” to ensure asylum seekers detained on Manus Island and in other facilities never arrive in Australia.

    The warning comes amid escalating unrest on Manus Island and signs the stand-off between authorities and asylum seekers is increasing.

  17. Leonietwo – March in March might constructively use that idea to block access to Parliament Hill, if we could make enough common cause to prevent them getting to the big house, what more damage could they do?

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