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. Al Palster

    I hope no one pays her but one of the rags probably will.
    Look at the promo shots all glamour and look at my tits.
    She went through a hard time but so did the other survivors. This as you say is nothing more than a grubby money grab

  2. Joe6pack,

    To misquote slightly, a lib supporter is one who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

  3. Joe6pack,

    Of course I will.

    Progress report.

    Today saw the refilling of the shelves. The books have been shelved by category: psychology (the largest section); really good fiction; history and biography; poetry and drama; then a couple of mixed categories: philosophy (including philosophy of science) and religion; finally, myths and legends of all types plus classical (Roman and Greek) literature.

    This time, most of the books are upright, as they should be, though the “mixed” categories are stacked on the brand new lowest shelf in order to maximize space.

    I’ve reduced the number of volumes from a bit north of a thousand (yes, I over-estimated) down to just under 700. One hundred or so are in various recycling bins for collection tomorrow morning. Another 200 will be made available for friends to sift through. Any that are unwanted will go to some lucky op shop (and there’s some good stuff, too).


    My mother has helped, though I haven’t let her do any of the more demanding part. Yesterday morning, when the bedroom rearrangement was happening, she insisted on sweeping the floor – which was useful, but would have been more so if she’d swept the different areas as I requested. Doing it in her preferred order meant that the furniture movers had to wait until she had done certain areas before the next piece of furniture could be moved. Then, yesterday afternoon she and I dusted the majority of the books (I also started the culling process).

    Tomorrow I hope she will bag the 200 unwanted but not tossed books, while helpful assistant and I venture (careful choice of words) on the room adjoining my study. That’s where the whodunnits, the children’s books, the cookery books, and a general miscellany live. In urgent need of cleaning, sorting etc.

  4. Morrison will just ignore this –

    PEOPLE with disabilities are keen to work and threatening them with a loss of benefits won’t help them break into the labour market.

    That is the conclusion of a ­report sent to Social Services Minister Scott Morrison in the hope he will take a broader look at how to reform the Disability Support Pension, with the sector concerned that the government is considering draconian cuts in the lead-up to the May budget

    Isn’t it ludicrous – the MSM are now talking about ‘the lead-up to the May budget’. In four months time, Hockey will hand down his second budget and most likely key elements of the current effort will still be stuck in the senate.

  5. Fiona
    Because I’ve moved house several times over the last 20 or so years, each time to a place with less storage, I’ve been forced to have a few book culls. Then there have been the two complete renovations to this house, meaning everything had to be packed up and moved out so the painters could get their work done, so that meant more culls. I’ve given boxes and boxes of books to op shops, off-loaded bags full to the library, given more boxes and boxes to an annual book sale we have here for charity, donated more to a fete or three, sent a lot to the tip and even sold books at weekend markets. And I still have a stack of archive boxes full of books in storage waiting to come home. The shelves they are supposed to return to are being used for other purposes, some are filling up with new books. I bought a Kindle, hoping it would help cure my book addiction but so far it’s not working.

  6. Tasmania plans to open wilderness world heritage area to logging and tourism

    The Tasmanian government is attempting to remove the term “wilderness” from the state’s wilderness world heritage area, opening the vast ecosystem to selective logging, cruise ships and landing strips for aircraft.

    In a draft plan, extracts of which have been seen by Guardian Australia, the term “wilderness” is dropped because it is considered “deeply problematic for Aboriginal people” and replaced by “natural area”. The document states the current terminology “implies a landscape empty of human culture”

  7. Leone,

    I’ve been addicted to books all my life. Nevertheless, knowing DD is not interested, I did my first big cull (700, I think) four years ago. The criteria were: would I ever read it again? would DD ever want to read it?

    The room next to my study is mostly the outcome of that exercise. I find children’s books the most challenging – mostly, I think, because when I was 11 my dad decreed that I’d outgrown a whole lot of stuff, removed them himself, and gave them away. Well, he was wrong: I still haven’t outgrown some of them, and have spent a fair bit of effort retrieving some of those cherished volumes.

    However, the time has come: the seriously schmaltzy things like Heidi Grows Up are for the chop.

    I think.

  8. BK. took the Bedford for a cruise to Echunga with the horses today..went past that plant-out..we wondered what it was…Geez!’d you get that whopping grant?

  9. Fiona..chucking books is a bit like throwing out personal photos!…every one is a tactile reminder of one’s progress toward the zenith (or perhaps the nadir) of understanding…it’s…it’s ..almost like child abuse!!

  10. jaycee
    BS goes a long way! But seriously there is a need to re-establish native grasses – especially the perennial summer grasses.

  11. Oh geez- Heidi books.

    I had the lot, Heidi, Heidi Grows Up and Heidi’s Children. I loved them when I was about 10 years old. I found them when I did the last cull, in a big plastic storage box full of my old childhood books that my daughter had kept. I just couldn’t bear to throw them out. They were still in very good condition, a matching set with pretty illustrations by Pelagie Doane. Maybe my little grand-daughters will enjoy them in a few years time.

    Even worse – I was addicted to Lorna Hill’s Sadlers Wells books when I was about 12 and mad for ballet.
    I still have the whole set, except for one now very rare and very expensive one. I can’t throw them out either.

  12. Notice the MSM seem to imply that Abbott and Sussan Ley were together by using a photo of them both- but she had to deliver the news alone.

    ABC website comments and Facebook page pretty anti the policy. Wait for it to resurface after Queensland election.

  13. BK. is a problem out this way with the wombats lacking food as the native grasses were edged out by cropping…we have several warrens of wombats on our place because some native grass has returned…But that grant is on hellava good one…treasure it..nourish it and treat it with the respect it deserves.

  14. My mother was very good at ‘culling’ my possessions books, jigsaws etc. for ‘poor children’ she never asked me -so I lost many favourites that way.. I still mourn.

  15. jaycee
    We have a target of 800 ha to either restore or revegetate and it is pretty much going to plan so far. We have seed and cutting production in full swing and have developed and patented a one-man aerator/seeder apparatus which does a great job.

  16. BK

    have developed and patented a one-man aerator/seeder apparatus which does a great job.

    For some reason I’m thinking it look like this 🙂

  17. Leone,

    I loved the Lorna Hill books too; fortunately, our school library had them all.


    Exactly – though many of my childhood toys (including the dolls’ house my father made for me when I was 7) went to the local “disabled” children’s school, Koomarri. I didn’t mind (well, I did a bit about the dolls’ house) but I was seriously annoyed about the books.

  18. Splendid analysis from Boerwar across the road:

    Apart from going on holidays in the first place, Ley gets five ticks:

    (1) Stop the haples and hopeless political bleeding
    (2) Do it fast
    (3) Blame somebody else for buggering it up
    (4) Promise to do what Dutton did not – consult.
    (5) Ignore the $1.3 billion forward estimates addition to Hockey’s Black Hole.

    So far, so Houdini. Plus, Ley looks like she actually has her hands on the steering wheel and some sort of interest in where the car is going. This compares favourably with Dutton who was asleep in the glovebox.

    For the Coalition getting back to where it started on health policy is better than being where it was yesterday evening.

    Abbott, Frydenberg and Billson being hung to dry by selling the opposite message in the days before the backflip is not a Ley issue. It is a PMO co-ord issue. Oh Noes. Not again.

    Credlin and Simkin have cooked up the first big shit storm loss and public humiliation for the Coalition and for assorted circus performers for 2015. Already. It turns out that simpering pro-IPA lines on the ABC is a bit harder than doing the real thing in the House on the Hill.

    Now for the tricky bit: how will Ley ‘consult’ the AMA, the states, and sufficient senators into anything at all that costs Medicare patients more money to visit a doctor – even the smallest amount of money – that vital little starting price and ‘victory’ for the Abbott Government. Hanging onto a GP tax will be the Ley’s test.

    Ley had a dream run in Childcare. She has made a good start to health. But is only sort of looks good because she is not as bone-headed as Dutton. The hard bit – actually getting something changed for real – starts tomorrow.

    And hat tip to Leroy for bringing it to my attention.

  19. Interesting

    Nice one from BW over the road, thought I’d share it on twitter.

  20. leonetwo

    Only nine ? If the Oaf wins a second term by year three of it Tones’ will be matching his mate
    Vlad the Bad.

  21. Ouch! That hurt! Maybe I need a doctor. How much? 😉 Nice picture of a plane here.

    Is it the Flying Doctor?

    New Medicare back flip’s a flop for Abbott Government

    What may hurt the most is that that headline for an article slightly critical of the Abbott government is in a “News Ltd” publication.

    THE Abbott Government has started the new political year on the back foot, backflipping on its plans to force doctors to spend at least 10 minutes with each patient by cutting Medicare rebates by $20.

    New Health Minister Sussan Ley revealed the Government was taking the controversial plans “off the table’’ after Labor and the Senate crossbenchers pledged to block the measure, which the Australian Medical Association had warned would reduce bulk-billing and make it more difficult to see a doctor.

    The move, which would have cut the Medicare rebate from $37.05 to $16.95 for appointments lasting under 10 minutes, has punched another $1.3 billion hole in the Budget.

    The cuts were due to come into effect on Monday, but are now off the agenda after Ms Ley, who replaced former Health Minister Peter Dutton in a reshuffle just three weeks ago, vowed to “pause and consult” on the issue.

  22. Ms Ley made the announcement just two hours after Small Business Minister Bruce Billson went on television and vowed to push ahead with the changes.

    Blimey, Bruce! Do try & keep up, will you!

    Seems to be a bit slow, does our Bruce! 😉

    Glenn used to like him quite a bit. Not quite as much as Mesma though. That was true love, that was!

    Anybody remember that from the early days over the road?

  23. We do things better in Qld. You think that Tony Abbott is good at telling lies! “No cuts to education, no PS jobs threatened etc.) And only one day before the federal election!

    How about Campbell Newman? Leaves Abbott for dead. Thank Dog he was born in Tassie and not Qld.

    “All public servants in Queensland should look forward to a bright future under the LNP”…. Campbell Newman prior to the last election…. 22,000 sacked and counting.

    “We will freeze electricity price rises” Campbell Newman before the last election…..Power bills up 46%

  24. Grant 1 hour ago

    So let me be absolutely clear today that we decided to not consider divestment of Energex, Ergon or Powerlink to pay down the debt… and we certainly will not be seeking any mandate to undertake a sale of those assets at the next election.”

    (Newman, Parliament, April 2013)

    ou forgot

  25. Good morning Dawn Patrollers.

    Well Tone, do you still think your Pope is infallible?
    Michael Gordon – Ley’s medicine to avoid a month of political carnage. And after the medicine . . .?
    Give Baird a tick for this given the pressure he was under from commercial forces.
    What the Medicare backdown means for patients.
    An Australian Muslim perspective from Irfan Yusuf.–we-are-victims-too-20150115-12qtps.html
    Queenslanders have forked out up to $2b in subsidies for the Abbot Point coal project without a cost/benefit analysis. Nice work Can-Do.
    Religious instruction has no place in public schools.
    How Can-Do Newman is selling out Queenslanders.,7263
    The three worst things the Liberals did yesterday.

  26. Section 2 . . .

    The parliamentary cleaning contract and the cleaners’ pay rise issue continue in darkness.
    Why an extra GST on foreign on-line purchases won’t work.
    A complaint about John Howard has been taken to the International Criminal Court.
    Richard Ackland piles into The Australian.
    An autopsy of a dead policy (Medicare rebate reductions).
    The Murdoch Mafia unwinds.,7261
    Cocaine’s trail of destruction for the high flyers and glitterati.
    Beware the summer snake oil (GST) salesmen.
    Greg Jericho has a good look at the prospects for interest rate change.
    Manus Island asylum seekers reach out for compassion from Dutton. Let’s see what he does.
    Looks like Abbott has the persona of Ebola with the Queensland LNP.
    David Pope gives the Abbott jellyfish another run.

  27. JG didn’t order BMWs, that was Abbott’s idea and there was a political reason for it that had nothing to do with the quality or suitability of the vehicles.

    The top-of-the-line Holden Caprice was recommended by the Attorney-General’s Department in 2012 as the preferred option for a fleet of nine specialised blast-proof VIP vehicles to be used by the Prime Minister and other dignitaries, according to confidential government documents.

    The revelation appears to contradict reported Abbott government sources as saying Holden had not even submitted a bid in the tender because the car-maker simply ”was not interested”.

    Holden viewed that claim, which appeared in a News Corp newspaper on Wednesday, just hours before the US-owned car maker announced its withdrawal, as part of a deliberate negative backgrounding campaign by Coalition ministers to make Holden look uncommitted to Australia.

    The report also cited government sources revealing the multimillion-dollar contract to replace the ageing fleet of Caprices, was about to be filled with ”off-the-shelf BMW High Security 7-Series vehicles”, worth $525,000 each

  28. CTar1 – Are you sure? A quick Googling to refresh my memory:

    * The AFP selected the xDrive 50i for their protection fleet in 2010 (possibly influencing the parliamentary fleet decision later?)

    * Holden/BAe were the preferred tender in Dec 2012, but the purchase was deferred due to the election.

    * There was a stink when BMW won the PM fleet contract – without tender? – in Dec 2013: Bridget Abbott was/had been a BMW “brand ambassador” (Mar 2012)

    Can you fill in the gaps?

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