The Christmas floods caused devastation in England but the weather can also be lethal in Australia where Elaine and I have been with family for several weeks.
It’s worth pointing out that this sprawling island has its fair share of devastating floods and the bush fires on Christmas Day rapidly wiped out whole areas of homes and businesses. With the main artery, The Great Ocean Road closed, locals sought refuge on beaches or even in the sea as all they owned disappear in smoke.
This was our fourth trip to Oz and each time we have been impressed with the noticeable spaciousness and rugged open countryside linked to well-appointed towns and cities. We were south of the sports crazy city of Melbourne where, as everywhere, people are exceedingly friendly. You cannot walk into a cafe, shop or restaurant without an outpouring of warm greetings like “owzit gawin?” or “howya dooin?” concluding with the old favourite, “no worries”. It certainly has a ring of the USA with an overall feeling of well-being and carefree attitude.
It may be the smallest of the seven continents, but the UK could fit comfortably into it 31 times! Australia has a very mixed population of 23 million. Wherever you look there is an abundance of well-kept sports facilities, trimmed parks and leisure areas joined by wide roads which seem to go on – dead straight – for mile after mile. During our stay we once travelled for 500km on superb highways shared by little traffic to reach South Australia where we had to alter our clocks in a new time zone.
Aussie males are infamous for their macho image and several have openly expressed their fanatic passion for all sports – Aussie rules footy, beach sports, golf and, of course, cricket. Here there is what’s known as ‘Big Bash’ live cricket with up to 80,000 packed into the Melbourne Cricket Ground and huge nightly TV viewing audiences. I must say I rarely watched the game but I got hooked on the 20 overs per side which were fast moving battles. And masses followed the Australia Open tennis throughout January.
People here have real ‘laid back’ attitude, (casual to a point of sleep) – even more than the Spanish. They take folks as they find them and are eager to want you to join in whatever is going on. We generally scrub up and go out looking tidy to find guys in public areas and at events wearing old jeans, a well-worn T shirt and flip flops, but they usually adhere to the ‘no rowdies’ and ‘no open alcohol’ rules in public.
There are, of course, the exceptions like young men who take advantage of the unusual arrangement with vehicle insurance. Owners pay a registration fee of about £350 which includes compulsory third party insurance cover. This means a youngster can legally jump into and drive, sometimes at speed, a Lamborghini or the ever popular ‘Ute’ without taking fully comprehensive insurance!
Aboriginal people lived here for centuries before several adventurers visited this mysterious land with its dangerous coastline and James Cook was commissioned to claim it in the 1770s on behalf of Britain’s King George Third. A decade later it became the dumping ground for thousands of British criminals who endured a four month sea journey – 750 per boat – and left to become settlers, mainly farmers.
People at gatherings have explained to us that everyone here is a migrant (other than the 2% indigenous aboriginals), admitting they are descendants over centuries of immigrants. Now anyone coming on to Australian soil must have the appropriate visa – without it you are refused entry and sent back at your own expense. To obtain a visa proposing to work here you have to fulfil a complex points system depending on the kind of work you seek. After some years you can take a fairly stiff exam about many aspects of Australia and become a citizen which entitles you to vote.
A group we met chatted about the £10 Poms, a colloquial term used to describe those British subjects who were subsidised to come here in the 1950s after the government at the time declared a ‘Populate or Perish!’ policy. Adults paid £10 each, kids travelled free, with 160,000 taking up the offer which ended as late as 1982.
Throughout our stay we often found it difficult getting our heads around the time difference – 11 hours ahead of the UK. We enjoyed New Year celebrations here, went to bed and got up as you were starting to party. We watched fireworks from around the world on TV with London the most spectacular.
In Australia it’s now their summer with kids on six weeks holiday. But youngsters are kept well entertained and active with fun runs, beach sports, bike and pony riding, indoor climbing etc.
The weather plays an important part in getting people out and about. And for all age groups there are triathlon and iron man contests, tennis, cricket – you name it they do it. We attended the last part of a three day Rock n’ Roll Festival in Geelong where over 800 people, again of all ages bopped, jived and competed for six hours.
We reckon if you can endure the 24 hour flights and the varying temperatures beneath a thin ozone layer, put up with the fairly high cost of wining and dining, Australia is a great place to be.
They take great pride in their country and if we were younger we would probably be here.