It wasn't just the natural beauty and the fabulous wildlife of Australia that we enjoyed on our last visit. I also found the people to be really wonderful--just as friendly as portrayed--and the culture and history fascinating. Here are some thoughts I wrote down after the 2004 trip, informed by nothing but reading Robert Hughes' incomparable history The Fatal Shore and two weeks of traveling around and talking with Australians from all walks of life. I wonder how those early impressions will evolve on this trip:
"They're very politically earnest, the Australians, because despite the convict-era cynicism toward authority and publicly expressed morals they are still such a young country. The difference, developmentally, between Australia and the States is that between a fresh college graduate (albeit, perhaps, one with the scars and strengths that come from a difficult childhood) and a 30-year-old who's been out in the world a bit. Not all that much, from a certain perspective, but nonetheless the question for the first is, who do I want to be, and that of the second, how do I make the most of what I am? And it's a very different thing.
"And I like that earnestness, and the awkward, moralizing small talk that goes along with it in certain groups. ('But don't you feel horribly guilty about the Native Americans?,' I was asked at a cocktail reception.) I like the friendliness that has nothing in it, as it so often does in the US, of either prying or sweetness. And the funny delight in formality that is one of the legacies of Anglophilia and the days of extreme social stratification. And the casual hedonism.
"I'm sure, were I to spend significant time there, I'd find much to dislike. The anti-intellectualism. The intense, unthinking secularism. Tall-poppy syndrome. This is much talked about by ALL bright Aussies; the idea that 'tall poppies are cut down'; i.e., we bash on high achievers. And, not a social issue at all, but one I can never quite let go of, the disturbing awareness of being in a land that is, fundamentally, not equipped to support human life."
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