Reading up on Australia before my flight here in February, it hit me how little I really knew about the country that was to be my home for the next five months (beyond clich?d thoughts of beautiful beaches and citizens using kangaroos as a mode of transportation, that is) while I studied at the University of Melbourne.
I also realized that I was not alone in this cluelessness. After all, how many Americans do you know who can correctly name the Australian Prime Minister? How about the nation’s capital city? (It’s not Sydney.) But John Howard and Canberra are just the beginning to a culture that, for some reason, never seems to reach across the Pacific Ocean. Below are highlights of all that is interesting, strange and in Aussie land.
Australia and America
Though very little of Australian culture touches the lives of Americans, Australians seem to have a preoccupation with our country. Walking across any college campus, you’ll see posters for lectures on “The Horrible History of the Bush Family” and “The Bloody Past of the American Empire,” yet you’ll hardly ever hear discussion about Australia’s own history or political engagements (except the occasional assertion to oust Howard for entering Australia into the Iraq War).
American entertainment has also taken Australia by storm. Apart from one or two popular Australian shows, the channels are flooded with “Law and Order” and “CSI,” and yes, I’ve been asked if I knew someone who was murdered. Australians’ favorite new show is “The OC,” which began here a few weeks ago. It’s pretty sad to see teenage girls wearing “I love Seth” shirts. As for celebrities, Australians will kill you if you even think Nicole Kidman is an American, and Australian vocalist Kylie Minogue has achieved Madonna-like status here, which is just plain weird.
American food industries like KFC and 7-11 are on almost every street corner, but the abundant number of street caf?s and eclectic restaurants prevent cities from becoming commercially American-esque. They also have McDonald’s (lovingly nicknamed “Mackers”) and Hungry Jack’s (which is Burger King under a different name) here.
Yes, they do really say “G’day mate” and “No worries.” Australians tend to use rhyming slang, under which tomato sauce (what they call ketchup) becomes “dead horse.” By the way, you do have to pay for packets of ketchup in this fine country. Also under rhyming slang, if you want to “hit the road,” you’ll be hitting the “frog and toad.”
Another trend in Australia is reversed slang, under which a “bluie” is a redhead and “curly” is a bald person. As for other slang, flip-flops are “thongs,” plain pizza is called “margherita” and beer comes in “tinnies” (cans), pots (small glass), pints (large glass) and jugs (pitchers). Also, Australians “barrack” for their favorite sports team – “rooting” has sexual connotations.
Australia is also strange in other ways apart from language. When writing the date, the day comes first (20/4/05), phone numbers have eight digits and on the toilet there are two buttons – for half and full flush.
Australian money is similar to American currency, but because there are no pennies, everything is rounded. There are also one and two dollar coins. There is no tipping in Australia, and tax is already included, so basically the price you see is the price you pay.
Australian politics are so confusing that even Aussie citizens have trouble nailing the facts down. The strangest part is that the Liberal Party is the conservatives, and yes, they realize it’s screwed-up logic.
Australian sports differ greatly from those found in America. Most famous are Australian Rules Football, or “footy.” This sport, a combination of soccer, rugby and football, involves teams of 18 men who play with a rugby-shaped ball. The point is to kick the ball between four poles in each end zone, therefore scoring six points for a goal between the center poles, or one point for a goal between a center and an outside pole.
Players are allowed to pass the ball by either punting or serving it (like a volleyball) to one another. Women love footy because the players wear small, spandex shorts.
Other Australian sports such as standard rugby and cricket are also popular. However, there is no baseball or regular football (they call American football “grid iron”).
Ned Kelly is the Australian Jessie James. The country’s most famous outlaw, he formed the Kelly Gang (included Kelly, his brother Dan and two friends) to fight against corrupt police in the 1880s.
Half of Australia looks upon Kelly’s spree of bank robberies and murder with loathing, while the other half hails him as Australia’s first democrat.
At their last stand against police, the Kelly Gang wore armor made from the iron of a plow. The helmets they wore, which looked like upside-down buckets, are a national Australian symbol. Kelly’s accomplices were killed, but he survived and was later hanged at the Old Melbourne Gaol (Jail), where his suit of armor is displayed today. His famous last words were “Such is life.” Anyone interested should watch the movie “Ned Kelly,” if for no other reason than it stars Heath Ledger as Ned Kelly and Orlando Bloom as a member of the Gang!