Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Rooting for Australia

No one asks you why you’re immigrating to Australia.

The reasons are self-evident; Australia is a biblical paradise of milk, honey, consistent 30 degree weather and pretty, toned, lightly toasted beach girls. The question is not so much; “Why you’re immigrating?” as “Why you haven’t left already?”.

Once here it’s all so familiar (climate and toasting beauties aside). They have tea and drive on the left. Everyone speaks English and unlike the North Americans they’ve left the language largely unmolested.

There are many opportunities to adopt Americanism that they’ve studiously avoided and so you find that they’ve got Lorries and Petrol. The alphabet ends with the letter Zed – not Zee. Though I rather miss the Irish pronunciation of the letter ‘R’ (We say “oar” as if we’d use the little things to move our boats along).

A rubber is an item of stationary not something spotty teenagers are embarrassed to buy in a chemist. Oh and they’re still called ‘chemists’ here – the tiresome trend in Ireland is to adopt the francophone form; ‘pharmacy’. And once in the shop (not store) our furtive stripling will join a queue (not a line). When served, he will eventually buy the latex items he came for, but only because at the last minute he spotted nappies (not diapers) on a shelf behind the counter.

And then the linguistic aspects of the young Australian’s experience begin to diverge from our own. (Steady!) For he will need to remove his daks (not in the chemist – but later for these are his trousers) and pash (rather than kiss) his inamorata and don his apothecary acquisition when he ‘cracks a fat’ (translation withheld – the ladies may swoon). Finally all pretence at romance evaporates when they have a “root”. As this is the tender term selected by Australians to describe the beautiful act of making love. How sweet!

In order to avoid confusion the word route is pronounced according to the American convention. This can pose difficulties for Irish network engineers who constantly talk about fixing their banjaxed router to a room of tittering Aussies.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


I met Joanne in the hostel on my second day in Australia when, as I mentioned, I was suffering from an acute case of food poisoning.
As you know, hostels provide affordable accommodation without troubling their guests with anything resembling privacy. So if you are ill, tired or just wish to be alone you are relying on the sensitivity of the strangers with whom you share a dormitory.

Sadly, it was not to be. Throughout the day at hourly intervals a less than completely sensitive German woman with the bunk over mine erupted into the otherwise empty room to enquire about Joe; Had I seen Joe, can you let Joe know where I am, and so forth. It wasn’t just that she asked questions, but booming voice was like a bomb detonating. I wasn’t very well disposed to the intrusive German and was becoming annoyed with the missing Joe. If he would just turn up, then maybe I’d could suffer in peace.

Joe never appeared. Instead late in the afternoon the explosive Germen thundered in with ‘Jo’ in train. Joe it appeared was in fact Joanne, a pretty backpacker with a curious Celtic accent. At first, I couldn’t place any shibboleths. I had had little to work with as her German friend as doing most of the talking. But Jo politely corrected my Scottish guess, telling me she was Welsh.

Jo and the German made an odd fellowship. They didn’t strike me as being at all suited to one another. Jo was pleasant, thoughtful and accommodating. Not qualities I’d ascribe to the German. But then backpacking around the world often amounts to a series of temporary alliances and friendships of convenience. They were both single, female, travelling alone in Sydney and sleeping in the same dormitory.
In the days that followed I began spending some time with the pair. The three of us went to Julius Caesar in the Opera House. Jo came with me to my new flatmate’s birthday party, we attended museums and toured the Blue Mountains.

Sadly it was all to come to and end the following week when Jo resumed her travels around South Eastern Australia. The good news is that she’ll be in Sydney again for a week or so before heading to New Zealand for 6 months work. After that she’ll disappear to darkest South America on her way home to the wrong South Wales.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Omnia Mutantur

Standing on an arbitrary street corner in Sydney at first glance I could be in downtown San Jose. But look a little closer and the scene begins to resolve to a more familiar one. For one thing there are too many people on foot for this to be an American city. And the local authorities have had the good sense to have the citizenry drive on the left hand side of the road (as intended by the gods).

For an Irishman there is much about Australia that is customary, or at least non-American. Simple things; ‘Colour’, ‘routeing’, ‘harbour’ and ‘aluminium’ are spelled without randomly omitting letters, you can actually purchase tea in coffee shops and people aren’t all tucked up in their beds at midnight on a weekend night.

There are some welcome colonial advantages; they have a warmer, dryer climate that has much more in common with Northern California than Dublin and the infrastructure looks like it has been parachuted in from Boston or New York. On the face of it you would have to say that they appear to have the balance just right.

Much of what is familiar heightens one’s awareness of the little distinctions that remind you that you’re on the other side of the planet - and not just enjoying one of those rare meteorological anomalies that occasionally bring the Mediterranean to the British Isles. Such as the birds and plants. Wander through any of Sydney’s many parks and open spaces and they’re everywhere. Gum and Eucalyptus trees swarming in alien birds; Cockatoos, Kookaburras, Noisy Minors and the bizarre looking Australian White Ibis. The latter are about 40cm tall and promenade around on long, black, stalk-like legs as they forage in leaf litter and litter bins with their preposterously large, curved beaks. They’re not even slightly concerned about being around people either. They’ll walk right up to and look you in the eye as if to say, “you’re not in Dublin any more Darren”.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Qvod cibvs est aliis, aliis est wenenum

For various reasons I have avoided Thai Food for the past decade or so. I’ve always known it was an unfair prejudice, but given the choice I’ve always favoured the anything-but-Thai option.

Sydney is positively brimming over with Thai food. Of course the city’s a cornucopia of regional cuisines and the ubiquity of Thai food does not imply a restriction. However, on the evening of my arrival, in the spirit of new-slates and adventure I decided to cast off my inhibitions and sat down in a restaurant with “Bangkok” in the title. Big Mistake. Huge.

I ordered a pork dish and it tasted fine. I’d go so far as to say I enjoyed it and I do recall leaving a tip. An hour later, in the failing light of my first evening in Sydney the pallor of my face drained like a vanishing sunset. My ruddy, Irish visage faded to grey as my stomach churned. It was to be 36 hours of gastric unpleasantness before I was comfortable being more than 3 minutes from the nearest public convenience.

I’ll give Thai food one last chance - a decade or so from now.