We flew today from Sydney to Hong Kong. Time enough for us to write about Hong Kong over the next few days. Today is the ideal day to reflect on our Australian adventures. So here goes.
We visited three states – Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.
What a magnificent, beautiful country! We experienced it in the height of Australian summer when it was going through some real extremes of weather. Fortunately for us, we avoided the excesses of flooding and cyclones, although we saw the effects of spring flooding in upstate New South Wales and Victoria. But even across the wide ranges and rapid changes of heat & cold, humidity & dryness, sun & rain and wind & calm that we experienced, the splendour of Australia shone through. Rich arable land, barren bush, lush tropical rain-forest, beautiful sandy beaches and glistening sea harbours and inlets – the sights never let up. And the vastness of these open spaces is on a different dimension to anything back home. The Great Barrier Reef was astounding, both the living coral and the surrounding swimming sea life. And the Australian wildlife is so different from anywhere else. From the moment we arrived in Melbourne to see parrots and budgies flying free, the variety and range of beautiful and bizarre creatures that we saw was amazing – cockatoos, ibis, flying foxes, large fruit bats, kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, sharks, jellyfish, sea turtles, lots of insects (REALLY big ones, impressed by the size of their cockroaches!) and so many different kinds of colourful reef fish. But we didn’t manage to see a kookaburra, a duck-billed platypus or (fortunately) a snake!
Perhaps in such a near paradise yet having to cope with the contrasting extremes of nature, it’s not surprising that the people are very friendly and engaging, really genuine. (Even after they lost the Ashes!) The Australians appear to have a real zest for life, probably fuelled by their love of the outdoors and associated pursuits and sport. (Indoors, we discovered that air conditioning is essential when our apartment for our second week in Sydney didn’t have any!) Australians know how to enjoy themselves, and have a strong community spirit and sense of family. They love to socialise and have impromptu BBQs. They love to picnic and barbeque and there are public BBQ sites at all the beaches.
The floods, especially in Queensland, highlighted another important side of their character. They are gritty & stoic ‘can do’ folk, getting up & dusting themselves down very quickly in the face of adversity to get on with living. And they’re generally very informal and laid back. We found it quite amusing at how they’ve ‘relaxed’ the language eg ‘breakfast’ has become ‘brekkie’, ‘vegetables’ have become ‘veggies’ and these terms are common parlance even on formal TV news channels!
Whilst they of course have their darker side as all societies do – they have similar drug and violent crime problems and we were saddened by the reports of looting of abandoned homes in Queensland – the Australians do seem to be very ‘wholesome’. They have a well developed sense of what’s right combined with their strong work ethic. But we were surprised and saddened to see such a disappointing attendance at a wide variety of churches, even around Christmas.
We noted that Australia appears to be in reasonable economic fettle, given the trials and tribulations elsewhere. At an individual level, ‘obvious’ poverty & homelessness, measured by the very imprecise method of noticing the number of people selling ‘Big Issue’ & begging, seems less than in the UK and the USA.
We read that the Australian economy is ‘recession-proof’, thanks mainly to the richness of its natural resources. But the country can’t rest on its laurels. For example, some businesses appear to be quite conservative & naive. One current example is that the traditional high-street retailers want (& seem to expect) government to charge sales tax on internet purchases from abroad. This is a kind of protectionism to help retailers retain their high street profitable presence. In stark contrast, retailers in countries such as the UK and the USA recognise that to maintain a vibrant retail industry, they need to constantly innovate and change. This includes adopting & encouraging a strong on-line retail presence. Nonetheless, Australia is a very expensive place to visit, more even than the USA which was expensive enough. This is due in part to the strong Australian dollar.
In considering regional & city differences, Melbourne seemed very relaxed & attractive and we loved the mix of old and new architecture. Sydney, despite its iconic and fantastically beautiful harbour and myriad bays, opera house, harbour bridge and ferries was in some ways disappointing. We found no real heart to the city or its sprawling suburbs, no clear identity despite its historic roots. We understand that a lot of the original buildings have been demolished to make way for new ones. What a mistake as much of its more recent architecture is a disappointment. Perhaps Sydney has sought to ape other major global cities rather than be confidently broadcasting in its own identity? It’s got plenty to be proud of. We are so in awe of the pioneers (and convicts) who came to this land of extremes and harsh conditions and toiled to build this city on the rocky shores without the benefit of power tools, suncream, mosquito protection, air conditioning or warnings of sharks or crocs other than the screams of the victims! By contrast, up-country regions and towns appear unspoiled, relatively unchanged and proud of their history (Sydney take note) and beautiful (eg Deniliquin, Echuca). Port Douglas in Tropical North Queensland is stunning, a paradise on earth – but humid, wet and mosquito-rich at this time of year.
Amongst other social observations, Anna noted that fashion designs are quirky & very different, much like London was quirky in 1960s – pity about the prices! Also, the quality of TV is very good, so much better than the USA, and up to the best UK standards.
The coffee we enjoyed in Australia was uniformly brilliant, really high quality and rich tasting – we are sooo going to miss that coffee and are already grieving! (This is the reverse of the coffee in California and Nevada which was surprisingly uniformly poor.) The quality of the food was generally excellent. Fish was wonderful, and there is such a wide choice. Port Douglas was undoubtedly the very best of the best in terms of its restaurants and food quality, surprisingly given its relative remoteness. But as with most other things, the food was expensive. Supermarkets proudly proclaimed that “95% of our fresh produce is sourced within Australia”. This would no doubt be a very worthy claim when things are ‘normal’. But in the aftermath of the tragic flooding across Queensland, NSW, Victoria and Tasmania, we hope that there is a rapid Plan B available to source some produce from abroad. Both current crops and planting for the next season look as if they will be hard hit. We were impressed with the general level of Gluten-free awareness. The need for a GF diet is generally known, suggesting a significant number of coeliacs are around.
We both think that Australia is such a great place to live that if we were younger we’d seriously consider moving there, to Melbourne. As it is, we both want to come back!
Significant? - David's Bread on Qantas Flight from Sydney seems to be Australia!
Leaving Sydney.....and Leaving Australia