I recently traveled to Australia for a short and expansive trip to several of the continent’s more populated cities (Sydney and Melbourne) as well as several sites that are less populated, yet infamous for natural wonders. While my second or third trip to several of these places, I was struck by the antiquated nature of the buildings, the fashion and the mindsets of Australians. I could not help but gawk at the neck tattoos and the overly muscular, weight obsessed men who seemed to want nothing more than drive their large trucks and brag about how large they were (both the truck and their muscles).
This was especially apparent in Fraser island, a gorgeous island off of Queensland where I could not help but compare the sand, unpaved roads, to roads I have traveled on in West Africa. While in Fraser, going on these roads seemed to be the epitome of a adventurous vacation get away, a fake land un-developed for the pleasure of these seemingly misogynistic men, in West Africa going on these roads is norm. It is a product of a lack of government funding. The unpaved and sandy roads becomes the reality that people have to deal with- and do so expertly without bragging about their 4 wheel drive.
I was enchanted by Sydney and struck by how suburbs of cities (especially in Brisbane and Melbourne) seemed to resemble California- in the 1990s. Not only the tub tops and the short shorts but the one story strip malls, mini golf and strange architecture of buildings with neon bordering windows and terraces.
Most of the continent is flat, arid and not too visually appealing or all that different from portions of the Midwest. Cradle Mountain National Park in Tasmania is a spectacular site. The moss ground juxtaposed with grey rock, small lakes, crater lakes, ponds and wombats make every turn you take on the well managed paths of the park a joy. I was utterly astonished by how well labeled, preserved and maintained the paths of the park were. While I did not have time to make it to the mountain’s summit, the wooden stairs and paths going up make the journey a much easier trek. Largely untrue in the US, the Australian government has clearly invested well in preserving its natural treasures, as well as providing universal health care to its citizens.
My final day was passed in Melbourne, an energetic, artsy and colonial city. The parks of the city are decorated with marble statues, old school greenhouses with hydrangeas and fountains that gives the green grass and nicely cobbled walkways a very 19th century British appeal. The contemporary art pieces seem a strange addition to this formal, colonial style but I found them to be a pleasant and modern surprise.
Another colonial legacy left by the British is cricket. I had the pleasure of attending a few hours on the second day of a match between Australia and Pakistan that was intended to run nine days. As this long running, infamously boring game is as confusing as it has sounded, I paid little attention to the actual functions of the game but was more curious to observe those in attendance. Seated right above the field, I was astonished at how cheap my ticket was for such a popular event (about 20 dollars USD). Additionally, I was surprised to learn that a weak beer only cost 7 dollars, in comparison to the 15 dollar beer at Dodgers stadium. I quickly learned that the price of the beverage was necessary to keep everyone entertained during the game- and seemed to be the real reason that the crowd was in attendance. While doing the wave and occasionally yelling chants at the players like the crowd does at a sports event in the US, no one really seemed to care how the game went. First this was due to the fact that the game still went on another 7 days, but additionally, most of the young fans surrounding my seat admitted that Australia was not very good. Lastly, they seemed more interested in who was ‘skulling’ a beer, who was getting kicked out of the stands for making a ruckus after drinking and the face paint of someone on the crowd cam.
I left Australia for Hong Kong, recollecting my experiences with Australians in Africa. Most Austrialians I have encountered there were working in or for various mines in West Africa. The majority have been rambunctious, inconsiderate of the Africans who work with or for them and rather uninterested in making sure those living in Africa receive a fair share of the profits from the mines. Simultaneously, they are aware that without their technical and financial support, these natural resources would be left untouched and extracted as the local governments and institutions do not yet have the local capacity to access these resources. Thus, they validate their work because of this necessity.
Mines are similarly growing in Australia, land is plentiful and the continent is said to have more millionaires than anywhere else, it is clear that Australians are finding new frontiers and moving from their island to recolonize spaces and places. I could not help but think that the education, cultural sensitivity and economic priorities of this increasingly powerful continent need to be re-examined, similar to my own home.