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Tuesday, January 13, 2015


Australia: an American's view

  An interesting set of observations from a visitor from the other side of the Pacific.

'Value what you have and don't give it away.'

"There's a lot to admire about Australia, especially if you're a visiting American," says David Mason. "More often than you might expect, Australian friends patiently listening to me enthuse about their country have said, ''We need outsiders like you to remind us what we have.'' 

So here it is - a small presumptuous list of what one foreigner admires in Oz.

1... Health care.
 I know the controversies, but basic national health care is a gift. In America, medical expenses are a leading cause of bankruptcy. The drug companies dominate politics and advertising.
Obama is being crucified for taking halting baby steps towards sanity. You can't turn on the telly without hours of drug advertisements - something I have never yet seen here. And your emphasis on prevention - making cigarettes less accessible, for one - is a model.
2... Food.
 Yes, we have great food in America too, especially in the big cities.
But your bread is less sweet, your lamb is cheaper, and your supermarket vegetables and fruits are fresher than ours.
Too often in my country an apple is a ball of pulp as big as your face.
The dainty Pink Lady apples of Oz are the juiciest I've had. And don't get me started on coffee.
In American small towns it tastes like water flavoured with burnt dirt, but the smallest shop in the smallest town in Oz can make a first-rate latte.
I love your ubiquitous bakeries, your hot-cross buns. Shall I go on?
3... Language.
 How do you do it?
The rhyming slang and Aboriginal place names like magic spells.
Words that seem vaguely English yet also resemble an argot from another planet.
I love the way institutional names get turned into diminutives - Vinnie's and Salvos - and absolutely nothing's sacred.
Everything's an opportunity for word games and everyone's a nickname.
Lingo makes the world go round.
It's the spontaneous wit of the people that tickles me most.
Late one night at a barbie my new mate Suds remarked, ''Nothing's the same since 24-7.'' Amen.
4... Free-to-air TV.
 In Oz, you buy a TV, plug it in and watch some of the best programming I've ever seen - uncensored.
In America, you can't get diddly-squat without paying a cable or satellite company heavy fees.
In Oz a few channels make it hard to choose.
In America, you've got 400 channels and nothing to watch.
5... Small shops.
Outside the big cities in America corporations have nearly erased them.
Identical malls with identical restaurants serving inferior food.
Except for geography, it's hard to tell one American town from another.
The ''take-away'' culture here is wonderful.
Human encounters are real - stirring happens, stories get told.
The curries are to die for. And you don't have to tip!
6... Free camping.
We used to have this too, and I guess it's still free when you backpack miles away from the roads.
But I love the fact that in Oz everyone owns the shore and in many places you can pull up a camper van and stare at the sea for weeks.
I love the ''primitive'' and independent campgrounds, the life out of doors.
The few idiots who leave their stubbies and rubbish behind in these pristine places ought to be transported in chains.
7... Religion.
 In America, it's everywhere - especially where it's not supposed to be, like politics.
I imagine you have your Pharisees too, making a big public show of devotion, but I have yet to meet one here.
8... Roads.
Peak hour aside, I've found travel on your roads pure heaven.
My country's ''freeways'' are crowded, crumbling, insanely knotted with looping overpasses - it's like racing homicidal maniacs on fraying spaghetti.
I've taken the Hume without stress, and I love the Princes Highway when it's two lanes.
Ninety minutes south of Bateman's Bay I was sorry to see one billboard for a McDonald's.
It's blocking a lovely paddock view. Someone should remove it.
9... Real multiculturalism.
 I know there are tensions, just like anywhere else, but I love the distinctiveness of your communities and the way you publicly acknowledge the Aboriginal past.
Recently, too, I spent quality time with Melbourne Greeks, and was gratified both by their devotion to their own great language and culture and their openness to an Afghan lunch.
10. Fewer guns
You had Port Arthur in 1996 and got real in response. America replicates such massacres several times a year and nothing changes.
Our religion of individual rights makes the good of the community an impossible dream.
Instead of mateship we have ''It's mine and nobody else's''.
We talk a great game about freedom, but too often live in fear.
There's more to say - your kaleidoscopic birds, your perfumed bush in springtime, your vast beaches.
These are just a few blessings that make Australia a rarity.
Of course, it's not paradise - nowhere is - but I love it here.
No need to wave flags like Americans and add to the world's windiness.

 Just value what you have and don't give it away.
David Mason is a US writer and professor, and poet laureate of Colorado.
It's always interesting to hear what others think about your country - especially when it concentrates on the positives !


  1. Oh, I agree so much with all these sentiments! I love Australia and I love New Zealand. Can't wait to visit again. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE!!! Thank you Professor Mason for putting it into such great, visual words!

    1. We are always happy to receive such enthusiastic visitors. Come back soon.

  2. Every country has things to admire. You are right to value what you have and it's a good reminder for all of us. I'm Canadian and proud of so many things here.

    1. I think that's the message, Lorrie!

  3. We should all think of what we have in our own countries that is good - I know when I lived in France I realised just what we have to be grateful for in England and every day I give thanks to be living where I do now! That's not to say there aren't positives elsewhere of course.

    1. As they say " There's no place like home," Jane !

  4. I was a gnat's whisker away from joining the Northern Territories Police Force but went to Angola instead. Had the letter from them caught up with me in Mozambique, I'd have headed East, not West from Maputo!

    1. Our loss then Hippo. I guess you have those two lovely boys as a very positive result of that decision.

  5. So so true. I think people who whinge about how bad Australia is, need to go overseas for awhile. Then they might realise how lucky we are.

  6. I guess we can all be guilty of thinking the grass is greener elsewhere but it never hurts to stop and count your blessings.

  7. I hope everyone in this country reads that! We do have it good here in the Land of Oz...let's not allow anyone to take that away from us!

  8. Fascinating. I wonder what our lovely daughter will think of Australia when she visits next month. Not Brisbane I am afraid - just Perth and Melbourne and an offshore Australian island called Barley - or something like that!

  9. I think Yorky must be referring to "Bali", Helsie. I think we might have to give Yorky a few lessons in geography. :)