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17 July 2006

How do you write about Australia when it doesn't exist?

Because it didn't, in 1814. It was just New South Wales. The people who lived there were mostly British, or identified themselves as belonging to a tribe, not a nation.

It's hard to look at your country through the eyes of a stranger, but that's what I'm trying to do. Australia is a country of such contradictions - stunningly beautiful, but also ugly and deadly.

Take cockatoos, for example. They're beautiful. Just beautiful. Snow-white feathers, beady black eyes and an amazing crest of yellow-gold. Gorgeous.

Until it opens its beak, and out comes the most the second most horrifying noise ever heard. See? Beautiful, but ugly.

What, I hear you asking, is the most horrifying noise ever heard? Any Aussies reading this should easily be able to answer that. I'll give you a clue. It's cute as a card full of buttons. It's furry. It has big, vulnerable eyes. It has sex in your roof.

Awww. Isn't he cute? Until he starts getting his rocks off with his lady friend about two feet from your trying-to-sleep head. Little fucker.

But apart from the animals, what else is there? What else makes Australia Australia?

-bugs (we got lots of bugs)
-sun (getting sunburnt)
-the smell of eucalyptus

What else?

(and no, things like Ken Done tea-towels and Vegemite don't count. We're talking early-nineteenth-century, baby colony type stuff. they didn't even have Strine yet)


canoe said...

Bone dry gum leaves crunching underfoot.

Magpies warbling, possibly the most beautiful sound in the world. Makes me feel homesick when I'm already home.

navigating ant hills to collect pretty, shiny bits of quartz.

dry northerly wind.

I love this country!

Justine Larbalestier said...


Getting caught in a rip and drowning.

Portuguese men of war.

Poisonous snakes.

Cool southerly wind.


I love Australia, too.

lili said...

canoe: i have put in the magpie. excellent idea, and a kind of backwards example of what i was talking about before. cockatoos look fair and sound foul. magpies look foul and sound fair.

or was that magpies look fowl... sorry.

justine: i have already put in a bushfire thanks to a suggestion from you and scott. But leeches... hmmm...

Emma said...

I'm sure I'll wake up tonight thinking of ideas, but for now:

Slow flat rivers that sometimes are empty of water.

Bigger and bluer sky than UK/Europe

Plants flowering all the time not just Spring (eg wattle out now in winter)

In northern parts, the sound of torrential summer rain on a corrugated tin roof

Just to respond to other comments:

Men of war? Are they bluebottles?

And I think magppies look AND sound beautiful!

Justine Larbalestier said...

Heaps of leeches in the Blue Mountains too. That's the first place I ever had a leech on me. Only salt or fire makes 'em go away. Shudder!

Emma said...

After I woke up from my statistics stupor yesterday I realised I could have just looked Portuguese men of war up and they are bluebottles - I've never heard them called that in Australia, though! Is it a Southerner thing?

lili said...

i always called 'em stingers.

Justine Larbalestier said...

I always thought portuguese men of war and bluebottles were two differnt things with the pmow being much more dangerous.

The things you learn.

So, no, it's not a Sydney thing. We calls 'em blue bottles or stingers. Though isn't stinger a more generic term for all jelly fish that are ow-ie if you tread on 'em?

David said...

The still and quiet of the forest at noon. Plus, the cool of the early morning sunrise over the desert,