Down Under - Winter/Spring 2009 travel blog

It’s no surprise that we Americans feels so comfortable in Australia. Our countries are similar in many ways. Both of us have our origins in Europe. White men arrived and decimated the locals with bullets and germs. We share a common language, more or less. While they say many things in a way we would not, we nearly always understood one another perfectly. Today’s Aussies share in the American dream of a home of our own surrounded by a well tended yard. We would be happy living in any of the larger cities we visited. They are clean, well organized, and have a nice mix of preserved colonial architecture and new buildings. We saw little that we would characterize as slum. The small towns we saw were attractive as well, but as semi urban creatures, the cities were the most appealing to us. However, the same features that make us feel so comfortable here were the same features that made us wonder if it was worth coming 10,000 miles to see things so similar to what we have at home.

Australia is as large as the US and we are glad that we decided to see it by cruise ship. Nearly 90% of the people and the sights to see are along the coast. Australia has a small country’s population on a big land mass and it would have been impossible to see it by RV as we did in New Zealand unless we were planning to stay here a year. Because Australia is closer to the Equator than our country, it has a much milder climate, but the high humidity of the wet season makes the north coast better visited in June, July and August. We’re sorry that we missed out on the Outback, but that too is better seen when it is winter time here.

We’ve spent the last month cruising with 1600 Aussies, mostly around our age. To generalize, they are much more like the mellow Canadians than they are like us. They are not nearly as driven and aggressive, more likely to put up with bad treatment and inefficiency without complaint. They love to poke fun at themselves - and us. In our younger days when we traveled in Europe, we often ran into Aussies on lengthy multi month vacations. As working adults they get more vacation days than we do (which is pretty much the case for most of the rest of the world) and can accumulate those days. It takes them so darn long to get anywhere from Down Under that this makes perfect sense. This gave us the misimpression that Aussies are well traveled. Again, because it takes them so darn long to get anywhere, many of them have never left the country, also true for many Americans. Many of them took the cruise to see the rest of their country. They told us that flights between the coasts have cost them more than flights to Polynesia and southern Asia. When they raved about something being magnificent or amazing, we learned to take that with a grain of salt. They just did not have the same frame of reference that we do.

We did see many signs of American cultural imperialism; there must be a McDonald’s in Antarctica. KFC, Target, K-Mart, Subway were pervasive in Australia. Some chains faked us out. There was a Woolworth’s in almost every town, but they were a grocery store not a five and dime. Happily, one chain that hasn’t made it here is Walmart. Hope they can continue to resist. Australians watch many of our TV shows and listen to much of our music. However, they have creative media of their own that has never made it over the Pacific. We saw many local entertainers on board. They would sing many songs that we knew the words to and suddenly one would crop up that was totally unfamiliar. Those sitting around us were tapping their toes and mouthing the words as they had to previous pieces. The comedians would tell a string of hilarious jokes and then make a reference to something that had us looking at one another with puzzled faces. My guess would be that they know much more about our media than we do about theirs.

We enjoy history and happily tour old homes and museums in our country and in Europe. but for some reason, we did not find Australian historic sites very interesting, especially those that took place after its beginnings as a penal colony. The restored homes looked pretty much like restored homes we have seen in the US. It can be a thrill to see something you’ve heard about all your life, but most of the Aussie historic sites were unfamiliar and not all that old. Perhaps this reflects badly on us, on our lack of background.

We’re glad we came here and saw things for ourselves and are aware of many more things here that we did not get to see. Would it be worth it to return traveling another 10,000 miles to see them? The verdict is still out.

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