Not sure why I have been drawn to the Australian aspiration for years; never really read much about this land or its people; I have seen a few of those movies from Australia (Rabbit Proof Fence, The Piano) – familiar with a good Shiraz from Southwestern Australia – have watched their athletes carry their flag in the Olympics or at a cricket game. But until now, I have never had any substance to form an opinion on Australia.
What strikes me first, as we land in Sydney, is the welcoming nature of the Australian people. From the first interaction of the polite immigration official, the gentle taxi drivers, or the servers of our meals at different cities – everyone seems keenly friendly, smiling – not in the plastic way that you see advertised on American TV; you cannot pay everyone in a country to behave this nicely.
There is something authentic and positive in the people and its landscape – its abundant natural beauty and mineral resources.
Our guide to the Bridge Climb in Sydney – Chris, and the two young women who are part of our team during the Bridge Climb, want us to know more about their land – visit more places. I probe about something negative (like how many people have jumped off the bridge to commit suicide) – and realize that Chris answers without concern: many – but doesn’t dwell on it – keeps moving forward.
I learn that both the Kangaroo and the Emu – two national symbols of Australia, can only move forward – cannot move backward – symbolic of this relatively young nation – shrugs off its past, and doesn’t hold on to grudges.
Sydney is truly a beautiful and efficient city. The Opera House (the third most recognized marketing brand in the world: after McDonald’s Golden Arches and the Coke logo) is a truly magnificent structure – any angle you see it from. A forty minute ferry ride on some crystal blue waters, brings you to Manly – the welcome sign says – a thousand miles away from care – reflects the mood of this beach resort. You feel immediately relaxed watching the surf hitting the rocks.
Our Blue Mountain tour guide, Rob, complains about the tolls he has to pay to get on the Ring Road (AUS$20+) and dominates his conversation with a self depreciating humor. But when it comes to the topic of the Aborigine or the convict settlers, he is both funny and respectful: that’s a tough balance.
Swimming among some of the most beautiful corals in the Great Barrier Reef, I notice a blue star fish and lots of Nemos. Our snorkeling tour guide shows us five types of Anemones (including the little pink ones), the Brain Reef and other colorful marine life. As the tour guide reminds us that we have to head back to our ship, somehow, I feel sad – unsure that I will have the opportunity to come back to this beautiful place another time; I want to enjoy this marine sanctuary for a few more minutes.
The drive from Melbourne to see the remaining rocks of the Twelve Apostles, we drive through little towns like Geelong, where the Ford engine plant produces for the legendary Falcon, a brand that is celebrating 50 years. Here you feel as if you are in a (nicer part) of Michigan. The local pancake house sells a delicious banana caramel pancake that is served up with a generous dose of Australian ice-cream and pleasant conversation.
For an American visitor, Australia is very much like the US, convenient and friendly, with a slightly punctuated accent and wonderful landscape.
Target, McDonald’s, Marriott, Starbucks and the morning show on TV, will make you feel very much at home. Even though Australia went through a sudden change of government (to have the first ever female Prime Minister) during our stay, most of the news is dominated by some news from the United States.
We find the quality of food, everywhere we have traveled in Aussieland, wonderful. Pancake on the Rocks in Sydney is unforgettable and I go back twice, for the local ice-cream store ICE ROCK for the cake batter flavor. The Dhaba by our Melbourne hotel serves wonderful Indian roadside food – with a flair. Ahmet’s the Turkish Kabab place in Brisbane serves even better Kabab then I have enjoyed in Istanbul.
This nation loves sports. It’s either the World Cup football (soccer), or cricket, or rugby –Australians simply love sports. However, even after this passion for sports, on the opening night of World Cup, when Australia loses to England 1-0 – the feeling next morning among the Socceroos is nonchalant – there isn’t a big regret in it – just like the Kangaroo or the Emu – Australia just moves forward – we’ll try again tomorrow spirit.
The skeptic in me questions, is this why you don’t often hear about major technological innovation or significant achievement originating from this rich nation/continent of twenty-four million people? One does not hear about many Noble laureates (ten in the history of this nation) or unique innovative business concepts that are Australian.
I think the magic of Australia is a little bit different.
Unlike the puritan spirit of America – where we constantly prove that we are better, faster than others and that we live on a city on a hill – Australia is comfortable with Good Life – taking it all in a stride – No Worries, Mate – no need to prove anything to anybody.
That’s why it’s so Awesome @ Australia!