I’m not sure I like it here. Sure, there’s the landscape, and the wonderful animals and plants, but the overall culture is very odd. There are three attributes that just don’t feel right to me. This has been kicking around for a few weeks in my head; here they are.
Tentativeness: Aussies are always comparing themselves to others; you get the feeling that most of the country would live somewhere else, like Tuscany or California or London. They don’t have any connection to the physical country; most of those whom I’ve met can’t figure out that Sydney does not have the same climate as Los Angeles… or that the so-called ‘green Olympics’ in 2000 was mostly a farce. None of the states save South Australia, for instance, has a bottle/can deposit. The showerheads, universally, gush three or four times the amount that the 2.5 gallons per minute that many US showerheads use… and the toilets are far from low flush. Yet many Aussies still complain that their water resources are running out, their sewage treatment facilities overloaded (often this is a veiled anti-immigrant stance). In buildings, insulation and double-paned windows just don’t exist. Even in cold locations, like parts of Tasmania or the high country they aren't employed, it's much better to use electric blankets or have huge space heaters.
And don’t get me started on the bushfires. While it’s very un-PC to comment on this… on the popular garden show ‘Burke’s Backyard’, I watched Don Burke replant a western Sydney yard where the brushfires went through… and wondered why these people, with 30m tall eucalypts in the backyard, didn’t bother cutting them down when they were only 10m away from their house. If you’re going to live at the edge of the bush, clear the brush around your (brand spanking new) home! There is great disparagement for native plants: it’s much better to grow a hedge of roses here in the subtropics than it is to grow an interesting grevillea or banksia. Don Burke made it up to the burned out family by replacing all their burned out camellias with—yes—more fabulous camellia bushes! It's just an ignorance of what the country's about.
It seems like many Aussies are detached from what it really means to live in this country. Australia is a bit harsh; the sunlight’s harsh, there are always at least half a dozen poisonous spiders and reptiles out to get you, the plants have thorns and are spindly and offer little shade, and sharks will get you if you swim in the ocean. And I haven’t’ even been to Queensland, home to fire ants and crocs that’ll take a chomp of you. Still, it’s a land that is not without its subtleties. Most folks here pass those by, and don’t give them a second thought on the stampede to plant their English cottage gardens and figure out what the terms ‘annual’ and ‘perennial’ mean when their yard never experiences frost.
Pride: OK. Some folks have pride. Hell, Californians like to think they’re not like the rest of America. (Texans sure aren’t). The Brits take pride in the moral high ground; the Canadians take pride in doing what’s right. The French are proud, and even the Germans these days take pride in what modern Germany has become. And the Kiwis have a good feeling and sense of themselves as being thoughtful. But the Aussies… well, I just can’t see an Aussie being proud for being an Australian. It’s a bit odd--especially since Australia has done some good things lately (the Aussie peacekeeping forces in East Timor have been generally successful in a very tricky situation) This feeds into the next attribute:
Optimism: Perhaps this is the nastiest. I just haven’t felt any sort of optimism for the future here. With nothing to be proud of, most Aussies just have this ‘she’ll be alright mate’ attitude… and just figure that they can slide by, hoping that their super (retirement) fund will be there and that they'll be able to just get by. Will Australia be a good place to live in 20 years? Ask an Aussie; they’ll say yes, as long as things stay the same. It’s the lucky country syndrome. Not that Australia has been fortunate in climate or resources… but that it’s been lucky to have done well for so long. I’m not sure the country can sustain this… it has succeeded by lazily adapting British and (primarily) US trends and influences, but hasn’t been assertive in projecting where it wants to be in 10 or 20 years. This country isn’t getting any younger either; and with the low immigration rate and the very low fertility rate it seems the country will be more of a senior citizens home in 30 years than a vibrant modern economy.
Not that the concept of ‘modern economy’ here is well defined: it’s more described in terms of ‘how much can we log or mine or fish or farm?’. This is an execrative, exploiting nation, with all the attendant conservatism that goes with such an attitude. The amount of things that are labeled as ‘made in Australia’ is a bit disconcerting. Does Australia really want to be a world leader in, say, electric tea kettle production, or plastic coat hangers?
So, I’m not sure I like this… New Zealand is at least paranoid that it’s too small to survive in a modern world. I’m starting to think Australia is just too complacent. It hasn’t figured out where it wants to be in ten years, much less in forty; it hasn’t figured out where it fits in the immediate southeastern Asian/Pacific region (I won’t get into the current government’s policy of paying off other nations to deal with its immigration problems), and it doesn’t have an internal debate about issues like farmland salinization or Aboriginal reconciliation… or immigration. It’s the ‘she’ll be alright’ attitude… and I don't think that it's applicable anymore.
It sort of reminds me of the Michigan "how much longer can we build cars?" attitude.