Thursday, September 18, 2014

Life in ’Strahlia

Someone recently asked me via LinkedIn what it was like to live in ’Strahlia, er, Australia. This is a very difficult question to answer. It’s ‘like’ one thing for me, but ‘like’ something else for someone else. It is undoubtedly different living in Melbourne or Sydney than it is living in Cairns. It is different living here, than living one suburb over. There is no single way of living in Australia that sets it off from other parts of the world.

There are, of course, images from TV and cinema. I haven’t watched Home and Away since my children were quite young, but the fact that it is set in ‘Summer Bay’, and that in fact it always seems to be summer there, is bound to give a somewhat skewed impression to the rest of the world. Not everyone, young or old, spends every available moment at the beach, surfing. Personally, I hate the beach. It’s one of the last places I would ever want to be.

Then there are the ‘Crocodile Dundee’ (Paul Hogan) and ‘Croc Hunter’ (Steve Irwin) caricatures that seem to have such broad appeal overseas. I may be wrong about this, but my impression is that Steve and Bindy Irwin are far more popular overseas than here in Australia. Just to set the record straight, most of us don’t go around wrestling crocodiles or capturing highly venomous snakes.

Another image of Australia is that we are heavy drinkers, and perhaps we are. But so are people in many other western nations. According to World Health Organisation data, based on per capita drinking Australia is ranked eighteenth in the world, although we are ranked well above other countries that might be considered culturally similar to us, such as the UK, New Zealand, the USA and Canada.

Another image is of our sporting prowess. I think it is probably fair to say that in many sports we rank much higher than our population would predict. Our medal tally at the Olympics (let’s pretend the 2012 Olympics didn’t happen) is usually disproportionately high. So yes, sport has a very important place in our culture.

In other areas we have been very fortunate in the past—areas such as health care, education, personal freedom, economic prosperity, national security. My impression is, though, that in many of these areas we are rapidly falling back towards the field. While many other nations may continue to look with envy on Australia, I think overseas perceptions are lagging somewhat behind the reality. Perhaps our own perceptions too. A nation often clings desperately to its own self-image, long after that image has ceased to be reflected in reality.

Most of the time day to day life—even in Tropical Cairns, nestled between World Heritage Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef—is pretty much the same as in most other western nations. Most of us live in cities or suburbs. We work, we eat, we sleep and then we work again. Despite ‘Summer Bay’, life here is not a perpetual holiday.

1 comment:

  1. As you say, Philip, there is a multitude of answers to the question: What is it like to live in Australia? I think it is impossible to give a general answer; each person confronted with the question would, of course, have to look at it from his/her own very individual perspective. Also, is it possible to give a balanced answer if one is not able to step outside of all that the question implies and look at it from the experience of having lived somewhere else other than Australia?