6.6.06

The lucky country

"The Australian Emptiness, The Australian Ugliness, The Lucky Country, The Land of the Long Weekend, The Great Australian Stupour, The End of Dreamtime" The first laughing kookaburra, spotted on a golf course gum tree perch Two solitary jokers with single irons were following their balls around in the evening This on a stroll across the peninsula to Bondi Beach through the ragged public course behind Rose Bay, improbably called the Royal Sydney As it were, no, as it is, Republic v. Queenie issues underlie a good many Australian realities A fresh, invigorating thing about Australia is that it is so un-English Nobody says "as it were" The seminal Australian divide all over again: the prisoner vs. the guard, the bolters and bushrangers vs. the onrushing suburbanite "More of Australia's history took place outside the law than within it, and more attempt was made to hide than record it" And that first kookaburra on the golf course gum had a slightly crossed bill Laughing kookaburras are big omnivore kingfishers Also called, alarm bird, breakfast bird, bushman's clock, settler's clock, shepherd's clock, brown, great brown, giant kingfisher, laughing kingfisher And Jack, Jackass, Jacko, Jacky, John, Johnnie, Kooka, Laughing Jack, laughing John, laughing Johnass, laughing Johnny, ha ha, and woop woop pigeon No fish at all, their main diet is snakes They take them by the head, fly to great heights and drop them for the kill Leaving the Rose Bay Ferry, two pelicans were preening on the piles Claret clear Behind the ferry landing a private girls' school field hockey practice was finishing up Most looked as though they could have run out South Head without breaking a sweat In deep dusk make it into Bondi over the top and down Beach Road to Campbell Parade And to the wide sand in front that's everything it's supposed to be The whole South Pacific, from the zenith to your toes, up against you there With that deep, all-powerful loom that the Oceanside has when night falls In failing coastal light there still are two realms But in the darkness, only the ocean, the land world left false until the dawn light Bondi is like Santa Monica before Santa Monica went chic and high-rise Like Manly on Sydney's North Harbour as you walk out Manly's Corso to the beach and Cabbage Tree Bay Before Manly went Key West Agape at the massive swells coming off winds built up between New South Wales and the coast of Chile Punta Toro just south of Valparaiso is exactly at Bondi's latitude 10,412 kilometres of open ocean away Nothing in between No land, no reefs, no rocks The Fatal Shore Australia as terra nullius Once there, you're there "...its historical immensity of blue heat, bush, sandstone and the measured booming of glassy Pacific rollers" Ocean, ocean, ocean Stooping to Sydney on the flight in from Fiji The Qantas 747 banked across Botany Bay and off the right wing in the turning parallaxes of brilliant glare was a flock of silver gulls The first birds seen in a new place are an emphatic ratchet click-up of understanding, the first of clearly something else The silver gull is Australia's universal gull Also turns up in New Caledonia, New Zealand and some of the sub-Antarctic islands, southern Africa, and around Norfolk Island Norfolk Island was Cook's second Australian landfall Leaving, Lord Howe Island was the final vision from that sublime trip The last Australian territory It looked like a steep, brown, cloud-brushed imaginary kingdom Glimpsed through the clouds Like a mountain crest at ocean level ten kilometres below Which of course it is Imprinted and registered like every remarkable incident, every emphatic awareness in the realm of new things, new places, new time, new light Travel nearly as free and wide as any standard issue just like an Aussie does it In kip claret Redbacks Up the old steps from Opera Quays to the Royal Botanic Garden and Government House In the great urban park of Sydney's lofty, open grandeur Big skies spread around water A city of extraordinarily direct people Travelers themselves, living in part by airport and airline codes Like EWR to LAX to NAN to SVU to VBV back to NAN to SYD to LAX The argot of worldly initiates who by whatever ruse or strategy manage promiscuous travel And who respect it and understand immediately those who feel the same Tolerance and openness are givens in an island continent with enough room for anything that comes to it over the curve of earth Time to venture only a couple of degrees of latitude, a trifling distance from Sydney to Canberra on the Melbourne road, but once off the freeway immediately on the land within rural New South Wales Merino country "Hopping kangaroos moved in scattered company, not in damaging single file like sheep and cattle... No other land has been treated so gently" Spotted quail-thrush, wonga pigeon, banded rail, grey goshawk Yellowish claret, originally the color of Arbois Now the familiar reddish violet A night on Goulburn's long Auburn Street off the Hume Highway Masked plover, pied currawong, black swan Goulburn's three-story blown-concrete Big Merino ram, eyes glowing red at night Australian emphatics and exaggerations Often see Australians with the countenances and body language of John Currin or Lisa Yuskavage people White Ibis,Sacred Ibis, dusky moorhen, Australian wood duck, magpie lark, noisy miner, black-faced cuckoo-shrike Temporary Member Pass 433434 to the Goulburn Workers Club Bistro meals, drinking, gambling and talk Southern giant petrel, pied stilt, black cormorant, whiskered tern, chestnut teal, chestnut-breasted shelduck West out of Goulburn in the dawn, ready, with the time, to cross the continent to Dampier and the Gorgon gas fields off Barrow Island southwest of Eighty Mile Beach and the Great Sandy Ready to drive to the Indian Ocean western limit, across it all Over the Dividing Range, across all New South Wales to Broken Hill, to the Flinders Ranges at the top of Spencer Gulf due north of Adelaide Ready to skirt Lake Eyre on past the Musgave Ranges, cross the Gibson Desert, then down the Valley of the Fortescue between the Hamersley and Chichester Mountains Into all of Western Australia, an infinity of coastline, roads, dry mountains And then comprehensively return another way, back to Sydney via all the rest South Australia, the Northern Territory, Queensland, and then Tasmania The whole vital rest of it "The Aborigines' tracks laid the basis of the road networks, their campsites became homesteads and towns, their yam grounds became arable fields, and all their hunting grounds, so carefully tended by fire, became ideal pastures for sheep" Welcome swallow, common skylark, Australian raven, crested pigeon, masked lapwing, spotted turtle-dove, scaly-breasted lorikeet, Willie wagtail Coots floating on the Wollondilly River below a one-lane plank bridge A pair of galahs sitting obdurately and magnificently on the narrow range road from Goulburn to Grabben Gullen in the dawn Big crimson Rosellas brilliant beyond reasonable Northern Hemisphere imagination among the roadside gums, parrots at their most extreme Crimson rosellas are the substantiation of psittacine presence and grandeur "Flight fast and swooping, often with deep exaggerated wing beats, brassy cries" Crimson bodies, crimson rumps, flashing their two-toned blue wings and bluish-white margined tails Even bigger sulphur-crested cockatoos feeding on sheep paddock slopes Their sulphur crests nodding Imagine Australian roads with months to spend, imagine Outside Canberra walking slowly from a blacktop road toward kangaroos to stand among them in the wild Grazing on the fresh spring green of last January's burn From the immense bush fires around Sydney and Canberra early in 2003 Mount Stromlo Observatory near Canberra burned out, its equipment and telescopes, even some of its records and data, lost Whole communities of houses ravaged Right there months on placidly watching a mob of big greys virtually within the city limits of Canberra in the evening and then again in the dawn Winter fuzz still on their muzzles and their ears Against the low sun behind Greys about the color of white-tail deer that have lost their winter coats Kangaroos in NSW something like deer in Northeastern America Each member of every mob alert The males watch most carefully while the females go about their graze Their huge sharkskin tails, their front legs held praying mantis high With their rear legs they can disembowel a dog Now and then an amazingly large Joey leaves the grass to climb back into its mother's pouch Joeys can graze from the pouch beneath the chests of their grazing mothers "A female red kangaroo can produce one young approximately every 240 days as long as favorable conditions hold. Under such conditions most adult females examined in the field are found to have one quiescent embryo, one pouch young, and one accompanying young outside of the pouch" An ontogeny with reflective implications for the ethics of abortion As recently as the early 1990s there were probably more large kangaroos and wallaroos on the Australian continent than people The ratio may be reversed ten years on because of the current long-term drought Flush and drain, wax and wane, drought and rain Out in what was the backend of the British Empire "...having been shipped out of Britain as criminals, we were shipped back as cannon fodder; so that when peace came, the survivors could return to their real mission as Australians growing cheap wool and wheat for England" Shipped back to Sydney Cove, everything comes back to Sydney Cove The Rocks, George Street, Kings Cross, Darlinghurst, Paddington And Darling Harbor Parramatta's alluvial, on the river at the backend of Sydney Cove, the site of Australia's first successful farming The complexity of Aboriginal societies ignored and pushed aside The original Australians hung out to dry Redfern, virtually adjoining Sydney University, out Regent Street from Sydney's center and Circular Quay, the locale of Aboriginal public housing, has riots, has anger, has the Aboriginal future in its past Black America is a paradigm of social progress in comparison In Sydney, the Taronga Ferry and up the hill into the Taronga Zoo for all the Australian exotics, Tasmanian devils, wombats and all the birds Splendid wrens, Malurus splendens, inside their netted habitat move and feed like chickadees The laser turquoise blue of the males against the blue sky and fluffy spring cumulus over Sydney Cove is impossibly vivid Wrens, tiny wrens, may be the finest Australian sights of all From Taronga the flaring skyline of the city, capital of the South Pacific, inevasibly there Crisp and sure A world city barely two hundred years old Sydney even more visually exciting than San Francisco "A strange house, the Establishment: everyone enters it facing backwards" Strine "The much decried apathy of Australians is often a misnomer for sensible imperturbability" Broad and Flash "The Dream of Wearing Shorts Forever" ****************************************** My thanks to Nifty [a Premier of NSW was known by this nickname] for e-mailing me this; I take no credit for it at all; I thought it so true to life in Australia so I thought I would share it with the world Map courtesy of Google Images.

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