We have travelled in the South East from Sydney as far west as Wagga, as far south as Bruny Island in Tasmania. We have stayed in cities, deep in the countryside and in beach resorts. We have visited museums, parliament, galleries and had tour guides; talked to lots of Australians, and experienced the reactions of my sister-in-law, Heather, who has visited with new eyes. I dwell mainly on her thoughts. You may cry ‘generalisations’, but they are our reflections.
1. Australian weather is as diverse and unpredictable as our own. I packed mostly for the summer. Before, we have experienced anything between 11 in Tasmania and 42 in Melbourne. This time, only slightly earlier we have had no more than 5 days when the weather reached 22 or more, mostly it was between 15 and 20. Although many areas of The country are in drought, the rain, when it comes, can be torrential.
3. People are friendly and respectful, slowing down to let you cross the road, holding open doors, giving up seats on trams to older folk. Each town, however tiny, has a park, children’s playground and an Anzac memorial, maybe a street named Anzac St, statues to the fallen and an RSL, returned servicemen’s club in a prominent, central place. The history is younger but strong in that respect. Ours feels more jaded and we pay the price in less respect, other than around Nov 11th.
4. Fire – I am writing this as Californian wildfires rage, destroying 6000 homes and businesses. A year ago, fire raged in Bega, a few miles north of here. Yesterday we drove 250k through forest. The danger is all around. People have told me ‘what use are possessions when all may be destroyed’. They know they have to escape in a fire and have plans ready, but with so many eucalyptus forests around, I am unsure if I would have the courage to live several miles up gravel tracks surrounded by trees.
5. The diversity of bird and animal life is fabulous and needs many more visits to get to know. Plants grow here with impunity. Flowers escape to colonise and become weeds, 15 pairs of sparrows introduced in the 1850s have become millions. It’s lucky that the native birds have louder more insistent bird song.
6. Politicians are held in as much in contempt here as they are in the UK and the US.
7. Prices of food are higher, but the quality can be excellent, petrol is a third less, accommodation about the same, but often outstanding. Tipping is not part of the culture. People get paid a decent wage. However, for the first time, we have seen homeless on the streets, which is heartbreaking.
8. Building, so much building. Sydney, Melbourne and the surrounding suburbs are increasing at an astonishing rate. House prices are rocketing, even in Hobart. Australia surely is ‘the place to be’.