THE WORLD: A TRUCKSHUNTER GEOGRAPHY
AUSTRALIAA couple of years ago, the Australian government made a momentous decision. As part of a new push to attract more visitors to the country, it would determine what the most important thing was that Australia has given to the world.
Even more momentously - and to ascertain exactly what this greatest gift to the world actually was - the government decided to ask Australians themselves in a nationwide poll. It could, the government said, be anything from its flora and fauna to its great cities, its scenery and geography, events in its history or its famous sons and daughters.
Here are some of the things that Australians could have chosen as their country’s most notable gift to the rest of the world…
One of the largest, and certainly one of the most beautiful, natural harbours in the world and the site of the first white settlement in Australia in 1788.
Sydney Harbour Bridge
An augmented copy of the Tyne Bridge, built by the same company, and known - for fairly obvious reasons - as ‘the coathanger’, this is undoubtedly one of the most instantly recognisable structures on the planet.
Designed by a Dane and opened in 1973, Sydney Opera House is as iconic as the Eiffel Tower, the Houses of Parliament or the Empire State Building. For many, the view of harbour, bridge and opera house simply is Australia.
But it’s not. Australia is also…
This is the world’s largest monolith - that is, it’s the biggest single piece of rock on Earth. It rises 860m above the surrounding plain and dwarfs the much better-known Uluru (Ayers Rock).
Anna Creek (in South Australia)
This is the world’s largest farm. It’s almost exactly the same size as Wales and employs only 8 people (and several helicopters) who look after 8,000 cattle.
Tommy Jones (of Brisbane)
When he died in 1988, Tommy was the world’s worst serial offender. He had been arrested over 3,000 times for being drunk and disorderly - that’s about twice a week for 30 years.
It’s thought that this was partly because of local licensing laws, which forced pubs to close at 1800, thus encouraging the binge-drinking known as ‘the six o’clock swill’.
Canberra is the capital of Australia. It is also the capital of Australia’s sex trade, boasting 16 licensed brothels and 15 sex shops. Pornographic film-making is its second-largest money-earner, after the export of pine.
According to the local trade association, Canberra’s brothels enjoyed their best trading ever during the Conference of the World Council of Churches in 1994, when business increased by 250%.
One of very few remaining unexplained meteorological phenomena in the world. Morning Glories are immensely long ( - some can be over 800km - ) 'ropes' of cloud about 2km wide which skim above the gum trees at 70kph. No-one knows why they happen but they do - about every second day from September to November.
The island off the south-east tip of Australia can claim to be an unusual ‘gift to the world’ all on its own.
For a start, its native ‘aborigines’, who were wiped out in a notorious, British-inspired genocide in the 19th century, were thought to be the only people on Earth who could not make fire. They had no spears or axes and, despite frost and snow, wore no clothes.
Secondly, the island is home to the Tasmanian Devil, which, though only as big as a medium-sized dog, has the most powerful bite (relative to its size) in the world and beats lions, tigers, wolves and hyenas into a cocked hat.
Thirdly, Tasmania produces 50% of the world’s legal opium. Wallabies have been known to stray into the poppy-fields and leave an hour or so later, weaving from side to side and going round in circles.
Biologists have determined that the koala is probably the least intelligent animal on Earth. A toxic diet of eucalyptus leaves over millions of years has left its tiny brain - about the size of a walnut - floating in a syrupy liquid mess.
In mitigation (as it were), the koala is also one of the few non-primates to possess fingerprints.
Marsupials and Monotremes
Australia’s marsupials - its kangaroos and wallabies and such - make more headlines but it’s the country’s monotremes that are really, really odd.
Marsupials raise their young in pouches but, uniquely amongst mammals, monotremes lay eggs. There are five species. One of them is the duck-billed platypus. The other four are echidnas.
What the ‘national language’ of Australia is depends on your point of view.
When white settlers arrived here in the 18th century there were thought to be at least 750 native aboriginal languages in use. In the intervening years, though, all but about 150 of them have disappeared completely and, of the languages that remain, all but 20 are endangered.
So, before it’s too late, here are the numbers from one to five in just one of them.
auliaba ambilima abliakalpia abuiabua amukuale
For numbers above 5, you just agglomerate. Six is amukuale-auliaba (five-one) and so on. Simplicity itself, though a little long-winded perhaps.
Officially, then, Australia’s national language is English. Except that, even then, opinions vary slightly. To be regarded as ‘properly’ Australian, a proficiency in ‘strine’ is normally necessary.
‘Strine’ is the argot of Australia - ‘street Oz’; a rich and flamboyant combination of accent, dialect and turn of phrase. Any putative visitor ‘down under’ should make it his or her business to learn at least some commonly-used expressions such as these…
Technicolour yawn - vomit
Cactus - kaput, completely broken
Dry as a dead dingo’s donger - very dry
Not the full quid - intellectually challenged
Point Percy at the snake-pit - urinate (men)
Talk to God on the great white telephone - vomit
Grundies - underpants
Just down the road - can be reached within 24 hours
Underground mutton - rabbit
Kangaroos in the top paddock - intellectually challenged
Eating with the flies - eating alone
Manchester - bed linen
Liquid laugh - vomit
You bastard - term of endearment
There are dozens of others, many of them popularised by Barry Humphries. Which brings us to yet another possible contender for Australia’s greatest gift to the world…
Considering the relative paucity of its population, Australia has produced a gobsmackingly high number of Great and Famous People. A list of just its famous actors would include Errol Flynn, Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman, Geoffrey Rush, Cate Blanchett, Hugh Jackman, Naomi Watts, Heath Ledger, Guy Pearce, Rachel Griffiths…
It’s not just entertainment and the arts, though. It was Australians who invented the ‘black box’ flight data recorder, notepads, aspirin, the pacemaker, the plastic disposable syringe, the wine cask, the bionic ear, the dual-flush toilet and long-lasting contact lenses.
And that’s without Australia’s scientists, explorers and sportsmen/women.
Fred Nerk is the archetypal Australian - the man in the street, Mr Everybody and Mr Nobody. This concept of Mr Average and Mr Ordinary was invented in Australia but has spread worldwide.
In England, he is generally known as Joe Bloggs. In Germany, he is Max Mustermann. In Ireland, Sean Citizen. In the USA, John Doe. In Russia, Ivanov Ivan Ivanovich. In Holland, Jan Jansen. In Israel, Isreal Israeli. In China, Wuming Shi (‘Mr No-Name’).
Generosity and Spirit
As if everything else on this list wasn’t enough, and without necessarily wanting to get stereotypical, sentimental or even mawkish (God forbid), it’s worth mentioning two characteristics of Australians which genuinely single them out amongst the nations of the world.
Along with New Zealanders, they are the most generous people on Earth (according to the World Giving Guide).
And, for several generations now, the young people of Australia have developed a legendary sense of curiosity, adventure and wonder about the world which has seen them travel to all its corners. My nephew and niece - adoptive Australians and still only in their early twenties - have visited, between them, the UK, France, Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Ireland, the US, Vietnam, India, Nepal, Cambodia, Germany, Turkey, New Zealand, North Africa…
Like millions of other young Ozzies before them, they’ve done it under their own steam, unsupervised and with the kind of relaxed courage and confidence so characteristic of this country and the people who live there.
Advance, Australia Fair!
Some countries are blessed with National Anthems a lot more upbeat and festive than ours. Australia’s is up there with France, Germany and the USA…
Here are the words.
Australians all let us rejoice,
For we are young and free;
We've golden soil and wealth for toil;
Our home is girt by sea;
Our land abounds in nature's gifts
Of beauty rich and rare;
In history's page, let every stage
Advance Australia Fair.
In joyful strains then let us sing,
Advance Australia Fair.
Beneath our radiant Southern Cross
We'll toil with hearts and hands;
To make this Commonwealth of ours
Renowned of all the lands;
For those who've come across the seas
We've boundless plains to share;
With courage let us all combine
To Advance Australia Fair.
In joyful strains then let us sing,
Advance Australia Fair.
It’s been the Australian National Anthem since 1984.
If you want to sing along, try
Which is as good a place as any to end our flying truckshunter visit...
If you’ve been reading and inly digesting since the beginning, you may well be curious about the result of the Australian government’s poll to find the country’s greatest gift to the world.
The Australian people decided that the winner was…
(Pause for effect…)
The Hills Hoist Rotary Clothes Line, invented in Australia in 1946.
A very big Thankyou to everyone who contributed information for this visit down-under - and especially to Martin in Sydney (naturally).
Our next visit will be to Austria…
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