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A recent trip to the middle of Australia made me realise something about our national stereotype. While we are entranced by the idea of the simple life, who in their right mind wants it?
We entered the patioed area of a combined motor-inn/camping spot/watering hole, a gross dust-burnt flame of the 1980’s, wearing the same cocktail number it did back when Peter ruled the Mountain, as Bob did the yard glass. A taxidermied crocodile stood guard over the ice-cream freezer which doubled as a museum of products lost to the shift of time.
The group that pulled attention away from nostalgic browsing was a grand salute to the national condition.
A band, five nomadic souls, linked by blood and musical scale, that called places such as this “home”. They had skirted the sandy curtain of our island by way of road, painted by the native warblings of dead apathetic poets, recounting stories of family voyages and the life they had led as they saw fit, an existence validated by evening dinner crowds identical to the one before them, in places that share the same aesthetic.
The eldest, old enough for his talent to be endearing and not to drag the nerves of inadequacy from every lazy male in the room, explained how he had yearned to play cricket, so, in order to pay for the hallowed willow to play the colonial game, his parents decreed that he had to recite a poem until the spell was lifted. All listened as he wound us down the hill that Banjo Patterson saw, replete with a stock whip accompaniment, and I was convinced we had stepped backwards; the land was ancient, as was the material. Needless to say, he was good, that juvenile poet from the outer Hawkesbury River.
The band’s finale leapt from the pages of stereotype, fishing a man from the audience – one so perfectly entrenched in the national assumption that it surely was a piss-take. He sported the innocent jaw of a juvenile, the sunken dull eyes of an octogenarian, an Akubra upon his scalp, beaten to within an inch of its life in pursuit of flies, and the Sunday best was hung on his shoulders – a vibrant, red dress-shirt providing the vista that matched his sunny disposition. Onto the stage he traipsed, without warm up or quarter given, where he pleasantly commandeered an acoustic and warbled out a sonnet which espoused the benefits of the simple life; where the kingdom that is kept within the humblest of surrounds, the royal court, curtained by fibro and grit, is indeed, the best kingdom.
But while the audience followed him with a tapping foot, the audience members were well-heeled, hailing from the furthest point of the kingdom he referenced. With the conclusion of the third verse, they’d be whisked away to sample the ancient heart of the Commonwealth through the rose-tinted glasses of five-star silver service.
The opportunity, I believe, is the root diameter of the pickle. We need to be close to that opportunity, as we would a waterfront view, but we dare not swim in it, because it’s for looking at.
That night, as my partner slept, my mind wandered over this land as I wrestled myself free of lager brewed in the north. I was stuck on the fleshing out of fiction that I’ve seen grow hair as we ventured ever closer to the red centre. That Australia lives, the one that memory, stereotype or the best of intentions promised us – the one that we admire by pinning it to the wall like a butterfly.
We hold a great resistance and allegiance to our national stereotype; that of hard work, and living within one’s means. One where we’d down tools, given the opportunity, for a home among the gum trees.
We have an enamourment with something that the wider cross-section of us would never do, given the opportunity. And the opportunity, I believe, is the root diameter of the pickle. We need to be close to that opportunity, as we would a waterfront view, but we dare not swim in it, because it’s for looking at. Australia is a country that we call lucky, but the few who make something towering of that luck soon suffer the greatest of reverses and fall victim to the national condition. We shackle our belief, and save our greatest responses to detractors in defence of this luck. Australia is the lucky country, but what do we do with it, really? Get mashed while watching Family Feud? It’s as if we view the luck given as we would in a casino: not be toyed with, as it is sure to turn against us when we push it too far.
So, while we may gripe at the complaint of having to haul ourselves out of bed at ridiculous-o-clock, working inane jobs for a semblance of crumbs, I contend that the nation’s luck lies there, in the ability to dream away simplicity, in favour of one that is needlessly complex. Simplicity is merely an idealism to aid us through our complex lives.
To best reach for a metaphor, the problems with the Australian psyche are best spoken by the gaudy tourist spots we erect. While the Banana is gargantuan in size, and we may marvel at its beauty, there’s no chance we could digest it, as it’s not for eating.