Across Continents

Ken's Blog

Reflections on Australia

August 28th, 2011

Choosing to cross Australia from north to south, following the east coast, I’d left with a real sense of quiet satisfaction. Challenges overcome – struggling at first with the oppressive humidity in the far north, the odd cyclone, annoying cane toads, suicidal wallabies and some fairly deadly, but largely elusive, fauna. And some quite terrible driving. The natives seemed to have a reasonable grasp of English, and a similar sense of humour, which had helped a lot.

Indeed, if I’d ever felt a bit weary, riding past endless hectares of cane sugar or through yet another nondescript town in parts of Victoria, it was the people I’d met, sometimes stayed with, who had helped rebound my spirits. Their frequent generosity remaining as humbling as the day I’d started this journey. If I’d any regrets, it was simply that a better, and in all probability rather more favourable, understanding of the indigenous people – those the European settlers had displaced – had eluded me.

I’d also found the cost of living quite perplexing. Even allowing for a strong currency, prices seemed frequently exorbitant. Intriguing, because this wasn’t the case in neighbouring New Zealand, despite having only a fifth of the population of Australia and a similar reliance on imports. If I were to proffer an explanation, it’d be that a relatively flush economy, fuelled by a mining boom, seemed to encourage an undercurrent of plain greed.

Generous state handouts don’t help. Fuelling price increases. And it’s likely to get worse with the introduction of a tax on carbon emissions. The Federal Government expected to provide sizeable rebates to much of the population. That’d be lump sums. In advance. Despite assurances to the contrary, the temptation to get a piece of this will be irresistible to many businesses.

Endemic regulation doesn’t help either, pushing up costs. For almost everything seems to need some sort of licence, a permit, approval of one form or the other. I’m surprised you don’t require written authority to breed. Or at the very least a risk assessment. An oversight I’m sure. Left a note in the Suggestion Box at the airport on my way out.

But, for all its frustrations, Australia has been a truly fascinating experience. Forming friendships I hope will last a lifetime. Renewing others. And I’d welcome the opportunity to return. Intrigued by the idea, gleaned from those I’ve met on the road, of riding around the entire continent. But would I ever consider emigrating? Popular destination amongst the Brits for that sort of thing. Or at least those who haven’t been to New Zealand. I’ll let you ponder.

Just one little parting hint. Detain me, however briefly, at Immigration when I’m simply exercising my visa for the purposes for which it was issued and you’ll forever – and I mean that – be compared to the only other nation to do that to me so far. Kazakhstan. Already penning the Borat jokes for the after dinner circuit.

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