Saturday, December 01, 2007

Q and A

Greetings from the Whitsunday's. As time marches on down under i thought that rather then giving a play by play of the trip i'd attempt to answer some questions about the country I'm in and the journey I'm on. These are questions that either have been asked, might be asked or just popped into my head while writing this. Here we go., the first installment.....

1-Where is Australia?

Just south of california. Actually, its a bit further than that. I found myself setting foot on Australian soil after 3 flights and nearly 24hrs of flying. The 3 flights took me from JFK in New York to LAX in California, then on to Sydney where, despite being in Australia, i had another 2 hr flight to get to Melbourne. Once in Melbourne i was finally at my kicking off point. That's where Bonnie picked me up from the Airport.

2-How big is Australia?

It's pretty big. Not Texas big, but big. Actually, Australia is the only country that is also a continent. Size-wise it's about the size of the entire US (excluding Alaska). However Australia contains only about 20 million people. If you compare that to the app. 300 million living in the US, Australia is roughly 1/15 as populated. Feel free to check my math on that one. Of those 20 million nearly all are concentrated on the east coast and a few spots on the west coast.

3-What language do they speak in Australia?

Ask any Australian what they speak and they will no doubt answer “English!” but don't let them fool you. They speak English in the same way that people from the UK speak English..that is, a very strange cousin of proper American english. Here's a few choice words translated from Australian to American English.

hotel – usually means bar or pub. sometimes it also means hotel though.
how ya goin – how are you
bottle shop – place to buy alcohol
ute – strange el camino like vehicle that is very popular
pissed – drunk, as in “last night i got pissed”. note: can also be used in a negative tone as in piss off...i.e. f*ck off
bugger – i'm still trying to decide exactly what this one means.
cheers - goodbye. or cheers.
Boot – trunk

i'm sure i missed 1 or 2..or more

4-What currency do they use?

Australians use a mixture of kangaroo heads and boomerangs as currency. Although it can be difficult to store and transport this sort of currency, it makes quite a bit of sense when you consider that kangaroo heads can be eaten if lost in the outback and boomerangs can be used to solve any disputes, should they arise.

In truth, the Australian dollar (where'd they get that name...friggin thiefs) is quite stable and normally sits very close to 1:1 with the American dollar. The currency itself though is quite interesting. The coins range in size from 0.10 up to 2 AUD (Australian Dollars) and decrease in size the more they are worth. The paper money is actually not paper at all but some sort of super plastic type material that is both waterproof and tearproof. I know..i tried. It is not however microwave proof which we were informed of by a teller in Echuca. Nuke it, and it shrinks and shrivels. He of course did not learn this first hand, but merely relayed it on to us from an unnamed source.

Speaking of money, Bonnie and i did attempt to visit the mint in Canberra. With visions of giant stamping machines and billions in coins at our fingertips we thought it would be a neat experience. Unfortunately it was rather lame, the highlight being the souvenir 1 dollar coin you could make by pumping in 2.50.


6-Are things generally expensive there?

In short, yes. Over long periods of time one of the best measures of the relative costs of living and value of a currency was the cost of bread. More recently other commodities have been used such as a McDonald's Big Mac. I on the other hand like to use the cost of a beer. As this is something i plan to buy where ever i go i am very sensitive to the price parities between locations when sourcing a beer. By this measure Australia is very expensive. Figure on 7-10 AUD for a beer at a bar. It is true that tipping here is not quite on par with the states but that still does not account for the entire difference.

7-Any thoughts on the Australian Government?

I don't understand it, and don't really care to. It's a strange system similar to that of the UK but with allot more yelling and funny words. I didn't think that it was even possible to be stranger than the UK parliment, until i came here. The names of the parties are switched when compared to America, meaning a conservative in the states would be a liberal down under, but since we're south of the equator that makes sense. They happened to be holding elections while we were here and as an interesting side in Australia is 100% mandatory. If you don't vote you must pay a fine.

Despite their insane government and ridiculous income tax (as much as 47% i've been told) most australians seem to have an odd fondness for their government. I can understand this though, they do live a pretty good life down here..good infrastructure, anything you could want is readily available... The biggest problem seems to be the ongoing struggle with the aboriginee's. No easy answer on that one.

8-Did you go to the outback?

Yes. No. Well, i'm not really sure. There are no signs that inform you when you are entering or in the outback. But since we drove behind allot of people's houses and will cover about 5000km this trip, i have to imagine we will be or have been in the outback at least once.

9-Did you see Kangaroo's?

Yup. Even ate them..twice. We saw wild Kangaroo's at pebbly beach and then again when we went to the Australia Zoo (otherwise known as the Steve Irwin Zoo..go ahead, say it...CRIKEY!!). Petting them was interesting, the zoo has two large enclosures where they roam free and anyone is free to approach any animal and try to feed it, pet it, ride it..whatever. Well, maybe not ride it. I dont think something like this would work in the states because the zoo would be too worried about lawsuits. But down under if you were to try to sue the zoo, they would drag you over to the croc pits and settle the case early.

9B-But what does a kangaroo taste like?

Well quite good actually. it's very tender. Now before you start crying a tear or swearing about the cruelty of eating such a unique creature, understand the kangaroo's here are much like deer in the US. They're all over and often times a nuisance. We had no trouble buying Kangaroo steaks and got no funny looks when discussing eating them with other Australians. They are so plentiful in fact that the camper company we rented from informed us that we should not drive after 6pm due to the abundance of kangaroo's crossing the roadways. There was even a friendly little reminder on the speedometer in the form of a sticker that said “Kangaroo's, RUN THE FUCKERS DOWN”. I'm serious.

10-Do Australian's have small hands and smell like cabbage?

Nope, that;s gypsies.

and some people from Virginia.

11-Do Australian's drive on the right side of the road?

No, they drive on the wrong side of the road. Har har. Seriously though, they drive on the left which does take a little getting used to, particularly in the very abundant roundabouts. I was reminded of this fact this morning while leaving Hervey bay, i entered a roundabout and went right...i quickly realized my error as did some oncoming drivers. Much to my surprised and delight though they did not react like most americans would with that of a 1 fingered salute and shouted obscenity, we merely got a wave and a loud “Americans!”.

And thus ends the first installment of me answering questions that i posed to myself on the country i'm in. I've got a few more typed out but feel free to post some and i'll answer them to the best of my ability. When said ability is not good enough..i'll just make something up.

Last but not least..a few more pics.

2007 11 Australia

Off for a boat tour of the islands...