We Are The Champions

Australians like to think of themselves as a sporting nation. We have our own native football game, a Formula One Grand Prix, one of the greatest horse races in the world and we tend to punch above our weight in the Olympics, at least in the pool. We even have Winter Olympic gold medallists. Not bad for a country with no snow for most of the year.

Steven Bradbury

At the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Steven Bradbury won gold in the 1,000m short track speed skating event. He won because he managed to stay on his feet while all his opponents fell over.

In Australia, achieving something because everybody else failed is now known as “doing a Bradbury”.

 

Australians love a winner but we especially love a winner against the odds.

Anyone who knows me well will be wondering what on earth inspired me to write a post about sport because it’s not my favourite thing in the world. In fact, I actually loathe our national game. Living in a town obsessed with its football club, this is tantamount to treason and I’ve had many a robust discussion with fans about the (to me) undue influence the club holds (particularly on the local government purse strings).

But let’s not get into that.

So why am I talking about sport now?

Because Australia has just proved itself the true champion of the world with a spectacular win in an international sporting competition.

We just won the Quidditch World Cup.

Quidditch World Cup 1

Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Quidditch Photography

For the uninitiated (or those who have been living under a rock for the past twenty years), Quidditch is the sport played in the Harry Potter books written by J.K. Rowling. It’s been adapted to be played by people who can’t actually fly and is now an international sensation with sporting clubs all over the world.

I have felt compelled to share this news for three reasons:

  1. As a nerd, knowing there is a sport out there based on a series of books about wizards is pretty cool.
  2. I am in love with the national Quidditch team’s name. They’re called the Dropbears. Australians use the existence of the highly dangerous dropbear to scare tourists about the dangers of walking in the bush. (At least, we use it on those easily susceptible to bullshit.)
  3. The coach who led this team to victory over the until-then-undefeated United States is my niece. That is very cool.

That’s a sports victory I can definitely get behind.

Congratulations to the Dropbears and especially to their coach, Gen Gibson. You are the champions!

 

 

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They Speak A Foreign Language In America

As an Australian visiting the United States of America, I’ve been brushing up on my foreign language skills.

But you’re both English-speaking countries. Don’t you speak the same language?

Well, I think that’s a debatable point but I wasn’t actually talking about the spoken or written language.

Q: What’s the difference between a canoe and an Australian?

A: A canoe can tip.

If there is one thing that can strike more fear into the heart of an Australian visiting the USA than its lack of gun control it is the concept of tipping.

Tipping

Who to tip, when to tip, how much to tip…. It’s all a mystery to the average Australian.

It has always amazed me that two countries that began life as colonies of the British Empire could evolve so differently. Perhaps it is because one was founded primarily by pilgrims and settlers and the other by the criminal refuse of the Mother Country.

Tipping does exist in Australia but it is confined mostly to high end restaurants. Cafés have started putting tip jars on their counters but the only expectation is that you might drop in the couple of coins you were just handed in change for your coffee.

Even in restaurants, a tip is not really expected. It certainly is not, as it was for us at a restaurant the other night in New York, included in the bill.

You may, if you felt the food was outstanding and the service excellent, add a little extra when paying. Rounding up to the next five or ten dollars is reasonable.

I often think Americans must excel in the mathematical topic of percentages, given they must constantly work out tips based on an expected percentage.

What I will never understand is the expectation of a tip even if the food was ordinary and the service indifferent.

It is not just the value of the tip that is confusing to Australians, it is how extensive tipping is across American society. Hotels are a particular case in point.

Leaving a tip for the person who comes in to clean your room is, frankly, a bizarre concept to us. There is an implicit understanding that, having paid hundreds of dollars a night for a room, all standard expenses related to that room are covered. Certainly, it is expected that the person who comes to clean your room is being paid a wage to do that job out of those hundreds of dollars you just handed over at reception.

But this is where I start to get an understanding of why tipping is so important in America. In Australia, we fight hard to ensure everyone is earning a reasonable living wage whatever their occupation. To be honest, we have some more work to do on that but the situation is nowhere near as dire as it seems to be in the USA.

The minimum wage in New York State is currently US$8.75/hour. It’s even lower in many other states and six states don’t even have a minimum wage. (Ref.) In Australia, the minimum wage applies across all states and is currently set at A$16.87/hour (US$13.07). (Ref.)

Australia also has universal healthcare, so even though the minimum wage is low, those on low incomes can access free medical care. In America, where much of healthcare is an additional cost to be borne (unless one is lucky enough to have employer-provided health insurance), those on even lower wages must rely on the generosity of strangers and tourists to help them cover these costs.

As an Australian, it’s hard not to see compulsory tipping as a form of legalised begging for the poor.

I hope we don’t see extensive tipping become the norm in our country. I hope we continue to try and ensure every person is paid a liveable wage.

But we will continue to leave a few dollars on the table for the person who comes to clean our room while we are visiting the USA.

Australians can tip. We just don’t understand why.

 

 

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Go Ahead. Tell Me There’s No Climate Change

Photo: Christie Panozzo

Photo: Christie Panozzo

Welcome to Australia, folks! Land of snow in unexpected places.

Admittedly, that photo was taken in Ballarat. It gets cold in Ballarat. Not usually this cold but, yeah, cold. Ish.

But this one:

Photo: Quentin Kelly

Photo: Quentin Kelly

That’s in Lorne. Lorne is a seaside town. It doesn’t often get snow as a rule.

So (if you’re not from around here and subscribe to the Oz stereotype), you’re probably thinking, “Well, there goes that Aussie beach holiday we were thinking of taking.”

Not a problem. Come in summer. We don’t get snow in summer. Not even on our highest mountain.

It’s hot in summer. In fact, last year was our hottest year ever.

Of course, if you come in summer, you’ll have to contend with the bushfires. Apparently, they’ve been getting more intense and more frequent lately. It’s so bad in some places, it makes the phrase “making a tree-change” sound like a death-wish.

cloud2-firetruck_0

Black Saturday Bushfires. Source: Herald Sun

According to our government, of course, this is all normal. Carry on, folks. Nothing to see here.

They’re so not worried about it, they’ve just removed our ‘price on carbon’ mechanism that was actually reducing carbon emissions. That, you know, contribute to climate change. That, you know, is changing the Earth’s climate. That, you know, causes more bushfires, snow in strange places, floods, hurricanes, stuff like that.

But not to worry. Hotter summers means more time in the ol’ Speedos, right?

The Australian Prime Minister

The Australian Prime Minister

 

what me worry

 

 

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Yes, I Am Jealous Of The Fourth Of July

Me, aged about 10 months (Lexington, KY)

Today is the Fourth of July, American Independence Day.

I’m not American. The photo above was taken when we spent a year of my earliest life living in Kentucky. I spoke my first words with an American accent.

Australians know all about Independence Day. It figures prominently in Hollywood and every US television series from Leave It To Beaver to The Wonder Years to Modern Family has had at least one Fourth of July themed episode (or so it seems).

In some ways, I envy the USA and the passion they hold for their national day. Along with their Northern cousins, they celebrate a day they became a nation in their own right, whether through war and bloodshed or, as my Canadian blogging friend Joanne put it, by asking “our British Motherland for permission“.

I also envy them their flags, unique to their countries and flown so proudly as a sign of their independence and singular nationhood.

In my country, we celebrate our national day – Australia Day – on the anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet in Sydney Cove in 1788. We were still a British colony, a largely penal one at that and our indigenous brothers and sisters rightly refer to our national day as “Invasion Day”. It doesn’t make me proud; it makes me cringe.

Even our flag is under contention, a reminder of our British colonial past displayed prominently in the corner. I think it is a symbol of our never quite cutting the apron strings. There is a significant portion of our society that clings to our British roots despite the ever-increasing multicultural influence on our everyday streets.

If ever there were any doubts that we have never really left the nursery, confirmation came earlier this year when one of the first acts of our new Prime Minister was to re-instate knighthoods, previously abolished in 1983. With manufacturing in decline, spiralling youth unemployment, appalling conditions for our indigenous peoples and a widening gap between rich and poor in our country, this was one of his first priorities.

Every January 26th, there are rumblings about finding a more appropriate day. Federation – our ‘independence’ day – came on January 1st 1901. Australians love a public holiday, particularly one that gives them a long weekend. Celebrating the national day on a day that is already a public holiday and thus depriving them of an additional day off will not be tolerated. Some have suggested making ANZAC Day our national day but celebrating ourselves as a nation on the anniversary of one of the biggest military stuff-ups seems absurd. And how do we include our new Australians who hail from Turkey on that day?

On 13th February 2008, our then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, offered an official government apology to indigenous Australians and particularly to the Stolen Generations for the treatment they had received from our forebears. Many have suggested this as a possible new national day. It has merit and may highlight each year the ongoing plight of the aboriginal people (we are yet to acknowledge their first ownership of the land in our constitution and their life expectancy is well below their non-indigenous counterparts). However, it does not acknowledge the many cultures that have come to make up our peaceful melting pot of a country. From the Chinese who came to dig the goldfields in the 1850s to the latest migrants from Africa and the Middle East, ours is a country built on difference. We need to find a day that celebrates that and a flag that truly represents who we are.

I’m not confident I’ll see it in my own lifetime but I think my children’s generation, brought up in an increasingly global society, may be the one to recognise the contribution of all the peoples of the Earth who have come to form our home and to celebrate that in unity and peace.

Every country has its problems. The United States has a growing underclass of working poor and their lack of universal healthcare leaves us shaking our heads. Canada’s current Prime Minister is best buddies with our own so they have my sympathies. But both countries have a day that is theirs and theirs alone when they can feel proud to be an independent nation.

I wish I could say the same for my own country.

(I’d like to thank bikerchick57 for inspiring this post.)

 

 

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