We’re Okay. Honestly.

According to some US media pundits, Australia has descended into a dystopian totalitarian hellscape.

That’s news to me. To most of us. Okay, to pretty much all of us except the twilight people who live in the far dark reaches of the internet and don’t get out much.

Have we been under a long and strict lockdown? Yes.

Have our state governments been introducing vaccine mandates for many sectors under a “No Jab, No Job” policy? Yes.

Are we upset about it? Nope.

Okay, yes, there have been protests but they have mostly been attended by those aforementioned drongos. I mean, to protest against a lockdown by doing the very thing that will extend that lockdown (by spreading the virus) takes a special kind of stupid. If you want to understand the kind of people who participated in these events (that, it might be pointed out, fizzled out after a few days), check out this Twitter thread:

At a press conference soon after the announcement of a vaccine mandate for all education staff, one reporter (undoubtedly a Murdoch subordinate by her obsession with ‘gotcha’ questions) asked the Deputy Premier and Minister for Education James Merlino what the government planned to do to replace all the teachers who would resign because they didn’t want to be vaccinated. Minister Merlino replied that in a recent voluntary survey responded to by 40,000 teachers, 98% of them were already fully vaccinated so he didn’t think it would be much of a problem. For some reason, she didn’t have a follow up question.

Our state has vaccinated at a record pace (since we finally received sufficient supply) and we are on track to be more than 90% fully vaccinated by the end of the year.

Living in a land that infamously tries to kill you every day (floods, fires and hurricanes, spiders, snakes and sharks, not to mention the drop bears and hoop snakes) tends to bring you together with your fellow survivors. There’s a very strong community ethos that flows through the Australian psyche. Given the choice between staying in our homes or watching thousands of our fellow Australians die, to us it’s a no brainer.

It appears that the global nature of social media has tempted some to import the more individualistic, personal rights and freedoms ethos of Americans into our country. You only have to look at some of the protest signs to see slogans more often seen at rallies of the former President. Even the red cap of such followers have been spotted amongst the protestors.(Seriously!) And in the absence of a Confederate flag (Australia never having had the need for a civil war), they chose the closest thing they could find – the Australian Red Ensign. I don’t think the Merchant Navy is very happy about it.

Does this flag make me look American to you?

What these nufties don’t understand is that the political ideologies of another nation won’t just slot into our own. (Ironic, really, when most of these people are part of the ‘if you come to our country you must act like us’ brigade.)

Some have tried to compare our pandemic safety measures to living under the Taliban in Afghanistan. But we have universal healthcare, our elections are run by independent commissions, abortion is a right given to all women and we don’t have to stare at the AR-15 hanging off the back of the person in front of us in the checkout line. (I don’t even know anyone who owns a gun of any kind. Unless Nerf guns or water pistols count.) And to date we’ve had 151,943 cases of COVID19 and 1590 deaths in total across the country (pop 25.7 million).

Does that sound dystopian to you?

Please don’t worry about us. We are fine.

(And in a final point of irony, the call to invade to save us all came on the day my state celebrated “Freedom Friday”. Having reached 70% fully vaccinated adult population, restrictions have eased and we are well on our way to COVID-normal life.)

9 Things I Learned In New York City

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” ~ Mark Twain

They say that travel broadens the mind but I think you have to open that mind up first. No amount of travel is going to change your perspective if you arrive expecting (or even demanding) it to conform to familiar territory.

New York City was not my pick. It wasn’t even anywhere on my bucket list after a bad experience in my youth. (It was a much scarier place back then.) I agreed to it because it was what the Husband wanted and these are the kinds of things you do in a marriage.

NY Manhattan

I didn’t want it but I left my mind open to the possibility I might enjoy it.

And I did. And I learned things.

1. New Yorkers like to live on the edge. Either that or they’re all born with a death wish.

NY Crossing

And no, I am not talking about the lax gun laws. They don’t wear seat belts or bicycle helmets and pedestrian crossing lights are merely decorative. Coming from a country that introduced mandatory seatbelt laws in the 1970s, compulsory bike helmet laws in the 1980s and strict gun control laws in the 1990s, this laissez-faire attitude to their safety was concerning.

2. If you want to drive in New York City, your vehicle must be either a yellow cab or a black Suburban.

NY Traffic

I don’t know why anyone would want to drive in New York City but those who do (and who are not taxi drivers) almost all seem to drive large black vehicles. Grey or silver is also acceptable and white is tolerated (but could be mistaken for a delivery vehicle). Driving a colourful car (say, red) is stepping way outside the line.

3. The best way to see New York City is on foot.

Yeah, sure, the subway is a useful way to get from one end to another. And I get that you may need to be somewhere in a hurry and jumping in a cab works for you. But if you’re there as a traveller (as opposed to a mere tourist), the only way to really experience New York City is to take Shanks’ pony. It’s the only way to notice the differing architecture, to recognise the iconic places, to stumble across the quirky and bizarre.

4. A bagel goes a long way.

NY Bagel

Baguettes in France, Würst Im Brot in Germany, wherever we travel we find the one thing that is cheap and filling to eat and pretty much live off it. In New York, that was the bagel. I’m going to miss that bagel shop.

5. New Yorkers don’t really understand customer service.

I don’t know if it’s the prevailing tipping culture (more on that here) but New Yorkers just don’t seem to ‘get’ the concept of customer service for the customer’s sake. If they think they’re likely to score a large tip, then yes, they will turn on the charm, pay attention, make sure you have everything you want. But I lost count of the number of cashiers and ticket sellers who conducted a conversation with their workmate whilst serving me. I found it horrifying and, frankly, insulting. Dear Customer Service Representative: You are being paid (lowly, I admit) to serve me. Not to glance at me, tell me how much and then proceed to ignore me and talk to someone else while I pay my money and take my goods. Just saying.

6. They don’t drink wine in New York City.

Well, yes, that’s a sweeping statement and obviously untrue but it was certainly more difficult to find a shop selling wine than it was to find one selling beer. Fortunately, we tracked one down eventually and tried a bottle of the local drop as is our wont.

NY Wine

7. New York City is really just one big television/movie set so things may not always be as they seem.

NY Movie Set

Like the crashed FBI van outside the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue.

8. Good coffee in New York City is hard to find.

NY Starbucks

I don’t care if there is a Starbucks on every corner. I said good coffee. Thankfully, several Australians – actually, more importantly, Melburnians* – have opened Aussie-style – actually, more importantly, Melbourne-style – cafés in New York City.


Why is it important that they are Melbourne-style? Because Melbourne is the coffee capital of Australia. The waves of Italian migrants arriving after World War 2 brought us out of the dark shame of International Roast consumption and into the glorious light of true espresso. Two weeks without proper coffee is too much to ask of anyone. It cost me nearly double what it would at home but that first true cappuccino was oh so worth it.

Coffee and Avocado Smash - An Aussie Café Tradition

Coffee and Avocado Smash – An Aussie Café Tradition

*No, this is not missing an ‘o’. Yes, that is how you spell it.

9. Spring in New York City is colder than the depths of winter at home.

NY Snow

And let me point out that I live in a part of Australia that has a winter. We wear coats and gloves and scarves and complain about the bitter cold (when it gets below 10°C). I’m not sure what I was expecting. I knew it wouldn’t be warm. But I don’t think I expected snow falling out of the sky (even if it didn’t stay on the ground). When the temperature climbed to 15°C one day, we were practically in t-shirts. (Not really, but we did see others in t-shirts and shorts!) I had to keep reminding myself that this sort of weather was the average for the middle of winter back home.


There’s good and bad in that list. But there’s good and bad wherever you go. In the end, I came, I saw and I changed my mind about New York City.


“Give me such shows – give me the streets of Manhattan!” ~ Walt Whitman



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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.


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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Kind Hearts Are The Gardens – A Journey Across The USA

Kind hearts are the gardens, Kind thoughts are the roots,
Kind words are the flowers, Kind deeds are the fruits,
Take care of your garden, And keep out the weeds,
Fill it with sunshine, Kind words and kind deeds.
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

In the early 1990s I made a 7-week trip across the USA from New York to Los Angeles by Greyhound bus (seriously). I was alone, in my early 20s and I don’t know what I was thinking.

The trip was the tail end of a traditional young Australian rite of passage to travel to the other side of the globe for a year or so. Having already spent nine months in Europe, I was on my way home via the States.

I was ready to go home, I was heading in the right direction and it could have been the miserable journey of a long drawn out homecoming.

Ah, but for the kind hearts I met along the way…

Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.
– Henry James

Some were pre-prepared. A year living in Kentucky before I was old enough to hold memories and subsequent study by my father for his PhD at the University of Cincinnati (not to mention the conference contacts to which this lofty attainment would lead), gave me ready-made homes away from home across the country, strangers as they were to me.

I arrived, terrified and drowning in the horror stories, at JFK Airport in New York at 9.30pm in the middle of December. Adamant that I would put my safety first and stay in the nearest airport hotel until morning, the purse strings didn’t agree and I found myself inexplicably on a bus on my way to Port Authority Bus Terminal. Next plan – find the closest hotel to the bus station I could afford. Mad scrambling through the guidebook (this being prior to the days of Tripadvisor and its ilk). Alighting the bus, I made a beeline for the hotel, late at night, in the dark and politely ignoring the gentleman who offered to carry my bag.

The next morning, I picked up a payphone and called my first angel of mercy, living in New Jersey. In the daylight, I was brave enough to cover enough of the essentials to be able to say “I’ve been to New York” and then I hotfooted it out of that den of iniquity to the relative safety of the NJ ‘burbs.

They picked me up, took me home, fed me, gave me a bed, introduced me to their friends and kept me safe.


The first kind fruits of my garden.

But there were more to be harvested.

Christmas in Cleveland, Ohio – unexpected gifts and dinners as one of the family.


New Year in Lexington, Kentucky – a connection to my babyhood and the patient tour of the places of my history but not my memories.


A stop in Gainsville, Florida – after a lengthy ride from Philly and the one face I actually remembered when collected at the bus station. And another in Tuscaloosa, Alabama – an extended family welcome and unexpected snow.


The contacts my parents had so assiduously maintained over the years brought kindness and love into a tired, travelling, homesick life.

And my garden of kindness grew.

You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Some angels I had collected in my travels, like souvenirs, but souvenirs that were useful and didn’t gather dust.

A place to rest in Philadelphia after a 30 hour bus ride from Kentucky. I was a total stranger but their friends – the London family for whom I had worked as an au pair – had spoken highly of this strange, young Australian and they welcomed me into their home and family.


A mid-country stop in Houston, Texas – the result of a chance encounter on a bus en route to the Taizé Community in France. At the time, they moved on quickly to their next destination while I stayed on for a fortnight but at their urging, we re-acquainted at their home, thousands of kilometres from where we first met.  As I was moving ever closer to the flight to take me home, their substitute parental love and care was both soothing and heartbreaking as I longed for my own family.

Shall we make a new rule of life from tonight: always to try to be a little kinder than is necessary?
J. M. Barrie, The Little White Bird

And some – perhaps the best? – were random.

The woman who struck up a conversation on Boston Common and invited me home for lunch.

The actor on his way to Hollywood who kept me company on the long bus ride from San Antonio to Los Angeles.

The mother of the girlfriend of the grandson of the couple who took me in at Tuscaloosa, Alabama (did you get that?!) who gave me a place to live and a bicycle to travel by at UCLA in Los Angeles and saved me from my mortal fear of living in a big city that still lingered from the starting point of this American journey. And she took me to Disneyland.



These were the kind hearts who were the gardens of my USA travels. Some known to me, some not. Some are still known but many have been lost in the passageways of time, a result of the communication slackness of young adulthood. Some have left us, now true angels no longer earthbound.

All of them the roots, the flowers and the fruits of my garden of kindness.

Give us days to be filled with small rebellions – senseless, brutal acts of kindness from us all.
– Jars of Clay, Small Rebellions


A response to the Daily Post Weekly Writing Challenge – Honey versus Vinegar which made me think of all the acts of kindness I’ve experienced on my travels. These are just some of them.



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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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