The Beginning of the End

Trip Start Nov 15, 2003
Trip End Nov 14, 2004

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Flag of Australia  ,
Friday, October 29, 2004

After a brilliant month away landing in cold and rainy Sydney 4 weeks ago was a bit depressing. More so was the fact that the flight signalled the last of my big trips in Australia. New Zealand has fallen by the way side due to lack of funds, and so has Western Australia. Effectively I am missing out on half of Australia's land mass by not going here. Most of it being desert however. The Bungle Bungles will just have to wait.

With a paltry $200 in the bank (the equivalent of about 4 English pounds) and no job I was reduced to watching Dr. Phil, talking to the feral cat next door and going swimming in the local council pool with Old Age Pensioners. Dr. Phil annoyed me to distraction.
His competitor Judge Judy made my brain bleed and I grew tired of dodging the suspicious yellow water that followed the toothless woman in the pool. She was there every time I went. I tried varying times between 5:30am and 9pm and she was always there. I began to
look for alien cocoons on the floor of the pool. Thus I jumped at the offer of going to Canberra for the weekend. With my usual good luck this happened to be the weekend of the Australian General Election. This did mean the town centre was more or less deserted
when we arrived; everyone engaged in watching the entertaining election coverage. But with no BBC2, John Snow and the Swing-o-meter, I hadn't the heart to join in. It also meant having to wait whilst my aussie friends voted on Saturday morning as voting is
compulsory here. Waiting in line I was approached by canvassers! Feeling that on the day of the election was a bit too late to start trying for votes; I took great delight in telling them I was English and couldn't vote, so could they politely k'off.

The election hall itself was full of families, dogs and people generally having a chat. The concept of hidden, secret voting seems to be loosely applied here, and the whole process was far removed from the furtive scribblings that occur in deserted musty poll booths in the UK (and a lot more fun!). How you are supposed to choose who to vote for from the myriad of possibilities is any ones guess. Putting 93 people in order of your preference? No wonder some people pack picnic hampers when they come to vote. Disappointed that despite my protestations my friends didn't vote for the 'lower tax on beer and petrol' and 'legalise pot' parties we started our mini road-trip to Canberra.

3 hours drive along a freeway at a painstaking, police enforced 100km/h speed limit took us right into the heart of the city to my chef friends restaurant. Aussie cops like catching the speeding driver; Perhaps because there is so little other crime? They have speed cameras mounted in un-manned cars that they park along the side of the road in NSW. Quite how long these would survive if used in the UK, before being stolen or vandalised, I'm not sure.

The best technique I witnessed for catching these speeding master criminals was the unmarked cop car that drove right up the tail of a car behind us to try and force it to go faster. After 5 minutes, when it refused to play, it overtook this car and sat about 2 metres off our tail for 5km. We didn't budge either, so it sped off to the next one in line, which did speed up, in attempt to save his life, and was promptly pulled over. Modern policing at its best!

Australia's capital stands at a staggering 300,000 population and is a completely planned city; like Milton Keynes but prettier. 2 hours of free booze and a 3 course meal later I retired to bed. Morning and a sober head allowed me to appreciate that this is what Milton Keynes would have looked like if English town planners had any skill or artistic merit, rather than producing a town that looks like giant blocks of Lego arranged in neat rows. The bright rosy day was then spoilt by hearing the election results.

It seems that my choices hadn't made it through; I'll just have to wait for cheaper beer then. But as elections are won by the media nowadays and Murdoch effectively controls Australian journalistic output, it is no surprise that his buddy, George Bush's sheriff, John Howard won again.

Canberra is not a pretty city but its wide roads and trees do make it seem that you are not really in a city. But that is its problem, it is neither city nor rural, and suffers an identity crisis. In fact it looks like a huge university campus in Iowa. It is a tad boring if you aren't into tree lined avenues. We started at the flower show - Floriad, which was entertaining, or perhaps I am getting old. I'm not joking. A flower covered park that was strangely arresting. We then headed to Questacon (a kids version of the Science Museum) with lots of pushy buttons, earthquake simulators and the such. The best bit was a wall showing off aussie inventions, like the hills-hoist, the ute, skin cancer, the mullet hairdo and something called aussie-crawl. Front crawl to the rest of the world, aussie-crawl to australians. If the display was to be believed they also invented cars, planes and the T.V. Being results day we also headed to the Parliament Building to see where the great australian nation is controlled. Interesting to note that posession of pot is legal here! The building is covered in with a sloping grass roof that you used to be able to roll down making it is a little more modern than the houses of Parliament, but strangely smelling the same. But this roof is now deemed a terrorist risk and you are no longer allowed on the slope. Only the very top is accessible by a lift. Perhaps they are worried that out of control toddlers will decapitate John Howard?

We took a look round the Houses where an overly knowledgeable woman kept breaking down the differences between the Aussie and English parliamentary systems to the n-th degree for me. By now, last nights rich food and Carlton Draught (a far superior drink to meths), had come back to for a second visit and I had to nip to the toilets just outside the senate room. Trousers down by my ankles, I sat there happy in the knowledge that I was making one of my usual profound political statements right in the seat of aussie democracy.

We finished the weekend with the ubiquitous educational aussie barbie. Drinking here is a truly mind expanding experience. Not sure that research suggesting that beer drinkers are more intelligent than wine drinkers (source: BBC) is to be believed, the major brewers here have added little general knowledge questions to the underside of the bottle caps. They are fascinating, but unless you have an encyclopaedic knowledge of aussie sport aussie males are genetically pre-disposed to this) you may struggle. Rainy Sydney eventually beckoned and we headed back to 4 days of rain, the most my aussie friend has seen in 3 years.
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