Archive for the ‘People and Social Life’ Category

Australian politics: A laugh a minute

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

Liberal MP Tony Abbott stands alongside a cardboard cutout of Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd

Politics in Australia is best described as a spectator sport, and there’s never a dull moment. From massive U-turns through to practical jokes, jibes, personal insults, bribery, corruption and scandal, Australian politicians make their UK counterparts look like model, if dull, citizens.


Take the recent corruption scandal in Wollongong, for example. Wollongong is New South Wales’ third biggest city, about an hour south of Sydney. As a city, it’s a lot less built-up than Sydney – but thanks to alleged bribes, sexual relations between developers and the town planner, and blackmail, lots of rather large buildings are now in Wollongong that perhaps shouldn’t have been built.

The corruption is said to run deep, even up to the level of the State Labor government. In fact, Wollongong council was so incompetent that it has now been sacked and put into administration – a story I’m personally familiar with, as our local council, Warringah, has also been in administration for the last 5 years for similar reasons. This seems to be a bit of a trend.

A Ruddy good laugh

Then there’s the Kevin Rudd cardboard cut-out affair. Pictured above, we see a real Tony Abbott (the MP for Warringah, as it happens) standing shoulder-to-shoulder with a fake Kevin Rudd. Why? It was a protest by Liberal and National MPs about Kev and his mates not turning up to a sitting of backbenchers in the House of Representatives. Obviously in an age of climate change worries, spiralling inflation and interest rate hikes, the most important thing on the political agenda is whether the PM turns up to a sitting or not.

The event certainly had comedy value if nothing else. In fact I’m surprised there’s no “best of” DVD of classic Australian parliamentary debates. (Now there’s an idea.)

Keating, Master of Insults

Bill Bryson offers an excellent summary of Aussie politics in his book, Down Under. “You’ll never understand Australian politics,” he says, and I’m inclined to agree with him. He also recalls a parliamentary debate between a Wilson Tuckey and ex-Prime Minister, Paul Keating:

Tuckey: “You are an idiot. You are just a hopeless nong…”

Keating: “Shut up! Sit down and shut up, you pig… Why do you not shut up, you clown?”

Paul KeatingPaul Keating

In fact, Paul Keating’s outbursts are so legendary that there’s even an entire mini-site devoted to his insults. Some of my personal favourites include:

“(Peter Costello) has now been treasurer for 11 years. The old coconut is still there araldited to the seat.”

“For Mr (John) Howard to get to the high moral ground, he would first need to climb out of the volcanic hole he had dug for himself over the last decade. It is like one of those diamond mine holes in South Africa. They are about a mile underground. He would have to come a mile up to get to even equilibrium let alone have any contest in morality with Kevin Rudd.”

Priceless. Who needs comedians when you have Australian politics? 🙂

Need a hand? Ask an Aussie!

Wednesday, May 16th, 2007

No worries! speech bubbleAussies are, on the whole, a helpful and cheery bunch – at least compared to the inhabitants of southern England. (They’re friendlier oop north, so northerners constantly remind me.) The moment I get into London it seems like everyone’s walking around wearing a worried frown, doing their utmost to avoid you. Then, when I get off the plane in Sydney, I see smiling faces and helpful people again. (Provided Australia hasn’t just lost a test match.)

For example, when we first arrived in Australia back in 2002 we wandered around Bondi, and promptly got lost. So we got our map book out. Within seconds we had locals coming up to us, asking if we were lost and needed a hand. There was a connection there immediately. It seems to happen all the time; whenever you need help, a friendly local pops out of nowhere. Total strangers think nothing of coming up to you and starting a conversation. That just doesn’t seem to happen in London.

Shop assistants are generally helpful, too. They’ll often come up and ask if you need a hand – not in a pushy Dixons salesperson kind of way, but in a genuinely interested way. (Cat still hates this – she prefers to do her shopping unassisted – but I quite like it.) Even while you’re handing over your money they’ll happily chat away with you, often mentioning what a good choice you’ve made. Sure, a lot of it is probably good sales training, but they seem quite genuine about it.

In fact, we’ve had a couple of shop assistants that were so helpful they didn’t even care about losing a sale. We went to one department store to buy a washing machine. The guy was wonderfully helpful and explained everything, even getting out the manual for us. Then he said, “Don’t buy it here, though, mate – it’s 50 bucks cheaper down the road!”

Now that’s helpful.

Culture shock for Brits

Wednesday, May 9th, 2007

Culturally speaking, Australia is pretty similar to the UK, so if you’re a Brit moving over here then things will mostly be plain sailing. However there are a few oddities that’ll catch you out when you first arrive:

  • Saying “Alright” to someone doesn’t mean “hello”, it means “are you OK?”. So you’ll get some strange looks if you go up to someone and say “Alright mate!”
  • A “hotel” is sometimes an actual hotel, but more often than not, it’s a pub. (Aussies also use the word “pub” for the same thing, just to add to the confusion.)
  • Manchester isn’t a city over here – it means bedding and linen. So don’t be surprised when you see shops selling Manchester.
  • Woolworths isn’t a cut-price department store flogging music and pick & mix – it’s a supermarket like Tesco.
  • Speaking of supermarkets, you can’t buy alcohol in supermarkets here. You have to go into the bottle shop, or “bottle-o” – otherwise known as an off-licence – next door and make a separate purchase. (Crazy, but them’s the rules.)
  • Most banks charge you for the privilege of banking your money with them. The concept of “free banking” is relatively novel here, despite existing in the UK for over 20 years now. HSBC‘s online accounts were some of the first to abolish charges, and other Aussie banks are slowly starting to follow suit.
  • And speaking of banks, Aussies call a current account a “savings” account, just to confuse the foreigners. Sometimes they call them “check” accounts too, just for fun. When you pay via a bank card in a shop, you have to press either the “cheque” or the “savings” button, depending on your account type.
  • 9/532 Sydney Street is the Aussie way of writing “Flat 9, 532 Sydney Street”. Except they don’t call them flats either – they call them units. (Not quite so romantic sounding, is it?)
  • Contrary to appearances, “Sydney” isn’t, strictly speaking, the whole city, but just a small suburb in the middle. (Much like Kensington isn’t London.) So if you’re addressing a letter to someone in the central-ish Sydney suburb of Newtown, you must write “Newtown, NSW” on the envelope, not “Sydney, NSW”. Assuming you want your letter to get delivered of course.
  • You’ll find that locals will call you a Pom quite a lot. This is quite normal and they’re not trying to be offensive.
  • Automatic transmissions are much more common here. In fact, most cars are automatics. If you hire a car, you’ll probably be given an automatic by default. (Suits me – one less pedal to worry about.)
  • In the UK, a B&B (bed & breakfast) is often cheaper than a hotel, and often consists of a mouldy old room in a ramshackle terrace house with a deaf host. In Australia, a B&B tends to be more of a luxury option when compared to a standard hotel or motel. (Although we have stayed in a couple of fairly grotty B&Bs here too.)

These are just off the top of my head. If you’re British then no doubt you will encounter (or have encountered) many more!