Monday, January 15, 2007

A Second-rate Place

In the final days leading up to our departure, I’ve been reading through a series of lectures by Australia’s eminent historian, Manning Clark. One particular topic caught my interest, “The Quest for an Australian Identity” as after almost seven years of being married to an Australian, I barely understand his cultural personality and the influential elements of his world down under. I do know that Australians are self-depreciating to a fault. This excerpt below provided me with a glimpse into the past that contributed to this strange modesty.

“We have difficulty saying what happened to the European when he brought his great civilization to the ancient and barbaric continent of Australia…The answer lies partly in our attitude to the appearance of Australia. The first Europeans who saw the country recoiled in horror. They were looking for places where they could make what they picturesquely called ‘uncommonly large profit’ and win souls for Christ. They found a land of flies and sand, uncommonly large natural monsters, and exceedingly black barbarian savages. The first observer in 1606 decided to leave, finding there was little good to be done there. His successors were both puzzled and horrified. In their eyes this was a country where everything was topsy-turvy, everything was upside down. Swans were black and not white; the land was barren; the animals, such as the kangaroos , were incomplete, walking as they did on two legs rather than four. Indeed, in the eyes of men who believed in a divine creator this was the land which God did not finish; it was an incomplete land, the land God created on the afternoon of the sixth day when he was very tired and bored…The idea of Australia as a country where God or nature had fallen a-doting, or had had an attack of the sillies helped to plant in the minds of the first Europeans to live in it the idea that they were inferior to the people of Western Europe. Even the country they lived in had to be apologized for.”

Based on the repeated reactions of friends and strangers alike to our going to Australia (“lucky”, “oh, I’ve always wanted to go there”, “you must be independently wealthy to travel for that amount of time”, etc) and having been there myself twice, I cannot fathom someone recoiling in horror at the sight of such a place. Let me say, Australia is everything people who have never visited dream it to be – temperate and expansive with glorious flora and fauna and generous, delightful people, and perfect beaches. There is no place like it, that I know. With seven months ahead, it is my hope to better comprehend and appreciate its people, especially my husband.


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