Tag Archives: Australia

“Roll on up! The show is in town!!”

Showbags

The showbags

It’s a dying tradition, the travelling show.  But in rural Australia it remains an annual fixture, and this weekend it was firmly on Cohuna’s calendar.

I pay my $15 entry fee and enter the footy show ground.  Fairy floss and Dagwood dogs are the food vendor staples.  Giant sticky lollipops that’ll end up on the ground covered in dirt also feature.  Speakers blare out songs, and stall holders try to entice people to spend their money to win prizes they don’t want.  The bright colours and lights are too much for children to resist.  Sugared up, they run from temptation to temptation, barely able to keep their focus on which thing they’d like to do or have.  Parents need to be prepared to fork out, or say no, a LOT.

It’s been 25 years since I went to a town show.  With the exception of the clothing fashions and my aching knees, there’s no way of telling if this is 1985 or 2015.  And it’s nice.

Clowns

The clowns

Three sections make up the show; the “trashy” section (showbags, rides, games), the animal section (dogs, horses, cows), and the pavilion.  There’s used to be a shed full of animals (chickens, ducklings, goats, kids, lambs, piglets), but not today.  I don’t know where children will buy pink, green, blue and purple dyed chicks from now.  What has the world come to?

Ducks

The catch-a-duck game

1. The trashy section. This area belongs to the young teens and the night. If it’s anything like it was in my youth, flirting will be the core activity … performed to a background of whooshing rides, pumping music, and flashing lights.

The fairground music, shoddy toys, and gaped-mouthed clowns’ slowly oscillating heads haven’t changed in decades.  These three things prompt my nostalgia associated with the show, to be overlaid with nostalgia from the 80s movies “Big” and “The Lost Boys” (did any other movies make such an impact with their fairground scenes?).

Cows Judging

The cows

I don’t take many photos in this area because, to be honest, I’m a little frightened by carnies.  And I was so vehemently abused in New Orleans by a busker when I took a photo that I’m on guard.  Carnies and (some) buskers are cut from the same cloth and it’s no fine silk.

Horses

The horses

2. The animal section is a pleasure. Teenage girls with tightly braided hair sit astride handsome and perfectly groomed horses.   Farm children are dressed (impractically) in white and are judged both on the handling of their cow, and the cow herself. More than one cow ruins her chances by refusing to move and/or defecating.

Sponge and yo-yos

The sponges and yo-yos

But the dog section is my drug-of-choice, and it’s high-quality cocaine.  I wander the dozens of tents, smiling at the variety of breeds.  For two hours I’m fixed to the spot as I watch the judging.  Hounds, spaniels, and terriers trot about – grinning much more than their stressed owners.  Showing dogs is a serious business.

3. The pavilion is the gem of every show. A huge shed is packed with artwork, photography, craft, plants, vegetables, flowers and baked goods. I walk past two women “It’s all in the beating, apparently”. I suppress a giggle. They’re looking at the prize-winning sponge.

Will Marie’s fruitcake beat Ann’s?  Has Kevin put too much at stake by entering his silverbeet instead of his carrots?  Are Lee’s eggs the right shape and shade of brown?  How will little Ella cope when she sees her drawing came in second, when her older sister’s painting came in first?

The vegetable creations

The vegetable creations

This is where we find out.  X-Factor has nothing on the suspense, competition and drama of the pavilion.

The passion and creativity in this section is heart-warming and inspiring.  People having hobbies, and taking pride in them, is refreshing.  And that pride endures.  My mother has a photo album filled with awards my sister and I won at the Kyabram show, 30 years ago.

Portrait

The art

The show reminds me of my father.  Partly because he used to take me, but mostly because he got as excited by the entire thing as I did.  As an adult, I can appreciate the show from a different perspective.   The sense of community, the enjoyment people receive from their individual hobbies and accomplishments, and a feeling of innocent fun (provided you don’t make eye-contact with the carnies).

Veggies and eggs

The veggies and eggs

Afterword

My friend’s little sister purchased a dyed chick from the Kyabram Show about 25 years ago.  To keep it safe she used tables to create a “fenced” area for it in the living room.   She placed the fourth and final table (wall) down …. on the chick.  I didn’t witness the chick-crushing (thankfully) but I’ve never forgotten the story.

Advertisements

Women, put the word out

Sunday morning, February.   We lie in my bed as the light shines through the window.  He picks up my phone to absent mindedly play with it.  I panic and grab it from him. Phones are not to be shared.

Me (smiling): I’m a woman who is very protective of her phone!   

His face grimaces.  

Him: Ugh, I don’t like the word ‘woman’.  You’re not a woman, you’re a girl.”

I smile, bemused.

Me: Are you a boy?

Him: No! I’m a man. 

I laugh.  We’re in the flat I own (he rents), I earn three times his salary, and I have a Masters to his GSCE Levels.  If one of us is a child, it’s not me.

___________________________________________________________________________

Four years later, Sunday 1 March 2015, I’m sitting in a café near a group of retired women.  The waiter approaches their table, “What can I get you girls”? These “girls” are in their seventies.

Sigh. The word “girl” continues to haunt me.

There are the office “girls”, the girl on reception, the bargirl, the girl at the gym.  Males work in the office, serve at bars etc. but are never called office boys, the barboy, the boy at the gym.

It’s an insult to call a man a boy.  It’s common place to call a woman a girl.   But women are not girls, because adults are not children.

Words.  Words are wonderful.  But they’re also weapons, and they’re powerful.  They subtly reflect and create the views of a culture.

  • Twice today I’ve heard the expression “he’s a family man”. I’ve never heard of a “family woman”.
  • I’m sometimes referred to as a “career woman”. I don’t know that I’ve heard of a “career man”.
  • There’s the word “emasculate” but what is the female equivalent? What’s the word that deprives a woman of her female role or identity?
  • News headlines scream about “murdered girls” who are in their twenties. I’ve not seen a male in his twenties referred to as a boy in the media.
  • Women occasionally talk about their “girlfriends” (e.g. “A few of my girlfriends met up at the weekend”). Why not just “friends”? I’ve never heard a heterosexual male say he’s “meeting his boyfriend for a few drinks”.

Words are important, they make us laugh, reflect, cry.  Without words, we’re grunting animals (too often we’re grunting animals even with words).     

Blurring the line of women (adults) and girls (children) through our words is dangerous.  It sends a subconscious message.  If we call women girls, then the sexualisation of actual girls becomes more acceptable because all females (adults/teenagers/children) are “girls” and since it’s okay to have sex with “girls” (adult women) it becomes mentally acceptable to think sexually about actual girls.  Those “she’s all grown up” media headlines are skin-crawling.

It’s argued that some women prefer to be called girls because it makes them feel younger.  The glorification of youth (particularly female youth) is another problem in itself, though it’s linked to the value of women.  It partners with society’s emphasis on female appearance.  Yes, women can now succeed in business … but they must look “hot” while doing it.

There’s nothing wrong with being a girl, if you are a girl.  Female children (girls) are loud, quiet, funny, serious, strong, vulnerable … they are young humans who encompass all the talents and frailties that humans (young and old) have.  The ad campaign “Run like a girl” poignantly illustrates the negative perception that many people have of girls and this must change.

However we are not girls.  We are women and we need to call ourselves what we are.

I look forward to International Women’s Day on Sunday 8 March.

Afterword

Joss Whedon (noted writer/director/producer of feminist characters) gives a fantastic talk on equality for women and discusses the word feminist.  The speech is here as well as a good article about it.

Some great twitter accounts to follow for information about feminism are: @glosswitch @Jsoosty @FeministPics @EllieCumbo

Water Birds

Tuesday, 6pm, Australia, 41 degrees.  The working day has ended and I’m driving to the local swimming pool.  The beating sun has made the car an oven and sweat drips down my forehead.  There’ll be no one at the pool – this is rural Australia and no one is ever anywhere on a week night.  I’m looking forward to a cool and tranquil dip.

I arrive and see the packed car park. Ugh. I can hear the noise from the pool before I’ve even opened my car door.  Apparently the one place everyone goes on a week night is the local pool.

I pay my $4 entry fee, and open the gate.  The squawking assaults me.  The flock of children are yelling, laughing, diving, bombing, swimming and running.  Icy-poles and ice-creams are dripping in abundance.

It’s swimming season in Australia.  Children are aplenty and families dominate public venues.  In each lane of the pool a squabble of young seagulls screech and splash about with no reverence to personal space.

I discover that they’ll all leave when their swimming lessons finish at 7pm.  I’ll have an hour of peace before the 8pm closing time.

I sit on the grass near the toddlers’ pool.  These little ducklings are quieter.  Lulled by the warm air, and the soothing water.  They bob quietly, their plastic arm bands and small ring floats keeping them from sinking.

A tubby little boy in flippers shuffles past me.  He’s a penguin if ever I’ve seen one.

7pm ticks round and the children leave in a loud exodus. Towels wrapped clumsily about their dripping bodies, parents rushing them home for dinner.

It’s finally time for me to heave myself into the water.

At that exact moment two football teams stride through the entry gates.  Approximately 44 young, extremely fit men (physically, if not mentally).  Simultaneously they strip off their t-shirts.  The peak physical condition is extraordinary.  If played in slow motion, this would be a scene from Magic Mike … their sweating torsos and chiselled six-packs are almost obscene.  They enter the pool in a spectacular display of strength, coordination and confidence.  These are the swans – large, strong, striking and agile.

All that’s left is for me to walk from my spot on the grass under a tree … into the pool.  In my swimming costume.  With 44 fit young men watching the only thing that’s there to watch – me.

I stand and pull my dress up over my head, my swimming costume (or to use the Australian “togs”) on underneath.

I waddle, glowing white to the shallow end of the large pool and descend the steps.  I’m a plump, awkward goose making its way to the water.  The lads of course have no interest in me (or, to be fair, me in them).  The two young female lifeguards come out of the canteen when they see the lads, altering their posture to best display their feathers.  These flamingos don’t enter the water but strut around the outside, preening and primping.  The male swans puff out their chests in response and dive theatrically.  There’s an unsubtle mating dance taking place.

The hour ends.  We exit the pool and return to our nests for the night.  The early morning will belong to the athletic birds – goggles firmly fastened while they diligently swim laps.  The pool is public and hosts a very diverse range of birdlife.

Join the queue

Saturday afternoon.  Grey clouds hang low in the sky, releasing the rain.  A cool energising breeze blows away the hot dusty air that’s drained and dirtied the area for days.   I walk up the wet concrete steps to glass doors and enter the local cinema.  

I buy my ticket in the noisy, crowded foyer and join the meaty queue that will (eventually) let us into the screening area.  The river of people winds from the pimple-faced ticket collector’s podium (and plaited rope “barrier”) out to the damp street.  Parents hold the place in line so their youngsters can roam until summoned.

Children squeal, fight and scream.  Parents yell.  Leaving my earphones at home was an error I’ll only make once.  The school holidays are a joyous period.

After a 15-minute wait, a comfort washes over me and I come to life.  This is the first time I’ve properly queued in 16 months and it stirs a delicious fire in me.  This is not my first rodeo.  London has trained me for queuing.  I allow the irritation and indignation to build with a pleasant familiarity.  Let’s play this.

I tut.  I tut again.  I shake my head.  I let out a quiet but terse and tight-mouthed “For fuck’s sake!”, and follow-up with a much louder, exasperated “Oh hurry UP!!”

I try to lock eyes with my fellow queuers to get their facial agreement at what is clearly an unacceptable delay and borderline violation of our human rights, but no one’s engaging with me.  It’s almost as if they think I’m overreacting …

Strange.  In London, a mini middle-class riot would have started.

It takes all my will-power not to approach the ticket collector and instruct him to let us in.  It’s 3:12pm.  The movie starts at 3:15pm.  WTF?  Let us be seated!

In the motherland many others would have already done this, but not here.  And if I lead the army, these soldiers won’t back me.

I’m not ready to be a mutineer.  So I wait.  Finally we’re granted entry … so late that the people are noisily finding seats through the trailers.  My anger is sustained.

I take my seat.  Three rows from the front, on the aisle with a vacant seat next to me.  The only other spare seat I can see is in the front row.

10 minutes into the movie a couple enter.  In the dark, they make their way to my row.  They rustle and “whisper” like elephants next to me.  I deliberately put my finger to my ear so they can see I’m blocking them out.  I know what’s coming.

“Excuse me, but would you mind moving so we can sit together?”

I smile and speak politely.

“I’m really sorry, but I queued for half an hour to get a decent seat so no.  Sorry”.  (It’s an English sorry.  Translation: I’m not remotely sorry).

I’m triumphant.  Didn’t expect that did you, my late friends?  You didn’t suffer the crowds or the queue, and you can’t just saunter in and relegate me to another sub-standard seat.  Next time, get yourselves to the event on time.

The woman sits next to me and the man moves to the seat in the front row.  It’ll be an awkward couple of hours, but I’m up for it.  This little battle is mine.

I smile.  London is still in my blood.

In less than three minutes the woman gets up, gets her husband, and they both leave the cinema.

I nod in satisfaction.  And turn my attention to the person near me crackling their crisp packet too loudly …

You vill comply!

SATURDAY

The aqua sky’s cloudless and the chirps of the birds are carried by the gentle breeze.  I casually cycle past a man watering his front lawn, my skin and spirits feel pleasantly warm.  My yellow bike reflects my mood.

Me:  Perfect day for a ride!

Him:  Mmm.  It’d be even more perfect if you were wearing a helmet.

Ugh.  The sun’s gone behind a metaphoric grey cloud.

MONDAY

I cross the road to go for a walk in the park beside the creek.  A car drives past.

Jaywalker”!

I spontaneously laugh.  It feels like a 5-year-old just called me “poo-face”.

Are there people out there who genuinely think jaywalking is a crime so severe that it needs to be policed by civilians?  Really?

Yes must be the answer, since three separate jaywalking vigilantes have reprimanded me in the past year.

WEDNESDAY

I stand at a pedestrian crossing with six others.  There are no cars in sight, and we can see the road for miles.  I want to cross, but I know the rules here.  I can also do without the crime of “jaywalker” being yelled at me twice in a week.

No one moves.  We all stand still, dead still, waiting for the green robot man to tell us we can walk.  Minutes pass in silence, the vacant road glaring in front of us.   Finally the green robot man blinks on, instructing the humanoids who obediently step forward.

FRIDAY

I open a small bottle of wine and cross the road to the creek.

“Excuse me”?

“Yes”?

“Um, you know you’re not allowed to drink on the street”?

Sigh.  Of course you aren’t.

Bike helmets are compulsory in Australia, jaywalking is illegal (and the law is actively enforced), drinking in public is banned, and you cross the street when you’re told to cross the street.

Last year it was proposed that Melbourne becomes a smoke-free city.  No smoking in the entire CBD.  Prohibition in 2014.  Oh and voting’s also compulsory – not voting incurs a $74 fine.

This is a land of laws.

Compliance is everything.

It’s tiring, it’s absurd, and it’s a constant challenge to those who have lived anywhere else.  It’s not the snakes, or the spiders, or the bushfires, or the sharks that’ll get you in Australia.  It’s the rules, the laws, and the cultural mindset.

Like a stint in prison, you have to brace yourself to live here – and the final sentence in this note from one American to another about living in Australia reads like the end of a custodial sentence:   “Those of us from the American south know an unbridled, exceptional amount of freedom and (aside from missing our loved ones), the rules and general rigidity of Australia can seem oppressive.  It wasn’t until my Aussie hubby came here and experienced our freedoms, that he understood why I found it so difficult to adjust in Sydney.  Living in Australia was extremely challenging for me, and it was an experience that made me a stronger, more resilient person.” 

Australia’s refreshingly wide and open land contradicts the human oppression and indoctrination.  A friend who visited Australia last year sent me an email which captured how it’s strikingly restrictive to those who have spent years in more relaxed countries.

“I never thought of the UK as free until I visited Australia. Whenever people have asked about my trip, the dismaying nanny-state rigidity of Australian society is all I’ve been able to talk about.  I couldn’t believe the constant, on-going presumption that various public authorities know best!  The rules and ever-present rigidity of Australia is genuinely amazing.  I’ve never experienced anything like it in any other country”.

Of course, there’s a positive side to the compliance.  The rules mean that we have high quality standards, cleanliness, “good” behaviour and civic order.  These are good things … though they also describe Germany.  I guess it’s a matter of whether you consider the price of those things to be worth it.  I’m not sure I do. I’m okay with a few cycling fatalities if it means all of us can have the wind in our hair.  I’m okay with the occasional smell of smoke if it means we can have the freedom to make our own choices.  I’m okay with a few drunks in the street, if it means I can enjoy a cold glass of wine by the creek on a warm summer evening.  Hell, with any luck, I’ll get a little tipsy and be one of those drunks! (And yes, I realise the risks of drinking by a river.  Yawn).

18 months ago, I had a word approved by the urban dictionary; Convictistan.  It’s used by non-Australians (often New Zealanders) when referring to Australia.  I meant it as a nod to our convict history.  Perhaps it’s not history.  Perhaps we’re all currently inmates in an open prison.

Afterword

In October last year Jeremy Clarkson wrote about Australia in “The Times” …

So I was in a helicopter.  The doors were off, I had a rifle and the pilot was hovering 100ft from the ground so I could shoot a wild pig.  Later we butchered it and over a few beers fed it to his pet crocodile.  This is the all-male, rough-and-tumble image we have of life in Australia.  But it’s wrong …

The following morning, all I wanted was a cigarette and a cup of coffee in the morning sunshine, but down under, this is no longer really possible.

I made the short 300-yard walk from the restaurant to what was billed as the smoking terrace. But a waiter sprinted over to say that the actual smoking terrace was even further away, in a cave by the bins.

And that, yes, he could bring me a coffee, but only in a paper cup.

This is because he’d have to walk past the swimming pool.  Never mind that it was completely fenced off, and accessible through a gate so complicated that only a child could possibly work the latch, there was a chance that he would trip over one of the signs advising visitors that it was 0.2 metres deep, that diving was banned, that no lifeguard was on duty and that the water may contain traces of diarrhoea.

I’m not sure there’s a county on earth where the global perception is as far removed from the reality as Australia.  We see it as a land of spiders and snakes, where you are born drunk and with an ability to barbecue yourself. But it’s not like that at all.

Today the unholy alliance of the nanny state and the trade union movement has created a culture of health and safety so all-consuming that no one is allowed to die, or even fall over. Cigarettes are sold in packets made from the diseased lungs of dead babies, drinking outside is not allowed and there are speed limits on roads where there is literally nothing to hit.  You could have a crash lasting two hours and you’d still be fine.

The last fatality from a spider bite was in 1979, and every single river in the outback is garnished with floats … Australia can keep its ludicrous attitude to health and safety …”