Local Name: Australia
Nicknames: Oz, Down Under
Claimed by the British in 1770, Australia is the world’s largest island, smallest continent, 6th largest country and includes the island of Tasmania directly south.
When the first British colonies arrived in 1788 the island was home to approximately 350,000 indigenous peoples, a number which fell sharply after the Europeans invaded. Native peoples currently make up less than 3% of the population.
The governments of the Commonwealth of Australia and the United Kingdom officially separated in 1986.
Title: Remembering Babylon
Author: David Malouf (Australian)
Publication: 1993 Pages:200
Acclaim: Shortlisted for the Booker Prize; “One of the five best works of fiction of 1993” – Time Magazine
Time Period: Mid-1800s
Summary: After he was cast off a British ship and left for dead, Gemmy Fairley spent sixteen years living with the Aborigines in the Australian outback. When he suddenly presents himself at an isolated colonial outpost, racial tensions flare.
My opinion: Perhaps it was because my secondhand copy was marked up by student, but this book reminded me of high school English class. Assignment: Write an essay on the the author’s use of light and dark. This book screams seriousness, starting with its metaphorical and unreferenced title.
In my book (or how Australia has affected me and maybe you, too)
That’s a croc!
Having grown up before the late Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin made a splash on TV, I didn’t realize that Australia was home to killer reptiles until the first of the famous human crocodiles, Paul Hogan, appeared on the big screen as Crocodile Dundee in 1986.
Crocodiles killed ten people in Australia from October 2002 through April 2009. Crikey!
A dingo ate my baby!
On August 17, 1980, Michael and Lindy Chamberlain were camping with their baby girl, Azaria, at the base of Ayers Rock. Azaria disappeared in the middle of the night and the Chamberlains’ claim of “A dingo ate my baby!” was heard around the world. In the most publicized trial in Australian history, Lindy Chamberlain was convicted of murder and Michael Chamberlain as an accessory. I learned all of this and more by watching the 1988 movie A Cry in the Dark starring Meryl Streep and Sam Neill. Ironically, less than two months after the movie premiered both Chamberlains were absolved of all charges – a piece of Azaria’s jacket had been found near a dingo lair.
Like our country’s Native Americans, Australia’s Aborigines have been largely marginalized and their culture ravaged by entrepreneurs. Boomerangs, which were originally used as throwing weapons and did not return to the thrower, have morphed into plastic children’s toys; there’s a 20-something white guy with dreads playing and selling didgeridoos at every outdoor market I’ve been to lately; and walkabouts, once an Aboriginal rite of passage, are now marketed to tourists, as anyone who has watched the hit TV show Lost knows.
Even the Aborigines themselves were stolen by whites, a sorry piece of Australian history brought to international attention by the 2002 movie Rabbit-Proof Fence. This film tells the story of three children who were part of the “Stolen Generations” – mixed-race children who were taken from their families by the government from 1869-1969 and placed in church missions and state institutions in the hopes that half-caste communities would not threaten the dream of a White Australia.
Most of Australia’s population lives in cities near the coast: Perth, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide. Further inland are those wilderness areas known as “the bush.” Beyond the bush lie the approximately 2.5 million square miles of remote interior referred to as “the outback.” Within the outback lies the “Never-Never” – a virtually unknown area.
My first introduction to the word outback came when I was in junior high – I was dying to have an Outback Red sweater sold by The Limited, which was the mall store for preppy teen clothing back in the 80s.
I wanted Outback Red clothing not only because “everybody” was wearing it but also because of the outdoorsy aesthetic that the label “Outback” offered – I wanted that “Outback-ness” to be synonymous with me, which meant that I needed my parents to buy me one of those sweaters! And after a great deal of begging, they did. So oddly enough, when I think of the outback I think of teenage fashion.
Sheep Station Soap Opera
Although Remembering Babylon is without a doubt the better piece of literature, the book that will forever come to mind when I think of Australia is Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds. This epic story of forbidden love between Meggie Cleary and Ralph de Bricassart is a little creepy in retrospect (Ralph is introduced to Meggie when she is a young child and is her family’s priest), but twenty years ago I thought it was dreamy – I read the book twice and saw the mini-series at least three times.
Are You Not Entertained?
I just saw the new Robin Hood, which stars two of my favorite Aussie actors, Russell Crowe* and Cate Blanchett. Both are tied with 3 Oscar nominations and 1 win each. His is for Best Actor in Gladiator; hers is for Best Supporting Actress in The Aviator. They still have close ties to home: Blanchett and her husband are Co-Artistic Directors of the Sydney Theatre Company and Crowe, a long-time fan of the South Sydney Rabbitohs, became part owner of the rugby club in 2006.
*Crowe is naturalized – he was born in New Zealand