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March 6, 2014

The lucky country, Part 4/4

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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Australia has been called the largest island and the smallest continent of the world. One third lies within the tropics. It is in the Southern Hemisphere; the further North you go the hotter it gets. Their mid-summer months are January and February and their mid-winter months are July and August. Christmas is usually a very hot day quite unsuitable for turkey and plum pudding.

The Greeks used the word australis to mean south or the southern part of the world. Sailors up to the year 1400 continued to use the word australis to refer to the region and in particular refer to terra australis incognita (unknown or un-named southern land).

After discovery by the Dutch explorers in 1606 who called it New Holland, Australia's eastern half was claimed by Great Britain in 1770 and settled through penal transportation to the colony of New South Wales from 1788.

In 1802 Mathew Flinders circumnavigates the large continental mass proving that the areas known at that time as New Holland and New South Wales were part of the same continent. On his map the name Australia is used for the first time.

In 1814 Flinders publishes A Voyage to Terra Australis. Throughout the book he uses the name Australia to refer to the island continent. The book helped boost the popularity of the name Australia and until 1824 there was a mixed unofficial use of all three names, Australia, Terra Australis and New Holland. But in 1824 the British Admiralty officially adopts the name Australia.

The act of naming and renaming geographical features constituted an act of power and appropriation often desacralizing, as in the case of Australia, where mapping became the necessary adjunct of imperialism.

No other person his name is associated with Australia more than Captain James Cook (1728 – 1779). His decade of “discoveries” has changed the world. They were marked in London in July 1968 on the 200th anniversary of the first of his three voyages (1768-17771, 1772-17775 and 17776-1780) that took him to Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii and the northwest coast of North America.

Western history books have turned him into a legend while the natives were “savages” or “blacks”. They never explained that any person turns to cannibalism to survive in Australia’s desert or any desert in the world for that matter and that cannibalism was practiced by Australian natives as a survival mechanism not as a culture.

We read in the 1971 The Explorations of Capitan James Cook in the Pacific, about some of the writings of Cook’s friends: “Cook possessed a marvelous combination of qualities. His physique was splendid; he could do anything, endure anything, eat anything, and digest almost anything; he was only once seriously ill, and was cured by eating the ship’s dog in the way of soup.” But we read, “On a second visit to Hawaii, intended to be a respite from the rigors of the Alaskan winter, his luck run out and he was killed by savages.”

Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002), an Australian drama film, addresses the victimization of mixed race (half-castes) natives by the white settlers. It is based on the book Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington Garimara - a true story concerning the author's mother, as well as two other mixed-race Aboriginal girls, who ran away from the Moore River Native Settlement, north of Perth, Western Australia, to return to their Aboriginal families, after having been placed there in 1931.

I watched before touring Australia Rabbit-Proof Fence and also the 2008 epic historical romantic drama film Australia, set between 1939 and 1942 and co staring Nicole Kidman.

The Commonwealth of Australia was formed on January 1, 1901. It is less densely populated than Canada, 6.4 people per square mile compared to 9.3 while it is 76 for the US. In the early 1900s it was 1.6 for Australia and 1.9 for Canada. Australia’s population is 23 while that of Canada is 33 million. Both countries have about the same GDP and are ranked in the top 10-15 in the last 10 years.

The area of Australia is four-fifth that of Canada and three-quarters that of Europe. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area while Canada is the first. There are no great mountains, nor great rivers. It extends from latitude 11 degree south of the equator to latitude 38. Mapping it to the North it would cover latitude represented by the north end of South America to Washington DC.

Melbourne has a climate corresponding to that of California and Brisbane’s reminds me of Florida. The heat of the interior is intense. It is one of the driest countries in the world.

In my recent visit of Australia I stayed mostly in the Gold Coast region, south of Brisbane during their summer (December 2013). Newspapers reported: “Good old days back for tourism industry” and “Thousands of sweat-soaked Brisbanites will ditch their stinking hot city (37 degree) to cool off on the Gold coast (32).” But in December, temperature can reach farther south 48 or even 50.

The area grew significantly after the establishment of the Surfers Paradise hotel in the late 1920s.

I found Australians, compared to Americans and Canadians to be less friendly, their men less handsome and their women less pretty. In the summer, you find them sun bathing at midday like no tomorrow, no wonder Australia is ranked fourth in skin cancer compared to 29th for the US and 44th for Canada.

The Australians promote fast food and sugary soft drinks like no other; at their theme parks you can buy for $9 a plastic bottle filled with half a litre of soft drink and you can keep refilling it for the whole day, free. You can get the same deal at $14 with a fancier bottle.

Australians, men and women are fond of tattoos. In Queensland starting July 1 (2014) it will be an offence to operate a tattoo business or work as a tattooist without permit. Under the state’s new tattoo Parlours Act “Members of criminal organizations, such as bikie gangs, non-residents of Australia and under-18s can not apply.’

The Gold Coast – called Australia’s holiday capital - is today a major tourist destination with its sunny subtropical climate, surfing beaches, canal and waterway systems, its high-rise Florida-like dominated skyline, theme parks, nightlife, and rainforest hinterland.

With just over a half a million residents, it is Australia’s sixth largest city and set to be home to around one million over the next 20 years. Rather than a single locality, it spans across 1400 square kilometres. I stayed in Surfers Paradise Beach.

Surfers Paradise is a favorite destination for young Australians and alcohol related violence is a problem. On January 2 (2014) it was reported here that Dr. Steve Hambleton, the president of Australian Medical Association said the drinking age needed to be raised to 21 from 18 because there are too many “Sunday and Monday violent assaults by drunken youth in party precincts.”

And we read on the same day in the editorial of the Gold Coast Bulletin: “Alcohol issues are nothing new. Families have torn apart by grog ever since the days of white settlement when rum was the currency. But the situation has not improved and if anything it is worse now as young Australians and – significantly – young women regularly drink themselves into a stupor and young males throw themselves into wild brawls or target unsuspecting victims with dangerous king-hits.”

During my stay here I found the Gold Coast theme parks to be crude imitations of the American ones with half the entertainment at double the price. It cost you $5 for a bottle of water and a fast food lunch for a family of four, two adults and two children more than $70.  The same family, if it wants to swim in a salt-water pool at Sea World with a dolphin, must pay $649 including a photo.

And if you have any money left after a day at a theme park, the management will make sure you spend it; they make all exit doors to be located inside a gift shop with lots of items to lure your family especially the children.

But the theme parks here have not much of a theme; Sea World is mainly rollercoaster rides and the same goes for Movie World.

I tried the Arkham Asylum Coaster at movie world and it was thrilling. Also I watched their White Christmas’s parade. And for the first time I eat Kangaroo meat, cooked in a stew-style at an Indian restaurant. It tasted like lamb meat. And I also watched an Aboriginal dance and singing group at a different event.

I spent New Year eve by the shores of the Pacific Ocean. I like the idea of having early fireworks at 8:00 pm for those who do not want to stay up late and ones at 12 mid night. It intrigues me that I am spending new year day in the summer of the southern hemisphere with long day hours (sunrise here is at 4:50 am and sunset at 6:50 pm), and 2014 comes 15 hours ahead of that at my home city in Canada.

Gold Coast will host the 2018 Commonwealth Games – but you have to be rich to be able to attend.

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