Melbourne in the spring
emo teens show off their tatts
Where’s the best coffee?
Hobart weather woes
but journeys are quite easy
in this country town
Can’t beat the heat but
parties on the riverside
abound in Brisbane
I’ve often wondered about the clothing selections of the average urban tourist. Why are they so universal, regardless of the tourist’s origin or destination? The comfortable running shoes, coupled with lightweight cargo pants, which often zip into shorts should an instantaneous seasonal change call for it. The backpack carrying water, snacks, an umbrella, and back-up clothing worthy of monsoon season. The comfortable shoes I can forgive. Not everyone spends hours in footwear with more style than substance, but when your plans for the day include museum going, shopping and a few cafe stops along the way, what necessitates the overabundance of gear? Would those same people don anything remotely similar if they had the same plans in their own home town? Are they aware that their wardrobe selections are virtual sandwich boards bearing the words “Show me where to spend my pocketfuls of cash.” I know people say you can spend days in The Louvre, but they don’t mean in one solid go.
Another question that’s produced almost the same amount of wonder in my mind, is why people seem so hesitant to come to Australia. I realize my propensity to foist mentions of a visit to Oz into conversations with my friends and family, might have reached sickening proportions. But since none of them have yet to give me an acceptable reason for their trepidation, I will persist. Those that say the flight is too long, don’t apply the same feeling to the 10-20 hours it might take them to get to Europe, South America, or pretty much any other continental land mass. Those that say it’s too expensive don’t seem too broke to exchange their slowly declining US dollars for any other foreign currency. I certainly haven’t taken off for every exotic destination where I might have a friendly place to hang my hat, but I have never hesitated to consider each offer. And given the time and money (and perhaps a higher level of tolerance for traveling in coach) I would certainly go. So, why aren’t they coming to visit me?
Then I was struck by a realization, the inertia one feels when considering a trip down under, is motivated by the same feeling that will make someone put on the zip away pants and stock up their backpacks; they just don’t know what they’re going to get. People will travel to Europe for art, architecture and music. People will travel to South America or Africa for jungles and exotic animals. And people will hit up just about any South Pacific Island for the most pristine beaches in the world. But people come to Australia for….what exactly? The modern american notion of Australia, is still very steeped in our exposure to the crocodile wrestling celebrities of the country’s recent past, and our only historic notion of the country, is that of a convict colony. We see koalas and kangaroos, red deserts and shark infested oceans, sun burnt faces and crocodile boots, and most of us are never exposed to anything in between. But that certainly doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot more to discover.
The most typical excuse I get from people (after the pathetically under-supported “long flight” and “too expensive” excuses) is “I’m not really a beach person.” More often than not, that comes from the typical Southern Californian whose beach going experiences include a 45 minute drive through traffic, another 20 minutes spent looking for a $20 parking space, and then another 10 minutes spent walking across the sands of hell before you even see water. And if you’re brave enough for a swim, you’re probably used to losing sight of your feet once you’re shin deep, and getting sucked into the washing machine ride provided by the undertow. That is not Australia. If you’re someone who will ever go on a holiday looking for soft sands, bright blue waters, snorkelling with schools of colorful fish or just sitting in the shade of a tree while watching the waves roll in, and the occasional dolphin swim by, then come to Australia.
Perhaps land adventures are more your thing. But then why ignore the completely unique geography, ecosystem, and astounding beauty of one of the only continents in the Southern Hemisphere that’s not completely covered in ice? Jaw dropping coastal cliffs, rusty red deserts, tropical rainforests, lush wine country, and not to mention one of the seven wonders of the natural world, are just a few of the things you could see here. And if you’re aching to fill your memory card with photos of crazy looking animals, you won’t have to go very far before your seeing more rainbow colored birds and big eared marsupials than you can count. Keep your eyes on the Emus though, they’ll peck at anything that looks like food.
But what about the overabundance of venomous animals, that could potentially kill you in all sorts of creative ways, you ask? Well, try these statistics on for size:
More people in Australia are likely to die this year from European Honey Bee stings (see how they’re from Europe) than from a combination of all of these animals. There is no malaria, no rabies, and no animals even close to the size of a bear or a lion. So as the Aussies say, harden the f@*% up and come to Australia.
But maybe you’re more of a cultural tourist. Perhaps the human animal is the one you find most intriguing. They why not come to a country that has some of the most mixed up and mysterious human history in the world? Anthropologists have yet to agree on how people first made it to this massive but isolated land mass, yet the artistic, musical and spiritual traditions of the Aboriginal Australians, are among the longest surviving traditions of human history. The dutch were then the first explores to run into this fairly significant but unknown continent, yet didn’t manage to beat the English back when they decided it was a good dumping ground for convicts. (A major historic case of “ignore it and it will go away”) Each boat load of people who made it to Australia, did so through the most trepidatious journeys, and survived against the worst odds. And from the mixed-up combination of people who dared take the journey down under, they became the enigmatic people they are today. This is a country where the hardest of men will buy lollies with his ciggies; where impossibly beautiful people seem born with an ability surf, and where a tough history has only bred an impossible to break, no worries spirit. So if you want to learn some crazy history, and meet some incredibly unique people, then come to Australia.
So, no more excuses. Exchange your dull green notes for some colourful plastic ones, dig up those zip-away pants and pack up that backpack. Don’t bother with the brolly though, I’m sure it’s going to be a beautiful day.
I have never considered myself someone with a solid grasp of the vast array of grammatical rules. Though I try to never let a “your” that should be a “you’re” slip into anything I write, (even a text message, which is more than I can say for most people I receive texts from) I’m certainly not right all the time. Even all the writing I’ve done over the last several years, both personal and professional, has only increased my tendency to make up my own rules. After all, people don’t speak in full, proper sentences, so why should screenwriters write with them? I start sentences with “and” and “but”, and end them with prepositions. I insert commas where I’m emotionally driven too, and eliminate them where they muddy the page. As far as I’m concerned, if my point is coming across to the reader, in the tone and the voice that it was meant to, then i’m doing my job as a writer.
I have, however, recently found myself fighting an annoying little habit, for which I can only blame the calm and easy ways of Australian speech. Though the word “mate” never came naturally to me, I’m actually quite fond of some of the other Aussie habits I’ve picked up; the occasional “no worries” in place of you’re welcome, ending a sentence with but, when the following phrase has already been implied and need not be said, and the easy shortening of almost any noun down to a cute one or two syllables. But when I find myself writing an e-mail to explain what I have been, am in the process of, or will be doing, I almost always immediately delete back across a train of unnecessary words and passive verbs. I am not a person who might do, will try, or thinks about maybe doing, possibly, if I get around to it. I am a person who did, does and will do. My first instinct to present actions in writing as the solid, affirmative moves they are in life, has been softened down by the many “mights” spoken in an average Aussie day.
The many screenplays I have read by Australian writers, has also heightened my sensitivity to this habit in screenwriting, to the point of great annoyance (an emotion that grammar has never arisen in me before). The use of passive verbs, the tendency to write action sequences rife with gerunds, and frequency with which a character “begins” or “starts to” perform an action, when in reality he would be well into performing said action, are universal problems for an amateur screenwriter. I do, however, find a broader level of acceptance for those issues amongst my writing colleagues down under. Praised and published works sneak into the spectrum of screenplays being considered for production, full of objects proceeding actions. But should film, a medium that demands active characters, difficult conflicts, new and exciting situations, allow the very structure upon which it’s built to have such a soft foundation? Do you want a hero whose trigger is pulled, or a hero who pulls the trigger? Do you want a heroine who is fighting, kicking and yelling, or a heroine who fights, kicks and yells? Frankly, the former sounds like a hissy fit to me.
The frequency with which I see this “soft” style of writing, and the degree to which it’s accepted, has me wondering (and yes, I mean that in the present participle kind of way) if it’s not symptomatic of an overarching passivity in Australian life. Now, before I start any bar brawls (an activity which in Aussies excel at being active), I will say that, like all social and cultural stereotypes, this does not necessarily apply to every individual in every walk of life in this great big land of plenty. But, when the number one complaint Aussies’ have about their own films, is that their lead characters are inactive, do nothing types, who often have a series of other characters satellite around them, yet achieve very little themselves, it makes me think that what they might really be complaining about, is the view in the mirror.
Though my frame of reference is limited, my experiences in social life, work life, film life, writer life, artistic life, and just plain life life in Australia, has shown me many other examples of a people whose nature will see them reaching for a beer, before stepping onto a soapbox. To start to list all those examples here would require so many of my emotionally placed commas, that I will have to wait for a future blog article to delve deeper into explorations of the Australian psyche. But I will say that my exposure to this sunburnt (most likely because it didn’t bother to put on any sunscreen) country, has given me a deeper pride in my loud, outspoken, self important, quality and justice demanding, American nature. While those qualities do tend to generate the more ludicrous effects we have on the wider world, they are also often the qualities of an active protagonist. So while on the one hand, I’m pleased to be adopting a more “No worries, mate. Put your feet up and stay for a drink.” kind of attitude, I’ve become more pedantic about my words than ever before. The words we choose are both a window into our subconscious, and a map for our actions. So in words and in life, I pledge to always be an active protagonist.