3-week stay gives a glimpse of Aussies
By JOANNE B. WALKER
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 15, 2000
SYDNEY, Australia -- There's much more to an Olympic Games than competitive sports. It's about national pride, cultural diversity and people getting to know people. Living in a Sydney neighborhood for almost three weeks changed a wilderness perception left by Crocodile Dundee. Aussie neighbors were just as curious about us as we were about them.
Think of Sydney as a hilly New York City with an open St. Petersburg waterfront, all of it immersed in Southern hospitality.
Outback Australia is about a six-hour drive from Sydney. Kangaroos, wombats and platypus are at the zoo. Ferries take visitors to beaches where the Pacific Ocean is shades of deep blue.
Residents are conservation-minded. Push-button vacuum toilets allow users to choose half flush or full flush. Ads introduced an air conditioning wall unit operated by a motion detector. Recycling is a priority, and residents take pride in separating their rubbish. Garbage collections are made after dark to avoid traffic. Our pickup was once a week at 4 a.m.
China is used daily. Paper products are for picnics. Americans are blamed for introducing Aussies to the concept of eating out.
Homes are brick, close and older. With a population of 4-million, space is at a premium. Our owner proudly called his house an American bungalow. The three-bedroom, two-bath home of about 1,000 square feet is valued at $450,000 Australian (about $225,000 U.S. currency).
Doorknobs are eye-level. The master bedroom had no closet. A wardrobe held necessary clothes. Owners rarely use clothes dryers. Hanging clothes outside on a Hill hoist, named after the inventor, is preferred.
In conversation with locals, increased crime is a concern. Bars are on windows and security systems are prevalent. Graffiti is seen from train windows.
Sidewalks are called foot paths. Easements are nature strips. Curbside mailboxes in all shapes line narrow streets. House numbers begin with 1, 2, 3, etc. on each block. Our address was 3 Linthorn Ave.
Cars are small and drive to the left of center. There are numerous smash repair shops for dented vehicles. Gas is called petrol and costs more than $4 per gallon in Australian money. When traffic lights change, video game sounds alert the visually impaired to safe intersections.
People use public transportation. There are buses, trains, trams, monorails, taxis, ferries and hydrofoils. Downtown is called the City. Cars park in narrow underground car parks that charge up to $8 per hour. If an Aussie says something is five minutes away, it can be a 45-minute walk.
Australians we met are familiar with America. They think they're three years behind us in getting new products.
American companies have invaded shopping towns. We saw Kmart, Target, McDonald's and Burger King. McDonald's offers a McOz, a hamburger with beets. Another chain offers hamburger topped with egg. French fries are called hot chips.
Chicken noodle-flavored potato chips are popular. Cadbury rather than Hershey is a choice chocolate. A Violet Crumble is a chocolate-covered honeycomb candy bar. Cherry Pride is a cherry-flavored coconut bar.
Kangaroo resembles rare London broil strips. Seafood is popular. Carry-out food is called take away.
Cable TV is about $60 monthly. Free TV has few channels. There is little world news or crime broadcast.
Pubs are popular gathering places, but we saw no public drunkenness. Even churches hold meetings at local pubs.
It seemed there were no strangers in Sydney. Everyone chats openly and the Games were the talk of the town.
Homes were decorated with Aussie colors, washable flag tattoos covered Aussie cheeks and residents wrapped themselves in Australian flags.
After the closing ceremony, Aussie athletes were given a huge party and four-hour ticker-tape parade attended by millions. Two more parades were scheduled in Melbourne and Brisbane. Whether they won or lost, athletes were treated as national heroes.
"Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi" was a chant heard everywhere -- yelled between passengers on passing ferries, on trains, in pubs and in neighborhoods. Sydney swelled with a national pride that made us envious.
Every Aussie we met was friendly with a sense of humor. While we share a hunger for mobile phones, ATMs and computers, Aussies have preserved a more relaxed, polite lifestyle. Sharing good conversation and laughter is still more important than watching TV, shopping for the latest fashions or racing to organized activities.
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111
From the Times
South Pinellas desks