Firstly, let me say that I adore Australia. The red-tinged soils, the unapologetic amount of space; space to play, space to build big cities, space to dig very big holes in the ground and sell the dirt with no one noticing, space to hide things and even space to have nuclear tests without really bothering too many folk (unless you were the poor Pitjantjatjara that called Maralinga their home). This space influences their design culture too. Wonderful airy buildings with dizzying roof heights through to epic corridor treks to get to the toilets. And entering the country too at immigration. How far that red line at customs is from the counter, "hello HELLO...can you see me, I'm over here, at the front of the queue" . Space for big safe roads with round-abouts bigger than the Waihi town bypass. Not like NZ. No sir. In NZ we don't really have space like this. I like going to OZ to get my fix. Being Aussies they love sharing it and celebrating it in their wonderful unselfish squint-eyed relaxed dress code Aussie way.
I love the way one moment you are in a country town of corrugated veranda pubs and warning signs (more about signs later), and in the next blink of the eye you are on the brink of survival on a dirt road through endless swaying gums or broken desert; lost forever if you are too scared of 'soft road shoulders' to do a U turn.
Outback roads and soft shoulders, "NO U TURNS FOR 1500KM", struth...
And unlike NZ where the country towns are the only flat places to build for miles, every town in Australia could have been sited just about "bloody eenywhere" (as they say). Those early town planners must have been paralysed with possibilities.
I adore the Aussie speak. And cutting humor, is this blog 'all froth and no beer' ? There is a great outback culture of humour, art and innovation. Anyone who thinks they have seen Australia by traveling the eastern sea-board needs to think again. Aussies are survivors, it ain't over till it's over (as they say in the Ashes cricket I believe).
The un-patented towel-watercooler easily keeps your water to 35 degrees C, well below the ambient temperature of 45.
In rural Australia I love the people; worldly and humorous and incongruously socially competent given how rare it must be to ever meet another person out there. Socially competent but can also change a fuel filter on a Hilux I imagine.
I also love not being cold. Getting up in the morning and wondering if I need to put a shirt on for decencies sake rather than because I am a hairless mammal trying to live outside my Darwinian-defined latitude. A million insect species can't be wrong. Oh, yes, there is a down side to all that warmth of course...
A million of one species... picnic anyone?
But all this space is experienced and not always enjoyed. The massive drives between objects of marvel (and marvels they most certainly are) are huge time eaters when you are on a short holiday (like less than 12 months) and can be rather hot and boring journeys that can last for days rather than hours. I used to think Alice Springs was where Uluru (Ayers Rock) was. It's not. It's a 450 km drive with about one thing to see on the way (I lied, there are actually two things to see but only one on each route...). Thats the same as driving most of the way from Dunedin to the top of the South Island (except there are approximately 8 million things to do on the way so you will never ever make it).
And then there is shade issue........the necessary obsession with shade, I recall one time we neglected to park the Land Cruiser under trees - like typical tourists - and on return to the vehicle the Bic pen on the dash board had melted - not the ink, nope. THE PEN ITSELF actually melted. Its an interesting experience and one I am glad I witnessed. It did make me respect the Toyota even more ....... (Australia's most trusted brand of car BTW).
Nope, one of the 194 non deadly snakes (apparently??). How does one know?
Back to that Bunnings Warehouse advert (another trusted Aussie brand) unintentionally summarising life in Australia. Clive James (one of my favourite critic, broadcaster, poet and media commentator blokes) observed that if you want to gain immediate contemporary insight to a culture you just need to turn on the TV and you will soon know what makes a place tick and what the real issues are for the common bloke. Bunnings, as far as I could work out from the TV advert, has warehouses all over Australia stacked full of: insect doors, bug zappers, insecticide, and kits that enable you to survive for months in a stranded 4WD just about 'bloody eenywhere'.
They might sell other stuff, but it clearly wasn't worth advertising. Clive James is right, TV speaks the truth. Its tough out there.
So here is the thing. Experience Australia - the outback, the tropical north, the wonderful articulate folk, the land of catch-all signage. But you can return again and again to NZ. How simple it is to actually do stuff here, to be active and to see so much without all that driving (and sweating). Frolic through the tussocks without any fear (as they proudly say) of seeing 12 of the world's 14 most deadly snakes, and, although you may sometimes wish the water to be a little warmer and space a bit bigger, you can celebrate how few teeth per km the rivers have.
I have spent years in NZ and OZ, and walked and traveled widely in both places. It's a very personal thing as to what spins your wheels, but for me NZ is a place suited a little more for those who love walking. For me it tips the scales. The more benign geography in Australia also means you can often drive in a 4WD to places rather than walk. In NZ the mountains and rivers and the exquisite and abrupt topography mean you usually cannot drive. Effort is the only option. There are some truly wonderful walks in Australia, but for the sheer size of the place they are few and far between - and in a single holiday tricky to do more than one.
I reckon we are two very lucky countries, so different and spoilt with beauty. And just 3 hours away to enjoy each others whenua (lands). You should enjoy them too.
(all photos in this blog are Malcolm's, taken in Northern Territory and NSW )