So begins what seems to becoming, a bi-annual visit to the colonies, this one is an epic two month sojourn, including a much anticipated first visit to New Zealand’s South Island. However, we have to get to Australia first, doing so via a flight in premium economy on a new Airbus 380 that is bookended by two stints as firstly coach wankers and lastly shuttle bus wankers. The coach journey was enlivened by a toilet tap that refused to be turned off and started to audibly pour onto the toilet floor which given the current wide-scale flooding over England as we left, seemed somewhat ironical as I waited for torrents of gushing water to cascade out of the toilet and flood the coach as if it was sinking in the water that covered so much of the surrounding fields, alas the limits of the coaches water tank denied me the anticipated drama and we ended up at Heathrow bone dry and slightly bored.
I took the opportunity of the journey to start to read Bill Bryson’s book “Down Under”, a travelog, perhaps unsurprisingly about Australia. I was curious what he would make of the perplexing paradoxes that I find on the worlds biggest island. He starts out with some interesting facts – only one of which I will repeat because it surprised me so much, in essence: “the Aborigines invented and mastered ocean-going craft 30,000 years in advance of anyone else to undertake their exodus, they then forgot or abandoned all they had learned and scarcely even bothered with the open sea again” Bill then goes on to mention that this fact scarcely merits a mention in any history of Australia – I went a step further and pondered if their present day ancestors might now curse the sea faring prowess of their ancestors…
Bill also highlights the lack of news coverage of Australian events in the American media. Again this caused me to think about how Australians are perceived in the UK. They have fostered what is quite a cuddly international image by virtue of a series of blandly benign television exports featuring anthropomorphised kangaroos and a cute singing idealised couple who inhabit a world where nothing actually ever happens, they have also sent over a drag artist who refers to us Brits as possums, a brilliant tv critic and poet and somewhat ironically, from a land where male chauvinism is a national pass time: one of the worlds leading feminist intellectuals and conservationists. We must also never forget the great soap set in a women prison made out of cardboard that some genius TV scheduler aired just as most of the UK was getting home from the pub in the mid eighties. That was the basis of what has been formed in the English psyche as brand Australia – a funny endearing upside down place inhabited by beer swilling men with surnames like Mangle that are obsessed by the sporting life and cute bears that seem to spend their life in a eucalyptus fuelled narcotic daze like some strange breed of furry tree dwelling student.
Alas this seems to throw an invisibility cloak over the darker corners of Australian society, the treatment of the indigenous Aborigines is one of contemptuous bigotry – the (mis) treatment of sanctuary seeking boat migrants by such a vast prosperous country is simply beyond rational belief and seems to contravene international law with out reproach. They also seem to have had a tacit unwritten “whites only” immigration policy till the mid seventies which went pretty much unnoticed by the rest of the world. Their tolerance of casual racism is also something alien to European sensibilities, as no one bats an eye if some one refers to an olive skinned person as a “wog” a hideous sobriquet which is openly tolerated as if it were a term of endearment. This isn’t one of my political rants, I’ll warn you first if the soap box is going to be dragged out, I was just totally amazed at the power of a few unremarkable TV programs to forge a national identity and pull the wool over the eyes of the rest of the world – it must be all those sheep.
After my last trip with Quantas I swore I would never even buy a key ring off them ever again, I wont bore you with the details of why – but it was my worst ever flying experience bar none – a non stop cluster fuck of titanic proportions played out on a 747 so decrepit Aeroflot would have thought twice before deploying it. However, Ben, my son in law sung the praises of the new Quantas Airbus 380 premium economy service in such mellifluous tones that it would have seduced a convent full of Nuns. This was echoed by every review and adviser we spoke to so against my better judgement I sit typing away on this most remarkable aeroplane. Though temporarily distracted as I am fixated on the window as I have to watch the corona of the sun dramatically push the night from the sky with an intense orange force field, liberating a spectrum of iridescence blue to wash over the sky, while below the desert oil wells blaze angrily as if cursing the flying monster above, that is totally oblivious too its role in their need to exist.
Seeing an Airbus 380 up close for the first time is a bit like seeing a whale up close for the first time: it seems too enormous to be real – your natural reaction is to go “how the bloody hell will that ever take off” but illogical as it may appear the way it takes off is quite remarkable. It doesn’t have the mighty G-forced into the back of the seat- nearly choked on my boiled sweet – hit I was expecting. Oh no – it literally ambles down the runway at a seemingly nonchalant pace till you can almost hear it go “oh go on then – I suppose we’d better fly off somewhere” in the voice of Marvin the Paranoid Android (BBC version of Hitchhiker’s Guide ob.) and up it goes in a serene and steady manner giving you the sense of quiet assurance you might get from a pre-op briefing from some world famous surgeon. The onboard service is also a whole different story to my last horrendous Quantas flight – almost as if the cabin crew feel they will let this huge protective giant down if they mistreat the passengers – that said we haven’t landed yet – so if you don’t read this – I’m sorry I got it all so wrong.