Australian author Michael Pryor said the other day on Twitter, “You know what makes me smile even though I know it’s silly? It’s reading a UK or US book and there’s a passing mention of Australia, or a minor character is Australian. It’s like ‘Australia! Yes!’”
We have a sense of being at the far end of the world and being unimportant. We’re not actually at the far end of the world. We’re a long way from the Americas and from the continents of Europe and Africa, but we’re very close to a number of countries. Well, if one calculates according to Australian methods, we’re close. I am closer to New Zealand than I am to Perth, for example, but both are equally close as one chats about these places in Canberra. I live merely round the corner from Sydney and will be busing there for a conference this week. The bus between Canberra and Sydney is short, and takes much less than four hours. A quick drive to see the memories of the Apollo mission at Honeysuckle Creek (where the signal from the moon actually came) is a mere half hour from my place by car. Barely round the corner. There are shops a block or two from where I live. All these things are close as we see distance.
The thing is that the other side of the world is also close.That’s an emotional distance, not a geographical one. Australians travel so very much. The places we travel to mean a lot to us. We bring bits of them back and integrate them into our culture.
We travel more to Europe than to many other places. Some parts of Europe are very close, emotionally, and some are more distant. Our side of the world is, on average, less close in that way. We don’t know that much about our neighbours. Or rather, we didn’t. We still think we don’t, but when I am talking to someone who claims not to know they will segue neatly into their travels.
Quite a few Australians don’t realise that their cultural base is changing and that those travels have changed us. We still don’t see that we know a bit about our neighbours, but we’re still more likely to visit Europe than Indonesia.
Once New Zealand was culturally close, but physically a bit of a pain to get to. We now count New Zealand as close (two flights from where I live, no more than 6-7 hours), Bali (Australia’s favourite holiday destination), Singapore (so many friends there! Australia and Singapore have a long relationship), Vietnam and Thailand and Japan and Fiji and the Solomons and… Korea. I don’t know how many Australians visit Korea, but I know we are major devourers of Korean culture. I am one of those hungry souls and watch a lot of K-drama. This post was delayed because I was near the end and had to watch just one more episode. Several of my friends are more addicted to K-pop. This is our region and we’re finally starting to admit we live here and to integrate our increasing knowledge about the other countries in the region into our everyday lives.
It’s less that we’re far away and more that we have a bit of cultural cringe and a terrific desire to be seen and that this desire took us straight to the UK and the US. If the UK, the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia were translated into a What Katy Did family, Australia would be Elsie. Or Jan in The Brady Bunch.
We don’t think much of ourselves. We think a lot of our sports people, but as a country, when we appear magically on a written page, as if we actually belong in the wider world… a moment of joy lights up the sky.
Right now, anything that gives happiness is a treasure. We’re putting ourselves through a difficult time. I’ll talk about that, too, but not when I myself am in the middle of troubles caused by it.
Right now, I’ll be happy alongside Michael, for I, too, have seen random mentions of Australia on a page and thought, “Look! They see us!” It doesn’t how much some of my own novels are Australian, I am positively gleeful when someone from another country remembers that we’re on the same planet as them.