The melancholy in the return to Oz

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Getting that selfie with the quokkas.

I’ve been in Australia for a bit more than a week, and I have to admit it’s been a confronting experience. I suppose it’s up to me to try to put it into words as to why.

I landed in Brisbane Airport after more than 35 hours of travelling or being transient (12 hours in the Santiago Airport). I stayed at my friends’ place, and even there it all felt different. My friend Jon had married while I was away and he had moved out.

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Getting in my Spanish practice. This was given to me after I returned from Peru.

I couldn’t make decisions for days without questioning it. Everything was a mental haze. I didn’t really feel like speaking to anyone for long.

For 17 months I was surrounded by Spanish speakers and so instinctively I had to read body language. I had a theory that when I returned I would be overwhelmed by all the English spoken around me, and would be able to read body language extremely well.

That was partly true.

Instead I found in large places I didn’t notice the English spoken around me. It was all just noise and could have been any language.

And reading body language and tone was useful, but I could see quickly when people weren’t interested in what I was saying. Or could see they were not interested in what I was saying, but still cared about me.

Welcome Home
A much welcomed message from the Sydney International Airport.

I realised this too. I wanted to talk about Peru. They wanted to talk about their lives.

We all just wanted to talk about ourselves.

I bought a ticket to WA to see my family. My brother and his  girlfriend recently built a house together. They have a proud Bengal cat. A job that’s only five minutes away in a recently built-up suburb. Big TV. There’s a hot water tap for the kitchen sink, and you get to flush the toilet paper. They let me stay at their place. I sleep on the couch. It’s extraordinarily comfortable.

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Staring out over the ocean at Rottnest Island, WA.

Everything is spaced out and the houses have front and back yards. I can’t believe I miss the banana and strawberry sellers wheeling their carts on the roads, shouting, “fresas! platanos!” and annoying me while I’m trying to rest.

I made a joke that my brother had to drive his homeless brother somewhere. And then I realised it actually wasn’t a joke. For now I am homeless. I’m looking for work but my industry has changed a bit.

We went to the store the other day to buy food. And when we went through the auto check-out, I couldn’t find plastic bags.

“Oh, you have to buy them,” my brother said. Sometime recently the plastic bag was banned.

My mum, brother and I went to Rottnest Island to take selfies with Quokkas. I guess I wanted to show off to my Peruvian friends. The little marsupials were everywhere and have no fear of humans. We hired push bikes and cycled half the island, and this to me was the type of adventure that made me feel like I was still travelling in Peru.

Australia is still the land of opportunity

I made sure that a friend took a photo of me outside the Australian consulate, which is on the 10th floor of the building behind me, in Miraflores. I published the photo with the aim of what I want to do in the future, and that is to find a way to increase the relationship between Peru and Australia.

As an economy teacher at a Peruvian high school I enjoyed showing the statistics for various countries, to my students. They had been taught their entire life that the United States was the greatest country in the world. They had been pushed to believe that if they wanted a great future they had to learn English so they could travel north for the business opportunities.

Australia didn’t factor into their business worldview too much, but only as a novelty. It has kangaroos (they were horrified when they learned I have eaten them). Some Peruvians might have known about the good surf. Some of the younger people knew about the famous actors (most recently Chris Hemsworth), while the older generation knew about the Bee Gees, and INXS, and Men At Work. Many didn’t know the Paul Hogan cliches, or the phrase ‘G’Day Mate’.

Australia places third in the Human Development Index, behind Norway and Switzerland. Its GDP is $1.2 Trillion. On average each person makes *$45,790 a year. It is the sixth biggest country in the world. It has a population of around 24.6 million people. People can reasonably expect to live until they are 82 years old.

These economic statistics showed me that Australia punched above average in many aspects, and I’m not quite sure how this is the case. Many Peruvians work extremely hard, and the country is full of resources, especially when it comes to minerals.

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Arriba Peru! This photo is taken near the Chachapoyas, in the Amazonias Department in north Peru.

And yet Peru is 89th on the Human Development Index. People still live in extreme poverty. Internet connection and access is limited to almost half the population. The skilled workforce is lower, even if more Peruvians are working in comparison to Australians. People are more likely to be murdered in Peru than they are in Australia. Its GDP is a sixth of Australia’s ($211.4 Billion) and each person on average makes *$12,890 a year. In landmass Peru is around seven times smaller than Australian, yet has a higher population of **32 million. The population of both countries tend to flock to the urban areas of the coast.

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Australian icon and entrepreneur Dick Smith (proud nationalist) with a federal politician, Bob Katter, in the Indigenous island community of Mornington Island. Both men have advocated in their own ways the need for Australian independence from capitalism, and foreign ownership. This is something that Peru has struggled with, and any time it breaks away from it, has fallen into financial debt and ruin. The improvement of its country has been in free trade, something that Mr Katter is skeptical of.

Australia is a great place to live not because of its culture and its food, or even its climate. And it isn’t great because of the friendliness of its people. All these things are also offered in other countries, whether it’s in Peru, or in India, or Singapore.

Australia is a great place to live because of the privilege each resident has. We have choices and options to do things, besides work in our family’s corner store or farm for the rest of our lives. We have opportunities.

I was born in a family without much money, and by the time I reached my late teens I had no retail experience. My family was dysfunctional, and among many things, suffered abuse from the men that had treated acceptance to the family as a right, and not as a privilege.

And yet here I am, able to have the luxury of a working-holiday in Peru with the freedom and resources to see more in it than most of the residents. I finished a university education. If my government hadn’t allowed me to borrow money from its treasury it would not have been possible. I was able to become a journalist. And while a journalist I was able to live in a town where the average worker (the miner) could earn as much as the local mayor.

I grew into privilege. I have been given opportunity. It’s all because of the country I was born in. This is why Australia is a great place, and I do not want to take it for granted. Peru teaches me that with political instability, or bad policies, or even with corruption, it could be taken away overnight.

That’s not to say that Peru is a bad country. I’m making it sound like it is. Its economy and stability improves all the time, as does its fights against corruption. And soon it may be a country that can compete against Australia, because quite frankly, it has a hard working mentality used to earning far less, and is geographically less isolated. It showed nothing but compassion for the Venezuelans that sought a better life from the instability of their own country, and has already elected a head-of-state from Indigenous origin. Although it has not elected a woman, its current leader of its most powerful political party in the Congress is a woman (although is under house arrest for corruption charges. As for the Indigenous head-of-state, he also was charged with corruption).

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to make fruit punch, pavlova, and beetroot on burgers for my international friends. Then I’m going to listen to Triple J’s Hottest 100 with my girlfriend.

If you’d like to learn more about Australia from an American’s perspective, there’s a pretty good video on Youtube that kind of covers it all.

*Currency values are not represented by the Australian dollar. They are represented by the PPP (Purchasing Power Parity), which basically assumes each currency is worth the same when comparing to other countries.

**I am uncertain that with the population count, we can include the numerous Venezuelans who have in recent years escaped their country to seek refugee status.

Australia Day in South America

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Barb and I, token Aussies, eat at a steak house. The woman of Torquay, Vic, is a vegetarian but acknowledged the need to eat at a place that offered barbecue.

Right now I listen to Triple J’s Hottest 100 being streamed live. It may typically be the tradition on Australia Day but out of protest and acknowledgement to change the date, so has the timing of the playlist.

It’s the first time I have listened to the Hottest 100 and it’s also the first time I have been out of the country for Australia Day. I guess reminding myself of my country and clinging onto anything that makes it has become important at a time when even the accents have become so harsh to me. Even the sound of my own voice. It’s great being connected to interviews with Aussies across the world (even those mining 500 metres underground in Qld, hiding from the bosses while they listen to this playlist).

Another Australian and I have stumbled onto a barbecue steak house that promises Angus beef. Believe me when I say that in Peru this is as rare as rain in Mount Isa. I was nearly crying eating a ‘cowboy steak’. It reminded me of Mount Isa. It was the first I tasted a good steak since I left the outback Qld town in October.

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…..

Australia Day. I can tell you the trends I read on social media about the day. Beforehand there is the criticism and support for Survival Day mentality. On the day itself I hear about how bad the sunburns are as everyone has somehow had time for five minutes in the swimming pool.

Like my country I am divided personally when it comes to Australia Day and the date of January 26 being used to mark our patriotism. For some the day acknowledges the British invasion and the brutal treatment and destruction against the Indigenous cultures. The first fleet of convicts landed in Sydney on this day in 1788. Personally, who cares when every day should be Australia Day. But there are Indigenous people who see it as a time of mourning. Why not simply change the day for those that matter? Anybody who claims to be a true patriotic should not be able to care either way.

On the other hand changing the date is a manageable distraction from the disparity among the average Indigenous to the average Australian. Health, welfare, income, and education, an imbalance in crime and incarceration are still a massive struggle in the remote communities but instead of focusing more on these concerns there are many who focus on lobbying changing a day.

But who cares what I think. It’s worth reading Waleed Aly’s opinion piece in the New York Times about ‘How To Rethink Australia Day.’

…..

One of my friends is teaching overseas. She teaches in England and left Australia about a fortnight before I did. In fact we’re listening to Hottest 100 right now (we’re on 86) even though it must be 3am in London right now. I guess I mention Jo because we have similiar experiences with the isolation from Australia.

On her first Australia Day outside the country she played badminton after school, and then had dinner at a Persian restaurant with a Carribean West End actor and an Iranian prac student.

“It was great. And it’s the little things,” she said. “There was a starter that was so much like my family’s potato salad that I felt back home. And I should have gone with the lamb…”….

10.15pm: So I’m listening to song 72 on the Hottest 100 playlist. Jo is also listening and it’s 3am her time. The song currently playing is In Cold Blood by Alt-J. The song before that was Nuclear Fusion by King Gizzard and the Wizard Lizard. I really liked that one, as well as Cloud 9 by Baker Boy (song 72). I hadn’t heard him before but I am really loving the Indigenous feel to the rap. It’s a consolation that he made it if my mate Lucky Luke doesn’t make it on the list with his song Jacks.

11.12pm: I’d stopped for an episode of Gossip Girl and now I’m back. And alright! We’ve got 21 Grams, by Thundamentals placing 61. But I’d much rather have their song Sally making the list.

“Everybody knows that Sally can’t dance
But damn she’s so fine that nobody’s gon’ tell her
Two left feet, one beautiful smile
Goddamn she’s so fly whenever we’re together.” 

The list is still young and so is the night.

11.45pm: 55) 6 Pack by Dune Rats: “Got a place, where no one’s ever sober. It’s all good, there’s nobody coming over.”

12.11am: I can’t keeping doing this. But yessss……The Smith Street Band makes 49!

12.35am: Can’t do it. Must sleep. Only at song 44. Please let Gang of Youth’s Like a Version cover of Blood make it. And Sally. Tash Sultana’s Jungle will likely make it too. Maybe another San Cisco song.

Happy Australia Day.