Showing posts with label Australia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Australia. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Vision of a city

This extraordinary but frightening photo (which I've modified slightly) of the great Victorian city of Melbourne, taken from burnt-out Kinglake by David Geraghty and published today in The Australian, is truly apocalyptic. We reasonable human citizens, residing in nice suburban sites or resolutely rural places (such as me at Gamone), would appear to be moving into a terrible era (global warming?) in which Hollywood horrors will be enacted, de facto, before our unbelieving eyes.

In what words would you describe this apocalyptic vision to a child? Maybe your own offspring...

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Big movie mess

My 93-year-old uncle Isaac Kennedy Walker—a former dairy farmer from my birthplace at Waterview, near Grafton—has been living for the last ten or so years in the Australian seaside city of Coffs Harbour. At that place, in the midst of the sunny slopes dedicated to banana production, a local guesthouse operator decided to erect a tourist gimmick, made of painted plaster, that soon became famous: the Big Banana.

This banana was in fact the first of a long series of Aussie big things, described on Wikipedia [display].

In France, most ugly monstrosities of this kind feature the Virgin Mary. You find big virgins from one end of France to the other, often at prominent spots in the landscape where everybody is obliged to observe these hunks of stone and concrete. Hopefully, future communities will surely dynamite them and use the rubble to build roads...

In the domain of big things, totalitarian states inspired by a personality cult have invented a spectacular gadget that has rarely been exploited in our so-called free democracies. This is the idea of erecting a Big Me.

In France, not so long ago, a guy was sly enough to take this interesting idea to its logical conclusions. An adept of yoga named Gilbert Bourdin [1923-1998], from the French Caribbean island of Martinique, founded a weird sect known as Mandarom. He settled in the superb Provençal landscape of Castellane and erected various pseudo-Tibetan statues including a gigantic representation of himself that could be seen for miles around. Finally, in 2001, after tedious legal wrangling, the French army dynamited this eyesore.

In France, the term "turnip" is used (God knows why) to designate bad movies, and everybody understands this curious metaphor.

In my humble view, the award for the Big Turnip goes surely to the film Australia by Baz Luhrmann, which has just opened in France.

On Boxing Day, I drove up to Grenoble, with my daughter, to see the English-language version of this movie. Frankly, I find it a bloody catastrophe, from every point of view. I have no positive evaluations whatsoever concerning this bundle of clichés tied up with pink ribbons. Above all, the entire final part of Luhrmann's overblown product, presenting a make-believe World War II conflict in Darwin, is technically appalling from a movie viewpoint. You can't believe an instant of it...

Someone said that the cinematographic encounter between the pale giant Nicole Kidman (former wife of Tom Cruise) and Hugh Jackman (the alleged sexiest man on the planet) has the sensual intensity of a Vegemite sandwich. Although I've never tried to eat this Aussie shit, that sounds like a pretty good comparison. The film is so ridiculous that I have nothing more to say about it...

Friday, December 5, 2008

Man created God in Queensland

I used sarcastic words concerning the Queensland politician and would-be photographer who has detected the wrath of God behind the planet's current financial fuck-up. But don't get me wrong. I'm not anti-Queensland. In fact, some of my best friends have been Queenslanders. Indeed, my father was born there, in Rockhampton, and his own father retired to a place on the Gold Coast, Burleigh Heads, that he thought of as the nearest approximation to Paradise on the surface of our planet. But I've often felt that Queensland thinking—and political thinking in particular—can be rather... well, different, as my mother used to say when she couldn't find an appropriate synonym for "weird".

I've just stumbled upon an enlightened Queenslander named Ronnie Williams: a musician, father of five, who doesn't like the idea that state schools in his native state are dispensing religious instruction in a surreptitious fashion. He blew up, in particular, when his daughter was asked to help make a replica of Noah's Ark at the local state school. Well, Ronnie Williams has set up an imaginative website named Renaissance of Reason. As a teenage adept of romantic pantheism, I was thrilled to discover that Williams invokes this same kind of thinking in the context of his movement called Infinite Deity (where the term "deity" appears to me as in bad taste).

[Click the image to visit the website.]

You know how wide-eyed smiling Evangelical groups have been stuffing God down our ears for ages with their syrupy musical stuff. Well, here's an amusing Ronnie Williams variation on this theme:

Some people might consider that Williams, too, is "different"... when he advocates, for example, "a simple Palaeolithic-inspired diet supplemented by a sensible vitamin and mineral regimen". Critics will say that we're in the same ballpark as James Bidgood, who suggested that we should seek explanations of the current financial mess in the Book of Revelations. I don't really know whether my compatriot is a serious intellectual disciple of great god-veering present-day thinkers such as Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker. I would simply conclude that, like my father, Ronnie Williams appears to me as an inspired and intelligent Queenslander... of the quiet kind I appreciate.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Romantic Australia

I see that a new packet of romantic Down Under hype is about to hit the fan. I'm referring, of course, to the much-awaited Australia saga by Baz Luhrmann, starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman.

Personally, if I saw an anemic Nicole Kidman on a cattle station, I would have doubts about the quality of their beef. Can she survive the dusty heat and the burning sun? She looks like the sort of tasty fair creature who would attract flies, mosquitoes, spiders, snakes, etc... and it would be a frantic life-or-death affair getting her to a doctor in time. Funnily enough, sticking to facts, we hear that it was angelic Nicole who actually saved Hugh's life during the shooting by using her delicate fingers to remove a scorpion from her partner's leg. So, maybe I should shut my mouth and wait for the movie before saying anything more.

There's a funny spoof trailer:

Once again, this movie will no doubt be capable of persuading countless hordes of fatigued New Yorkers and Parisians to think about packing up their bags and moving out to the exciting El Dorado that awaits them Down Under. I can already imagine such innocent folk stepping into an antiquated subway train at Wynyard, on their way out to Mascot, to board bravely a Qantas plane bound for Darwin... where they'll be thrilled to discover that the damage from Japanese bombing and cyclone Tracy has all been cleaned up spotlessly.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Australian backyard view

My friend Bruce Hudson sent me this delightful view of cockatoos on his back lawn near the New South Wales town of Young. It's a splendid image of everyday Australia.

I was struck by the fact that almost all the beautiful gold-crested birds, engaged in eating capeweed seeds, are aligned in parallel. Scientists have found (the references escape me for the moment) that animals tend to orient themselves, while at rest, with respect to geomagnetic fields. Maybe Bruce might undertake rigorous experimentation in the context of his backyard cockies (as they're called Down Under).

Meanwhile, I've installed a kangaroo banner in the right-hand column of my blog pointing to the wilderness tours organized by John Thompson. Ever since our recent Internet encounter [display], I've liked the intelligent style of this man (whom I've never met) and the nature of his touristic services. He sounds like authentic Australia.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Antipodean adventures

People imagine that the great island continent of Australia is far away from everywhere. In fact, as the following map indicates, the northern tip of Queensland is only a few hundred kilometers from two foreign lands: Papua New Guinea and the Indonesian province of Papua.

A few weeks ago, five Australians decided that it would be fun to take off from Australia—more precisely, from Queensland's Horn Island in the Torres Strait—in a light plane and drop in at Mopah airport. They thought naively that, once they touched down on Indonesian soil, it would be easy for them to obtain tourist visas enabling them to do a bit of sightseeing before flying back home. Well, the latest news is that they've been fined several thousand dollars, and they're still in jail. In this context, my sister Susan Skyvington has been interviewed in The Australian:

Susan Skyvington, whose son Saul Dalton was detained in Papua for six months in 1999, said the similarities with her son's case were chilling.

"In the first few days he was under house arrest in a hotel and (we were told) we were going to be able to get him out in a few days ... when the documents were sorted out.

"Then they were saying he was not going to be released, they were going to put him through a trial and he was moved to a military police outstation in the jungle."

Mr Dalton, then 25, had gone to East Timor to hand out how-to-vote cards during the referendum on independence from Jakarta. Indonesian-backed militias were intimidating independence supporters at the time and took a dim view of foreigners participating in the political process.

Ms Skyvington said that when violence erupted her son boarded a ferry to Papua to escape, and was told he could sort out his documentation when he arrived. In Papua, he was put to trial and given 10 months' jail, which was reduced for good behaviour. He ended up spending six months in detention.

Ms Skyvington said that her son had never fully recovered from the experience, and now suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Another affair. In the above map, I've highlighted a magnificent place in northern Queensland called Cooktown, at the mouth of the Endeavour River, where the navigator James Cook berthed his vessel for a few weeks in 1770, to carry out repairs and replenish their stocks of water and food.

Today, tourists are warned that it's crocodile country, and that they must be constantly "crocwise".

[Click the banner to visit the Cooktown website, which lets you download a
page of survival instructions that should help you to avoid getting eaten alive.]

A few days ago, a 62-year-old Brisbane man who had been camping there with his wife strolled down to the edge of the water to retrieve his crab pots before driving off home. His wife never saw him again, but police discovered the man's camera on the river bank, along with his wristwatch and a sandal. There were track marks of a crocodile, and the line to the crab pots was cut.

Another local animal, the kangaroo, is in the front-page news. An Australian specialist on climate change, Ross Garnaut, has just suggested that people should give up eating beef and lamb and change to kangaroo meat, since our marsupials have the advantage of farting in a less noxious fashion than conventional livestock.

When I observe the quantity and variety of Oriental herbs, spices and Thai fish sauce that are recommended by chefs, to make kangaroo dishes tender and tasty, I'm wary about the possibility of a new source of urban flatulence pollution. Before implementing a change to local mammal meat, Aussie authorities might carry out comparative methane-rejection tests on humans who eat spicy kangaroo dishes as opposed to the ordinary farting of old-fashioned beef eaters.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Wilderness, the key to Australia's future

I have just received a highly interesting email concerning yesterday's article about the Australian Outback. The author, John Thompson, has kindly authorized me to include this email in my blog. The photos, too, are included by courtesy of the Queensland-based tourism business operated by John and his wife: Nature-Bound Australia. They have two excellent websites:

Hi William,

I have just read your blog response to the media article portraying Australia as a failed state. I guess all media releases are drafted around drama and extreme "hooks" but behind this release there is considerable truth.

I have spent more than 30 years taking small groups of people into the Australian bush as a specialist tour operator. We are a boutique business, husband and wife, providing a highly personalised holiday experience and we focus on national parks and wilderness areas. On the side we are constantly in touch with people of the outback, tiny settlements, legend and history. It is true that there is a move by families and individuals away from the bush toward opportunities in the metropolitan areas along the coast. It is called a rural crisis. Banks and essential services and enterprises have vacated leaving small villages and towns in disarray, there are serious health service issues and the list goes on.

There are trends toward large scale property amalgamations being taken up and placed under corporate rather than family control. The plight of Aboriginals is an embarrassment and there are now serious issues revolving around global climate change, major rivers drying up, food production areas under threat and so on.

We have nearly two generations that are turned off from the wilderness on the strength that it is dangerous, uncomfortable, boring, nothing to see, a self perpetuating disease passed down by parents bent on wrapping their city children in care and comfort.

There has been a huge influx of Asian residents in our cities and they have no inherent connection with the outback, its spirit, legends or history and therefore no apparent interest. Tourism Australia has literally "flogged" the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef, Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Sydney, leading to massed mainstream visitations around tourist hubs to the detriment of wonderful regional and outback features and destinations, communities, family businesses, infrastructure and so on.

One of the major issues is politically we have no real visionaries who have the strength to see beyond their political careers, short term and to make some major milestone decisions. But there are a few positives to all this. The conservation movement is starting to gain teeth on issues like wholesale destruction of our limited old growth forests. Some 45% of Australia, the arid regions, has recently been highlighted as one of the world's greatest remaining wilderness areas and millions of American dollars by private foundations are going into enhancing this cause. Private not-for-profit nature conservancies are buying up large wilderness properties and positioning young scientists and managers on these in an effort to return the land to a pristine state and to assist endangered wildlife. There is no time to wait for national park departments and bureaucracies to initiate essential acquisitions.

There are of course incredible resources in Australia from coal, uranium, bauxite, sun, monsoonal rains, space and many controversial issues surrounding these. We are a country that simply extracts these resources and sells them to overseas companies which in turn are influencing control of our major companies, whereas some political strength might consider incentives which encourage Australian companies to value add to their resources and to develop their leading technologies before selling to the world. At present so many of our smart people and ideas have to go overseas for venture support.

I'm aware of one gentleman, a visionary, who has lobbied some 290 politicians in support of a major railway to run through the inland of Australia from Melbourne to Darwin to open up regional areas to new opportunities and development, bringing Australian goods readily to the Asian markets and taking huge numbers of large road transport off the major highways where drivers are under stress and tragic accidents are occurring regularly. Another gentleman who has made his wealth through technology has now applied his skills, contacts and wealth to buying up large traces of wilderness.

While the population is gathering in the south around cities and coast and these areas are under stress and threat from water issues we have a third of our nation largely unpopulated in the tropical zone where abundant water is available to be harnessed, for a whole new wave of food production if a visionary government could emerge.

It is real that other countries and funding could see and seize this opportunity through investment stealth (invasion) and have the Asian markets a short sea voyage or flight away.

My feeling is the governance of the country is not going to change and there is a case that we are too over-governed with three controlling stratas: national, state and local. We really need fearless visionaries with an ethical agenda, to take our great country by the throat and give it a good shake.

Our overseas guests on tour are absolutely wrapped in Australia and point to the natural history assets we have, the space and the people as wonderful. As we don't take tours into the city and theme parks etc they can only be referring to the Australian bush, so somehow it is a jewel worth saving.

We don't know how lucky we are but perhaps, as a nation, we are taking it all for granted.

Best wishes,

John Thompson
Managing Director
Nature-Bound Australia
PO Box 1209
New Farm Queensland 4005

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Abandoned Australian outback

I was saddened by a recent press article that evokes a forthcoming Australian report according to which the remote Australian wilderness must now be looked upon as a "failed state". What a terrible expression! There's a sentence about extracted wealth that is not reinvested in local communities. I see the words "poor governance". The article speaks of "the failure of all levels of government to deliver basic services and halt the flight of non-indigenous people to more settled areas". Everything in this short article was frighteningly negative, even to the extent of evoking "possible invasion" from foreign nations. I have the impression that the great Aussie myth of the Outback is crumbling into dust, but I'm amazed that things could really be as bad as that. On the other hand, I've been wondering for ages what went wrong with Australia, and why there are no New Pioneers on the horizon to fix things up. Why aren't our leaders worrying about the Outback, and doing something about this tragedy? To guide Australia, it wasn't enough to be a fan of Donald Bradman, Elizabeth II and George W Bush. And it's obviously not enough to be a polite ex-diplomat who speaks English and Mandarin with the same lack of eloquence. Meanwhile, as I said in my recent article entitled My hilarious motherland [display], a NSW state minister has been dancing in his underpants. And the Outback has been dying...

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Entertaining information

As I've pointed out already, French people can be intrigued when they hear me talk. I've got a slightly strange accent, which people can rarely pin down, whereas my French grammar is fine and I use a good vocabulary. So, I'm often asked, politely, where I'm from. As soon as I say Australia, people are more intrigued than ever. First, there aren't many of us here in France, so we're rare birds. Second, there has been so much hype over the years about Australia being an exotic earthly paradise that French people are frankly surprised that any Australian citizen would decide to dwell in such an everyday place as France.

Last night, on prime-time TV, I watched a two-hour documentary about Australia. I make a point of watching such stuff because it's generally entertaining. Besides, the next time I'm called upon to tell a French person where I come from, he or she is likely to enhance the conversation with facts from this latest TV documentary about Australia. So, it's a good idea for me to keep abreast of such background information.

What amused me, yesterday evening, was that the French producer used a simple recipe that tricked viewers (and even the Télérama critic) into thinking that we were watching an original travelogue. He had simply unearthed half a dozen more or less exotic video sequences in remote corners of the continent. Then he concocted a map in which we see an animated kangaroo hopping from one place to the next, while the human presenter talked as if he and his camera crew were actually traveling along the same itinerary as the kangaroo, in a vaguely east-to-west journey across Australia. To make it look like an authentic travelogue, the presenter did in fact get himself filmed, two or three times, against a conventional Australian background. For example, there was a short conversation between the presenter and an old Aborigine seated on the ground alongside Uluru, doing his TV duties, who trotted out all the standard banalities: legends from tribal elders, the sacred rocks, the Dream Time, etc. In reality, I had already seen most of the video sequences in this allegedly new production, since some of them were four or five years old.

The show opened with shots of the boxing troupe of Fred Brophy in Queensland.

When I was a kid in Grafton, that was a popular attraction during the three-day agricultural show. I liked to watch the presentation of the boxers outside the tent, and the manager's call for challengers, enticing them with the promise of monetary gains. The proceedings were accompanied by the clanging of a brass bell and the pounding of a bass drum, which combined to produce a kind of martial music. Inside the tent, once the show actually got under way, the atmosphere was sweaty and spartan, almost sordid, since there was nothing like a real ring.

The TV kangaroo then hopped towards a remote place where we were able to see the Outback postal service in action.

Curiously, the aircraft was carrying three paying passengers: tourists doing the round trip with the postman. At one stop, as they waited in the shade of a tree, brushing flies from their faces, these one-day visitors expressed their astonishment that people could actually live permanently in the places they were discovering.

The next sequence was frankly surrealistic. It showed preparations for an open-air desert ball at a spot named Curdimurka. You might think of it as the Outback equivalent of an opera weekend at Glyndebourne in England, or maybe a small-scale reincarnation of a remote Woodstock. Since this get-together was taking place in Australia, where distances are vast, the future dancers arrived in private aircraft, with their ball attire in suitcases. All the images were dominated by signs of heat, dust and wind, with the promise of showers under punctured food cans wired to overhead taps. TV viewers might well wonder whether these people were really having a ball, as the saying goes... but let's suppose so. At the scheduled time for the ball to get under way, a terrible sand storm blew up. The TV documentary didn't really tell viewers what happened after that unexpected intrusion of the elements. By searching on the Internet, I learned that the sand storm stopped the dancing in the desert back in 2004, and the concept of the Curdimurka Ball, imagined as a regular two-yearly event, died too on that hot windy evening.

Next, the documentary skipped to a presentation of the Aboriginal star David Gulpilil, first on stage for his one-man show at the Adelaide Festival of Arts in 2004, and then at his home place in the Northern Territory.

Seeing this charming fellow [looking much younger than in the above photo] strutting around behind the jawbones of a crocodile or the skull and horns of a buffalo has much the same effect upon me as watching Crocodile Dundee or Steve Irwin in filmed action. A little bit goes a long way.

At one point in the documentary, we saw this celebrated pub on the Oodnadatta Track. The guy in charge looked a little like a wanted Serbian war criminal in disguise.

It must be bloody uncomfortable to have a big beard like that, in the dust and heat, particularly when you've also got into the habit of wearing a hat indoors... but maybe it plays a positive role in keeping the flies away. And you can drink beer non-stop to keep cool.

There were countless other exotic anecdotes in the two-hour documentary. We saw an Aboriginal chef collecting witchetty grubs in the bush and cooking them for customers of his fashionable city restaurant. We saw fellows wading through a crocodile-infested swamp to obtain eggs for a local farm that breeds salt-water crocodiles for leather. We saw helicopters being used to round up cattle and camels. Etc, etc.

All in all, it was a worthwhile evening of entertainment for me. The next time French people, hearing my accent, ask me where I'm from, I'm determined to spin a hell of a good yarn. I'll tell them that, while flying on a Qantas plane from my camel ranch near Darwin for a weekend opera outing in Sydney, my seat dropped out through a big hole in the floor of the Boeing, whereupon I landed in a swamp full of crocodiles, with dingoes roaming around on the shore. I've still got to work out how I got safely from there up to Paris, but that shouldn't be too difficult. Maybe, for inspiration, I need to watch a few more good Aussie travelogues of the "made in France" kind.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Aussie prudishness: a taste for censorship

Outsiders probably imagine my native Australia as an open-minded nation whose citizens are accustomed to basking around half-naked in a carefree atmosphere of sea, sand, sun and sex. This is not the case. Australians are an exceptionally prudish people, who don't hesitate in using police intervention and censorship to handle certain situations. In my article of 13 March 2007 entitled Rambo caught with his pants down [display], I sketched a few notorious examples of this amazing prudishness and abhorrence of explicit sensuality that might be interpreted as sexual misbehavior... with the sole exception, curiously, of the annual Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

Once again, this subject has come to the forefront of Aussie news concerning vaguely erotic images of adolescents by the celebrated photographer Bill Henson displayed in a Sydney gallery.

Yesterday, in the dawn hours preceding the opening of the exhibition, police invaded the private gallery and seized more than twenty photos. And this could well be the prelude to legal prosecutions.

The photographer Bill Henson is acclaimed internationally. His works have been exhibited in the Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris and the Venice Biennale, not to mention the national galleries of Victoria and New South Wales. A deplorable aspect of this Philistine affair is the fact that justifications for this dawn seizure of works of art have been coming from the likes of Kevin Rudd (prime minister of Australia, who apparently employed the adjective "revolting" in describing Henson's photos), Morris Iemma (premier of the state of New South Wales) and representatives of the New South Wales police force. These individuals are deciding whether Bill Henson's work has artistic merit or whether it should be condemned as pornography.

Personally, since I harbor no desire of returning to my native land, let alone trying to get onto the same wavelength as my former compatriots, I guess I shouldn't get worked up by such a silly storm in an Aussie teacup. But I see it as interesting data of a genealogical kind. Maybe "anthropological" would be a more appropriate adjective.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Facts versus fantasy

Before rushing to sit down for a meal such as last Saturday's annual lunch for the senior citizens of Choranche and Châtelus, I like to spend a little time observing who is seated where, to make sure that I'll be surrounded optimally by charming fellow citizens. The kind of lunch-table neighbors I attempt to avoid are those who have the habit of talking enthusiastically as soon as their mouth is full of food such as sauce or vegetables. My appetite disappears instantly as soon as I find that my face or plate is getting spat at. There can also be problems concerning neighbors who have either too much to say about uninteresting topics, or nothing to say about anything at all. Consequently, the choice of a table and chair is the outcome of a series of rapid observations and decisions. Above all, I avoid sitting down alongside or opposite chairs that are not yet occupied, because you never know who might slide into such an empty slot. In general, for a single person such as me, sitting down in the midst of married couples is a fairly sound strategy, because you can usually count on them—if the worst comes to the worst, as it often does on such occasions—to talk among themselves. But this kind of situation is risky, because you can never be certain beforehand that individual members of the various couples will soon get around to talking to one another, which means that you can be caught up in the crossfire.

Skillful hosts and hostesses at bourgeois dinner evenings place potentially sympathetic individuals alongside one another, in the hope that congenial communications might ensue. The French publicity chief Jacques Séguéla revealed his mastery of this art when he recently invited along to his Parisian apartment two single individuals named Nicolas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni for a dinner among smart friends. As far as we can ascertain, the conversation was lively, and no one complained afterwards about getting spat upon.

Getting back to last Saturday's lunch at Le Jorjane in Choranche, I made a beeline for an empty chair between two couples, diagonally opposite the mayor of Châtelus. This jovial fellow amuses me. Besides, I had heard a rumor that he would not be contesting the forthcoming municipal elections, and I thought he might be prepared to come out with some frank talk about his years of experience of local politics. Things got off to a good start when I asked him if he was affiliated to a political organization, whereupon he made it clear that he was a fervent socialist. He immediately asked me where I stood at a political level, and he appeared to react positively when I told him that I too was a partisan of the French Left. But then, all of a sudden, my hopes for an interesting discussion were demolished by his next out-of-the-blue statement (which I shall translate into English): "William, you're Australian. Well, you could never guess what I'm reading at present. One of the most fabulous novels I've ever unearthed: The Thorn Birds. Last night, I reached the turning-point in the story where Ralph de Bricassart finally gets into bed with Meggie Cleary!"

This intriguing saga crammed with outback passion has attained fame in France through the movie version. Exceptionally, the French title is more catching than the original. A thorn bird is described by the author, Colleen McCullough, as a magnificently-plumed creature that impales itself on a spike and sings beautifully while it dies. In French, the expression "birds who hide to die" evokes a mysterious elephantine graveyard, and attracts readers to a great fable. The only minor fault of this exceptional literary work is that many readers (such as the mayor of Châtelus, for example) are likely to believe that tales like that really unfold in a commonplace fashion in Australia. In other words, readers end up imagining that a handsome Catholic priest in a desolate outback setting could indeed inherit a vast fortune from an infatuated female parishioner, and then use this newfound wealth within the context of his employer, the Church, to purchase eventually a title of cardinal... while seducing, along the way, a young lady of the "ranch" (American term used by McCullough to designate what we Australians call a sheep or cattle station). Funnily enough, this popular TV series (aired regularly in France) that is supposed to present viewers with an awesome vision of outback Australia was actually shot in California!

Personally, I've always been bored by most literary constructions set in my ancestral land. I far prefer authentic Australian biography, history and (in my privileged case) genealogy. My attitude is summed up perfectly by these words from the great American writer Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain [1835-1910]:

Australian history is almost always picturesque; indeed, it is so curious and strange that it is itself the chiefest novelty the counry has to offer, and so it pushes the other novelties into second and third place. It does not read like history, but like the most beautiful lies; and all of a fresh new sort, no mouldy old stale ones. It is full of surprises and adventures, and incongruities, and contradictions, and incredibilities; but they are all true, they all happened.

If Twain's judgment is correct (as I believe), then, instead of The Thorn Birds or Riders in the Chariot (Patrick White), we would be better off reading ordinary factual stuff such as Kings in Grass Castles (Mary Durack), Squatter's Castle (George Farwell), Islands of Angry Ghosts (Hugh Edwards) or simply The Fatal Shore (Robert Hughes) and The Great Shame (Thomas Keneally), not to mention The Bloodiest Bushrangers (John O'Sullivan). The only problem is that none of the books I've just mentioned could be adapted easily, preferably by Americans, into a movie that would be immensely popular, say, in France.

Saturday, January 26, 2008


On this 26th day of the month of January, my parents were married.

Armed with this date, smart readers will be able to calculate that the foetus whose presence would erupt upon the universe under the name of William Skyvington, on 24 September 1940, was already a few weeks old (bless the poor little bugger) when Dad and Mum walked up the aisle at Christ Church Cathedral.

On this twenty-sixth day of the month of January, in 1994, I signed the legal documents concerning my purchase of Gamone. So, I've been here for fourteen years.

This afternoon, we oldtimers of Choranche and Châtelus got together for our annual dinner. Among other things, I got back in contact with my English friend Patricia, CEO of Photonic Sciences, widow of our friend Adrian who piloted his jet aircraft into the English earth a few years ago [a long and touching story, which I must relate one day].

For me, personally, it was a momentous day of celebrations. Somebody said it's called Australia Day.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Aussie cowboys

In the space of a few days, Australian media have displayed images of two local cowboys. Heath Ledger, co-star of The Secret of Brokeback Mountain, was found dead in Manhattan last Tuesday. Today, in a more joyous context, country singer Lee Kernaghan was proclaimed Australian of the Year. And here's an old photo of an authentic Aussie cowboy:

This is my brother Don Skyvington (a year younger than me) at Wave Hill cattle station in the outback, in the company of Aboriginal stockmen. This photo was taken in the early '60s. Don has had major health problems for most of his adult life, possibly as a consequence of hepatitis that he picked up out in the bush. He now resides in Brisbane (Queensland) in a fine and friendly home with disabled Aboriginals, which I visited when I was out in Australia in 2006.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Tennis police

Australian vice-prime minister Julia Gillard is right. It's a pity ("bad for the nation's image") that disturbing photos and video sequences of incidents at Australia's great tennis tournament have just gone all around the planet.

Seeing ordinary spectators (often bystanders with no links to unruly elements in the crowd) suffering from the after-effects of pepper spray, many bewildered potential tourists are likely to ask, in Aussie parlance: "What the bloody hell are they wailing for?"

My personal opinion about Aussie cops has never evolved much over the last half-a-century. For me, all too many of them act like brainwashed self-righteous zombies. I remember them above all in Fremantle, in 1987, for the America's Cup regattas. One evening, I was pulled over while driving away from a social event, and taken along to the station where I was asked to take my coat off, empty my pockets, etc. Half an hour later, one of their team told me I could put my coat back on, place my money and belongings back into my pockets, and continue on my way, for they had no reason whatsoever to keep me there.

Concerning the cowboy cops and their pepper sprays at the Australian Open, many observers have pointed out that police behavior of this kind would be unthinkable in most civilized countries... particularly since it appears retrospectively that the spectator disturbances that provoked the police intervention were perfectly harmless, indeed banal at a spirited sporting match.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Friend on the rock

Bruce Hudson is no ordinary Australian friend. During my childhood in South Grafton, although our respective educational establishments were strictly antipodean [Bruce at prestigious Knox Grammar School in Sydney, and me at the public school in South Grafton], I got to know and admire this fellow as if he were a friendly icon of urban civilization, with profound attachments to my family, and a symbol (with the help of his father and uncle... with maybe a little push from my own father) of the great old-fashioned pioneering spirit of Australia. Bruce became my mate and hero. Meanwhile, he also turned into an authentic man of the bush. What I'm saying is not idle poetry. Bruce learned to live in the bush, and he has stayed that way. Today, he and his wife Debbie are operating three hundred acres of beef-cattle land out near Young.

Bruce Hudson has just sent me a fabulous series of photos of Australia's sacred rock, Uluru.

The aerial nature of these shots reminds me that Bruce's splendid father Eric Hudson [businessman, town councilor of South Grafton and great friend of my father] once invited me to fly, for the first time, in his Tiger Moth aircraft at South Grafton.

Australia's sacred mountain is a mystery. A rock that just happens to have appeared there in the distant past, in the middle of nowhere, like the black slab in Kubrick's Space Odyssey. Like my modest but magic Cournouze, opposite Gamone [see the photo at the top of my blog], Uluru changes color in a mysterious manner.

Several years ago, when talking with my friend Natacha Boudoul about the fabulous mountain of Mary Madeleine alongside Marseille, I evoked the crazy idea that sacred sites of this kind might communicate with one another, as it were, through some kind of terrestrial radiation. In receiving Bruce Hudson's images of Uluru, I'm convinced that this magic mountain-to-mountain radiation does in fact exist. And it functions perfectly. It's called the Internet.

Super-sacred rock

I warn Antipodes readers that you won't necessarily understand much, if anything, of what I'm about to say. First, it's in French. And second, even I don't grasp the theme of things. But, here goes...

Recently, a distinguished French newspaper, Le Figaro, displayed a quiz on its website [display] comprising twenty questions designed to test your awareness of French political happenings, generally at an anecdotal level, over the last twelve months. The 14th question was perfectly topical: a simple matter of identifying the personality who said: "I'm reminded of words from the Bible: Forgive them, for they don't know what they're doing." Many people in France know the answer to this question. The Socialist presidential candidate Ségolène Royal dared recently to talk like Jesus when she was criticizing certain elders of her party, designated in colloquial French political talk as "elephants". [Our metaphors start to get terribly mixed if we try to imagine Jesus talking of jungle beasts.]

What intrigues me is: Why did the French graphic artist of Le Figaro decide to illustrate their question by an image of Australia's Uluru?

Has Ayer's Rock ever been a specifically Christian symbol? I don't think so. Would it be a symbol of folk who deserve to be forgiven because they don't know what they're doing? Surely not. Finally, I end up believing that the employee of Le Figaro chose this image of Uluru for the simple reason that this sacred rock strikes us all as being terribly Biblical, like the words of Jesus... whatever that means. Funny, no?

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Australian Internet censorship

Is Australia an adult nation?
It's so long since I lived in Australia for an appreciable length of time that I prefer to refrain from stating my hasty and uninformed personal opinion on that interesting question. But I've just heard about a Labor project that would consist of blacklisting various websites whose content is judged to be dangerous for the angelic minds of Aussie kids.

In the above sentence, the banal adjective "various" is significant, in the sense that only a random sampling of such websites would appear on the blacklist, for the simple reason that websites grow like weeds in your backyard, and you can no more blacklist all the offensive websites of the planet than you can eradicate noxious plants. The authorities can do little more than bow down symbolically to a lobby of wowsers and do-gooders who know fuck-all about the technicalities of contemporary communications of the web kind.

For almost two years, my personal email communications with Australia have been plagued constantly by some kind of a fuckwit blacklist maintained by Big Pond, designed to prevent the delivery of messages emanating from the French national ISP [Internet service provider] named Orange, ostracized as an alleged producer of spam [an absurd accusation].

In spite of all my efforts, I've never succeeded in eradicating this annoyance, and making sure that all my French emails would be delivered systematically to my relatives and friends in Australia. Often, I had the impression that trying to solve a problem of that kind was like attempting to nudge the Australian Way of Life. That's why I decided to create this blog, so that my relatives and friends in Australia would be able to see what I was doing and thinking in France. So, now that my blog is a thriving offspring, well over a year old, Antipodes says: Thank you, Big Pond fuckwits!

Today, when I start hearing talk about projects to censor the Internet in Australia, I'm itching to answer my opening rhetorical question, at the start of this article. For the moment, I'll force myself not to do so.

Monday, December 31, 2007

Gigantic news from Down Under

It's still 2007 here in France, whereas the new year is already an hour and a half old in my motherland. And the following dramatic story has already been transmitted across the planet on the Internet by Reuters, accompanied by an image:

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian newlyweds kissing on the backseat of their hire car were unaware their chauffeur was street drag racing, until a police siren broke their romantic bliss and ended the race. The chauffeur, clocked at up to 130 kph (80 mph) racing a young driver in a rental car, was fingerprinted on the side of the road and the hire car confiscated. "It's alleged that as the traffic light turned green both the (cars) accelerated harshly from the intersection and continued to travel at speed along the highway," police said in a statement. Both drivers were taken away by police, while newlyweds John and Laina Tauranga were escorted home in a police car.

Shit! Fuck me! Stone the crows! Can this really be true? Was this vehicle truly racing at 130 kph while the innocent newlyweds were kissing on the back seat? Thank God that the Australian police force is constantly vigilant, to detect frightening happenings of this kind, and to attenuate the consequences of such barbarian acts upon innocent victims. What a terrible atmosphere of drama in which the newlyweds John and Laina are going to start their married life. I hope they'll receive appropriate psychological counseling to recover from this ordeal. Unbelievable...

The new year, as I said, is less than a couple of hours old in my motherland, but I can sense already that dramatic Aussie stories are going to amaze me more and more throughout the coming months.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Old bridges in Australia

In my blog, I write one day about major themes such as Australia's future submarines, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto [who, I've just learned, used to be in the same class for foreign students as my Australian cousin Peter Hakewill at the Institute of Political Science in Paris] and all kinds of issues. Then, the next day, I'm submitting a lukewarm article whose title evokes bridges. Certain readers might be surprised or disconcerted by my eclectic behavior.

Please be patient. I'm merely working, as unobtrusively as possible, on my Google image. As I've already indicated, in my article entitled Identity issues [display], the Google folk appear to be scratching constantly their heads, trying to figure out what my Antipodes blog is all about. Now, this is a most pertinent question, since Google is displaying oriented ads on my blog site, and their ads are supposed to reflect what my blog is all about. Sometimes, Google's robots seem to sense, quite rightly, that my daily preoccupations might have something to do with Australia... which is, after all, a keyword that sticks out like a proverbial sore thumb. On the other hand, like certain members of my family in Australia, the Google robots don't seem to have assimilated or accepted various otherwise-obvious facts:

(a) The Antipodes blog is really concerned, not with my birthplace of Australia, but with my adopted land: France.

(b) I've been living in France for most of my adult life, and I persist in loving life in France, which has become for me, not only a gigantic legend, but a myth. Like Joan of Arc, I now hear voices...

(c) I'm a grave and no-doubt incurable victim of the Francophile virus, which has attacked me particularly in the intellectual region of my being. For me, in the Cosmos, there's France... and then the rest.

(d) Linguistically, there was Egyptian, Greek and Latin (with a little bit of Hebrew thrown in for the fans)... followed by French. Alongside this linguistic diamond, English was a magnificent chunk of flint, particularly with Shakespeare. Since then, as a worldly touristic and business Esperanto, the flint has disintegrated into porous rock.

(e) My ex-wife, children and dearest friends are all French.

(f) I dash to my mailbox each morning in the hope of receiving the final official document from Australia [a long-awaited stamped copy of my birth certificate] that will enable me to be gifted with the most profound but purely symbolic and superficial honor of my life: French citizenship!

OK, let's stop all this shit talk about France. The subject that I wish to tackle in the present article [since I know that Google is watching over my shoulder] is bridges: old Australian bridges. No hurry, because Australia has the habit of holding on to its antiquated infrastructure. Within the normal lifespan of an Australian, you're not likely to be surprised by the proliferation of new bridges, road, railways lines, etc. That's the charm of my native land. Nothing new under the rainbow...

First, there's the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which will shortly explode into New Year fireworks:

Then there's my home-town bridge across the Clarence in Grafton:

Finally, in this short touristic coverage of Aussie bridges, there's Bawden's Bridge over the Orara River, in the murky shadows of which I was apparently conceived on a tepid January afternoon of 1940 by a randy male named King Skyvington and a female named Enid Walker, otherwise known as my dear and fabulous Dad and Mum.

OK, Google, it's now up to you. I suspect that you're going to conclude that I'm attempting, through my Antipodes blog, to lure unsuspecting citizens of the world into going out to Australia and settling there. Fair enough. That's partly true. But they should be warned. Watch the Sydney fireworks on New Year's Eve, with no risks of danger, and cross the Clarence River, if you must, by means of the decrepit bridge of which we are so fond. But beware, dear tourists, of becoming romantically bewitched under Bawden's Bridge over the Orara, and using it as a backdrop for procreation. Its bizarre waves are capable of giving rise to un-Australian offspring who might be enticed by antipodean lands such as France. Weird creatures such as me.

Now, let's see how Google is going to react to this article about bridges in Australia.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Australia's submarines

It has just been announced that Australia plans to build "the world's most lethal conventional submarine fleet". That curious expression is an example of the propensity to exaggerate whenever Australians talk about Australia. It's a little like referring, say, to "the world's most powerful horse-cavalry division". If foreign navies throughout the world were to reach a gentlemen's agreement with Australia to the effect that only classic diesel-powered submersible vessels would be employed in future underwater conflicts with the Royal Australian Navy, then we would probably be in a relatively comfortable situation. But, if an uncouth enemy were to ignore the rules of the game by using attack submarines of the nuclear-powered SSN class (not to be confused with submarines that actually launch nuclear missiles), then Australia's antiquated SSG models might not be nearly as "deadly" as claimed.

Australia's recent history in the submarine domain, dating from the Bob Hawke era and culminating in the existence of six faulty Australian-made Collins-class vessels, has been catastrophic, from both a financial and a technological viewpoint. Will the situation be better when these old-fashioned mediocre submarines (whose computer systems are off-the-shelf products from Raytheon) are replaced around 2025 by the newer models, to be manufactured by the same shipbuilder?

As an outside observer knowing little about defense strategies in general and submarines in particular, I have the impression that the decision that has just been announced has been largely inspired by the cogitations of an Australian think tank named Kokoda.

For $22 you can even purchase a paper signed by Ross Babbage, dated April 2007, entitled Australia's Future Underwater Operations and System Requirements. Although I haven't yet invested in a copy of this report (and no doubt never will, because I've got more exciting stuff to read), I'm convinced that the decision of the Royal Australian Navy reflects intimately the thinking of the above-named author. So, it would appear to be a blatant case of one-man thinking. What a tank for submarines! Incidentally, at the Kokoda website, the summary of Babbage's report is accompanied by a quaint drawing:

Don't you agree with me that this rudimentary sketch looks like an illustration from an old volume by Jules Verne? If you look closely, you can even see a midget robot submarine that has emerged from the entrails of the mother vessel. Believe it or not, this is an authentic aspect of Australia's future submarine fleet. Vicious little unmanned tadpoles will be expected to do all the dirty work while the host vessel sits quietly on the seabed, trying to remain undetected.

Recently, I got into a discussion with an Australian friend concerning the antiquated nature of the transport infrastructure in New South Wales. I was thinking primarily of roads, bridges and railway lines. He reacted simplistically by claiming that the volume of tax revenues in Australia is insufficient to cover expenditure in this domain. Now, that sounds to me like naive bullshit. In Australia, the land is composed of metaphorical gold. Theoretically, there are more than enough riches in Australia's soil to build the world's greatest roads, bridges, railway lines and nuclear-powered submarines. There's enough uranium in Australia to power all the nuclear vessels of all the navies of the globe. The only vital natural resource that is totally lacking in Australia is political consciousness. The concept of statesmanship is unknown in Australia. Politicians get elected because they promise, say, to lower interest rates for wage-earners paying mortgages on their suburban houses. Australians voters simply don't comprehend the notion of electing an individual with political wisdom, vision, imagination and profound humanitarian moral principles (as distinct from the candidate's uninteresting personal beliefs of a religious kind). For loud-mouthed snake-oil candidates, seeking to be elected, mythical Australia is the richest land on Earth... and I agree with them a priori. But, for elected representatives of the nation, there's never enough cash in the coffers to build a safe road, a modern bridge, a decent train service or a self-respecting nuclear-powered submarine.

An article in this morning's The Australian says: Although Defence has not yet ruled out the possibility of Australia acquiring nuclear-powered submarines, this option is considered highly unlikely on strategic, practical and political grounds.

Note the final adjective: political. That's what I was saying a moment ago: Australia is simply not mature enough, politically, to own a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines. As the old saying goes, or might have gone: Every nation has the submarines it deserves.