How good is Straya?
Jon Kudelka, one of Australia’s finest working cartoonists, has marked January 26 on his latest calendar as ‘Arguing About Australia Day Day’. It’s a nice way of putting it. Acknowledges the occasion without taking sides on the date debate.
This column will miss Australia Day by two days, thereby allowing me to have a bob each way. So I’m a) changing the date and b) marking the occasion by listing some of the things I love about Australia.
This here’s the wattle
It’s the emblem of our land
You can stick it in a bottle
Or you can hold it in your hand.
So chanted the Bruces in Monty Python’s sketch mocking us for alleged boorishness, alcoholism, philistinism, homophobia and conformity. The Bruces, you might recall, were all members of the Philosophy Department at the University of Wooloomooloo. They were all named ‘Bruce’ because it made things easier so they could get on with ‘cracking tubes’.
But did we Aussies go all sooky and sulky over this insult to our national character? No we did not. We chuckled good-naturedly as we conceded to one another that the Poms made the best comedy.
Having mocked the very idea that Australians could do philosophy, the Pythons went on to ridicule Australian winemaking, inventing vintages such as Black Stump Bordeaux and Chateau Chunder (‘a fine wine that really opens up the sluices at both ends’). Did we take offense? Not us. We laughed ourselves silly again until it became clear that the laugh was on them when our wines turned out to be so good!
Notice the resemblance between that mocking Monty Python ditty and the Australian cricketers’ victory song:
Under the southern cross I stand
A sprig of wattle in my hand
A native of my native land
Australia – you [little] beauty.
(In performance, that ‘little’ is replaced by an earthier adjective that starts with ‘f’.)
They are virtually interchangeable, although one was composed as a dig at us by English satirists and the other as a dig by one of our own – Aussie wicketkeeper Rod Marsh, most likely.
That’s one thing I love about Australia, apart from our wines – our readiness to laugh at ourselves.
It’s the kind of larrikin humour that shows up in those traditional Australia Day ads featuring ‘Lambassador’ Sam Kekovich. This year’s one is a corker, extracting laughs from state rivalry, border closures and lockdowns, finishing with people of all colours and ethnicities coming together for the ritual unifying feast of the barbie. Everyone’s there. The Sandgropers have got there by digging a tunnel (WA = miners. Geddit?) The Tasmanians have swum over. The only one not present is Scomo, shown in a Hawaiian shirt at the door of his just-landed aeroplane and asking ‘What did I miss?’
That’s another thing to love about Australia – we can have a dig at our political leaders and not get thrown in prison or otherwise tormented for it.
I love the spontaneity of a culture that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Being slow on the uptake, I’ve only just discovered the beer snake. It’s what you get when lots of people at big sporting events like the cricket put their empty plastic cups together to create a flexible plastic snake.
It started with the glass ban and has to be an Aussie invention, right? But according to Wikipedia ‘The first recorded beer snake occurred on June 24, 1969, at Wrigley Field Chicago …. This predates, by nearly three decades, the previously documented earliest beer snake in January 1997 at the WACA Cricket Ground in Perth, Australia.’
What a disappointment! But I found comfort in another online report that said Australia was the leader in beer snake technology. How so? Apparently we set the world record with a 100m beeraconda at the SCG in 2013 during a rain-affected game between Australia and Sri Lanka. Aha! THAT’s why we would always beat the yanks with their short indoor games.
Except that now, beer snakes have been banned, along with skolling, at cricket matches. Why this un-Australian fun ban? It’s that old catch-all, public safety. I suppose if you drank midstrength beer fast enough, which you have to do before the beer gets even warmer, you could become drunk and dangerous, even with those flimsy cups.
At least our beer snake record is unlikely to be broken. Now there’s something else to love.
This was first published in the New Norfolk News and Derwent Valley Gazette January 28th, 2022.