I love my adopted home country/continent more than I can say. It offers challenges and spectacles; it goes from mind-numbingly dry to mortally wet in the space of a day or two (as it just has, in 2021); and it never, ever presents you with what you might expect. Well, except that it does: it presents you, predictably, with occasionally totally unpredictable events like fires and floods. But keep in mind, this is the world’s flattest and least tectonically active continent. Even Antarctica has more volcanoes than we do.
Earthquakes? Twenty-two years ago, as I write this, we had an earthquake in Newcastle, north of Sydney. Twenty-two people died, one from shock. This is pretty much our earthquake history. We do have natural disasters like floods and fires, and they are serious enough. But it has been some time since any volcanic eruptions; they were between 5850 and 2900 BCE down in Mount Gambier, on the southern coast. There is nothing even remotely like the St Andreas Fault, or the volcanic parts of New Zealand just across the Tasman Sea.
When you are on tour with your bike and your mates in Australia, it pays you to think, whenever it rains, ‘will I be able to get back home through this?’ If you are in Outback Queensland, the answer is possibly ‘no’. That is not really fair. If you have a sealed road between you and home, you will probably be able to get home. If it is a track over the black soil of the endless Channel Country, not so much.
When the horizon lights up with an uncanny brightness, Australians don’t think “ah, the Rapture”; they think bloody hell, another bushfire. My sister-in-law, who was an incident controller with the National Parks Service, once had to close the main highway leading into Sydney from the north for three days, forcing literally thousands of people to set up temporary camps in sports ovals. At least they were alive.
That’s all pretty exciting, but there are things Australia misses. Elevation, for one. The highest peak in Australasia isn’t even in Australia, it’s in Papua New Guinea. Get to a thousand metres altitude and you’re pretty high in Oz. History is another. It’s all very well to point to Aboriginal Australia’s sixty-thousand-year existence, but it is not something you can go and see. And non-Aboriginal history is just kind of short, shorter than even that of the US. Why, then, should anyone bother to come to Australia?
Australia missed out on two chances to become a very different place. The first was its opportunity to become French. A small French fleet led by a chap called La Perouse arrived shortly after Captain Phillip with his load of convicts. Sacre bleu! We might have been French! I suspect that even if we were, none of us would be eating the legs of Queensland’s imported cane toads.
And back when the first federation conference was held, New Zealand made an appearance and seemed to suggest that it was not entirely uninterested in becoming part of the land of Oz. But the party intended to join the second federation conference apparently missed the boat in Wellington, and so never the twain did meet and federate.
This is the thing, though. It is hard to get the idea across because Australia is so different from anywhere in the northern hemisphere. But when you catch it the right way at the right time, it is one of the most staggeringly beautiful places on Earth. Yes, it is old. Yes, it is flat. But there is another way of looking at that. It is venerable. It is majestic. It is… oops, just missed that pademelon, not a fruit but a small kind of kangaroo.
Australia is summed up beautifully by Dorothy Mackellar in ‘My Country’, a poem that has become a national treasure, where she writes of “The sapphire-misted mountains, The hot gold hush of noon,” and praises “Her beauty and her terror.” This is not an easy country to get to know, but it will repay you manyfold if you take the trouble to try.
I’ll leave you with the words of a contemporary poet, Barry Humphries. “Australia. / Land of the waratah and dahlia. / If you go to jail, I’ll bail ya. / Australia.”
Both poems sum up the Land of Oz. Confused? Join the club. Australians know that they love their country. Visitors are not always so sure. Craig Vetter told me that he visited Australia with the thought that he might move here, but decided that it was too much of a nanny state.
If the above leaves you champing at the bit to check out the land of Oz, make sure you get hold of a copy of ADVrider’s next edition of the magazine. It contains a complete motorcycle touring guide to our continent/country, which will tell you how to do it – and reassure you that it is nowhere near as dangerous as it’s made out to be. Just stay away from the salties.
Salties? Get the magazine.