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by Cathy Maisano| Sydney, Australia
Saturday, 21 January 2012
tags: australasia, culture, making sense, network, semiotics
Heads Up Down Under
Where are you?
Since mid-August 2011, along with my husband and our two young chuldren, I've been back from UK in Australia and living in Sydney. Currently we are in Palm Beach, at the tip of the Pittwater Peninsula, approximately 40kms from the CBD (central business district). Renowned for being the rich and famous’ holiday home paradise, at the northern end of the surfing mecca strip that runs all the way down to Manly (40 mins south on the L90 express bus) and the filming location of TV soap ‘Home and Away’ – us Maisanos arrived all white-skinned, smelling of SPF 500 and sought out a reasonably-priced beachside cottage to rent that we remain captive in between the harsh sunlight hours of ten til four daily, enjoying Tin Tin on PS3. So we are not exactly rubbing shoulders with the celebs yet.
With the commencement of the property decline twelve months ago, many Aussies are frantically trying to free up second homes. Neighbouring properties are plastered with large ‘for sale’ boards and according to estate agent reports, are undergoing massive price reductions. For us though, the price tags still beggar belief and we soon feel as fish out of water and a long way from Hastings, East Sussex (our UK home).
Our first four months were spent just south, near Avalon. It’s different again. ‘Posh hippie’ best describes it. Educated, international, married to the surf and sand over 55 set with teenagers looking like the offspring of Hawaii’s watermen. Intermingled with it, is the ‘Tradie Elite’ – the tradespeople who have cashed in on a decade of renovating homes all over Sydney. Once these two types wouldn’t have lived within a five minute 4×4 drive of each other, but they mingle well and with many people barefoot and/or wearing white floaty kaftans or sleeve tattoos on golden bronzed skin they look alike too.
So why the return to Australia?
There’s nothing like an ageing mum’s illness to call you home for one. The want for our children to experience being ‘little Aussies’ and for us to reconnect with our homeland after ten and a half years living in the south of England.
What have you been doing so far?
I would like to see as much of eastern Australia as possible in twelve months. Whilst yet to step back into paid work in semiotics and ethnography, the home schooling of life in Australia has begun. Travels thus far include Brisbane, Queensland’s Gold Coast, Canberra (the Nation’s Capital) and the New South Wales Central Coast. Yet to return to Melbourne, our home city, but feel that we will save the best for last! Tasmania is an absolute must too.
From your semiotic & ethnographic perspectives what are the immediate changes and continuities that strike you after a number of years away?
· Lessened tolerance of others (‘she’ll be right mate’, ‘give everyone a fair go’ not as much as one might think – blatant racial and gender discrimination may reside within conversation; Australia has lowest employment rate among western world for employing people with disabilities; no solution for Asylum Seekers)
· Strengthening of Aussie Dollar has evoked some newfound arrogance: some think the bubble won’t burst, others are less confident. (Beginning to tuck in on the spending. Retail downturn now evident. Brands feeling the hit now – eg. Surfwear giant Billabong stock plunged 44%)
· The mining sector regarded as the ‘liferaft’ for nation’s economy (but poses serious risk for pristine environments where soil is described as so pure, ‘you could eat it.’)
· Traffic congestion increase (families now with average 2 to 3 cars; cargo shifting off the railways and onto the roads) 4×4 is king. Driving is aggressive
· Obesity figures now higher than the US
· Kids Master Chef massive here
· Indigenous culture taught in school beyond mere lip service, to understanding regional tribes and native language
· Skin care clinics and pathology centres line retail high streets
· Doctors’ consultations cost more! Rebates seem less
· Surfboards made in China and sold for half the price of Ripcurl and outrage ‘true blue Aussies’
· Fifteen year drought broke and rains are heavy, often lasting days. Storms are wild. Ligtning blinds. Thunder deafens.
· Glamour set no longer reside in magazines’ ‘social pages’ but party pages, rarely promoting good causes and fundraising
· More obsessed with home renovations and housing prices (irony in that Baz Luhrmann’s film The Great Gatsby has just finished filming here – a story with themes of greed)
· Twitter, Facebook obsessed (feels even more prevalent than in the UK)
· ‘Frugal’ and ‘second-hand’ are not words we hear or see written much in articles
· Seeking out ‘white heritage’ within Australia has developed (eg. Ancestry.com is big; TV series ‘Who’s Been Sleeping in My House?’)
And your lingering impressions?
Warm skin; Passersby smiling; Fresh fruit shops; Divine mangoes sold roadside in boxes of 20 for £10!; Rarely feeling apologetic: ‘No worries’ rules in language; Daily ice-cream; A-grade cafés; Free parking still exists in places; New buildings and sculptures within new cityscapes; Minimal to no black worn by cityworkers; Bush blossom; Frangipani petals and Jacarandah blue petals as ground covering; No colds and flus in January and Selleys BBQ wipes products for cleaning the barbie!