Upon arriving in Australia we were greeted by a driver who was much like whoever has taken us to our first hotel in any country; an opinionated talker. He let loose when he found out that we might have political philosophies that lean toward the right. He harangued the Aussie Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, whose answer to everything in our driver’s mind was to throw money at the problem. Our driver compared him to Barack Obama, describing them as two peas in a pod. He then lambasted the U.S. – a place he had visited many times. He accused us of going wobbly. He said we made a mistake by not making English the national language way back when, and questioned why we had everything in “Mexican” also. Welcome to Australia.
Sydney, the largest city, has become identified worldwide by its Opera House. Since its completion in 1973, you rarely see a visual of Sydney or Australia that does not include the iconic image. We could see it from our hotel window and my wife, an opera fan, squealed like a bobby-soxer upon first glance. It is hard not to be captivated by it. The name is somewhat of a misnomer as it has six venues including a concert hall, Opera Theater, and multiple others. It is much larger in person than one would think.
We mostly like to engage the locals wherever we go like the Italian waiter from Sicily or the housekeeping supervisor from Mauritius, but sometimes we run into fellow Americans. We took a cruise around the Sydney Harbor, the largest in the world. The boat was filled mostly with seniors from Adelaide, but we sat down next to a young couple (20’s) from Illinois. For the next two hours we viewed the beautiful harbor and engaged them in talk. It turns out they were both pilots. She flew for a regional airline and he is an Air Force F-15E pilot. She had surprised him with the trip from their current home base of Raleigh, North Carolina, as he is about to ship out to Afghanistan. The flabbergasting thing was the fighter pilot, someone with some of the highest skills in the world, was fascinated how I could turn out a column every week. He thought that was just such a monumental achievement he wished he also could do.
Australia requires all people over 18 to vote. It is not a right or a privilege, it is a requirement. They seem to be very proud of this system that they instituted in 1924, but it seems a little awkward to me.
I remember the night before the election in 2000. I had been working in St. Louis on the Bush campaign. We were told that Bush was spending his last night before the election in Houston so that is where we went. Since Bush ended up elsewhere, a member of our group who happened to be the promoter of a WWF event got us ringside seats. Vince McMahon gave a speech to encourage people to get out and vote as part of the WWF campaign. I looked around the crowd and was a little suspicious as to their knowledge of what the election was about or if they even knew who was running. I thought it might be better for McMahon to suggest they spend a little time educating themselves about being on this planet before electing the most important person on the planet.
It is hard for me believe that the Aussies do not have plenty of their own space cadets or people happily living in their own little world or people who just don’t like the system. We saw tons of them walking down Brunswick Street in Melbourne. To force them to show up to the polls dishonors the system more than having free elections where people can stay at home.
We were in Melbourne for Mothers’ Day – a grand celebration of family like in the States. The difference is they call it Mum’s Day or Mummy’s Day. I tried to get a good answer what they call those things in the Egyptian tombs, but could not get a straight answer.
For those of you who think the States have gone overboard on some ideas, come to Australia and see the future. The Aussies have raised cigarette taxes so that a pack costs $16(USD) now and they are running commercials that can just turn your stomach about the illnesses caused by smoking. As one who has never smoked I find this whole campaign quite overboard. PM Kevin Rudd is behind the campaign and the tax raise so one wonders if he will lecture Obama on his habit.
But they have their other peccadilloes. They have $180 tickets for parking meter violations. We are not talking moving violation. Then they have their own left-leaning government headed by Kevin Rudd. He feels a need to fiddle with everything to make things “better” for the middle class. So what does he do -- proposes a major tax overhaul. Of course, he proceeds to soak the industry that has kept them from the worldwide slowdown – the mining industry. He wants to suck the wind out that industry by adding billions of dollars in taxes to pay for his social programs. Sound familiar?
As I said, it is an ever shrinking world.