Australia :: June 1994 - March 1995

Subject: A day in Brisbane.
Date: August 24, 1994 21:11

15:16 Brisbane, Queensland :: 12 AUG 94

The flag flies at half-mast today. Whether someone died or it's a day of mourning for some Australian historical tragedy, I don't know. Sometimes I wonder whether flags shouldn't fly at half-mast every day, given the ongoing tragedies in Rwanda, Timor, Cambodia and under the bridges of Brisbane, or Vancouver.

A bedraggled and unwashed bipedal koala solicits donations to save the endangered fuzzball. The large bucket that once held 10 gallons of Thousand Island dressing, seems a supreme effort of optimism. The donations trickle in. I don't recall flags flying low for the latest extinction; they would do so daily if such ever became the custom.

Why should the death of a fallen President receive more note than the fate of the condor or the tiger or the green turtle or some unclassified insect?

Between festival events, I observe the city and its people. Fashion, mannerisms, speech patterns. Something so simple as the Australian pronunciation of the word "no" challenges me as I unsuccessfully form again and again the impossible roll of phonemes following the initial 'n.' Not being a linguist, I'm not certain I can describe the pronunciation of it. I obviously can't reproduce it with any consistency. Certainly, there appears to be no long 'o' sound at all. Instead it begins something like "naaah" but rolls quickly into a sort of "eewww" as in "cue." The difficulty in reproducing that sound is that the roll occurs subtly and over a finite but brief period of time. In that time all kinds of delightful vowels intercede.

Every accent seems to contain its giveaway. A New Yorker says "Caawwfee" when ordering java. The quintessential Canadian ends statements with "eh?" The dead giveaway of an Australian is "naaeww." Of course, when you point this out to a local they'll deny it and in so doing prove the point: "naaeeww I don...hmm, guess I duuheww."

The skipping koala returns and playfully swings the near-empty bucket. Few will donate paper notes, the smallest denomination here being $5. There will be no pennies in the bucket either as none have been minted this year. Coins come as 5¢, 10¢, 20¢, 50¢, $1 and $2. I'm often amazed to pull from my pocket $10 or more in change. The little old ladies' coin purse might contain a small fortune here, but she might not be able to carry it. The coins, particularly the 50¢ and 20¢ pieces, are large and heavy.

Patrick. -- Responses Sought --