Australia :: June 1994 - March 1995

Subject: No place like home, except New South Wales.
Date: July 4, 1994 07:47

22:07 Blackheath, Australia :: 2 JUL 94

First a couple pieces of business:

Alot of people have been asking permission to forward these entries on to others. Please feel free to do so. I only ask that you please include my name and internet address on any entries or excerpts you forward. That way people down the forward chain can respond to me if they wish.

If you want somebody added to the distribution list, just mail Gayla Boritz [] who's acting as my distribution node so I only have to pay CompuServe for the one copy I transmit to her, not the dozen or so that actually get distributed. If you're shy about going to Gayla directly, just ask me and I'll forward the addition to her (name and address withheld by request.)

A few people have asked me to send 'eMail Postcards.' It's a great idea but difficult in execution for several reasons. First, though my 486/33 Toshiba T3400 notebook's a pretty gutsy little box, it ain't MPC (Microsoft's "Multimedia PC" standard) and there just ain't no way to capture images/sound/video to my hard disk, except to go out to a service bureau and use their scanner or video capture system and then transfer it to the Toshiba via floppy disk. I'm certainly not going to add another piece of portable electronic equipment to an already overweight travel pack.

This difficulty is compounded by the fact that while my camcorder records in the NTSC video signal format (the format in which all North American television is broadcast) most of the places I'll be visiting use either PAL or SECAM. In fact, very few countries use NTSC. I think only US, Canada, Mexico and Japan, off the top of my head. (Don't bother correcting me, I don't really need to know.)

These video signal formats are mutually exclusive except on specialty hardware (read: expensive to access). Even after getting images and sounds into the notebook, there's still the transmission expense for al that data. I might go through all this once or twice for kicks-just to say I did it-but don't expect it to happen often cause it's too much hassle and bucks. The technology just ain't there yet.

Back to it.

I've been complaining that there just aren't any infobahn connections available in the cheaper motels/hotels in Australia. If that ain't already enough headache, the other connection in short supply is "power points," which is Australian for electrical outlet.

We're staying tonight in an "environmentally conscious" B&B. Built within the last year, its units provide excellent use of space, water and minimize the environmental impact of both buildings themselves and the guests use of them. However, the bloody units are electronically indifferent and have only 5 power sockets: the two bathrooms (divided among four bedrooms, capable of sleeping at least 4 each, and a loft with 2 single beds) have one socket each for appliances; the communal living area has three with one committed to the heater (brrr, it was cold in here, 10 degrees C, and the heater's working overtime to try to catch up) another to the water kettle, and the third thankfully available but not particularly convenient. The bedrooms are not powered at all.

Every place we've stayed provided barely adequate numbers of outlets.

Often you've got to make a decision between heating water, charging up batteries, or watching television (World Cup '94 games are broadcast here without commercials). A tip for the electricly zealous: bring a small electrical break-out connector using the socket format of your home country. Bring also one socket adaptor for each type of socket you're going to encounter on your trip. This way one adaptor will allow you to connect all your chargers and power supplies to electrical power at one time. Not only does this save on the number of adaptors you need to carry, but it can also stretch the rather thin supply of power outlets many accommodation purveyors provide.

A second thought. You can buy socket adaptor kits containing all the most popular formats. If you can find one with good quality adaptors, buy it. When in Malaysia I discovered that apparently the socket adaptor standard has recently changed and the adaptor I purchased for that country fits a dwindling number of sockets. The new outlet standard is different than any of the adaptors I've got.

It's very hard to find adaptors in foreign countries to convert their sockets to your jacks.

It's about time I got to the matter implied by the subject of this message: Rain. I've been in Australia for 10 days now and precipitation fell on every one of the last 5 of them. On a couple of days we've been pummeled. I've paid $15 for a Sydney harbour cruise, reduced from $22 due to incessant rain. I've used countless sheets of lens paper wiping splatters and droplets from the camcorder lens. My new Akubra hat (Snowy River edition) spends much of its time on my head shedding precipitation rather than in a box on its way back home to Whistler, BC for safe keeping. Tourist maps promise wide vistas where only low clouds loom. In short I have somehow managed to immerse myself in a Vancouver winter after having just escaped one.

Mind you, weather and landscape sometimes need each other. After all, what is a rain forest without rain? Such was the case with Wentworth Falls in the Blue Mountains, a deep sandstone chasm rich and ripe with clinging vegetation. A musty mist rose out of furrow and gum forest up the stacks of striated sandstone to be engulfed by impenetrable, bruised and sullen storm clouds. The falls fell in a trickle rather than a rush while the atmosphere itself was wet, thick with droplets; sky relinquished it's hoard more willingly than river. The brooding, primal result owed much to flora and geology but the punctuation was entirely meteorological.

The overlooks on Pacific surf are as spectacular, and as evocative.

On such days it is easy to imagine how the primordial soup stirred as waves pummeled rock and sand under a toxic sky. Today, sea-spray plumes rise from beach and precipice to disperse in the already sodden atmosphere. Against the combined onslaughts levelled by wind and water, low scraggy brush cling fast to stone and dune, braced for the next charge. They buck and shudder but tenacious roots hold.

And the salt-wind rips at the coat drawn tight and clasped to your throat while the fabric ripples like a flag drawn taut. But if you can thrust your face out into it, letting the wind-driven rain stream over brow and cheek, nothing can make you feel more alive, more a part of it all, a fleeting, insignificant, necessary and sufficient part of the whole damn thing.

This is why sitting behind a desk sucks. This is the part of us lost in the rush for a better life. Somewhere along the road we forgot the point.

Sea, air, rain, consciousness: these things are real. Love, hate, fear, pain: these things individuals experience. Money, rights, virtue, evil: these things are constructed. We've got to get that list of truths straight. The existence of the first set preceded observation, the existence of the second set coincides with it and the existence of the third set requires it. By observation I mean the faculty to perceive and categorize. That is what we do. We are gifted with the faculties to study the first set but not change them.

We directly experience the second set but can only empathize others' experience and even the individual can manipulate their deepest emotions only by degree. But the third set is wholly social construction and as such it is entirely malleable. Finally, we are each and all responsible for the grand design.

8:21 Blackheath, Australia :: 3 JUL 94


17:13 Singleton, Australia :: 3 JUL 94


Finally, a motel room with a phone. Even better than that, there are RJ11 and Australia Telecom sockets and jacks with which the computer can be connected. And I can charge the computer, video batteries, boil water and watch telie all at the same time.

I think I'll connect up right now and transmit mail, just 'cause I can.

18:10 Singleton, Australia :: 3 JUL 94

No, I can't.

Once again, just 'cause you can plug the jack into the wall doesn't mean you can actually communicate. Seems the motel's phone system doesn't talk standard dialing tones. <sigh> This is more often a problem than one might think. I've so far encountered two telephone systems that utilized proprietary equipment and protocols. Very bad for ubiquity-remember that term you Microsoft people??? Kind of hard to have an infobahn if the street signs are in the wrong language, eh? Where do I get off?

Well, at least the sunshine held out. Spent the day making the grand circle tour around the Blue Mountain National Park. We're nearly as close to Sydney tonight in Singleton as last night in Blackheath.

Many scenic vistas and a couple short hikes, one exceeding an hour walking along the edge a 500 meter precipice. Just wait til you see the video next winter.

Later, the road climbed up into the hills, gaining a hgh plateau reminiscent of BC's interior plateau between Merrit and Kamloops.

Both support much ranch land and lush forests. One would expect differences though, and many can be found. The main difference lies mainly in the trees which are gum here but conifer in BC. Also, a "kangaroo crossing" sign would be amiss along the Coquihalla. Oh, and very few, very short stretches of Australian Highway can match the Coquihalla for engineering, capacity and safety. It's kind of neat seeing signs warning you to slow to 95km/h for an upcoming curve on a roadway about as safe as highway 99.

22:40 Armidale, Australia :: 4 JUL 94

OK all you Americans and expatriot Canadians, today's your day. I think the expatriots among you might be surprised at just how big a deal Americans make of Independence Day. Quite the party, and such a lot of stars and bars. To commemorate the occassion, here're a few excerpts taken from a couple articles appearing in The Weekend Australian newspaper printed for July 2 & 3, 1994. The first article was printed as a preamble for the second.


by Luke Slattery, Editor

"America," said Freud, "is a mistake. A gigantic mistake." This might seem churlish for a man whose enormous impact on the American psyche has only now begun to fade, alongside Woody Allen's brand of self-obsessed Manhattan irony. But what if Freud were right? What would it mean for Australia-hooked on pop, rock, and now rap, fast food and freeways, the suburban block, and that endless chain of sitcoms from Mary Tyler Moore to Roseanne?

How American have we become in an age when every second 16-year-old sports a Chicago Bulls cap with its bill turned backwards, Nike pumps, a US college sweatshirt and a street cred home boy haircut?

When we look at American society today, to what extent are we looking at ourselves in a decade's time?

Having cast adrift from Europe, our most alluing social model is in many ways North America. In time, with the move towards a republic, we may find a model in the American Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

...As a university student in the early 1980s I as emphatically anti-American, a legacy of the Vietnam war glimpsed dimly on TV screens as a child. Then there was El Salvador, Guatemala and the ignoble trail of US foreign policy in the Third World. I had to actually cross the Pacific to see something of the other America, an America that included sunny afternoons in Central Park, great newspapers and journals, powerful writers, a strong tradition of oppositional politics. And American food: bagels and lox, Tex Mex, Cajun, Cuban and Californian.

Ironically, for a nation saturated in American popular culture, we receive little of America's high culture. Our academics, their eyes turned towards the distant spires of Oxbridge [sic], tend to neglect the American tradition of the public intellectual. Our book culture, too, is largely British. How many Australians realise that in America they do books better than the Brits?

But then, as I am reminded by the editions cver story, this represents only a slice of America. There is also the America of racial violence, urban decay, stunning ignorance, intolerance and plain old bad taste.

America, as any travelogue will tell you, is a land of extremes.

America is the oratory of Martin Luther King, but America is the madness of Charles Manson. America is the Chrysler building, a shining example of an industrial object that is both beautiful and purposeful. But America is aso the Bronx, a suburb that once housed Manhattan's middle class Jewry in a mood of joyous optimism, and is now a no-go zone. America is the best, but also the worst, of this century.

As the century draws to a close, and as Australia looks to recast its identity as a vigorous multicultural society, more energetic than the British, more relaxed than much Asia, we would do well to look at what has gone right, and what has gone wrong in America.


The lessons for Australia in the crumbling of America

...Despite having a quarter of a billion peple, [America] is commited to allowing such a defenceless group [as the Amish] to continue their traditions with full protction, at law and in fact, enabling them to withdraw their children from the schooling system at 11 years of age in accordance with their beliefs.

If that was [is the] soul of America, a few months later I looked at one of its demons-as Hollywood Boulevard burned in Los Angeles, black youths set upon Koreans while Koreans shot defenceless blacks.

The nation's second largest city brned because of bigotry-and will surely burn again.

America is a daily contradiction. One can be seduced by its uniqueness and diversity one day and be appalled by the ugliness simmering below the surface the next.

The United States will enter the next century fraying badly, with race relations the worst they have been since the civil rights riots of the 1960s. It has an economy encouraging two Americas, where the gap between rich and poor-or more commonly white and black-is widening.

After living in this country for three years, I continue to be staggered at its racism and violence. The threat of violence is everywhere-the streets, the schools, the office buildings.

Clinton's America is confronting three long-term ailments which, if not resolved, will inflict great harm upon it by unleashing more racial violence. There is an economy not sufficiently designed to compete with the tigers of Asia and South America; endemic racism which is being given more vent as the economic security of middle-class whites becomes more precarious; and increasing segregation through "white flight" to the suburbs, leaving the cities to minorities who are starved of resources. Washington is as segregated s Johannesburg; the only difference is this is economic rather than legal apartheid.

...The superintendant in my building seems a gntle man in his 70s, but recently explained that he and his wife leave Washington freqeuntly "to get away from the blacks". Lyndon Johnson could change laws but could not change hearts.

Henry Louis Gates daily suffers he black man's burden. Although one of America's leading intellectuals, he finds it difficult to convince a taxi in Manhattan to stop for him; when he stands at the door of a jewellery store on New ork's Upper East side, he cannot convince the store owner to buzz him through the door...

Black males between 18 and 25 in the US are twice as likely to be in a prison as a university.... As whites flee to the suburbs and take their money with them, cities are left without tax bases. One such blighted zone is south-east Washington, which has the highest murder rate in the world. Only 4km from the White House, Anacostia has only one supermarket for the 70,000 people. But it has dozens of liquor shops.

In Washington there are now 100 police whose entire job is to patrol schools seching for guns. Schools in many cities now spend 10 percent of their budgets on metal detectors and guards. An estimated 100,000 guns enter public schools each day.

If you place a dot on housing projects in large cities, most crime is within 2km. Central to the decline of America is the crushing weight of crime. Crime is now the dominant issue in America...

Every major American city is torn by violence, a spiral fed by America's failed war on drugs and its insistence, as a legacy of a Constitution drawn up when Uzis and AK-47s were unknown, that all citizens should have the right to bear guns. There are an estimated 200 million hand guns in the US [nearly one per inhabitant-pmj].

...In New York, the new gun of choice is the Israeli-made Desert Eagle, popular because if it hits somebody in the arm it will also blow of their shoulder.

A restaurant in Brooklyn urgesits customers not to flash car headlights when driving home if they see another car with its lights off-one gang has as its initiation the requirement that they drive around with their headlights off then shoot at the first car that flashes....

Crime grows from poverty. In Virginia, every 74 minuts an infant is born too small to be healthy. Every four days a child is murdered. Every two hours a child is born to a mother who received late or no prenatal care. Every 36 minutes a child is abused or neglected. If these children reach adulthood, they are unlikely to respect the system. Many of them have grown up in a violent household-a violent society seems natural.

Me again. It's getting late and I'm sharing this hotel room with my sister, who's decided to go to bed. Perhaps I'll excerpt some more later but for now this should provide enough incentive to those in America to consider on this day not only what the country promised to be, but also to take a good long introspective appraisal of what it has become. I have several times been told the USA is "the greatest and happiest nation on Earth." That same great happy place generated the highest infant mortality rate in the G7 nations and has spent years and billions of dollars propping up military dictators who it would later denounce as drug lords or mad men before taking military action against them and the people of their country. These do not seem to me traits of a great and happy people.

America is at the center of the world's attention now more than ever. Increasingly, the observers like less and less what they see: a country poised for self-destruction. Already these other countries are moving to make sure they're not on the ship when it sinks. Those who believe the myth of the great and happy nation would be wise to get a second opinion. July 4th, 1994 is as good a day as any.

I'll end this edition with some quotes I found in the newspaper section containing the two articles above.

Patrick. -- Responses Sought --


There, I guess King George will be able to read that.

  graphical element John Hancock,
first signatory of the American Declaration of Independence, 1776

Sometimes people call me an idealist. Well, that is the way I know I am an American. America is the only idealistic nation in the world.

  graphical element Woodrow Wilson,
US President, 1920


There is nothing the matter with Americans except their ideals.

  graphical element G.K. Chesterton, 1874-1936


McCarthyism is Americanism with its sleeves rolled.

  graphical element Joseph McCarthy,
US senator, 1952


America is a political reading of the bible.

  graphical element Richard Nixon,
when vice-president


America is a large friendly dog in a very small room. Every time it wags its tail it knocks over a chair.

  graphical element
Arnold Toynbee,
English historian, 1954


To see freedom sent round the world, this is our mission. It was God's charge to us.

  graphical element Senator Barry Goldwater, 1964


That's a part of American greatness, is discrimination. Yes sir. Inequality, I think, breeds freedom and gives a man opportunity.

  graphical element Lester Maddox,
governor of Georgia, 1966


If it takes a bloodbath, let's get it over with. No more appeasement.

  graphical element Ronald Reagan,
governor of California,
calling for a final solution to dealing with student activists, 1970


The happy ending is our national belief.

  graphical element Mary McCarthy,
"On the Contrary", 1961