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It was getting a bit chilly down in the South, so I have come to Cairns in "Tropical North Queensland - Where The Rainforest Meets The Reef". Actually getting here was a bit touch-and-go thanks to Qantas, but more of that later. First a few words about Melbourne where I spent a few days before and after Tasmania.
Melbourne seems to be a nice city - It looks like a good place to live. You get a good impression straight way because it has trams running up and down the streets - not just a few token modern things, but a proper network, so it is really quick and easy to get around. Here is a view of the city seen from the Botanic Gardens:
Can you name a famous Melbournian? No? Well how about these two:
Robert O'Hara Burke and William John Wills, first Europeans to cross Australia from South to North (though they never actually got to the North Coast as they got stuck in the Mangrove forests, but people don't seem to worry about that). There was an excellent Radio 4 serialisation of a book called "The Dig Tree" about their tragic and somewhat commic "exploring expedition", but this was the only mention of them that I found in their home city.
I was really lucky to arrive during the Comedy Festival, and went to see several shows. I understand that "Men In Coats" have been on the telly in Britain so some of you may have seen them. Then there were a few Ozzie commedians including one lefty whose show was called "The Axis of Stupidity" and poked fun at Bush and his sidekicks, Blair and hoWARd. But I think my favourite was a guy called Dave Gorman (http://www.davegorman.com) who's last show was all about travelling the world finding other people also called Dave Gorman. This show, "Dave Gorman's Googlewhack Adventure", is the story of a trip driven by weird internet coincidences and featuring a range of odd people he met along the way. Well worth seeing if he comes your way.
Melbourne's huge and shiney new museum was a nice bit of architecture but somewhat content-free. I was hoping to learn something about aborigines, but the section of the museum dedicated to them featured artifacts such as a hearse that was bought by an aboriginal charity group in the 60s so that bodies could be returned to their tribal lands. It could have done with more facts and less "sexual health of aborigine teenagers told in their own words".
On the other hand the Melbourne Aquarium was excellent. It has seven times as much water as an olympic swimming pool, and perspex windows about 20cm thick in places. Very impressive, and it has inspired me to do some more coral reef snorkelling now I am up in Cairns.
So now the story of my flight. I had changed the date and time of my flight over the phone - something that I've done several times before. So when I got to the check-in counter I handed over my ticket and said "I've changed it over the phone, I'm now booked on the 7:30 flight to Cairns". But according to the Qantas person, there was no flight to Cairns at 7:30. Eeek! Could I have mis-heard what I'd been told on the phone? Potential expensive mistake alert! Anyway, I was sent to another desk where they ummed and erred for a while and then ("generously") booked me onto another flight to Brisbane and then a connecting flight to Cairns. So I got here in the end. But what had gone wrong? Well when I checked it out I was right, I was booked on a flight at 7:30 from Melbourne to Cairns. But after a bit more investigation I found that this flight continued after Cairns to Tokyo. So it was an international flight and left from Melbourne's international terminal. And, incredibly, the Qantas staff at the domestic check-in desks didn't know that this flight existed! "Null Points" for Qantas in Melbourne I'm afraid.
Australia seems to be a very interesting country - certainly there are lots of things to see and do. But I'm coming to the conclusion that the Australians themselves are not the world's greatest people.
Of course most of the people that I've met have been perfectly pleasant, but I've now met enough unpleasant ones to make me write this. Yesterday I was in a shop buying a map and met a man who had been born in England but had emmigrated many years ago. He proceeded to tell me that Enoch Powell should have been made Prime Minister. Then he went on to explain that he had lived in South Africa, and he thought that "all the decent people from Britain should have been brought over [to South Africa], and all the Africans sent to Britain, and then they should have bombed the place." And this is certainly not the first time that I've encountered readily expressed genocidally-racist views here (and in New Zealand).
In this man's case the fact that he had come to Australia from South Africa explained it. It seems that many of the whites who don't like living in post-apartied South Africa are emmigrating, and unlike people from places like Iraq and Afghanistan who are confined to detention camps in the desert or sent to isolated islands in the pacific, these whites, despite their criminally intolerant views, are let in. But these aren't the only people with these views.
Did you know that Australia didn't make its aboriginies citizens until 1967? Incredible isn't it. When I was in latin america I spent a lot of time thinking about the fate of the native people during the European conquest, and the subsequent effect on the countries. But it seems that the fate of the native people in Australia, at least two hundred years later, was at least as unhappy. Whole tribes were wiped out by strichnine poisoning - this in the 1800s when, for example, slavery had been prohibited throughout the British Empire.
I have been in the country for about three weeks now, and only today did I see someone who looked to be of aborigine descent. I don't think there are many places that I'd less like to be born than in Australia as an aborigine.
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