I can still remember the fragrance of gardenia blossoms in a resort garden I’d always stop and smell, en route to the ocean – redolent, nostalgic, decadent…and was welcomed to Australia by the sight of verdant Jacarandas, indigo harbingers of the onset of summer there and a welcome reminder of home.  The McDonald’s had excellent latte’s and a lovely patio, overlooking the ocean, beginning my day there after a walk on the beach became a pleasant early morning ritual…

Bob, my props man, a consummate professional, was physically a dead ringer for Harry in 3rd Rock From the Sun… and possessed of a dry wit as were many of the crew…the general level of humor, while crew-coarse, was like a Masterpiece Theater production of a crew passing time – accents, wit, erudition.  Discovered early on,  how wrong were my instincts…boarding a bus to go to Sydney’s domestic terminal, rather spaced after 22 hours of travel, I crossed the front and approached the side door…only to find a solid wall…Aussies board from the left side…Another passenger stood beside me, another American, naturally…we smiled sheepishly at each other and returned to the far side to travel on. I was constantly pulled back from streets the first few days.  I always looked left…unfortunately, cars in Australia approach from the RIGHT (cars are right hand drive, and drive on the left side).  Had quite a few close calls…and always amused my drivers by approaching their door when preparing to enter cars.  By the weekend, having decided to rent a car and drive to Hope Island Golf Resort (cabs would cost more than $60 and I’d be at their mercy), I priced at several lots my choices….”$29 a day” soon became $50…It was a one day rental… and since I had to deal with driving on the left, a steering wheel on the right, finding my way on the map, I decided to lighten my load by not requiring myself to shift left handed.  I got the automatic…did pretty good, too, but each time I tried the turn signal, my windshield got cleaned (turn signals on the right).  Paid REAL close attention as I drove and had major stress at ’roundabouts’, their way of resolving intersections…all in all, a worthwhile adventure, tho I wouldn’t like to try it tired, at night…

Aussies have several unique expressions and customs…It’s hard to expect culture shock when the language sounds vaguely familiar, tho in truth, Australian English is a remarkably unattractive sound tonally, a bizarre mixture of familiar cultured British inflections and distorted diphthongs….incredibly irritating from TV and radio announcers…and even the strikingly beautiful women which abound there begin to sound like Eliza Doolittle, tortured vowels diminishing their considerable charms.  Upon entering the country, reading the many signs warning of customs violations and the resultant penalties, I approached a guard with a packet of  cookies brought from an earlier airport lounge and asked if they were OK….He said, “They’re foy-een”  (I heard ‘foreign’) and said, “I know, but are they ok?”  He said, again, “They’re foy-een”…(I told myself, walk away, Tucker, you’re very tired, don’t push your luck). Several steps away, my brain did the translation and I understood ‘fine’…Should have screened “Breaker Morant” for preparation…

‘No worries’ handles all contingencies and means no sweat or you’re welcome or I could care less….”Thank you, Mr. Smallwood”, on set, at least, does not acknowledge a job well done, but means “we’d like you, on camera, like, right now, Tucker”…. Ordering an entree means you go to bed hungry, for entrees there are appetizers, the real plate is called a main dish…Australians carry cellular phones as we do beepers, here…EVERYONE has one, even poorly paid extras on set…It’s bizarre to see kids making perhaps $30 pulling out their state of the art phones and chatting away during breaks…Had the occasion to call someone from my suite one evening, she’d left a message with  her cellular number…Chatted for perhaps 20 minutes, she was mere miles away…When checking out of the hotel, I received a bill for $38 for that chat !!!  Seems in Australia, the caller pays for the cellular bill…She might have mentioned that, don’t you think?

The news and radio talk shows were full of discussions of Pauline Hanson, I believe is her name, a conservative politician whose agenda is removing government assistance from minorities such as the Aboriginal people and immigrant Asians and cutting off the flow of immigration from the Pacific Rim.  Australia for Australians…(White Australians.)  She seems to have found  fertile ground, voicing opinions held by many other white Australians, resentful of government subsidies and welfare support…Sound familiar?  Their Asian trading partners are incensed by what they consider racist attitudes. The issues, well stated by many seem to be that bias cannot be prevented, but the overt expression of those biases and prejudices is becoming more and more socially acceptable, and this IS preventable.  Aboriginal students tell of being seated in groups, and punishment for misbehaving white students consisting of being seated among them.  Teachers are tasked with chairing discussions about sensitivity, but are often unaware of their own inherent prejudices.  In truth, their middle class IS burdened by taxes, interest rates and preferences.  Yet the Aboriginal people live on average 20 years less than their white counterparts and have the worst standard of living for citizens of any 1st world nation.  Voting there is COMPULSORY, you are fined if you fail to vote.  There are no fixed home loans, only for a year or two, then they become variable, leading to the largest percentage of home OWNERS anywhere, people pay off their loans ASAP.  Cars and other ‘luxury’ import items are heavily taxed, 50%, which means a Plymouth Neon sells for “only $26,000” Australian dollars (about $20,000 US)…All this to protect their own industries, but their own cars cost $30,000 or more… I heard a kookaburra as I sat near a river, filming…I met with dolphins for the first time, fascinated by their sentience and power and grace and savagery.  The jellyfish were unlike any seen before, volleyball -sized globes of transparent blue and gray and clear…and smaller clear ones, resembling silicone implants (clearly a cottage industry, at least along the Gold Coast, though they appear to be a remarkably statuesque race of women, without need of augmentation.)  Sadly I saw so little of a land so filled with exotic (to me) flora and fauna…I arose early one clear morning at 2:30 and went to the beach to view the Southern Cross for the first time!  It was a thrill and as I stood there, as if to mark the occasion, a meteor streaked across the clear night sky…and I made a wish.


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