Helmets are a must here in Australia, cycle without one at your own rise, the fine for riding hatless is a few hundred dollars. I assumed that this is to protect ones noggin from being run over by the angry drivers but its not that, cyclists are in fact at risk of scalping. Occasionally I’ve spotted stylish old people with cable ties pultruding from their helmets or a set of googly eyes on the back of a child’s; it turns out the magpies hate cyclists perhaps even more than the drivers. It made me jump out of my skin the first time a black and white blur attempted to claw head before it swooped round for a second mauling attempt. Beware of birds.
When I’m not dodging blood lusting birds one of my chief entertainments has been following the political debacle that is the leading Liberal Party’s internal power struggle. I have been here for approximately a month and in this short time the powers that be have tried to oust the Prime Minister a good three times. On coup number four they have finally succeeded and there is a new man is in charge Scott Morrison, leaving Malcolm Turnbull the former man at the top of the deck to rest on his laurels and enjoy life with a handsome state pension which all PMs (retired) enjoy. Since 2004 the Australian people have not seen a Prime Minister last a full term in office with seven men and women taking their turn to reshuffle the cabinet in Canberra, it’s a real life house of cards. Cynics might say that they are taking turns at getting that pension. Scott Morrison better keep an eye out for his Brutus in the senate if he wishes to stay at the top.
The mood of the people is needless to say a frustrated one; one summed up quite well in a tongue and cheek radio bit done my the station Triple J, their equivalent to Radio One. It went a little something like this:
“I’m Alice and I’m a nurse, its difficult, stressful and I don’t always agree with what my boss tells me but I do what I’m instructed: its my fucking job.”
“I’m John, I’m a teacher, my boss is a dick but I do what he tells me: it’s my fucking job.”
The English language is definitely more colourful here, with liberal usage of swear words (often shouted out the window of a passing car) and profanities often being used openly on the radio.
Unfortunately this isnt the only embarrassment to streak across the political stage this month. Newly appointed Senator Fraser Anning when pushing for a plebiscite on Muslim immigration not only called for a return to the White Australia policy from the early part of last century but had the audacity to use the “final solution.” If anyone is tired reading this and is drawing a blank as to why one should not utter these words on the political stage they were pinched from none other than Hitler. Needless to say this triggered a proverbial shit storm of rebuke from all members of parliament who condemned his words but also public out cry. Australia is world renowned for its strict immigration policies but there is a line.
Friends have expressed concerns over what the rest of the world must think of the turmoil at the top but fortunately for this far flung country we are distracted by Brexit, Europe by any number of problems and America by Mr Trump.
This continent at the bottom of the world has a lot going for it, yes its full of Australians but it ain’t so bad off for it. The life style is delightful, although the likes of Sydney and Brisbane are missing the hustle of London, Paris or New York it has a charm. Beaches, coffee and the out door life style. I’ve never seen so many people in lycra running, cycling or simply walking the likes of the Bondi to Coogee coastal path. I can understand why so many ex-pats settle in for the long haul. When on the road a few weeks ago I met a Brit from Yorkshire, he is married to an Australian and they now have a few kids, his wife grinned and bared it in the wintery depths of Britain for two or three Christmas’s but once they had children the sunny shores of her native Australian beckoned. An Aussie wife means an Aussie life and he now finds himself raising a young family down under and it is the ideal spot for it.
Though it must be said that I’ve been caught off guard by the cold mornings here, a few times I have dreaded crawling out of my tent into the frosty morning air with the temperature being just above zero. It quickly warms up though, even in the weak winter sun. Australians talk about the temperature as much as we Brits discuss the weather over a cup of tea. I have laughed at locals who are rugged up in full winter finery complete with a bobble hat and scarf in a barmy 20 degrees what complete sooks (that’s Australian for whinger or wimp), only to find it a touch chilli on the willy myself as I give a little shiver.
It is a nation of sun and sea worshipers and people are very much aware as to the fact that their bodies are on show in the long summer months. People are body conscious and healthy living is big business. People seem to be permanents dressed in sports wear often with a yoga mat tucked under one arm; cafes and restaurants are well catered for the latest food fads; almond and cashew milk is sweeping the nation’s cafes, vegetarianism or veganism is on the rise, extremely expensive cleansing drinks or organic protein rich smoothies stock the shelves, glutton free bakeries sit pride of place on some high streets (what the hell is glutton anyway!?) and people can’t get enough of it all.
Some do over do it though, plastic surgery is big business here with huge billboards advertising body “upgrades” and just as in Mediterranean Europe the occasional sun worshiper has leathery skin the colour of an old tea bag. Another body mod is common place, tattoos or should I say body art. If anything it is an oddity not to have a tribal patterned arm, a turtle clad back or an ill advised tramp stamp. My body remains a blank canvas.
For me this continent has been pretty steady, being pampered by friends, eating food that doesn’t come from a tin or in a plastic pot and having a chance to recharge the old batteries; I will start my next leg, North America, carrying some holiday weight in the form of 5kgs paunch which I have carefully nurtured through copious amounts of eating which is great for I was all knobbly knees and ribs when I reached Beijing just a month ago.
I have clocked up another 1564 miles and added just one country to my tally making it twenty two countries through which I have cycled some 13690 miles on three continents. I’m over half way in terms of both time and mileage but need to pick up the pace if I want to complete my goal. Over the next five or so months I will cycle down the west coast of the United States of America through Central America and on to its southern equivalent South America; that’s a whole lot of Americas. At the beginning of the trip this prospect would have seemed daunting but now I’m worried that its going to quickly and before I know it I will be back in Europe. I don’t want this to end.
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