MH370 and the coolabah tree

To be Australian is to travel: our compulsion to travel and our purported generosity to travellers from across the world represent fundamental building blocks of the Australian national ethos. Both our modern foundation story and the native traditions of the first Australians mark us out collectively as people who are culturally displaced; people who have been compelled (or whose ancestors have been compelled) to transition, whether by force or by choice. Our national songs still reflect this even if our current hard-nosed approach to immigration and asylum seekers do not:

…for those who’ve come across the seas, we’ve boundless plains to share…

…we are one, but we are many and from all the lands on earth we come…

…but no matter how far or how wide I roam, I still call Australia home…

Viewed through this prism, Banjo Patterson’s “jolly swagman” myth is quickly demystified: he was of course Australia’s first ever backpacker!

Our relationship to travel and travellers is a condition that brings us pain as well as joy. Tim Minchin’s wonderful modern Australian Christmas Carol White Wine in the Sun is a hymn to family time together and the pain that we feel when our loved ones are on the other side of the world. The political reality of the Abbott Government’s “stop the boats” rhetoric stings many of us, in part, because it so violently contradicts our national identity – or at least – the national identity we celebrate in our songs and our history. There is a profound conflict between our mythology and the reality here: these are values that are supposed to really mean something; they are supposed to be unique to us.

This relationship also infects our political consciousness in other ways, for example, on the question of QANTAS being Australia’s “national carrier” and therefore deserving of special treatment. QANTAS is one of the world’ s oldest airlines, the brand that generations have relied upon and trusted to carry them around Australia and abroad, and a living symbol of our unquenchable national love for travel. That flying kangaroo, bolstered by decades of cunningly parochial advertising, represents more than just another company now, even if in practical terms it is just another logo. There is an emotional attachment there that has been hardwired into us through our own individual trips to the Gold Coast with friends, or to Bali, or through visiting relatives in Asia, Europe or still further afield.

It is this sort of sensibility on travel that arguably makes Australians more empathetic than most when disasters such as that which appears to have befallen flight MH370 materialise. Many of us either instinctively or through experience can relate to how it feels to be suspended in a glorified metallic can above a dark ocean, worlds away from friends and loved ones, with your life in the hands of pilots, sight unseen. Most of us can feel what it would be like if a disaster happened to us on a flight: because we have ourselves almost been there, whether in reality or in our fertile imaginations. There is a reason why Australians don’t mind an episode of Air Crash Investigations: it pushes our buttons. The tabloid media may have tried its best in the last few days to focus on the six unfortunate Australians who were aboard MH370, but such is our identification with “the traveller” that we are emotionally capable of feeling the pain of the other 233 souls on board just as keenly. The sense that “it could have been us” cuts right through, past nationality, race, colour or creed.

If to be Australian is to travel, in some fleeting moments at least, to travel is to be Australian.

Mr Omar

Picked up this morning outside the Highbury & Islington tube:


Intriguing! In other news, off to Australia House to vote [with a slight feeling of depression] for Julia today.

Leaving on a jet plane…

…tomorrow at 6am. Will fulfil my voterly duties at Australia House sometime during the week next week.

Until I get my act sorted out, it will be a bit quiet here – even more quiet than usual. Anyway, for the sake of all of us here’s hoping that a miracle occurs and issues that matter take centre stage before this election campaign is through.

On South African chicken chains and fallen leaders

I think it’s far from a bad thing for businesses to engage in a bit of political humor from time to time, so personally I welcome this from Nandos (from the otherwise bin-worthy Sunday Telegraph):

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Some quick Nandos trivia; in the United Kingdom, Nandos effectively functions as a restaurant chain rather than a run-of-the-mill burger chain as in Australia. I have a few fond London memories of sitting down with people and devouring whole chickens, chilli sauce being of course obligatory.

Hydro Connect Festival 2008

I’m back in Sydney now after a long and thoroughly enjoyable month of travel throughout August. I am not too sure what is going on with the weather at the moment, but the London-like conditions in Sydney are quite frankly unacceptable.

One of the things that I did manage to get along to during August was the Hydro Connect Festival, which was held over the last weekend of the month at Inveraray in Western Scotland. The weather there was not much chop either, but to be honest the rain did not really ensue during the performances of most of the headline acts, so all was well that ended well. Despite gumboots becoming obligatory by the second day of the festival due to the rain and 20,000 people tromping across the grounds, it was certainly the best festival I have ever had the pleasure of attending.

The festival highlights for me were performances from Mercury Rev, Bloc Party and the inimitable Sigur Ros, whose bombast knows no equal. I also managed to catch Ladytron, Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Noah & The Whale, the Manic Street Preachers, Gomez, Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band, Spiritualised, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Grinderman, Goldfrapp, Elbow and Franz Ferdinand over the course of the long weekend. Needless to say, it was great!

Some pictures below:

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Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks. Had never seen Malkmus before live so this was a treat. They played a solid set, although nothing I was familiar with. I have his self-titled album, but none of his albums recorded with the Jicks.



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Mercury Rev closed out the Friday night of the festival for us and they were excellent, as usual. The band really has a flair for theatrics and know how to make an impact visually and sonically live.



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Nick Cave heads Grinderman, his “rock” outfit with which he has recorded an album and is in the midst of recording a second. Warren Ellis was free to cut sick to an even greater extent than usual as Nick;s right-hand man, and the band had the audience in thrall.



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Bloc Party closed out Saturday night and were awesome – probably the pick of the festival for me. All the band’s best tracks were played along with two encores (the second quite unexpected), and track Flux off A Weekend In The City was accompanied by a very cool laser show.



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Sigur Ros as always put on a great show on Sunday night before the headliners – including a horn section in Scottish apparel.



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Sigur Ros.



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Franz Ferdinand closed out the night and the festival with a pretty tight set. They probably suffered a bit by comparison with Sigur Ros’ immediately preceding epic set, but of course the predominantly Scottish crowd went nuts. A number of tracks from the band’s forthcoming third album were given a run, getting something of a mixed reception.

Hiatus

This blog is somewhat involuntarily being put into hibernation. This coming weekend I am moving out of my apartment in London, and for the majority of August I will be abroad seeing as much of Europe as I can before returning home in early September. My access to the Internet will be itinerant and is unlikely to result in a discernable degree of productivity here. I may post the odd photo if I can.

I will be back with a vengeance online here and down under sometime in September. As much as it will be sad to leave London, it will be excellent to be back home. It is something like returning to the old life that I left behind; it really does feel a bit as though I have been living someone else’s life for the past year. In short, it has been a mesmerising experience!

Needless to say, the last year I have spent over here has been fantastic both from both a career perspective and a travel perspective; or should I say, an educational perspective. I have seen a whole bunch of places that ten years ago, I honestly never would have dreamed that I would ever visit. Cities like Rome or Stockholm are no longer just abstract concepts that I read about in the news or glance at idly on world maps. Great Britain, as it happens, amounts to more than just a useless cricket team, an idiosyncratic monarchy and a gaggle of perennial sporting underachievers. The world is truly alive for me now in a way that it never was before, and I am glad that I will be carrying some of the most special parts of it with me in my mind’s eye, whatever happens from here on in.

Museum of Communism, Prague

One of the delicious ironies of the fairly scathing Museum of Communism in Prague is that it is located above a McDonalds Restaurant, and on the same floor as a casino. To enter the museum you actually have to walk through a door embossed with the casino logo.

It’s hard to say if folks Vladimir Lenin would have appreciated the irony. I don’t suppose when I visit Russia in August I am going to encounter the same kind of irony, in any case.


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Fascinating, and well worth the visit if you happen to be in Prague (it will probably take you around an hour). It’s probably worth noting that the Soviets did at least leave the capital of the Czech Republic with an excellent metro system, as some sort of consolation. I am sure to many (very likely most), that isn’t really any consolation at all.