18 July 2007

First impressions

When I was thinking about a topic for my first ‘proper’ blog post I had a number of subjects that I wanted to write about. However, I was inspired by a comment from a work colleague, Jia, to write about the following subject. In some respects it makes obvious sense to do it as it follows on quite nicely from my first post.

So here it is – the subject matter in question relates to my initial impressions of Australia. Or to be more accurate my observations of what I first saw in Sydney.

I arrived in Australia in the late 80’s. Just to recap, for anyone who doesn’t remember this period, this was a very interesting decade. Economically, the 80’s were a boom time for the western world. Australia was no different and the Hawke/Keating combo (do you want fries with this!) were putting their ‘visionary’ policies into action. Permed hair for both sexes was quite common. Especially the rock stars as ‘poodle rock’ took off – think David Coverdale, Jon Bon Jovi. Power walking while listening to a Sony walkman was the latest corporate executive fad as was ridiculous shoulder pads for business women. Mullets were still ruling the roost in the sports world as witnessed by a number of sport stars (Warwick Capper, Ian Botham, David Boon, Glenn Hoddle). On television Dynasty was number one, and Kylie and Jason were just actors in a soapie (Neighbours). In short, times were good for all. We had money to burn, places to see, things to do. Oh, and the sun was shining!

So it was into this environment that I arrived in Australia.

Coming into land into Sydney can lead to one of the most spectacular sights you can have. The day I arrived it was a clear and sunny day. Fortunately the plane flew over the city from the north. So I caught my first glimpse of the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge. Sometimes planes fly up from the south and land at the airport by flying over Botany Bay. When this happens you do not get any real spectacular views.

Prior to seeing the city the first impression I got, from my vantage point high up in the sky, was the number of swimming pools. I had never seen anything like it! Virtually every house had an outdoor swimming pool. This was so unlike England – where the thought of having an outdoor pool is grounds for insanity! There were literally hundreds of pools. No wonder Australia won lots of swimming medals at the Olympics.

Another thing that I noticed, but was surprised to see was that the land was very green. For some reason every British person thinks that the whole of Australia is dry and there is a lack of greenery. Obviously this was not true.

Once on terra firma the view was totally different. For the first few days I stayed in the suburbs. Walking around some of them I was amazed at the number of chemists that each suburb had. There were sometimes five chemists in the main shopping area of a suburb. My mind started thinking “are all Aussies hypochondriacs?” As I walked by them I noticed that they were all doing a roaring trade. Maybe my thought was correct….

Also, and much more serious to the average Brit, was the fact that there was only one pub per suburb and normally a place called an RSL (Returned Services League) club. Later on I found out what an RSL was and why they were so popular. My mind was aghast. How can suburbs only have a maximum of two drinking establishments? In Britain there is literally a pub on every street corner. This struck me as weird as Aussies have a reputation for liking the ‘amber nectar’. Was this really an urban myth, especially given the lack of drinking holes?

Even stranger was the number of hairdressers in each suburb. My mind was now racing. How many hairdressing salons does it take to cut a mullet? This was strange indeed. Again, every salon was doing a roaring trade. Why was this so? Another question I never really got an answer for.
So there it is. My first observations of being in Australia, and in particular Sydney. Obviously it didn’t affect me too much as I have been in Oz for just on 20 years and even took out citizenship (a.k.a. lobotomy to my Pommy friends). Better still, I re-discovered my liking for milk shakes at places called ‘Milk Bars’. But that is best left until another time.

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