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Friday, December 19, 2003
Living with the detail

Bill Bryson paints an interesting picture (Down Under) of Australia. I read it with amusement some years ago and I find myself, quite fortuitously, visiting some of the places he describes. During this visit, I shall try to tell it more how it is rather than how an amusing American travel-writer perceives it. There are also several, 'incidents' that, if true, raise the critical eyebrows very high. Allowing someone to go swimming when there may be blueys - jellyfish (p. 17) - about is utterly irresponsible.

There are also ways in which Bryson has clearly been mollycoddled, preventing him from experiencing the real Australia. Perhaps I have been similarly guilty on previous visits: staying at the Essendon Ritz (or was it the Hilton?) did not bring me into close contact with real Australians. Anyway both these establishments have since become pokies joints (temples dedicated to fleecing the Australian punter of his mortgage or rent money with the Valkyrie lure of poker machines) so I have had to look elsewhere for accommodation. And while on the subject of pokies, it would be inappropriate not to give the gambling phenomenon detailed attention in such an extensive travelogue. Bryson uses the word 'pokie' once (p. 19) or twice only. A development that changes the use of a large proportion of a nation's hotels deserves more serious mention.

Staying in an ordinary house, with ordinary people as I have been forced to do, brings me much closer to the realities of Aussie life and another issue that looms very large in Australia: that of recycling. Australians all seem to have grasped the idea that, although the country is blessed with an abundance of space for landfill sites, it is really better to recycle the Earth's non-renewable resources than to bury them. And although paper is a renewable resource, the collection facilities are eminently satisfactory.

There are recycling collections of all types; I am particularly impressed with South Australia where a refundable deposit is mandatorily charged on all plastic bottles. In Melbourne (Victoria) things haven't quite gone that far but there are household bins for cans, glass and paper. Melburnians think nothing of keeping these bins at the front of the house, almost as a badge of honour. Could it be, though, that there is more to it than that?

Letterboxes in doors are almost unknown here and mail is invariably delivered to mailboxes outside the house. Those astute householders who keep their recycling bins near their mailboxes are ideally set up to recycle their junk mail speedily: the postman delivers it and it is the work of a moment to transfer it to a more appropriate, adjacent container.

I would that spam could be 'recycled' as easily.

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