Australian Delusions

 

Whenever I tell people I’m Australian, they usually repeat statements they have heard about my country. These ‘facts’ are not necessarily wrong, some are just generalizations. But sometimes the generalizations are not the reality of Australian life and I think they are misconceptions.

“You Have Snakes Everywhere”

Yes, Australia has snakes – lots of them. There are 140 snakes on land and another 32 in the sea. One hundred of them are venomousvenomous and a dozen could kill a person in the right (or wrong) circumstances. By comparison, the Czech Republic has five snake species and only one, the viper, is dangerous.

After living in Australia for almost 30 years and going camping, and actively looking for snakes, I saw none.

There’s a good reason why. When they are out warming themselves in the sun, snakes are also listening for any vibrations with their stomachs. When we come stomping along, a snake leaves quickly. A person who sees a snake is usually unlucky and far from civilization.

“It’s never cold”

Look at any tourist brochure of Australia and naturally it will show sunshine and clear skies. While it’s true that in the state capitals the temperature rarely goes below zero, it isn’t pleasant summer weather all year long.

On a recent trip to my home town of Perth, morning temperatures were around zero. The weather warmed up to 20 by midday but this is only if it’s a clear day. Otherwise you have constant drizzledrizzle keeping you inside.

In the mountains or in the desert it can get even colder. The lowest recorded temperature ever was -23°C at Charlotte Pass in the Snowy Mountains. The mountains of Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania get snow almost every year, but it is very rare in other parts. Australia is a large place with many different climates but most people live in the warmer coastal regions.

“You spend Christmas at the beach”

Bondi Beach courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Maybe my family wasn’t doing it right, but we never had Christmas at the beach. Our Christmas was spent like a lot of people’s in the English speaking world. On December 25th we opened presents found under a usually plastic tree. Then we had lunch, which was either roast chicken or gnocchi (my mother’s family are Italian). Afterwards, stuffed with food, we watched TV.

This was how many friends celebrated too. Christmas was a family event. On Boxing Day (December 26th) we might go to the beach or have a barbecue.

“You all surf”

Sometimes it seems European people think when an Australian is born they are given a surfboard. I can’t find accurate numbers on this, but not all Australians surf. I wouldn’t even say most people do. Andrew Stark in an interview for Coastal Watch said there might be as many as 3.5 million surfers, meaning about a tenth of the population. According to a New South Wales Government survey, participation in surf sports was at 4.4%.

Among my 20 cousins only one is a surfer. In my class at school I didn’t know any enthusiastic surfers. By far the most popular activity was basketball. I doubt basketball still is as popular today – it has probably been replaced by computer games.

In Australia you’ll find snakes and people surfing, it’s mostly hot and we celebrate Christmas in the summer. But if you think we’re a society of beach dwellers running from thousands of snakes with our surfboards, maybe you need to go there for a visit.


6.9.2012-05.mp3

Original article by Ryan Scott – Sydney, Australia. Text edited by The Word’s methodology team

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Whenever I tell people I’m Australian, they usually repeat sentences they have heard about my country:

“You Have Snakes Everywhere”

Yes, Australia has snakes – lots of them. There are 140 snakes on land and another 32 in the sea. One hundred of them are poisonous. The Czech Republic has five snake species and only one, the viper, is dangerous. I have lived in Australia for almost 30 years and although I have often gone camping, and have actively looked for snakes, I saw none.

“It’s never cold”

It isn’t pleasant summer weather all year long. On a recent trip to my home town of Perth, morning temperatures were around zero. The weather warmed up to 20 by midday but this is only if it’s a clear day. In the mountains or in the desert it can get even colder. The lowest recorded temperature ever was -23°C at Charlotte Pass in the Snowy Mountains. The mountains of Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania get snow almost every year, but it is very rare in other parts.

“You spend Christmas at the beach”

In my family we never had Christmas at the beach. We spent our Christmas like a lot of people in the English speaking world. On December 25th we opened presents found under a usually plastic tree. Then we had lunch, which was either roast chicken or gnocchi (my mother’s family is Italian). Afterwards, we watched TV. On Boxing Day (December 26th) we might go to the beach or have a barbecue.

“You all surf”

Sometimes it seems Europeans think an Australian is born with a surfboard. I can’t find accurate numbers on this, but there might be as many as 3.5 million surfers, meaning about a tenth of the population. Among my 20 cousins only one is a surfer. When I was a student, the most popular activity was basketball. Today it has probably been replaced by computer games.

In Australia you’ll find snakes and people surfing, it’s mostly hot and we celebrate Christmas in the summer. But if you think we’re a society of beach people running from thousands of snakes with our surfboards, maybe you need to go there for a visit.

Original article by Ryan Scott – Sydney, Australia. Text edited by The Word’s methodology team

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Whenever I tell people I’m Australian, I’m usually confronted with certain facts about my homeland which the other person takes as gospel. These ‘facts’ are not necessarily wrong. We can be forgiven for some generalizations. But when those generalizations distort the reality at home, I think they become misconceptions.

“You Have Snakes Everywhere”

Courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard this. Yes, Australia has snakes – lots of them. There are 140 snakes on land and another 32 in the sea. One hundred of them are venomous and a dozen could kill a person in the right (or wrong) circumstances. By comparison, the Czech Republic has five snake species and only one, the viper, is dangerous.

After living in Australia for almost 30 years, even living on the outskirts of the city with bush land a few blocks away from my home, and going camping, and actively looking for snakes, I saw – in all that time – a grand total of zero.

There’s a good reason why. When they are out warming themselves in the sun, snakes are also listening for any vibrations with their bellies. When we come stomping or zooming along, a snake makes a quick get away. A person who encounters a snake is usually unlucky and very often very far from civilization. There are snakes out there, but our living rooms are not like the temple in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

“It’s never cold”

Look at any tourist brochure of Australia and invariably it will show sunshine and clear skies. While it’s true that in the state capitals the temperature rarely plunges below zero, it isn’t balmy summer weather all year long.

On a recent trip to my home town of Perth, morning temperatures hovered around zero. The mercury shot up to 20 by midday, but it meant you had to wear several layers to accommodate the sudden change. And this is only if it’s a clear day. Otherwise you have constant drizzle keeping you inside.

In the mountains or in the desert it can get colder still. Alice Springs in the centre has recorded temperatures as low as -7.5°C. Frost in the southern parts of the desert is not unheard of. The lowest recorded temperature ever was -23°C at Charlotte Pass in the Snowy Mountains. And yes, snow falls in most years in the mountains of Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania, though it is extremely rare in other parts. Australia is a large place with many different climates. It’s just that most people live in the warmer coastal regions.

“You spend Christmas at the beach”

Bondi Beach courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Maybe my family wasn’t doing it right, but we never had Christmas at the beach. Our Christmas was spent like a lot of people’s in the English speaking world. On December 25th we opened presents found under a usually plastic tree, and after the excitement died down we had lunch, which varied from roast chicken to gnocchi (my mother’s family are Italian). Afterwards, stuffed with food, we watched TV.

This pattern of celebrating was similar among friends. Christmas was a family event. Some people even tried to have a full traditional Christmas with turkey and ham, which is quite difficult when it’s above 30 degrees. On Boxing Day (December 26th) we might go to the beach or have a barbecue. But by then, with the presents unwrapped, the celebration was over.

“You all surf”

European friends of people give me the impression they think that no sooner is an Australian born then a surfboard is placed in his/her grip. I can’t find accurate numbers on this, but I at least know that not all Australians surf. I wouldn’t even say it is the majority. Andrew Stark in an interview for Coastal Watch said that there might be as many as 3.5 million with 2.5 million surfers for sure, meaning about a tenth of the population. According to a New South Wales Government survey participation in surf sports was at 4.4%. This figure probably doesn’t reflect figures every where, but it comes close to my own observation that we are far from a nation of surfers.

This remark has nothing to do with the merits of the sport. I’m merely questioning how representative it (or any activity) is typically Australian. Among my 20 cousins only one is a surfer. In my class at school I didn’t know any enthusiastic surfers. In fact, the few surfers in school were teased. By far the most popular activity was basketball. I doubt basketball still is as popular today – it has probably been replaced by computer games.

So yes, in Australia you’ll find snakes and people surfing, it’s mostly hot and we celebrate Christmas in the summer. But if you think we’re a society of beach dwellers fending off hordes of snakes with our freshly unwrapped surfboards, maybe you need to go there for a visit.

Ryan Scott – Sydney, Australia

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