Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

Sydney

When I first came to Australia in the 1980s the national sense of humour was less developed than now. Scarcely had I settled in my taxi at Perth airport than my driver offered, unsolicited, the following joke: `Mate, what's the difference between a roo lying dead at the side of the road and an abo lying dead at the side of the road?' `Er, I don't know,' I replied. `There are skid marks in front of the roo.' Now, the Indigenous Peoples are revered, respected, feted in an orgy of post-colonial guilt. In Melbourne, the new city plan is dedicated to them (God knows why: the expansion it details is almost entirely to cope with an influx of Asiatics). In the Australian Museum in Sydney, on the way in to an exhibition of the life and culture of the Indigenous Peoples, a notice solemnly proclaims that if any visiting Indigenous Person should be offended by any sight or sound in the exhibition, he or she should make the offence known to the staff, who (presumably) will remove the offending object or silence the offending sound. Jokes now are about the Tasmanians, with this example volunteered by a chap next to whom I sat in the members' enclosure on the opening day of the Sydney Test. A Tazzie lad gets into bed with his bride on their wedding night and finds she is a virgin. He rings his father for advice. `Son, get out of there. If she's not good enough for her own family, she's not good enough for ours.'

All of which will simply reinforce the views of Mr John Pilger about the essential wickedness of everyone who is not, or cannot imagine himself to be, oppressed. Mr Pilger has an exhibition of photographs dedicated to his life and times in the Melbourne museum, and it would be hard to overstate the almost aboriginal reverence in which he is held. Since Bron Waugh died there has been no one to lead the persecution of Mr Pilger: however, after spending half an hour scrutinising the very fine pictures taken by very fine photographers in places where Mr Pilger has practised his version of the truth, I began to wish I were equal to the task. His section on Britain depicts our country as a huge industrial slum of unremitting poverty in which a vulnerable proletariat is being whipped up to racist frenzy by the late J. Enoch Powell. Yet we can learn from Mr Pilger. He has made his impact not by sensationalism or distortion, but by his capacity to hate. So I made a New Year resolution, on the spot, that instead of despairing at what the Blair terror is doing to us, I shall, like my new mentor, learn to hate them out of existence instead.

Australia is obsessed with safety. A pint of decent English beer would put you over the drink-drive limit. The Sydney cricket ground is festooned with advertisements screaming: `There is no such thing as safe speeding.' Out on the roads, the message is in a language the average ocker can understand. `Drowsy drivers die' signs are about every 20 miles on the 700-mile coast road from Melbourne to Sydney. Blunter still are billboards that say, `If you drink, then drive, you're a bloody idiot'. I had a breathalyser at 3 p.m. on a Sunday in the Victorian bush, administered at random by a bored policeman on the outskirts of a one-horse town. Luckily I had not had the proverbial pint of English beer, but you can forget civil liberties here. Australia loves laws and regulations - funny, when you consider how this place started - and so when I got to Sydney and saw a sign ordering `Don't be a Tosser', I wondered what rule I would have to break to be so condemned. …

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