Wednesday, September 15, 2010

"Oo-roo" Melbourne, Australia

A British study found that Australian men make the worst husbands in the world. For one, they loathe helping out with the housework. Aussie men are known for their sexism. Mel Gibson addressed a female fan as “sugar tits.” The former Prime Minister of Australia once told female reporters: "I will not be harassed by journalists, even pretty ones like you. Nick off." A Sydney magistrate, peering down at a young female defendant in a mini-skirt, told her: "Come back when your IQ is as high as your skirt." Union leader Martin Ferguson described women campaigning for paid maternity leave as "hairy-legged femocrats." ( Generally Australian men are known for drinking too much, starting fights, and “bitch slapping.” Women would do better to eschew Australian men and look for a mate from Scandinavia, the U.S. or Britain.

“Henry doesn’t seem Australian,” H said.

“Of course he’s Australian,” I said. “He’s from Melbourne.”

“I know,” H said. “But he’s..he’s..he’s not….”

H doesn’t bad talk anyone. And even if he did, there’s nothing bad to say about Henry. He’s one of the quietest, most unassuming guys we’ve had at Fern Forest Treehouse. For four days we hardly knew he and his girlfriend Stacy were on the property.

The two have been traveling for six weeks, landing first in L.A. and then skimming up the coast to Oregon and across the northern part of the country, nearly freezing their arses off in Glacial National Park. They go by public transport—mostly train and bus. Forget renting a car; neither of them has a driver’s license. They prefer to walk. And they walk for miles.

Henry worked in music copyright in Melbourne and until this trip lived with his parents to save money. Stacy is an art buff and aspires to own her own gallery. The only art they saw in Fern Forest was drawn by nature.

H picked them up in Burlington and drove them an hour south to the treehouse. I was worried that they’d get bored without an auto. Worried that we’d have to drive them everywhere. But there was nowhere they wanted to go. We invited them to Bristol to shop. “Nowr,” Henry said, “we just want to hang out.” We invited them to the Bobcat. “Nowr,” Stacy said, “we brought food.”

They’re vegetarians, and one night I made them butternut squash stuffed with garbanzos, carrots, Brussels sprouts and couscous. Stacy made a salad, and she and I drank wine. Henry preferred beer. They were appreciative and ate every bite. Other than that dinner and morning breakfasts, we hardly got a glimpse of them. They read in the treehouse. They slept. They took walks. They washed clothes, but only after I invited them to use the washer. Stacy said they hadn’t done laundry since Chicago, but Henry said they were fine..they just turned their undies inside out a few times.

H and I went to Australia a few years ago and explored the coast from Sydney to Cooktown. At the Lion’s Den on the rutted road leading to Bloomfield, men bellied up to the pubs before noon to scowl and laugh and drink. Women who seemed to have stepped out of the war protest era with long flowing skirts and bare feet sold bead necklaces from Indian bedspreads draped across the grass.

Melbourne is in New South Wales, an area established by Captain Arthur Phillip in 1788. His company included eleven vessels holding over a thousand settlers, including 778 convicts (192 women and 586 men). Within the next eighty years, 161,700 convicts (of whom 25,000 were women) were transported to the Australian colonies of New South Wales, two-thirds of them thieves. It was an inauspicious start to the newly colonized area, and no wonder H couldn’t associate Henry with his forebears.

Could be that Henry’s father is English. He and Henry’s mom met in the sixties when they were in training to become computer programmers. A computer in those days nearly filled a warehouse and functioned about as well as your calculator. Imagine the changes they’ve seen over the last forty years. And they’re still at it.

There’s a certain reserve about the English, H believes—a certain polish. That may be what sets Henry apart from his countrymen. From Fern Forest, he and Stacy will touch down in Boston for a few days and then perch in New York City for a month at an airbnb site in Brooklyn. They’ll look at galleries, mostly. Henry hopes to absorb some New York culture. After a month of emersion, they’ll know the city better than most Americans. Then it’s a long flight to Japan for a fortnight, and they’ll be back in Melbourne before Christmas.

When they return to Australia, Henry will enroll in graduate school to study business. Stacy will pursue a grad degree in arts management. These two know what they’re doing. Henry has the trip planned out pretty much to the minute—how they’ll travel, where they’ll stay, at what point they’ll mail nonessentials back to Melbourne.

When we asked, “Is there anything you need?” “Can we pick up anything for you downtown?” The answer was always “Nowr.” They left the treehouse as they found it—clean and tidy. Stacy brought in the sheets and piled them neatly in the laundry room with the few towels they’d used. They packed up, and we drove them to Burlington, gave them a hug and a godspeed. Or, as they say in Australia, “Oo-roo.”

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