Saturday, February 5, 2005

Australia, Western Australia, Perth

When I first arrived in Australia in Sydney, I mentioned to Ros, the Aussie woman I had met in Costa Rica, that I had never seen so many Australians all in one place before.

"Funny that," she replied.

She also said, "shark-feeding time," when she jumped into the Pacific for a swim.

I stayed in Sydney for a week.

* * *

For three days from the window of the Indian Pacific Train while crossing the breadth of Australia, I had seen a lot of flat empty sun-burned nothing, punctuated by a total of eight kangaroos. Two days after arriving in Western Australia on the other side of the Outback, I was standing on a dune overlooking a stretch of desert with a Spanish-Italian couple, a girl from Switzerland, and Brett, my old Aussie mate from Perth. In the distance, just beyond the desert, we could see the sun shining on the Indian Ocean.

Brett commented, "When the first Europeans were sailing around Australia and they saw desert like this from the ships, it's easy to see how they thought the whole country was like this."

We each gazed round at the sand and rocks and sun. I looked at the Europeans and then over to Brett.

"It is," I said.

* * *

When I first met Brett in Ohio five years ago, it was his first time off his island, and he was just another naive Aussie. Now I arrive in Western Australia and find him having just returned from several months in Spain and Portugal, speaking Spanish better than I do.

To study Spanish in Perth, Brett has found Enrico and Angela, one of whom is Spanish living in Italy and the other Italian who has lived in Spain. They are in Australia for six months to improve their already-fluent English. The effect so far has been the peppering of their English with expressions like "No worries" and "Good on you" and "Bugger me."

Enrico and Angela are living in a boarding house filled mostly with students from Japan. They are very excited about this. "It is the first time we get to know Asian people!" They continue: "We think they do not like being touched. They never say it, they are so polite, but when you touch them, they get very tense and say, 'O-oh! O-oh!'"

Their friend Eva, the Swiss girl, is in Perth for a year to study English. She is staying with her uncle, who had emigrated to Australia from Switzerland 15 years ago, gotten married, gotten divorced, and is now living with his partner, waiting for Australia to change its laws so they can get married.

The five of us drove into the countryside north of Perth to camp for several days and fish and look at big rocks.

* * *

Sitting in the shade of a rock ledge in a state park, Brett was telling us about the water hole we were going to hike to and swim in later that afternoon.

"It’s a real nice place, in the gorge and all that. Real beautiful. Oh, yeah, and there are some crocs in this swimming hole, but they’re just little ones; nothing to worry about."

"What?" came the wide-eyed, collective Euro-reply.

"Well, yeah, but they’re just little ones--only a couple metres or so. They won’t bite you or anything. Well, they might nibble your leg a bit, but--"

Then he turned on me. "Oy! What did you start laughing for? I would've had them! I would've had them!"

* * *

Brett and I were walking out of a canyon in the direct 40-degree-Celsius sun.

Brett said, "The heat is so relaxing, you know. You just feel calm. Not like when it's cold and you shiver and all that."

I said, "You have to come to Mongolia, Brett, and ride around on a horse in 20-below weather."

"Yeah... uh... roight... uh, that doesn't sound like fun, Rad."

"Bah! Lets you know you're alive," I said, and thumped my chest twice with my fist. "Here, you know, here, in this overheated lethargy, you could just as well be dead. You wouldn't even notice."

"Yeah, yeah, roight, that's true, yeah."

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