Opening Lines: Deadlier than the male

The column The female of the Australian species is independent and pioneering. No wonder then, says Howard Jacobson, that the men have all but disappeared

I don't mean to start a new gold rush but there seem to be no men left in Australia. Regular readers of this column may recall me making a similar complaint - if complaint it is - many months ago, when I was in Broome at the opposite end of the country. But then I was bemoaning a lack of male company for myself - someone to play darts and snooker with, someone to punch at the bar and wrestle on the beach, someone who gets jokes and cries on your shoulder when the stars come out. This time it's not me I'm thinking about. This time I'm concerned for the women.

You have to be careful how you say that sort of thing in Australia. Offer to be concerned for the women and they think you're either a moron or an ironist, and they like neither. I recall a breakfast-television interview I once gave when I was in the country promoting my novel Redback, the story of an artless English tenderfoot's humiliation at the hands of the Australian female. The redback is, of course, the lethal Australian spider which lies in wait for you in bush privies and attacks your private parts. But by giving the novel that title I hadn't meant to imply that Australian women were site-specifically venomous, only that you had to be careful where you sat. Reviewers took it to be misogynistic anyway, partly because misogyny is a euphonious and philosophical-sounding word which Australian reviewers, all of whom are women, like to use, and partly because Australians can never forgive you for having the temerity to write about them and want to ensure that nobody buys your books. All misogyny really means is don't read it. So it was with the intention of robustly countering the charge and showing that if anything I idolatrised Australian women that I made my appearance on breakfast TV.

Two people were interviewing me on a couch: a talked-out presenter who looked as though he wished I wasn't saying what I was saying, and a blonde piranha in spiked shoes and a suit made of razor blades who looked as though she couldn't believe that I was saying what I was saying, though God knows it was simple enough. In order to understand the peculiar flavour of relations between the sexes in Australia, I was explaining, you had to remember that for European white males the place was originally a kind of Eden. There were scarcely any women here. Yes, Adam loved Eve, but Eve was another bloke. The real serpent in the Australian paradise was womankind. This is not a value judgement, simply history: woman arrived, and at a stroke destroyed the natural harmony which man enjoyed with man. What else is that sentimental condition known as Aussie mateship (soon to be enshrined in the Constitution, by the by) but a remembrance of that happy garden state when ... But here the sabre-toothed blonde interrupted me. "Tell me," she said, in front of an audience reliably estimated at in excess of two million, "are you some sort of a dickhead?"

I have been chary, since, of explaining sexual relations in Australia to Australians, even though it is a subject which continues to fascinate me, and about which, though I say so myself, I know plenty. Had I been allowed to go on that morning, I would have pressed my contention that it is precisely that initial lack of welcome from Australian white men, and their continuing fear and suspicion of the female as an intruding and alien sex, which explains the remarkable independence and intellectual vivacity of Australian women. Outcast virtually before they even got here, they made a virtue of rejection. If the blokes insisted on clustering in one corner of the room, very well then, they would cluster in another. Now it is the men who feel unwanted. But whereas pioneer women stayed and fought it out, contemporary males have lost their nerve and done a bunk. Don't ask me where they go; I only know that they have gone.

Engaged on one of my rural rides into the Yarra Ranges north of Melbourne recently, seeking out the present condition of the national character, I came upon overwhelming evidence of the rupture I am speaking off. Wherever I looked I saw idyllic two-person businesses being run by one person, that person invariably the woman. That men had been here originally, doing the usual male thing - falling in love, protesting devotion, fleeing civilization, damming creeks and putting up fences - was apparent from the notice boards outside every business I visited. "Abbie and Danny Pargetter: Paradise Plants". "Alexandra Cox and Guy Mansfield: The Bed & Breakfast at the End of the Rainbow". "Sally Mann and Graham Curtois: Xanadu Tours in a Luxury 12-Seater Four-Wheel Drive". Well designed and optimistic notices, all of them, the poles driven deep into the soil, the paint applied with such a view to sempiternity that neither neglect nor the snows of winter could make it peel. Yes, the men had been, had dreamt, had built, and now had buggered off. Staying power was evidently the problem. They couldn't finish what they'd started. An angry red line was scored through the name of Danny Pargetter. The Bed and Breakfast at the End of the Rainbow was closed until further notice, for enquiries ring Alexandra Cox, so she was still around. When I enquired after a Xanadu Tour a bravely scintillating Sally Mann offered me scones with quince marmalade and told me the business was up for sale if I was interested, the only problem being that the Luxury 12-Seater Four-Wheel Drive had vanished with Graham Curtois in it.

"Notice what those boards had in common?" my Australian wife asked me as we drove our way back towards the city.

I hadn't.

"The women's names came first in every instance. No man can tolerate that for long."

"Oh, come," I said. "We aren't as insecure as that."

But for answer there was only the deep outlandish laughter of the Australian female

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
newsAstonishing moment a kangaroo takes down a drone
Life and Style
Duchess of Cambridge standswith officials outside of the former wartime spy centre in Bletchley Park
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

    £17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

    The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

    £28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

    The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

    £30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

    The Jenrick Group: Project Manager

    £35000 per annum + Pension+Bupa: The Jenrick Group: We are recruiting for an e...

    Day In a Page

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'