We take the good times with the bad in this column. Life isn’t all Twitter and terror and porn. In proof whereof I am pleased to share with readers the news that I have been made an honorary Australian. In my heart I’ve been an honorary Australian a long time, but now it’s official.
The title was conferred on me by the Australian high commissioner, Alexander Downer, at a moving ceremony in London last week. I have a medal to prove it. The only downside is that the honour lasts a mere 12 months. This time next year, someone else will get it and I’ll just be any old Pommy bastard again.
Between ourselves, reader, it was being called a Pommy bastard that made me fall for Australia in the first place. Written down, it doesn’t have much to recommend it, I grant you, but breathed into your face in situ – which might be a sophisticated cocktail lounge peopled by bankers and newspapermen in the middle of Sydney, or an outback bearpit with sawdust on the floor and 20 stockmen in Chelsea boots and ankle socks leering at you from the bar – the phrase “you Pommy bastard” expresses a warmth, I’d even go so far as to say a sentimentality, it is near impossible to convey to anyone who has never been its recipient.
I’d led a sheltered life before I went to Australia. Until that time no man had poured a flagon of red wine on my head, knocked me to the ground, sat on my chest, called me “Pommy bastard”, then wept into my neck. Time goes slowly while this is happening – slowly enough for you to decide you’re going to report the incident to the local constabulary, unless it’s the local constabulary that’s sitting on your chest, or for you to acknowledge that in some hitherto undiscovered recess of your maleness you’re enjoying it. The former denominates you as a “whingeing Pom” – the worst sort of Pom there is – the latter frees you from ever being referred to as a Pom again. From now on you’re just plain “bastard”. In other words, you’re mates, and mateship in Australia can flower quickly into love.
Best alternative places to visit in Australia
Best alternative places to visit in Australia
1/10 Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia
You’ve tried the Great Barrier Reef, now try…. Ningaloo, Australia’s largest fringing coral reef at 160 miles long. It is located on the edge the Ningaloo Coast - a World Heritage Site in Western Australia - and is the only large reef positioned so close to a landmass. So close, in fact, you can walk from the beach straight into a coral reef. It is home to more than 500 species of tropical fish and 220 species of coral.
2/10 Bungle Bungle Range, Western Australia
Kata-Tjuta's sacred rock formations are undoubtedly startling, but equally awe-inspiring is the Bungle Bungle range. Located in the far north-west of Western Australia in Purnululu National Park, the mountain range is a crumple of bizarre, tiger-striped domes, steep gorges, and seasonal waterfalls.
3/10 Melbourne, Victoria
Sydney steals the limelight, but Victoria's state capital is every bit as seductive. Melbourne is known as the cultural capital of Australia - with a slightly more European vibe than Sydney - and is famed for its architecture, art, and museums. Go on an edgy street-art tour, visit the city’s cricket ground, or wander around the Queen Victoria Market - the largest open air market in the southern hemisphere.
4/10 Cottesloe Beach, Western Australia
Where Sydney’s Bondi beach feels constrained and, sorry to say, tacky, Perth’s leading city strand - Cottesloe - is wide open and delightful. You can reach it in 19 minutes from Perth’s railway station (or just nine from Fremantle) and find white sand, clear water and a stylish promenade, Marine Parade. Best at dusk, when you can dip into the Indian Ocean and watch the sun do the same - the dying embers of another great Australian day.
5/10 Mount Kosciuszko, New South Wales
You’ve climbed Sydney Harbour Bridge - now for Australia’s highest mountain. Don’t panic: Mount Kosciuszko, on the NSW side of the Snowy Mountains, is only 7,310 feet above the Pacific. According to the mountaineer Graham Hoyland, “You can drive a rental car to the top,” but you are advised on legal grounds not to try. Instead, you can walk to the top and back in a day, enjoying the Alpine flora along the way - or take the chairlift with a mountain bike and test your steering and braking on the bumpy descent. Just watch out for some serious mountain men and women: by some counts, “Kosci” is one of the seven summits, the highest peak on each continent, so it attracts climbers out of proportion to its frankly modest merits.
6/10 Cape York Land, Queensland
If you've joined the masses to see the sacred site of Uluru at sunrise, strike north on your next visit. In the far north of Queensland, a vast swathe of cattle grazing and uranium exploration land was handed back to its traditional owners, the Olkola in December. Cape York Land is to become Australia's newest national park, home to newly-discovered ancient rock art, as well as wetlands, rainforest and river systems.
7/10 Thirroul, New South Wales
You've had a picnic at Hanging Rock, now head for the South Coast for another literary connection - not the coast along the south of Australia, but the stretch of New South Wales shore south of Sydney towards the Victoria state border. The picturesque resort of Thirroul, with its own rail station, reveals a fine beach with top-grade Pacific breakers and bungalow with a literary claim to fame: DH Lawrence wrote Kangaroo in a rented cottage called Wyewurk, which still stands at 3 Craig Street. Visitors are not welcome, but you can wander around the structure that was imported as a flat-pack from California and contemplate the novel and its haunting description of Australia: The sky was pure, crystal pure and blue, of a lovely pale blue colour: the air was wonderful, new and unbreathed: and there were great distances. But the bush, the grey, charred bush …”
8/10 East Coast Escape, Tasmania
Done the Great Ocean Road? Try Tasmania, where a drive along the east coast, starting in Hobart and ending in St Helens, will take you through a spectacular landscape of granite cliffs and pristine beaches.
9/10 Lucky Bay, Western Australia
Forget Sydney's Taronga Zoo, in this postcard-pretty corner of Western Australia's south coast you can spot wild kangaroos bouncing across the beach. Sunset is the best time to see the marsupials, when they head out in search of dinner.
10/10 Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory
While Queensland has the world's oldest surviving rainforest, Daintree, the Northern Territory flaunts spectacular and remote Kakadu. A long journey is rewarded with remarkable wildlife, more than 5,000 ancient rock art sites and diverse landscapes that take in soaring sandstone cliffs, waterfalls, savanna, wetlands and tidal flats.
But it isn’t love as love is understood in this country. It skips all the usual courtship rituals and doesn’t conform to gender stereotypes. It isn’t, that’s to say, a prelude to another level of intimacy, hetero or otherwise. When, with a watery eye, you call a man a bastard, you aren’t looking to take the relationship to another level. This is where you want it to stay, with you calling the bastard a bastard and the bastard calling you a dag – a dag, for the uninitiated, being the dung-matted locks of wool that hang from a sheep’s behind. Only someone who knows why it’s a compliment to be likened to what’s sticking to a sheep’s arse will ever make it to be an honorary Australian.
These reminiscences date me somewhat, I accept. Manners are smoother in Australia than they were when I spent time there in the 1960s and Seventies. And while I do still have Australian friends I call mate when their wives are in the room and a dag when it’s just them and me and all the beer we can drink, I’m beginning to suspect from the half-hearted way they call me bastard in return that they are allowing me this for old time’s sake but otherwise indulge it with no one else. So before you go out there and call the first bloke in an Akubra you meet a dag, I’d check that the customs of the country remain as I’ve described them.
But no matter how much Australia has changed, there remains a nostalgia for the old ways, as I discovered the other night when I publicly thanked the High Commissioner for the honour and riffed briefly along the lines of the previous paragraphs. No sooner did I finish speaking than 200 Australians called me bastard, eager to reinvest the word with all its old wild gusto. One of those Australians, also there to receive an award, was Kylie Minogue. The moment I returned to my seat she flashed me one of her most dazzling smiles across the table, through the singed ferns and flickering candlelight. “You bastard!” she said.
Ah, reader, you should have been there.
Australia – and this is why I love the place – is the only country in the world where the word bastard is an endearment. There are obvious reasons for this. Australians don’t define themselves by their legitimacy. The more dubious and rough-edged their origins, the prouder they are. A bastard, therefore, is one of them.
There was a period when Australians tried to conceal their past in a suburban social primness of the sort Barry Humphries first parodied and subsequently apotheosised, making a Melbourne housewife a figure of the most anarchic mirth – but once that cat was out of the bag, and especially at the margins, in bohemia and in the bush, they rejoiced in whatever was outlandish in their lineage and welcomed every sign of outlandishness in others.
The times we live in are too nice. Allow the wrong word to slip out and you have to grovel in apology. Let a joke get out of hand – and where’s the point of a joke if you don’t let it get out of hand? – and you’ll be terrorised out of ever making a joke again. And the word terrorist itself, remember, is now to be eschewed lest it offend. All of which pusillanimity I refer to only by way of praising the easy give-and-take of Australian manners. We all live better when we make a social virtue out of giving offence.
But enough of this. In just six days, Noam Chomsky has accused me of missing the point – which means I haven’t – and Kylie Minogue has called me a bastard – which means I am. What a joyous week it’s been!Reuse content