Rhodri Marsden: The perplexing geniality of our friends Down Under

Rhodri Marsden

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The Independent Online

Earlier today, I saw a road sign pointing the way to Wolla Wolla Gum Gum, and from this you'll probably deduce that I'm in Australia, that nation of Vegemite and land of eucalyptus that's nowhere near the UK. Seriously, check it out on a map. It's miles away. In return for 850 quid, Qantas provided me with a travelling experience that was a bit like watching DVDs in a pushchair for 22 hours.

My girlfriend suggested we came here, and, being obedient verging on obsequious, I agreed. But I've never felt any compulsion to visit Australia. I once paid a visit to a Walkabout bar and decided that it was a country that probably did not want me, nor I it. Even after buying the plane tickets, I imagined myself trudging around like a colonial settler, wearing a suit and hat and getting increasingly sweaty and dispirited. As it was, I spent two days watching it lash down as heavily it does on Aberystwyth Cliff Railway, which was surprising.

The primary cultural shock, however, has been the ubiquitous geniality. On the first day, I bought some chewing gum from someone who bid me a warmer farewell than I get from my own sister. A little later a passer-by offered me an unprompted, beatific smile that made me feel delighted and confused in equal measure.

After all, I travelled from a country where friendliness is considered suspicious and where courteous indifference is the most we expect from anyone working in a service industry. That thin-lipped, slightly sullen British disposition is so terribly convenient, because then no one expects anything of us and we expect nothing of anyone else. Yeah, we might have a very loose commitment to loving our neighbour, but we're more likely to argue with them over maintenance of fence panels.

Australians, however, believe in mateship, of making a bit of a bloody effort. Of course, there are Australian fraudsters and murderers who fail to embrace mateship, in the same way that many Brits fail to demonstrate a British sense of fair play on the sports field.

But I'm discovering mateship everywhere I go, and I have to say that I love it so much I'm considering adopting it. I'm just worried about bringing it back to the UK, because, like scarab beetles and pepper spray, I think it's prohibited by HM Customs.