Notes On A Big Island…
Our World | On 04, Apr 2013
I recently attended the internationally acclaimed AIME event exhibition in Melbourne. It was educational, informative and I also got to see some interesting venues being showcased from destinations that are much closer to home than Australia. I also met with a number of Australian and International event suppliers to discuss the state of the UK and European market; comparing notes really. Theirs is a country of contradiction and it is from this viewpoint that I make the following observations.
Australia is a destination that most Brits in particular aspire to visit. There are many reasons for this, most of which are well documented – such as sunshine, great open spaces, heritage, excellent outdoor lifestyle, wine, food and the people. There is a friendly rivalry between the Brits (Poms) and Aussies, which is most evident in sport, but a fact that struck me greatly is the similarity of the issues faced by both our nations (and wider Europe too). Whilst, we in Europe mostly see the glamorous side of life in Australia as depicted on advertising billboards, movies and commentary; it is a country that shares many of the most common problems that we face over this side of the world. The interesting difference however, is the veracity of the rhetoric used in Australia – they are not known for being straight talkers for nothing!
Ask an Australian what aspects of contemporary life ‘worries’ them most of all right now and I bet the answers will surprise you. They have a perceived ‘issue’ with immigration; in particular with the ‘boat people’ fleeing from the horrors of war torn Iraq and Afghanistan via south East Asia. These poor souls pay their money and take their chances on packed (barely) floating vessels in a bid to get to the promise land. It seems that in general, those that make it are absolutely not welcomed with open arms by the internationally renowned friendly Australians. They are detained (as they are in a lot of Europe) and then deported back to where they came from.
This brings me to probably the most moving and well made documentary that I’ve ever seen – “go back to where you came from”. I watched this on the flight over and it was enlightening… I don’t want to make a political point or judgement here, either about Australia or Europe, but it strikes me that we all share the same fear of the unknown. This is a documentary on high-profile individuals who got to experience life from an asylum seekers’ perspective. The ‘participants’ included, amongst others, a Politician who was part of the immigration detention island camps in Australia, a ‘shock jock’ who was dead set against all immigration, a high profile comic and a model who were both pro treating these people with dignity… it was moving, shocking and also heartening. It was compulsive viewing (I watched all 3 episodes) and I learnt from this programme. Whilst most of us who travel often relish meeting people and experiencing new things, we may still be a little guilty of viewing other countries through rose tinted spectacles, the reality is often something very different.
Coming from a very overcrowded Europe, I failed to get my head around what this enormous country (see picture below – obviously drawn up before our own continent was broken up!) had to fear… they have just over 20m people and all that space and we have closer to 400m people in our packed continent. Yet the reality of a few thousand annual immigrants really does scare them. Ironic since the majority are of course descended from immigrants and it just seems strange that the same issues dominate the news channels on both sides of the world irrespective of size, culture, wealth etc. All this being said, it is a wonderful country that is strangely familiar by virtue of the European (immigrant!) heritage.
Much has been said of how expensive it has become, however this is as much to do with the state of our own devaluing Euro / Sterling as it is about their own prices. It is expensive, but my goodness it’s worth it. The people are warm, the culture is rich, the sights are as spectacular as they are varied – so it would be wonderful for us to be able to send more European groups over to this fascinating country.
I extended my trip to Tasmania for a few days – this ‘tiny’ island state is also pretty large (70% the size of England, or 37% the size of the UK). I stayed in the North East and enjoyed hiking over to possibly one of the most magnificent beaches I’ve ever seen (Wineglass Bay). There is incredible wildlife on the island and the pace of life is very slow when compared to the rest of Australia – but it is a place full of natural wonders and incredibly positive and friendly people. They definitely want to see more Europeans visit.
I talk about Tasmania because it demonstrates that there is much more to this gigantic country than just Sydney, Melbourne and the Gold Coast (all of which are utterly fabulous in their own ways). Perth, which is just under 8 hours from Hong Kong and Darwin which is only 4.5 hours from Singapore, make the perception of distance probably more of an obstacle than the reality.
Australia is a rarity in today’s world – a country that lives up to and exceeds its hype!