Post 59:08 Why the Olympics matter to Australia

With the Olympics over, Australia is experiencing a paroxysm of disappointment that we did not win as many medals as last time, a situation somehow considered a failure in light of two things:

  1. The “fact” that Australia is “good at sport”
  2. The amount of money we spend on sport

Many are arguing that if we could increase the sums involved at (2) we could prove (1).

Others are calling for restraint, saying we spend more than on sport.

I fall into the second camp. It costs about $100 million a year to rn elite sport in Australia. I’d like to see $100 mllion spent on achieving elite performance in every field of endeavor. For example, I am a journo: where’s my National Institute of Journalism. Where’s the chance for talented young writers to spend years in subsidised accomodation, being tutored by experts and assisted to realise their potential. If the nation gets so much pride from watching our athletes scoop up some disks coated in metal sourced from our nation’s mines, how good would it be to watch us pick up a Pulitzer or two?

The answer to the last question is: not proud at all. Australia generally cares not for intellectual achievement.

And that, I think, explains our obsession with the the Olympics as a leading indicator of national success.

Here’s why.

I lived in London in 1999, the year Australian teams came to England and won both the Rugby and Cricket World Cups. I celebrated both drunkenly and boorishly.

The Brits’ response, or at least those I worked with, was that Australia might be rather good at winning things, but the UK had produced Shakespeare. And Wordsworth. And Byron. Oh and there was the small matter of Empire, the modern banking system, the whole fragging age of enlightenment, the most globally-played sports …. and so on.

You get the drift. Britain has given the world and awful lot and, in the eyes of the world, stands for all those things and more.

Australia, I believe, stands for heat, funny and/or dangerous animals, beaches and vastness. None of which are products of our civilisation.

In fact the only products of our civilisation I can think of that people I have met around the world can readily cite are:

  • Fosters Lager
  • Paul Hogan
  • Russel Crowe
  • Sporting prowess

Let’s forget the first three. Especially Fosters. Because it seems to me that the main product of Australian civilisation most people can point to is our uncanny knack of producing successful athletes. We define ourselves by being able to do so.

Hence the national panic when our Olympians don’t prove we Still Have It.

Seems to me this is as good a reason as any to actually get serious about National Institutes of Everything Other Than Sport.


Post 20:08 Reverse globalisation

I’ve been very fortunate to visit Vietnam twice in the last eighteen months and on our first visit we zeroed in on a chain of restaurants called Pho 24.

Pho basically chicken noodle soup and is the Vietnamese national dish. On the street in Vietnam you can buy a bowl for about 30 cents, but in the air-conditioned environs of a Pho 24 the menus are in English, the kitchen is visible and spotless and the Pho costs a whole $1.30. When you are travelling with young kids, as we were on my first visit, it just felt safer to go to Pho 24 than to eat elsewhere.

When I returned to Vietnam last year I “found” and patronised the chain again.

So imagine my surprise when I found one in downtown Sydney last week.

I’ve since looked up the Pho 24 story and learned that it was born out of an Australian business school, started in Vietnam and is now going global in what feels like a kind of weird reverse globalisation.

One of these days I must try their Australian Pho too!

Post 1:08 Perth report

Every so often the universe does you a favor. Mine came three days ago when, sitting on the very pleasant Old Dunsborough Beach 200 km or so south of Perth, I saw a sailboat going by.

That may sound unremarkable. And the point is it should be, given the amount of wind we experienced during two weeks in West Australia.

Perth and Fremantle were both nicely windy, which has the effect of making 30 degree days comfortable and humidity-free.

Pemberton, a small timber ‘m’ tourism town we visited, has a breeze through the forests that keeps things lovely and cool and brings steady rain.

Dunsborough and the Margaret River coasts seem to have more or less permanent wind.

Yet in the two weeks we spent in WA this was the first and only sailboat I had seen – at least under sail. We saw plenty at anchor. But the ones in motion were large gleaming power boats that leave you in no doubt there’s money being made over there.

A lot of that money comes from valuable dirt. Whether the dirt that dirt seems to be so valuable that the prevailing attitude is to roar about in a power boat rather than hoisting a sail I do not know. The luck of the blogger may not quite let me extend the sighting of a sail that far!

Locals did talk about “the mines” a bit, usually in the context of the high wages there. Apparently tea ladies working in mine canteens can expect to take home astounding pay packets if they are willing to put up with some privations.

Because those privations are real, mine workers are getting lots of R&R … often in places like Dunsborough where there are signs of affluence as the usual tourist town stuff mixes with clothes shops selling $120 polo shirts or gorgeous kitchenware. McMansion prices a couple of kms from the beach were about the same as inner-Sydney four bedroom house prices. Big posh houses topped three or four million.

We also saw an enormous amount of land on sale, all of it with grand gates at the front of the estates. These developments get signposts on the highway of a size and prestige one associates with major landmarks. Instead of ‘Opera House’ or ‘Bondi Beach’ you get ‘Land Sale’ and then a name that mixes Dolphin/Sunshine/Gardens/Port/LakesBeach. There’s one of these every ten minutes or so on the coast road from Dunsborough to Perth.

So it’s full steam ahead over there and you can see why. The climate is grand. The wine industry leavens things nicely – it’s not all new money bogans in boats. And the scale is nice. We visited a couple of restaurant/winery/breweries in Pemberton and they were charming, personal, family-run 60-seat affairs. Anywhere in NSW there would have been tourists by, literally, the busload. Most of the places we visited had also taken a tiny bit of time to consider kids: there was nearly always a pile of paper and pencils, often something better.

Overall impressions? I will not be at all surprised if the south west of West Australia becomes a major growth area. There are a few tens of thousands of people there now, with Bunbury the last large town. There’s plenty of potential for infill along the coast. Whether it can be done sustainably I have no idea. But there sure seems to be enough wind to help out, if people think about using it!