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The Sun Always Shines in the Sunshine State

Brisbane according to Ilse Broekaert

We arrived in Brisbane, my husband and I, on a cold rainy wintery day and that shattered my first preconceived image of Sunny Brissie, especially when the rain and cold continued for three entire weeks until mid-August. Therefore contrary to what you may believe, you do need woollen jumpers and duvets in this sub-tropical climate.

Melting Pot

I also expected to find a melting pot of races and cultures and very much anticipated to get to know Aboriginal people.... I can feel you’re smiling – you know better probably. Still, I found it quite confronting to realise that the indigenous population that once was plentiful in this area has been almost completely wiped out. You will only meet only rarely an Aborigine. We have a Bunya tree in our garden and whole tribes used to gather to feast on these nutritious nuts. Not one person seems to be interested in them now. 

In my first year in Brisbane I have tried to pay tribute to the Aboriginal culture and efforts to claim back their voice. In the arts I have enjoyed Gurrumul Yunupingu’s music, the violent paintings and video art of the angry young generation, the great movie “Samson and Delilah” on glue sniffing and the desolate fate of isolated communities and a range of books (e.g. “Songman. The story of an aboriginal elder” by Bob Randall, one of the Lost Generations). 

British Mentality

In this melting pot, I found the British mentality and the American consumer values the two most striking cultural features in everyday Aussie life. People can be very British in being islanders, conservative and rude at the same time; misogynistic and pompous language, high etiquette and brutal road behaviour go hand in hand. They will not easily welcome you into their homes (too much trouble and/or not confident about their cooking). They will gladly accept your invitation though and finish the evening with “Next time you have to come to our place for a real Aussie Barbie”. I had a hard time accepting that very often no actual invitation followed.

They will rarely tell you what they really think or feel; they will never talk about sex, even the word is taboo and gets censored; the matter is rather referred to as “bedside issues”. Laws and regulations seem complicated and very British in being written in literary long-winded mindboggling language. Be prepared to ask for help from a solicitor and pay for those extra costs.

The need for procedures has invaded almost every domain, from the height of your mandatory pool fence to the correct way to enrol with your local library. Expect to queue, to be confronted with an army of bureaucrats who seem to struggle with the regulations themselves and just when you think you have run out of patience for the rest of the ride, you will find the path, one step at a time. One example: if you stay for longer than three months you are supposed to obtain an Australian driving licence. “No, your international driving licence is not accepted.” You will need to have your original driving licence translated into Australian English, meaning that category B is category C over here. “No, not any translator”. It needs to be an accredited one, accredited by NAATI. You’ll find them on the internet. And then you will also need to prove your address with a bill or bank statement, which can be difficult if you have only shortly moved into your permanent accommodation. Luckily the view of the ocean and the bright sunlight help to soothe frustration and anger. Don’t take me wrong. They’re not in general trying to give you a hard time, they are just following procedures. So get ready to live by them - there is no other way around.

American Consumer Values

American values are dominant in the consumer world: huge shopping malls, big people, foot long sandwiches, XXL-sized burgers, all you can eat restaurants, donuts, Coke, you name it, we have it here as well. Obesity is a growing problem, as well as diabetes, gluten allergies and cancer. Well, no wonder it has come this far, they even put sugar in mayonnaise and in bread!

Good things come at a price, that’s true here as well. Stylish clothes, fresh seafood, fine wines and organic veggies will cost you money, but once you’ve figured out your sources, you’re safe. Regretfully you’ll have singled yourself out a bit as a foreigner – and that’s when you swing back your pendulum after a while and join in with the mob for steak and chips or fish and chips (the meat full of hormones and the fish heavily battered and frozen, but who cares as we are all having a jolly good time!

The recent seven year drought and the bush fires have immensely heightened people’s awareness for the need of water management. Other resources like petrol and electricity are still freely consumed: big cars, low taxes on petrol, lots of air-conditioning, lots of waste (glass, plastic bottle and bags), and minimal restrictions on the industry.

The growing economy and jobs are the highest value in society and many sacrifices are made to maintain these (sell out to China, hours of political double talk on TV, indoctrinating governmental messages, continuing pollution.

... And then there’s internet 

I was expecting a laid-back way of life and a back to the roots way of communication. I was wrong again. I should have known better – distances are huge in Australia and nothing has been built for easy access by foot passengers. The tiniest sports club makes flashy newsletters and distributes them through e-mail only; you can only get a bill if you download it from the website, you pay your tolls for the bridge and some stretches of the highway through the internet, and the leaflet with your medicine is not in the package but will be on double u double u double u dot etcetera.  Here comes my final piece of advice: make sure you have a portable pc and a good internet connection.

My preferred websites - Find out more about neighbourhoods, events, restaurants and much more - Immigration, visa, citizenship - Find out if and when you have access to rebates for doctor’s visits and health care facilities - Find a book club, sports club or any leisure activity. A great way to meet new people and a soul mate. - Driving licence, learning licence - Brisbane’s City Council rules it all (from garbage collection to flood water reports) - Most popular but not always most successful job site - Handy website for cinema session times, night life, restaurants and theatre.