Tuesday, May 23, 2006
When a large number of your readers come from the same geographic location, it is a writer's responsibility to learn what she can about her readers' common background. Thus begins a new series on this blog titled "Australia 101". The textbook for this course is Bill Bryson's In a Sunburned Country. Bryson is an American travel writer (what a job!) who views his surroundings in the light of humor. He represents millions of the earth's inhabitants who know virtually nothing about our friends, the Aussies. The following are notes taken from the textbook. Follow-up research has not been attempted (I'm too lazy). That's what the Aussies are for ... set the world right! Tell us about your Uber-cool country! Oh ... and I hope the folks from OZ get a kick out of what an ignorant outsider thinks about their country.
Who is the Prime Minister?
Um ... I don't think I ever knew ... does anyone know?
Supposedly the Prime Minister in 1967, Harrold Holt went swimming and never came back. What?! As B.B. points out, this fact is astounding. I mean, Australia lost a prime minister. C'mon! Plus, did anyone cover this? Where was Fox News?!! ... oh, right ...
Population - just over 18 million (the same amount that China's population increases each year)
Place in World Economy - equivalent to Illinois
Most watched TV show worldwide - Skippy (Skippy ... Skippy ... Skippy the Bush Kangaroo ...)
Geography - world's 6th largest country. It's also an island which is also a continent which is also a country.
Zoology - the world's ten most deadliest snakes call Australia home.
Potential causes of death - funnel web spiders, box jellyfish, blue-ringed octopus, paralysis tick, stonefish, fluffy caterpillars, sharks, crocodiles, rip tides, or an empty gas tank in the middle of no where leaving you to walk through the Australian wilderness to find the nearest petrol station.
History - most histories begin with Captain James Cook discovering the "island" in 1770 ... but, um, he wasn't a captain yet. Just ignore the indiginous Aboriginies who had made the continent their home prior to the arrival of the English-speaking folk. It's not as interesting.
What the newcomers found:
upside-down and unknown constellations
creatures that bounced across the landscape like bouncing balls
Why is it that we know virtually nothing about these cousins of ours?
B.B.'s research of Australia in the news (New York Times)
1997 - 20 articles, 100 less than Peru, 130 less than Albania and Cambodia. However, similar number of articles as Belarus and Burundi.
1996 and 1998 combined - 15 articles
According to B.B, "In January of , accordiing to a report written in America by a Times reporter, scientists were seriously investigating the possibility that a mysterious seismic disturbance in the remote Australian outback almost four years earlier had been a nuclear explosion set off by members of the Japanese doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo."
"This is a country that loses a prime minister and that is so vast and empty that a band of amateur enthusiasts could conceivably set off the world's first non-governmental atomic bomb on its mainland and almost four years could pass before anyone noticed. Clearly this is a place worth getting to know."