I love a sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains and all that. And I’m often heard banging on about how much I miss the Aussie bush when I’m trying to impress foreign women in an overseas bar. But the truth is that like most of the readers of this newspaper, I’d wager, it’s not often I’m willing to leave the comforts of inner-city Sydney.
Sure, I regularly travel to Melbourne – which, like most Sydneysiders, I view a kind of younger brother who’s a bit trendier than me, but ultimately not as important. But that hardly counts. The truth is that there’s a whole country out there that people like us never go to.
Well, this year, all that has changed for me. Because my colleagues from The Chaser and I have travelling to most of Australia’s biggest towns to perform a stage show. Already, we’ve been to North Queensland, Canberra, WA, Ballarat and the Top End, and I’m writing this from Tassie. So, what is the real, outback Australia, the part we city-slicker types never go to, actually like?
I’ve got no idea.
Oh, I thought I’d be donning an Akubra and sifting red earth through my hands as I stared out across the vast expanse that is the Aussie outback. But what I’ve actually been doing is staying in identical hotels in identical towns. Unfortunately, Australia’s smaller cities and bigger towns tend to blur into one, right down to the slightly sad-looking paved, red-brick malls they all built in the centre of town in around 1987.
But I have learned a thing or two out there on the road. Not about how to wrestle crocodiles or anything. But I’ve spoken to some real Australians in the past couple of months, and the first thing I learned is that they are generally bloody friendly. Walk into a café in Newtown or Glebe, and you’ll generally feel that the waiters wish you’d hurry up and vacate your table for someone who’s a bit more trendily dressed. Whereas out of Sydney, I’ve found people incredibly chatty and helpful. One guy in Townsville even ran me and a few friends down to the ferry wharf in his 4WD so we wouldn’t miss the boat to Magnetic Island. He probably would have been doing us a favour if we had missed it, but still, it was a lovely gesture.
I’ve been expected to be treated like the snooty yuppie I am, but instead I’ve been met only with genuine friendliness. Which I’ve reciprocated in kind. For instance, in most of the cafes I’ve visited, I’ve quietly drunk their coffee without explaining the proper way to make a flat white.
Perhaps the most welcome discovery, though, has been that the food really is good everywhere. We like to pride ourselves on the amazing diversity and quality of our inner-city food options, and we should. But we’ve found it’s almost impossible to get a bad meal anywhere. We’ve had plenty of great Indian and Thai meals, and although you’d struggle to get, say, quality yum cha in the Top End, I had one of the best fusion Asian meals I’ve ever had in Darwin. So while some parts of the country still need to work on their racial tolerance, judging from the friendly cabbie in Townsville who told me to beware of “the local indigenous population, especially the ones who come asking for money”, there’s lots of good ethnic eating options out there.
The last lesson I’ve learned is that all Aussies love drinking. This isn’t a huge surprise, of course – like being unimpressed Brendan Nelson, it truly unites all Australians. But I didn’t know just how much some Aussies loved drinking until I’d been to country towns where, after the sun goes down, it’s literally all there is to do. When we spent a Sunday night in Darwin, the entire town shut down by about 9.30. Except for the bars, which raged until 4.30am. I went wandering the streets at night for some food, or a bottle of water from a convenience store, or in fact anything that was open. But the people I asked just laughed. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised in a town that serves its beers in two litre ‘Darwin stubbies’.
This week, we’re back home, at the Enmore Theatre. And I’m really looking forward to it. Because the main thing I’ve learned on our travels is while regional Australia is a lot of fun to visit, I’m bloody glad I live in Sydney.