April 13, 2010

In spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of … emigrating.

And when it does, I often seem to hear about it. My e-mail inbox, quiescent until recently, has since early March begun to fill up again—just as it had done before the 2008 presidential election—with requests from Americans as to how they can move to Australia, and what the job prospects are for them in my country.

This is not an exclusively U.S. phenomenon. When I visited London in November and December 2009, I found the same thing, at a much more spectacular level. I wish I had five pounds for every Londoner who, during my stay, told me that he or she would move to Australia “€œif I were 10 years younger”€. Or once, more poignantly still: “€œif I were 30 years younger.”€

Strikingly, these regrets came, not from those footloose types who used to constitute the species Remittance Man, but from the prosperously employed or the comfortably retired. Neither wanderlust nor hardship—except, on occasion, a genteel variety of hardship—pertained. Some had actually visited Sydney (which is almost like saying “€œI know America because I visited Disneyland”€). Most had never been to Australia at all.

I cannot claim to know anything more about my correspondents”€™ backgrounds except what they choose to tell me. The fact that they are telling me anything is itself remarkable. If scribes as unimportant as I are getting a steady trickle of these missives, imagine how many of them a powerful political columnist like Laurie Oakes—Australia’s approximate answer to the late James Reston—must be receiving.

“America imported an unassimilable underclass. Australia imported an unassimilable overclass. You decide which was the stupider idea.”

Occasionally a request for information about Australian prospects is accompanied by an inquiry about how Americans would fare in New Zealand. Here I can be of even less use, I suspect. I have not spent any significant time in New Zealand since 1981. Which means that for all practical purposes I have not spent any significant time in New Zealand since about 1881. The Auckland airport’s sole distinguishing feature comprised the profusion of signs in Mandarin Chinese, which seemed to say (judging by their adjoining English translations) “€œNo spitting”€. Yep, it seems as if New Zealanders too are being inducted into the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere.

All I can otherwise stress regarding New Zealand affairs is that New Zealand and Australia are in fact different countries, a truth not always discerned by Americans. Few literature majors know that Truman Capote, before he decided to base In Cold Blood upon the Clutter massacre in Kansas, toyed with writing a non-fiction novel about one of New Zealand’s few internationally celebrated homicides. He seems, however, to have shed only gradually his belief that the killing was Australian. When informed by Sydney journalist David McNicoll that it had actually taken place in New Zealand (in Christchurch, to be exact), Capote blandly replied: “€œI thought you two were joined together.”€

Having completed Geography 101, we may perhaps pass to a few aspects of Australian living that Americans might need to know, although they are unlikely to find these data on the Tourism Australia website—I have relied either upon my own experiences or on the reports of trusted friends. Here goes, then:

(1) Should your sole Australian knowledge derive from cinema or television, expunge said knowledge immediately from your consciousness. Australian movies such as Crocodile Dundee, and Australian soap operas such as Neighbors and Home and Away, were purveying fantasies even in the 1980s. Now they”€™re about as grittily realistic as Jeeves and Wooster. If Crocodile Dundee is still alive, he has probably started living in a same-sex partnership next door to a mosque.

(2) If you imagine that by coming to Australia you can flee the terrorism-obsessed Nanny State, forgeddaboutit. Leave your libertarian dreams back at the Mises Institute.

Two recent factors, above all, made Australia what it is today. First, the 2002 Bali bombings. You have probably forgotten about these, but they had a psychic impact on Australians similar to that which 9/11 had on Americans. Second, mass Third World immigration, and in particular the swamping of Australian universities by full-fee-paying students from India, Pakistan, and China. (America imported an unassimilable underclass. Australia imported an unassimilable overclass. You decide which was the stupider idea.)

Go to Sydney’s Mascot Airport or Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport, and either will be as nasty an exhibition of Big Brother paranoia as LAX or JFK is. In November the Australian authorities had banned in-flight lipstick. That was, of course, before Detroit’s Underclothes Bomber. Perhaps our government will shortly force all air passengers to go nude. Covering an explosive with flesh-colored paint might tax even Nigerians”€™ celebrated ingenuity.

(3) Don”€™t underestimate the physical dangers of Australian life.  In February 2007 Britain’s Guardian newspaper reported that “€œ2,433 overseas visitors [to Australia], including 25 children, have died in the past seven years with causes of death ranging from drowning to heat stroke and even a jellyfish sting.”€ The occasional shark still eats the occasional tourist. This Guardian article quoted the Australian Reptile Park’s Craig Adams as advising that “€œA wombat can knock you over.”€ Don”€™t say you didn”€™t get fair warning. You finally chisel out a refund from the petty tyrants at the IRS, you blow the refund on a plane fare to Australia … only to be sent to eternity by a wild, untamed wombat.

Even without the necessity for vigilant wombatophobia, do be prepared to eschew creature comforts that you, as a proud American, take for granted. Air-conditioning and iced water, both regarded in America as of divine origin, are in Australia remarkably rare and often expensive. As is real estate: expect to pay three or four times the amount for an Australian home that you would need for a comparably-sized home anywhere in the States except, maybe, New York and Los Angeles.

(4) Don”€™t underestimate the horrors of reaching Australia in the first place. If you think that an 18-hour flight might be beyond your powers of endurance, don”€™t attempt it. Within Australia itself, distances are equally vast, however small and manageable they might look on the map. Domestic airfares, albeit lower now than 15 years ago, remain higher than what you are used to.


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