Why visit Australia? After all, isn't it just America with kangaroos? Those were my thoughts till my wife's and my best friends asked us to travel there with them.
In preparation, we read Robert Hughes' great book, "The Fatal Shore," about the European colonization of Australia, and before we even set foot in the country we began a love affair with it. Hughes describes how England in the late 18th century sent almost its entire prison class halfway around the world, hoping to never see it again. Its elitist assumption was that these depraved criminals were lost causes who would quickly kill off one another.
Instead they built a model society that today in many ways surpasses England itself, notwithstanding its own mistreatment of Australia's native people, something for which the government formally has apologized.
In the building process, Australia developed an upbeat, confident, can-do spirit that infuses almost everyone. We saw it in a waiter in McLaren Vale who gave us a lesson in the playful way Aussies substitute rhyming words for common phrases so that "the bill, please" becomes "the Jack and Jill, please."
We saw it in the retired teacher in Lakes Entrance who rented us his cabin cruiser for a weekend without deposit or even ID. When we admitted that none of us had ever piloted a boat, he said, "No troubles, mate. I'll give you a quick lesson."
We saw it in the youth hostel manager who told us about a 60-year-old woman who checked in with her mother and whispered behind her hand, "Mother prefers the upper bunk." The manager roared with laughter.
We saw it everywhere. We loved the Australians. They are living proof that democracy, with all its flaws, works and that the human spirit is, indeed, indomitable.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun