Spring Dreaming

A bewildering acceleration of circumstances meant that I left Babylon on a dreary autumn day and arrived after too much sleep in springtime in Adelaide, with blossom on the trees and a strange buzz in the air. The similarities between Australia and the UK only serve to illustrate the differences. There is talk of Christmas as the pinnacle of the long climb into glorious summer, not the distant bright light in the middle of a dark passage. My hosts were shocked that I suggested making a bonfire to burn old letters. One of my reluctant bonfires in the Night Planted Orchard would start a fire that would flush half of Australia into the sea. Double glazing is a rare and curious beast. Air conditioning is mandatory. In the US-style strip-malls, US brands compete with familiar UK brands. The steering wheel is on the right side of the car for once, but the road furniture is pure US which can lead a distracted traveller astray. Men talk about family, tragedies and real life in a way that would have real men fleeing in terror from an English pub. Beer is drunk like a bewildering sacrement that has had its day. Wine has equal standing. Serious conversations turn out to be wind-ups and keeping a straight face is a national performance art. Pubs are full of families and children. Kangaroos cross the road like sacred cows. There are protests about not opening underground coal mines. The greatest difference of all is the sheer overwhelming sense of space. There is wilderness here, more even than in the US. The population is tiny for the size of the country and most people live around the cities or in towns nearby. I drove the back way back to Sydney, through the mountains and the national parks, and didn't see another soul until I started looking for coffee. Even in the US, the wilderness has to be protected from humans. In Australia, the humans have to be protected from the wilderness in all its glory.

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