My fellow Australians,
Let us all rejoice, for we are young and free—not to mention well-travelled and worldly. Compared to the rest of the world, our passports aren’t so much “well stamped” as “heavily vandalised”, and this is a great thing. Between us, we’ve travelled to Bali and London, Berlin and Lagos, Baltimore and La Paz. And while some of us have yet to leave the country, we’re still a nation who wants to travel, at least. We’ve got world maps stuck to our walls and dream about visiting far-off places at night. Part of it, I think, has to do with living on a big island with a relatively small population. Most of us are huddled on the coastlines, so we look out across the ocean with dewey eyes and wonder: “What, exactly, is fuckin’ out there, eh?”
In the past few years, I’ve been travelling throughout Asia, and you know what I’ve discovered is out there? Other Australians. Turns out, we’re wide-spread and far-reaching, sort of like how viruses and intestinal parasites get around easily. And like both of those things, we’re often quite repulsive. We’re the dudes with sunburnt chests draped in Bintang singlets, waking up covered in the crust of our mate’s sick. We’re the backpackers at foreign airport departure lounges, limping from what’s either acute gonorrhea or a burning urinary infection picked up from that Swede—or were they Swiss?—at the hostel, wondering whether we’ll have to amputate our genitals or at least douse our pubes in kerosene when we get home. Sure, we barely remember what happened (or where those bruises came from), but hey: we had a good time! And isn’t that the main thing?
Don’t get me wrong. Most of the time, I feel proud being an Australian traveller, especially by comparison. We’re not like the Americans—so loud and constantly complaining—or the French, who are reputedly the worst tippers in the world. But encountering fellow Australians abroad can be a truly mortifying experience sometimes. My friend Liam once encountered another Antipodean in Chang Mai, when he made the mistake of asking him how his travels were going. “Thailand is great!” he said. “Except it’s full of gooks.” Another friend, Geoff, was in Burma’s Hellfire Pass—where thousands of Australian prisoners of war had died in World War II— and watched in horror as groups of loud, brutish Australians got off tour buses to stupidly pose for photos. “And here’s me, grinning and flexing my biceps at the site of a mass grave where 4000 of my countrymen died!” Geoff recounted. “Whoo! Look, Robbo’s pretending to grab my arse!”
Raj, an Indian-British guy I met in Mumbai, told me, “You’re actually the first Australian I’ve met on my travels who’s been decent and normal. The rest have always been …” He trailed off. “Drunk?” I offered. He nodded. “And loud.” But quietly, between you and me, I’m can’t completely absolve myself here. I like to think of myself as a responsible traveller, but some photo evidence points to the contrary. There’s one shot of me stark naked, crouching under a faucet in India, scrubbing myself and laughing deliriously. There are others where I’m utterly maggot in Cambodia, drinking alcohol out of coloured plastic buckets that local Khmers actually use for “toilet purposes”. I’ve overstayed my welcome at CouchSurfing hosts’ homes where I’ve shamefully—and loudly—defiled their toilets with food poisoning. I’ve also eaten McDonald’s in most Asian cities. I’m not proud of myself.
We’re not all like this—not all the time, at least. We come from a country where second languages aren’t compulsory at schools, but I’ve noticed most Australians do make an effort with the lingo when overseas. I’ve done volunteer work alongside good and decent Australians, and am proud to know friends based overseas who represent our country in diplomacy, foreign aid and the arts. Most of us are quite lovely. It’s just the loud and visually-offensive trashbags are the ones who get seen and heard first, but that’s a global phenomenon that knows no geographical boundaries. And then there are occasions when we’re overseas, nervously watching Australian election results roll in at a Beijing pub, or mournfully scanning footage of our hometown being flooded—where we need reach out to each other and huddle close. In those situations, I’m glad for the company of my compatriots. Even if we sometimes might smell a bit gross.