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February 27, 2006 | by  | in Features |
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What I Did Last Summer – “Australians: OK”

It’s kind of a funny thing, summer. It’s that blank space of never ending opportunity at the end of a university year that we swear we’ll make use of. Except it never is endless as it first seemed, and it never is quite made use of the way we always claimed. But it usually makes for good stories. So for the next few weeks, Salient volunteer apathy notwithstanding, we are bringing you a series of writings on the joys of summer.

t’s a well established trajectory that any kick-ass young New Zealand band follows – Melbourne and The Tote today, UK and the world tomorrow. Around October last year James and my boyfriend decided to move to Melbourne. I decided to come too, mainly because the boyfriend couldn’t guarantee he wouldn’t try and shag every member of Batrider if left to his own devices. Ollie tagged along as well, since that left every member of Batrider available as far as he was concerned. We weren’t actually in a kick-ass rock n’ roll band, but it was basically the same thing, because the whole point in going was that a whole lot more people would get to see how cool we were. Which is why everyone wants to be in a band anyway. Also we were fairly sure that our choice of Melbourne, and Fitzroy in particular, would limit any contact with actual Australians. Early signs were promising – we got to see the Dandy Warhols for free, we discovered Brunswick Street, and we got a kick-ass flat in Fitzroy, which is the only place to live in Melbourne if you plan to spend your nights licking members of British India in the armpit at Ding Dong’s. So far, so glamorous indie rock n’ roll. Such success was soon marred, however, by the complete failure of everyone to find any form of gainful employment. Apart from me – my job was at a place called The Kitten Club that wasn’t a strip club, but actually quite a highbrow cocktail jazz bar. James worked at an Italian restaurant run by the local Mafiosa for two days – come up to Salient anytime and ask him about it. With a steady trickle of money assured, I mistook myself for a millionaire (easily done, given that the others were making emergency phone calls to families and eating the wallpaper) and needed next to no persuading (‘Hey, Bea! I heard The Cribs are gonna be there!’) to spend it all, even the stuff that hadn’t arrived yet, in a series of violently drunken forays to Cherry Lounge.

Which is where the true story of my summer begins. The End of a Scenester. The summer where we learned that the difference between an Aussie and a Kiwi is down to mere vowels and heat tolerance. This is also a sad account, a tale of unrequited love. With no money and the mercury soaring, our list of available activities became limited to lying on the couch watching free to air cricket; our diet to sliced bread, New Weekly (NW), and beer. It would end, as all the best tabloid tales do, in rehab and poverty. I learnt more than I ever wanted to about cricket this summer, but the evil had spread its roots far beyond unprecedented understanding of the rules. It began as mildly perplexing background noise and grew into hours and hours of mindless staring, finally evolving into a fine appreciation of Andrew Symonds’ skills as an all-rounder (his friends call him Roy, you know). And there were consequences far beyond my rapidly dissolving muscles and sudden instinct for LBW calls. I discovered I had – no nice way to say it- a crush. A nasty, icky and embarrassing crush on captain Ricky Ponting. Philanderer, gambler, Dubya look-alike. (Seriously. Take a closer look.) All these things he may well have been (personally I never believed a word of it, tabloids can be so cruel), but all I saw when I looked at him was the stoic little Aussie battler-done-good, always up for a laugh, with the face of a large adorable chipmunk and a rather handy knack with the bat. I didn’t tell anyone, but my secret was impossible to conceal – I turned bright red whenever he strode on to bat, and when he was dismissed for 6 against Sri Lanka I burst into tears and fled the room. My boyfriend wasn’t in the least bit threatened. It was a running joke. In a summer in which, try as we might, we were unable to escape Aussie social customs, let alone the poorly-accented inhabitants themselves, I was symbolically becoming the seventh state. Ricky Ponting was just the tip of the vast iceberg of our inclination for all things Australian. Hunger, boredom and finally a deep hatred of the sight of each others’ faces had driven us into the arms of the enemy.

On Melbourne Cup day we got drunk and entered an illegal pub auction. I drew the line at $100, despite the boy’s protestations. Someone outbid us by $5, the horse came third and we missed out on $500. But such is the general euphoria of Cup Day, my boyfriend still felt able to talk to me, and was one of several grown men to be seen crying and hugging when Makaybe Diva won. And then Australia Day, the day when John Howard doesn’t apologise, this year set against the Cronulla race riots. A day I was looking forward to hating with a passion. Against all odds, we got drunk. With Australians! Lots of them! And there was a barbeque, and stubbies, and those daft hats with the corks, and nary a word was said about race relations. And yet a brilliant day was had by all. There was no discussion about race issues at all, but neither were there rednecks trading lynching stories. There was just a day when you didn’t have to work so you could play with water pistols and get rotten drunk in the sun. Simple. This is not really the sort of thing you ought to say, and I am in no way endorsing the Australian government’s continued ignorance of the plight of the Aboriginals. But it was nice just to get drunk, have a few mates round, and pretend that everything was A-OK in our corner of the world. The Aussies know how to pretend everything’s OK, and given that we were poor, lovesick, and suffering from scurvy, it was nice to pretend along with them.

That Melbourne summer affected us all. No one escaped unscathed. We are all guilty of a few covert Australian mates now. My boyfriend is currently in rehab for a crippling NW addiction that sees him rushing, often pantless, across the city for the most recent escapades of Britney, Paris et al. Ollie now works in a pasta factory where his nickname is ‘Gorgeous.’ James has quit smoking and suffers head-sweats and nightmares. And I am left with alone with my inescapable feelings for one Australian cricket captain.

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About the Author ()

BORN WITH a cigarette in one hand and The Trial in other, Bea meant to go on as she started. Music wasn’t her first love, but her first love ended in a fight over rightful ownership of a Velvet Underground LP and the kitchen knife, so she chose the kinder option and stuck with it. In her spare time she enjoys casting aspersions, skulking, and making sweeping statements. She never checks her facts: figures it’s a way to live a little, to have arguments with people, then meet them. She’s currently writing a collection of short stories inspired by Schopenhauer’s manifesto of suffering and the Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster. When it gets published, she’s pretty sure that boy will want to hold her hand.

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