An Australian in England

Australian cricket batsman Bill Woodfull faces...Image via Wikipedia
The Fourth Test match between Australia and England in
Brisbane 1933 during the height of the "Bodyline" scandal.
I returned to Australia on Thursday. Which means I’m gonna have to change the name of my blog. But on the plus-side, I can throw-out my tie and slacks - you don’t need them in Australian schools! I’ll no longer be getting paid in monopoly money either (during the last Ashes series the Barmy Army could chant “we’re fat, we’re round, 3 dollars to the pound!” now the Great British Pound buys a mere $1.60 but English and Australian teachers are still getting paid the same as during the last Ashes series). The real biggie though is that I can finally enjoy the positive energy of that great big fusion-reactor that sits in the middle of our solar system seeing as it’s no longer perpetually covered by clouds.

(Ok maybe that last point was a bit unfair).

But, readers might wonder, if there’s so much going for Australia - then why did I, among so many other Australians - determine to move to live and work in merry ol’ England for 2010? And how do you explain the army of young Aussies that descend upon London, year after year, rain, hail or shine? (It’s mostly rain by the way) Why also, is there a near permanent population of just-off-the-boat Aussies in west London suburbs such as Earl’s Court, Acton Town and Shepherd’s Bush?

Image via Tom Häkkinen
Thistles, Poppies and Hedgerows in a Hertfordshire field.
I’m not one hundred percent sure, but I think that most British don’t really get just how attached Aussies feel to the United Kingdom - notwithstanding that it’s quite literally on the other side of the world. I remember being really shocked fielding this question from one of my students during a detention this year:

“Sir? Do you have a King or Queen over in Australia?”

To which my response, “Yes, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the second.” Elicited some surprise.

“You mean, the Queen of England is also the Queen of Australia?”

But other than being mutual subjects of Her Majesty the Queen, which by the way, doesn’t actually get you through passport control faster than a citizen of the Republic of Estonia, a lot of Australian culture comes from the United Kingdom as well. Most Australian celebrities are also British celebrities, and sometimes won’t become famous in Australia until first “making it” in England. Think of the Kylie and Dannii Minogue, Peter André and Rolf Harris for example, who all live in the UK, and watching BBC Morning in London, one wouldn’t be particularly surprised to see actor Ray Meagher chatting on the couch about doing a West-End Show (ok, maybe I was a little surprised trying to picture “strike-me”, “flamin’”, “pack of galas” Alf in “Priscilla Queen of the Desert”). But also most Australian intellectuals find themselves housed in London as well, if only to escape Australia’s oppressively ignorant “matey” culture: Germaine Greer for one, but also Barry Humphries and Geoffrey Robertson.

For me, the biggest tie to the British Isles was my upbringing in an essentially British, not just Anglo-Saxon, culture. Which may sound strange coming from a Finnish Australian, with a father born in the Keski-Suomi region of Finland and a Scottish mother who had few nice things to say about those “perfidious Albions”. Maybe it was Jo, Bessie and Fanny from Enid Blyton’s “Magic Faraway Tree”, or those Pevensie kids, or Badger, Rat, Mole and Toad of Toad Hall, but I think I have been imbibing English culture from before I was even old enough to know that I didn’t actually live in England.

Image via Tom Häkkinen
A country path in southern England.
You can imagine then, the excitement that I got, notwithstanding that I was 21, when I first got to witness the marks on the window that were evidence of Jack Frost having been during the night - when I was growing-up Jack Frost was as elusive as the Sandman - who I’d try stay-up for but never catch! Or when I went on a tour of the Cotswolds and got to spot Gloucester - a place hitherto only associated with showers of rain and puddles able to swallow-up any passing Doctors. Or seeing, Foxes, or Hedgehogs, or hedgerows between fields, or aerial views of the country that had that “patchwork quilt” division of land. For an Australian, England is almost like Narnia, some fantasy-land that you’ve read and heard so much about but never seen (other than on the television) and for better or for worse THIS has become an integral part of Australia’s heritage, this: “This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle... this happy breed of men... this precious stone set in the silver sea... this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England”.
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JJ said...

It is simply perspective. You are only on the other side of the world if you're not in Australia.

Akseli Koskela said...

Yes exactly! Maybe I should embrace the perspective I got from "Down Under"

misha said...

hey man,

stumbled across your blog yesterday -- gotta say, the time you spent in "advanced english 1" didn't go to waste. it's a pretty interesting read.


roxy said...

Beautifully written piece. It took me back to those days long ago when I lived in Hertfordshire's Stevenage, and of course, I loved the quote from Richard II.

Akseli Koskela said...

Michael, it's good to hear from you. I noticed you've got a blogger account too - I hope that means that snippets from your life in Sapporo will be forthcoming.

Roxy, yes Stevenage - I was actually staying in Letchworth which is just two stops further North on the Cambridge-London line! There are some fantastic little hamlets in that neck of the woods. Like Willian which I posted about a week earlier.