By Ray O'Reilly
Like shrimps on the barbie and hard yakka*, the great outdoors is one of the binding contracts of being Australian. Except it really isn't.
12 January 2010
I've lived away from Australia for some time now and what strikes me as more ironical every time I return is the image of Australia as a tough outdoorsy culture. It's a load of rubbish.
The Australians I come across spend more time inside than northern Europeans, ducking from one air conditioned environment to the other, avoiding the sun like a preternatural creature.
Meanwhile, my Swedish wife shivers away in our family home in both winter and summer. Winter because there's no heating in the place and summer because, again, there is very powerful air conditioning whirring away day and night, it seems.
Visiting friends and family head straight for the dark kitchen (all light is blocked to prevent any errant heat from entering the premises) and drink tea while there is a glorious sun beckoning outside.
Barbeques are cooked in a confined, covered outdoor area and the food usually consumed inside at said darkened kitchen.
Occasionally my wife sneaks out to bask in the sun. But she is usually shamed back inside by the many rebukes about not wearing any sun cream. It must be said, I'm usually one of the first to comment, but I do understand her hankering for sun. We spend what seems to be most of the year moping under grey Belgian skies, so the chance of a stolen summer holiday to break this wintry misery is too much to waste sitting in dark kitchens.
The sun aversion makes more sense to me of course. I've grown up shunning the sunning and spurning the burning, so it's not hard to get used to this mentality again. But what does pinch a bit is the deception that Australians are hardy, bronzed outdoor types, braving wild surf and even wilder bush in pursuit of adventure.
It's a load of bollocks. If Australians ever matched this stereotype, it ended a few decades ago. What I see today are pasty mall rats who wouldn't look out of place in Northern England. The teenagers stay up nights on their Xbox or surfing the net and then sleep the days away. And this chronic inactivity naturally leads to chronic obesity and all that comes with that.
It's a great shame to behold. And I don't really see any signs of it improving. There have been hints of research suggesting Australia might have gone overboard with its fear-mongering about staying out of the sun. So maybe the Australian government will stop playing nanny and lay off the cancer ads.
Hardy people with ambition once braved the hot, harsh conditions of the great southern continent. And to their credit, they managed to forge a unique country and society. But the Australians of today are a flabby facsimile of these pioneers who knew the real meaning of hard yakka and the great outdoors.
* Working hard
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