I'm planning a trip to Australia next spring with a few railroading friends. Rather than hang out on the beach, pet dolphins, and gaze at Ayers Rock--er, Uluru--like most of the rest of the tourists, we'll probably be spending most of our time watching trains. Yep, go 10,000 miles to see. . .trains. Rest assured, they're a bit different than our American trains. Oh, and I'll get to drive on the "wrong" side of the road. THAT should be entertaining.
I've started doing my background work on Australia. I don't want to be a total wanker when I get there, so along with a stack of Midnight Oil CD's, the DVD's for Breaker Morant, The Dish, and a borrowed copy of Great Railway Journeys, what could be more appropos to prepare than reading what other Yanks have written about their Australian experiences. I really enjoyed Tony Horwitz' One For The Road, written in 1987 about his trip hitchhiking around the continent. As you'd imagine in a travelogue, he encounters plenty of. . .er, "colorful characters," most of 'em after leaving the urban areas (where 90% of the population lives) for the bush (which is over 90% of the land). Horwitz encountered a lot of folk who were more than, er, "social drinkers." Indeed, the further you get from civilization, the more distance is measured in cans of beer between pubs than kilometers.
Have attitudes changed since then? Hmmm. Here's a story from a couple of weeks ago, from the red heart of the continent:
DARWIN, Australia (AP) -- An Australian driver who secured a carton of beer in his car with a seat belt but left a 5-year-old child unrestrained was fined 750 Australian dollars ($710; €460), police said Tuesday.
Constable Wayne Burnett said he was "shocked and appalled" when he pulled over the unregistered car on Friday in the central Australian town of Alice Springs.
The 30-can carton was strapped in between the two adults sitting in the back seat of the car. The child was also in back, on the vehicle's floor.
"The child was sitting in the lump in the center, unrestrained," Burnett told reporters Tuesday.
"I haven't ever seen something like this before," he said. "This is the first time that the beer has taken priority over a child."
The driver was fined for driving an unregistered and uninsured vehicle, and for failing to ensure a child was wearing a seat belt.
Alice Springs Police Superintendent Sean Parnell expressed shock at the incident in a statement released Tuesday.
"This serves as a timely reminder to all drivers to ensure they wear seat belts and ensure as is their responsibility that all passengers in their vehicle are secured in the appropriate manner," he said.
When in Iceland, Don't Forget. . . .
to visit the Icelandic Phallological Museum. It boasts the largest collection of. . .well, dicks, of anyplace in the world. Sixty percent of the visitors are female. Jeez, going all that way just to see some preserved penai is like going to Australia just to see trains. . . . and you think men are crazy!
Here's their official website. My favorite part is the page for "honorary members." I guess I was expecting something other than a list of monetary contributors. . . .