Sometimes I forget that I live in the middle of Australia. Well, not the middle perse, but I do reside on the edge of a massive desert continent floating in an ocean somewhere in the furthermost corner of the earth. I perform periodic reality checks where I jolt out of bed and rip the curtains open just to make sure the cars are actually driving on the left side. Strange, I know, but Melbourne seems so much like any city in the U.S. that I often forget. That is, until (on the rare occasion) I happen to venture outside of the city, and I’m unmistakably in the middle of nowhere, Australia.

It wasn’t long ago that I went Melbourne crazy and set off on a weekend road trip. Not only was I in for a massive wrong side of the road driving adventure, but I also got a big mouthful of Aussie culture. People often ask what the biggest difference is between living in Australia and America, and I whimsically respond, “it’s all the same, just change the accent and drive on the opposite side of the road.” In retrospect, I would like to add in—just take away all signs of civilization and you’ve got Australia.

With a landmass nearly the size of the continental US and only 1/7th  of our population, you can expect sparse dribbles of human settlement here and there. I though parts of the Midwest were rural, but Australia takes the cake. There’s a distinct dividing line where it goes from big city suburbs to rolling hills nothingness for hundreds of miles.  Country? Yes. Creepy? Little bit. Bogan? Oh yeah! [Refer to Lesson in Boganism for cultural refrences]

My Kiwi bud, Chris and I set off for Mt. Beauty, a town three hours northeast of Melbourne. Along the way we popped into a few towns just to get a feel for rural Australia. I was expecting quaint Sunday brunch then stroll down the main street for shopping type of country town. You know, the kind of place you would take a day trip to in upstate New York? It was more of like a THERE IS ABSOULETLY NOTHING HERE except a grocery store and gas station and oh wait…where are all the people and houses?! type of town. Country? Yes. Creepy? Little bit. Bogan? Oh yeah!

Bottom line? Apart from kangaroo watching and gumtree gazing (and yes, there are plenty) the Australian countryside does not have much to offer in the way of entertainment. The perks of having no civilization in sight? It was the perfect place to practice my left side driving skills and not have to worry about hitting anyone! And, I did get to see snow in Australia, so I’d say the weekend was a success!

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Road through the middle of nowhere, Australia
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Chris & Me in Mt. Beauty
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Playing in the leaves!
 
 
“Help! There’s a wallaby in the backyard” effectively sums up my introduction to Australian culture. I had been preparing myself for the descent into Aussie land by watching YouTube videos of the ridiculously cute local marsupials, thumbing through Outback picture books at the doctor’s office and browsing hilarious Melbourne help wanted ads on Craigslist. And now, here I was, a blockade obstructing the only opening between an angry wallaby and his freedom.

My introduction to the culture seemed to be going well. Sam picked me up from my 17-hour flight with a packed travel agenda! We were headed to Warrnambool, a town along the South Coast where I would experience small-town Australia life and gain a proper education in the workings of a mysterious creature called the bogan. January 26th was Australia Day-comparable to our Independence Day, except Australia is technically still under the queen’s rule (there was a proposal to make it into an independent republic with an elected president in 1999, but the citizens voted no), so they celebrate the arrival of the British settlers in the 1700s. It included everything a good nationalistic celebration should-bbq, slip n slide, beer, lots of flags and bogans. They fall somewhere between our version of a redneck and trailer trash, a bogan comes in all shapes and sizes and Australia Day is arguably their favorite day of the year. I’ve interviewed Australians around the globe and here are what the insiders have to say about the bogan:
  • They are extremely nationalistic and can be seen wearing multiple pieces of clothing covered in Australian flags in conjunction with their daily attire of ribbed tank tops and Ugg boots
  • They tend to reside in the country, although there have been spottings of rich bogans living in the city.
  • The genders rarely mix unless in a one on one setting. Men can be found in the barn working on cars and drinking beer and the women busy themselves with cooking, cleaning, caring for children and sharing local gossip.
  • Bottom line: they lack a general sense of culture. 
I’m sure this phenomena exists in every country, it has just become a well-defined and talked about part of Australian culture. The idea of bogan seemed to pop up everywhere and each new Australian I met had something to elaborate on the definition. It also seemed that I had done a lot of bogan activities over the weekend—making a slip n slide, swimming in the river and celebrating Australia Day with my arm covered in Aussie flag tattoos—maybe being bogan wasn’t so bad afterall.

We wrapped up the weekend with a drive along the Great Ocean Highway in route to Melbourne. Just as we were getting ready to leave Sam’s mom’s house we heard the shrieks of a wild wallaby who had just been awaken by Buddy the dog galloping through the back yard. The wallaby was bouncing around uncontrollably crashing into the side of the shed and against the privacy fence. I quickly abandoned my position in front of the gate to distance myself from the wild beast. What would the bogan do? Maybe shoot the wallaby and make wallaby boots, or burgers. What would I do? Luckily, Sam’s mom was already running around the back of the fence and was able to open the gate from the outside. The wallaby spotted the glimpse of freedom and took it, bounding off into the forest. I guess I’m not so bogan after all.

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Luke (we stayed with him & his wife Bree in Warrnambool) and me in our bogan australia Day attire
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Wallaby spotting!
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The 12 Apostales, one Australia's most famous spots along the Great Ocean Highway