Re-entry Shock: Australia

4 Oct

At first I blamed jet lag. Days that start at 2:30am and end at 11pm tend to distort a sense of time and place. It’s no wonder the familiar appeared surreal as I observed changes in my homeland, Australia. A week later though and I’m still perplexed.

Brisbane, the Gold Coast and surrounding towns have mushroomed with hectares of housing construction. Roads and tunnels that were building sites 14 months ago now carry high volumes of speeding traffic. Everything is electronic and networked, from toll sensors that beep annoyingly, to the Go card payment used to zap on and off buses and ferries, and the ubiquitous smart phone attached to the ear of every person under 65.

How do they afford this frantic life? I find myself doing mental calculations of what it must cost both financially and mentally to live an urban Australian first world life.

Rents start at AUD300 a week for a studio apartment, the Woolies-Coles supermarket duopoly has most families stitched up (groceries alone for three days cost AUD95), telecommunications is expensive and to eat out is ridiculous if you aspire to anything better than fast food.

I compare this to Seville where I could catch city buses for 1.50 euro, pay 15 euro a month for my mobile phone and eat and drink in my favourite cafes/restaurants for less than AUD20 a day. Shopping in the markets was so cheap I was embarrased to pay the vendors sometimes. You would be lucky to get one glass of wine and two tapas for AUD20 in Brisbane.

Why is Brisbane so expensive? If it is simple supply and demand economics then we really drew the short straw. How do young couples save enough to make a secure future together? And how do the elderly on fixed pensions and the unemployed survive? These questions truly puzzle me.

The stress of generating enough income must take a dreadfull toll on individuals and families. Rates of anxiety, depression, drug abuse, domestic abuse and psycho-somatic illnesses have to rise.

Yes, the air and water are relatively clean and Australia has good environmental controls to manage that. The Medicare health care net is laudable and we have a stable democracy. These are important, however many European countries have a comparable situation without such a high cost of living.

Another aspect of Australian life that concerns me is the public media dialogue. The air waves went ballistic over cruel comments made by a popular right wing radio shock jock about the female Prime Minister and her family. These became highly politicised and dominated the news for several days. Meanwhile Syria is descending into complete chaos and misery with minimal coverage and analysis. Are we so far up our own rear ends coping with local problems that we can’t engage with a international tragedy happening in real time?

Similarly the coverage of Julian Assange and Wikileaks, as well as the hacker group Anonymous, seems worryingly lopsided. One example: if I hadn’t seen the youtube video posted by Anonymous I would not have known that the Swedish Government attacked Anonymous’ systems before Anonymous retaliated by hacking Swedish Government sites. The ABC news coverage gave only the Swedish Government angle.

One bright spot is publicly funded ABC infotainment (if people can afford to buy the digital TV and electricty needed to view it). Aunty I love your programming, your dramas, investigative journalism and documentaries that are light years ahead of the free to air commercial companies. One comedy-drama program alone, ‘Rake’ (the second series) reaffirmed my belief in Australia’s ability to make must watch telly. It’s a cracker!

As the days pass and I readjust to Australian life I may stop comparing Australia to Europe, Africa and the US but I think not. I believe more people should critique the status quo. It’s time to ask some hard questions about Australia’s cost of living impacts, commercial competition, and manipulation of the news agenda.

Yes, the economy is faring better than most, but I don’t see a commensurate improvement in quality of life and I don’t see accurate, balanced, independent news reporting. Australia, we can do better.

PS: Newsflash – The last photo shows Stuart after being reunited with his Hyabusa. It was just a short ride to relocate the bike but he felt fine riding. His brain ‘fog’ persists. We hope a brain MRI will show what’s going on.

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6 Responses to “Re-entry Shock: Australia”

  1. MARIE October 4, 2012 at 2:44 am #

    I agree with you completely Sharon, the media coverage is biased in the extreme or guilty of it by omission. I’m also not convinced that we are looking after our environment as well as we make out. The GBR is being loved to death and only just surviving and the rainforest at Cape Tribulation while magnificient covers a very small land area with much of it being in private hands.

    As to the cost of food I found that it’s expensive in N. Qld as well, so I wonder if it’s a weather / water problem or sue to a lack of competition,

  2. Suzanne October 5, 2012 at 12:21 am #

    Sharon, you are spot on! One of the reasons my husband and I moved to the country is to escape the ever increasing madness and pressure of city life. Don’t get me started on traffic!

    The balance between having the services we want (health, education, infrastructure etc.) and the lifestyle we’d prefer, is one of our great challenges – services have to be paid for. Sadly, Europe is discovering the folly of paying for services through ever increasing debt. The piper must be paid someday. But building economic security is a tricky business with many players vying for their own particular moment in the sun – note Ms Reinhart’s view of economic prosperity – low workers’ wages, fewer environmental regulations and more money in her already bulging bank account. (Perhaps she needs a few flamenco lessons?)

    Back to quality of life. A recent survey showed that the Spanish had a far more positive outlook on life than we Aussies. Despite having a third of their population out of work, an economy in the toilet and the odd riot in the street over austerity measures, the Spanish are an ebullient lot. No doubt this is due to the key attributes you identified – low cost of living and a continual celebration of life through food, friends and the arts.

    The challenge for us then is to shake off our ever developing ‘gimme’ attitude and to ignore a blatantly biased Murdoch media that is scaring the pants off everyone. A cynic may identify a rather ‘anti democracy’ agenda here.

    Time to reclaim ‘life’. Work hard but take a leaf out of the Spanish experience and celebrate what’s really important – family, friends, health and this astonishing country we are fortunate enough to call home. It sounds twee, but perhaps it’s simply all about balance.

    Look forward to your next post and I hope the MRI reveals nothing to be worried about.

  3. Julie Kempnich October 6, 2012 at 7:59 am #

    Welcome home Sharon. Everything is probably pretty much how it was but you are no doubt seeing things in a new light after your wonderful Euro experiences. I agree that eating out is overpriced ( but not over-rated!) And don’t you dare criticize Woolies. I couldn’t get by without them, not as long as I still live in Indro , anyway. My sister lives in Newport in Sydney and she can stroll a few level blocks to a fantastic shopping street with bakeries, delis, butchers, greengrocers, florist etc. A much more user friendly way of life, compared to getting in the car and fighting for a park at S’town! But it is all we have. And even after it has doubled in size, I think the only increase in our options will be that we can buy food at Woolies OR Coles. There still won’t be a separate butcher or greengrocers. Hope you enjoy the fresh food markets at Byron. I think they are weekly. I will be down in Byron for a few days over Melbourne Cup to spend time with some old school chums from Newcastle. I will call you for a walk or a lunch ? Enjoy the Bookclub get together at Maree’s. Hoping Stuart loses the foggy feeling very soon! We are in Bandol (between Marseilles and Nice) maintenant for a car race. Two fun weeks to follow in St Tropez and Santa Margarita (for Cinque Terra) and Florence before last 2012 race in Imola, Italy. Au revoir mon ami Julie x

    Sent from my iPad

    • Sharon Tickle October 6, 2012 at 9:33 am #

      Qelle magnifique Julie! Nothing quite like the smell of high octane fuel and men in tight racing suits 😉

      Wish Russ ‘Bon courage!’ from us.

      Change of plan, we are loosely based in Deception Bay but tripping about for Byron, Noosa, Woodford FF, Aus Open etc etc…. Will be in Byron Nov2-4 and can make Sunday arvo-evening if you are already there and want to catch up then. Otherwise in Briz as I am there every Wednesday and Thursday.

      I will email my new mobile number.

      Lots of love, bizou,

      S
      XX

  4. Evelyn Jeanne Shaw October 10, 2012 at 7:37 pm #

    I love the valuable info you supply in your posts. I like your writing style.

    • Sharon Tickle October 12, 2012 at 12:46 am #

      Thanks Evelyn! Yours looks to be a useful site. All the best with it.

      Sharon

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