Live (swat!) from Australia...
by Jim Stiles
Mar 03, 2010 | 570 views | 0 0 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT

Hand me a Cuban and screw my carbon footprint ...I’m an AMURKIN!

Cover the children’s eyes. Avert your own, all you purist anti-smokers. As I write this, I am puffing on a fine Havana cigar, courtesy of Fidel, Raul, the Ghost of Che and the Cuban Revolution.

They’re legal here in Australia (the Aussies have determined that the importation of a good cigar does not threaten their national security), so I am free to puff at will.

As Rudyard Kipling once said, “A woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke.”

And sorry about all that pollution. My doctor told me, 1) I wasn’t consuming enough carcinogens and 2) he insisted my carbon footprint was too small. So I’m doing my best to make people happier.

Again, here I am in this sunburnt, fly-ridden country, for reasons I cannot begin to explain. I have a love/hate relationship with Australia. Co-dependent. Dysfunctional. I come back like a heroin addict in dire need of a fix.

As I exited the Perth domestic terminal, I was greeted by about a hundred bush flies (we’ve had this conversation before)  who have been with me ever since. I’ve given some of them names. One of them, I find curiously attractive.

This may be my last extended visit for a while. For more than a decade, I have been trying to outrun the flies and reality, but they and it finally caught up with me. Western Australia has entered the 21st Century with a bang, just as I was desperately seeking asylum in the 19th. I’ve known this for a while but have been in denial.

When I first touched ground a decade ago, I thought I’d pulled off a coup.  I really had found “The Place that Time Forgot”. But the world can turn over many times in ten years. It did double inverted flipflops with a counterclockwise twist here. I was shocked.

But the commodities boom that began at the beginning of the century started transforming this quiet corner of the world and not even the Global Economic Crisis has put a dent in it.

I had such hopes for the GEC.  I had even entertained the notion that our new leaders, both here in Oz and back in the States, might dare to re-define prosperity and wealth itself.

I dreamed we might see true visionaries who had the courage to say: “All this ...stuff ...is destroying us. Happiness is not an iPod or a plasma TV....It’s an empty promise that leaves us even hungrier for more.”

But... nope... didn’t happen. Here in WA (Western Australia), the economy dipped briefly, but I’m not sure most even noticed. It has been business as usual.

Home prices are still climbing and  unemployment is barely five percent (just a bit lower than the Australian national average and HALF the rate in the USA).

WA is a treasure house of natural resources—gold, silver, uranium, iron ore, nickel, copper, manganese...the stuff that China and India and other Asian nations destined to rule the world are buying up as fast as it can be mined. Australia’s future is now tied to Asia, not America and Europe. We’re history. Burnt toast...

And so the Australians open one new mine after another, one gas plant bigger than the one before and China buys all those commodities to fuel its massive and still expanding manufacturing base, creates products from those resources and sells them back to them.  And everywhere.

Even during the Great Recession, the Chinese kept buying, stockpiling commodities at reduced prices. So unemployment only dipped a bit here and prices stayed high. The Aussie cost of living  is extraordinary.

In 1999, an average home in Perth was $147,000. Today it exceeds $480,000. In the trendy parts of WA’s capital city, an upscale home that fetched $350,000 in 1999 now boasts a $1.3 million price tag.

Consequently, many Aussies can’t afford to buy. But the demand for rentals has sent that market through the roof as well. A modest three bedroom home routinely rents for $350 to $400 a week. Yes....a WEEK. Plus utilities.

A pint of exotic beer at the trendier Perth pubs” Twenty dollars. One beer. And if you can find it, a can of Dr. Pepper costs $3.95.

With the U.S. dollar in free fall, I’m learning to live without specialty brews and Dr. Peppers.

One worry though for the Land of “No Worries.” The government recently announced that Australians’ personal debt now equals the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It means every Aussie adult owes an average of $74,000. Down the road, sooner or later, the Real World may catch up after all.

I love Australia. It’s not where I “go on vacation.” It’s like a second home.

Away from the coastal cities and away from the mines, there are still vast expanses of golden pastoral lands, gum tree forests, and dense wild country that Aussies just call The Bush.

And it is a country dominated by good, decent people who continue to bestow their generosity and kindness upon me, even when I don’t deserve it.

But the real wealth of this country was truly in its people and its land and its lifestyle. I think many Aussies would agree they were a lot richer before they discovered all this damn money.

POSTSCRIPT: I left Perth 48 hours ago where it was 110 degrees in the shade and where I’d been recently attacked by a swarm of sand fleas.

Now I’m back in Monticello and there’s some strange white substance everywhere. I can barely see my little cottage. What IS this stuff?

(Jim Stiles is publisher of the “Canyon Country Zephyr -- Planet Earth Edition” now exclusively online. He is also the author of “Brave New West.” Both can be found at www.canyoncountryzephyr.com. Stiles lives in San Juan County and can be reached at cczephyr@gmail.com.)
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