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Arriving in Australia
This is just a random collection of my thoughts on Australia - mainly observations that struck me as interesting. Subjects I've listed include:
Warnings against Smoking
Police and Speed Traps
Encroaching Government Officiousness
Australian Visa Hassles
Diminuization of Common Words
Warnings against Smoking:
I used to think that the US was pretty hip on the subject of anti-smoking, especially compared to the rest of the world. Cigarettes can't be advertised on TV, and all other advertising (magazines, billboards, and the cigarette packs themselves) must have warnings on them.
But the warnings in the US are actually kind of pathetic. Perhaps this is because, in its infinite wisdom, the US government is actually subsidizing tobacco farmers, and therefore the whole tobacco industry! Is that crazy or what?!
Aussies are lots of things, but nobody can accuse them of being wimps. Their anti-smoking warnings are a bit more direct. Here's a sampling:
What part of these do people not understand? Maybe the US should take some lessons from Down Under...
Police and Speed Traps:
We drove about 11,000 km in Australia (about 6,700 miles or the equivalent of 2.5 times across the USA). In all that distance I think we saw 3 or 4 manned radar speed-traps. Instead, Australia relies on automated sensors embedded in the road (like traffic light sensors) connected to cameras to photograph your license plate. This must save money, but it's a somewhat draconian form of Big-Brother watching over you. It seems strange to me that freedom-loving Australians allow this. Is their love of (saving) money stronger than their love of freedom?
In fairness, only in Melbourne were these cameras hidden, usually mounted on the back sides of overpasses. Most automated speed-traps are supposed to have big warning signs in front of them - often 3 of them! This, of course, makes the motoring public slow down, which is actually a fairly effective way for the police to enforce speed limits. I should add that in all those 11,000 km, I never ran afoul of one of these speed-traps (I checked!) even though I tend to have a fairly heavy foot.
Australia is also the first place I've ever been breathalyzed - at 10am! For a nation that likes its hard-drinking image, Australia has a 0.05% blood-alcohol limit, almost 40% tougher than the 0.08% that's current in Washington State. There is also an excellent government sponsored anti-drink-driving (sic) campaign, with numerous TV spots and roadway billboards. This is good, but why don't the police try to catch drunks in the evenings, as they're driving home from the bar? OK, I'm usually not driving then so maybe I just didn't see them, but 10am seems a strange time to look for drunk drivers (although it's easy on the cops)...
Encroaching Government Officiousness:
For it's own reasons Australia likes following US trends, despite my warnings that we've made lots of mistakes. Aussies have even more rules than we do! An Aussie once told us, "Here, if it's not regulated, it's bloody forbidden!" This also seemed strange in this freedom-loving and free-spirited culture. Many Australians we talked to remarked about this, but nobody seemed inclined to do anything about it, so it just gets worse. After all, government bureaucrats everywhere have to justify their sorry existences, and that usually means pumping up their apparent importance as well as their departments and turf.
Usually we just laugh at this sort of thing, but unfortunately it's affecting the yachts. As of October 2006, Australian entrance procedures will include a camera scan of the bottom of visiting yachts. If they don't like what they see, they can order the boat taken out of the water (at significant expense to the owners) to have the situation checked and/or rectified. However, our officials outside Brisbane were actually rather apologetic - they didn't like this added burden and said all a boat has to do is wipe off their hull before clearing in, even if it's done in Australian waters!
Almost all foods are illegal to bring in to Australia, but this is selectively enforced. Friends had their boat basically cleaned out, while our officials took very little. But we were still obliged to pay US$150/hour(!) for this "service", and it's up to the quarantine officer how long they want to stay. I can understand the Australians not wanting to shoulder the costs of dealing with visiting yachts, but every other country lets its citizens shoulder those costs. Since I'm already paying those fees (via taxes) in the US, it bugs me to have to pay them again in Australia. I wonder if some officious government bureaucrat tried to get more officious but couldn't get funding, so came up with this scheme.
Holding tanks are nominally required, especially in Queensland, but since there are NO pump-out facilities this rule is generally not enforced. There are strict regulations for haul-out facilities to contain both old and new bottom paint (which, admittedly, is somewhat poisonous) but nobody commented when we painted Ocelot's bottom (inevitably spilling some paint) while sitting on the beach in Darwin.
In fact, Australian regulations are so onerous that several boats we know bypassed Australia entirely because of them. I wonder if the Australian Tourism department knows of this?
Australian Visa Hassles:
We don't usually need visas when we sail into a new country - the officials just give them to us when we arrive - but Australia's different. When we applied for Australian visas in New Caledonia, they offered just 2 visas that might cover the 10-month period that we needed - a 1 year multiple entry visa, and a 3 month electronic visa. The problem was that the 1 year visa said it required birth certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates, proof of boat insurance, medical insurance, financial status, chest x-rays, and half a dozen other forms that we don't carry on Ocelot for obvious reasons. (We later found that, while these forms were requested, they weren't necessarily required. This curious concept of a harsh exterior perception and a more gentle interior reality marked many of our dealings with Australian officialdom.)
But the electronic visa, while initially free and extendable in 3 month chunks for 1 year, cost $200/person/extension ($1,800 for the 3 of us to stay over 9 months). When the consular official told me this, I asked her if that meant they were giving me a $200/ticket discount to fly the family to New Zealand so we could spend our money there, as it would then be free for us to reenter Oz? To her credit, she replied that that was one way of looking at it.
Not having the correct papers, we had to go with the 3 month electronic visas, hoping we could change them when we got to Brisbane. But when we got our passports back there were no markings in them at all. When we asked for a receipt she said they don't give those out - "don't worry, you're in the computer and they'll know all about it when you check in." Sure...
When we got to Brisbane Immigration's high-rise offices and they checked our names in the computer, we were told that we already had 1 year visas! Now, when a duly authorized official tells us that we already have that which we were about to argue for, we were hesitant to disagree, but we did question him. What happened to the bit about 3 months? After some consultation, he replied that if we ever left Oz, we would only get 3 months upon reentry. We asked about extending the visas and he replied that he couldn't extend them if he wanted to!
We were happy, but still a bit skeptical, so we went back to Immigration no fewer than 4 times over the next 3 months to verify what visas we had, and were told the same thing on all occasions. I figured this was above and beyond the call of "due-diligence" on our part.
But Darwin Immigration didn't agree. When we tried to clear out of Australia they said we were 5 months in violation of overstaying our visas, even though the last time we'd checked with Brisbane Immigration our visas had already nominally expired and Brisbane hadn't said anything. We asked them to call Brisbane to verify our story (the officials there would certainly remember us) but Darwin wouldn't. It was beginning to sound like the kind of story that only comes from third-world countries with corrupt officials, but this was Australia!
After a couple hours of interrogation they accepted that it was an honest mistake on our part and gave us temporary "bridging" visas until we left. But they also put a black mark on our names in the Australian computer system and told us we might have a problem if we tried to come back within 3 years, even though it was the fault of the Brisbane officials! Oh, well, at least we didn't have to pay the $1,800...
Diminuization of Common Words:
Australians have this curious habit of shortening (and usually diminuizing) many words (like calling themselves 'Aussies' - maybe their country name is just too long). Some of the terms we heard (and their nominal translations):
Footie (rugby football, which everyone is mad-keen about), barbie (BBQ), littlies (children), pokies (poker gambling machines), coldie, stubbie, tinnie (3 terms for beers, although a 'tinnie' can also be a small aluminum boat), bities (collective terms for spiders, ants, snakes, etc.), chalkie (teacher), rellies (relatives), crumblies (elderly parents), oldies (parents or parents-in-law), mosies (mosquitoes), arvo (afternoon!), sickie (day's sick leave - usually implying not sick), etc. This list is by no means comprehensive - they're just the terms we heard most often.
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