General

Australia is a world apart – and a lot like home

OzFrom the Saturday, Dec. 21, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

The WISCH LIST

By Dave Wischnowsky

I come from a Land Down Under.

And after spending two weeks honeymooning in Australia, my body – and mind – both still feel like they’re there.

Yes, the odd experience of living 17 hours in the future for 14 consecutive days and then passing through eight time zones on a 20-hour journey home still has me feeling about as lively as a koala.

On Ambien.

Nevertheless, the crooked after-effects of boomeranging back to the States from Oz is worth it. From its exotic wildlife to its breathtaking scenery to its friendly, easygoing people, Australia truly is a remarkable country. But what’s perhaps most remarkable about it is that despite being so incredibly far away from home it also manages to feel incredibly homey.

As part of his hilarious book about traveling throughout Australia, Bill Bryson writes in In a Sunburned Country that, “Every cultural instinct and previous experience tells you that when you travel this far you should find, at the very least, people on camels. There should be unrecognizable lettering on signs, and swarthy men in robes drinking coffee from thimble-sized cups and puffing on hookahs, and rattletrap buses and potholes in the road and a real possibility of disease on everything you touch – but no, it’s not like that at all.

“This is comfortable and clean and familiar. Apart from a tendency among men of a certain age to wear knee-high socks with shorts, these people are just like you and me. This is wonderful. This is exhilarating. This is why I love to come to Australia.”

And he’s right. The country is exactly like that – except for the knee-high socks thing. Mercifully, Aussie fashions appear to have changed for the better since Bryson’s book was published in 2000.

A year ago when I traveled to London for the first time, I told my friend living there that the city actually felt a lot like the U.S. to me except that everything seemed about six inches off.

People spoke the same language – but did it with funny accents. Signs were odd to read (“Way Out” instead of “Exit”), but easy to understand. And the brand names on sale in stores and on tap at pubs were a mix of both the familiar and the foreign.

Australia feels a lot like that too, except surprisingly enough it’s even more familiar than the UK despite being a whole world apart. I’d actually say it’s more like four inches off from what we know in America.

While Down Under, my wife and I spotted more people wearing New York Yankees caps on the busy Melbourne and Sydney streets than we could count. Along the waterfront in Hobart, Tasmania, we even saw one guy wearing a Cubs cap.

Poor fella.

Also in that farflung city of 215,000 that’s literally on earth’s edge – Hobart serves as home base for Australian and French Antarctic operations – we met a bartender wearing a Chicago Bulls cap, were shown the town’s “Chicago-Style Building” that looked like it was plucked out of the West Loop and met Nick, a Ukrainian taxi driver who shouted “Untouchables!” when we told him where we hailed from.

Maybe the most shocking moment of all came on a tour bus ride to wine country outside of Sydney when two twenty-something girls from Perth seated behind us began watching something on an iPhone that sounded awfully familiar.

It turned out that it was a viral video of a man proposing to his Luvabulls girlfriend during a Bulls game that I had seen a few days before. As the girls agreed, it’s indeed a big planet, but also a really small world.

Both here and Down Under.