Red Pill: Fairy Tree. Blue Pill: Model Tudor Village.

26 04 2010

First of all, I’d like to take a moment to apologize for being such a waste of life & doing a terrible job of posting regularly! Not only is it annoying, but it makes it that much harder for me to go back and rehash all the events properly. It’s difficult to get an opportunity to just sit down for a couple hours and go through everything. But anyway, apologies. Many of them. To you, from me.

So I’ll start with a synopsis of the volunteering. I can’t really remember how much I’ve already discussed it, but oh well. I’m helping out at the Jesuit Mission Office, doing random assorted tasks to help them prepare for the Maytime Fair. Yes, I remember saying all that before. Anyway, the first day I went in to help out, they asked me to help organize, and to help the GSC (geriatric stamp collectors) trim stamps that would be sold at the Maytime Fair. Yes, you’ve read that all correctly. Stamps. As in the things that people lick and put on envelopes to send snail mail. People collect them. I think I had heard that once before, but it was probably in a  movie, and I probably didn’t believe it. Well, I believe it now. These 70-somethings all collect stamps, and come in to browse through them and categorize them in terms of cost, rarity, etc. I sat down, having no idea how the heck to do this kind of thing, but I learned fairly quickly, ha. I spent most of the morning trimming these thousands of stamps and chatting with a Scottish man who had immigrated to Australia decades ago. It all began very pleasantly, with the same sort of questions everyone tends to ask first-

-where are you from in the States

-how long are you here

-where are you staying

-why are you doing volunteer work on a holiday (aka vacation)


-how do you like Melbourne? (with a bit of a proud smirk)

Then begin the more intensive questions that always follow the general pleasantries…

-how do you like Obama

-what do you think of the healthcare bill

-what do you think of the gun control laws in the States

-what does it feel like to be lazy, internationally unaware, & disliked by virtually the entire globe

Okay, so they didn’t exactly phrase it quite like that, but the conversation definitely started heading in that direction. It came as a bit of a shock, and my heart started to pound a little bit as I attempted to give an American’s perspective on the political and cultural discussions they were bringing to the little stamp-trimming table. Conversation had rapidly turned from the general BS kind of conversation starters to some pretty heavy issues requiring  a lot of thought and diplomacy. I was pretty caught off guard, needless to say. I don’t think the GSC really intended to hurt my feelings or to be so insensitive, but it soon escalated into me silently sitting as each GSC went around and sort of gave his or her personal criticism of the States. I was filled with a patriotic fury & a rush of homesickness coursed through me as each GSC would interrupt another to critique this and that about my country. I had not anticipated an experience quite like this when I signed up to do volunteer work. They discussed Americans’ general lack of concern for international matters, all the problems with our political system, our “laughable” healthcare, the lack of concern for the environment, our general self-interest, the Iraq War, & I was even asked how difficult it was to adjust to the diet here. I was a little confused and asked him what he meant, & he replied “you know, you’re so used to all the sugar in your diet in America- how hard is it being off of all that sugar here?” I was nearly picking my jaw up from the floor at that point. As politely as possible explained that although fast food is pretty common in the States, our diets aren’t so radically different, and that I’m not some sort of lazy American sugar-robot itching to get a fix. Ironically enough, I’ve found that since I’ve been here, I’ve been served dessert & sweets far more than I ever have in the States. But that’s neither here nor there. The point was, as accusatory as these GSCs were about America’s lack of international & cultural insight, it seemed as though they had little to no idea themselves. Their opinion of America seemed a sort of conglomeration of Hollywood films, McDonald’s ads, Jerry Springer, & rap videos. Those who had traveled to the States before were piping up with their frustrations too; “I don’t care for that Homeland Security Department.” “Yes, I didn’t like being referred to as an ‘alien’ when I arrived.” etc etc.  There was no way for me to juggle each comment, or explain much of anything to them, for that matter. Each issue they brought up had/has such a history, such roots, such cultural implications that would require hours of background and discussion in an effort to explain or resolve the misunderstandings involved. Instead of getting more heated, or escalating it into an argument of some kind, I just tried to be as diplomatic and humble as possible, between each comment in this makeshift “bash-America” forum. Like I said, I don’t think they really realized how much what they were saying might have an impact, and each GSC sort of spurred the next one on into a miniature tirade. By the end of it, I had a massive pile of trimmed stamps in front of me, & I was being summoned for lunch.

I suppose it’s experiences like this one that are the meat of international travel. Regardless, it was a little bit of a heartbreak for me. I left Australia the first time (in 2006?)  feeling so enamored, so infatuated with the country and its culture, with hardly a complaint to think of. I went home and plastered my room in Aboriginal art, downloaded all the Aussie music I could get my hands on, read about it as often as possible. For whatever reason, I had assumed that Australians might have had the same sort of romance with the States, & that they’d be just as excited about my culture as I seemed to be about theirs. Alas, ’tis not so. At least for the most part. But it’s something I suppose I have to accept. And it made me realize that even with all of its flaws, its struggles, its troubles, I love my country with all of my heart. I do love Australia, I do have a passion for its history & for its people. Its culture is both impressive & exciting, yes, but I am so glad that at the end of the day, I am still an American & always will be.

(pause for a moment to let the warm fuzzies really sink in).

All right enough of the ranting + sappy patriotism. Time to tell you more about what I’ve been doing… Thursday afternoon I spent mostly catching up on rest since I had worn myself right out the day before, lifting tons of books for the Maytime Fair preparation. That night we went out to dinner with Luke’s friend Matt & his girlfriend Olivia. I encountered a bit more American opposition throughout our conversation, but I suppose I had a little thicker skin after the discussion with the GSCs. And it didn’t come as as much of a shock that Australians aren’t exactly parading around with I heart NY tees, drinking Bud Light, listening to Kenny Chesney/Ke$ha, with baseball on in the background. Since that’s clearly what Americans do. Oh, you guys don’t? Just me? Shit… Anyway we had some good Lebanese food along Brunswick St.- a few minute tram ride away, a strip of local pubs and restaurants that boasts an interesting cultural & economic diversity. Hippies go to local hippie spots, & the preppier types go to the more elitist little pubs/wine bars. It’s an interesting mix. I had dinner with Tom the Kiwi along Brunswick St. the other night as well, where I tried some Australian beer. It tasted like Corona to me, but shh don’t tell them that.

Friday Luke went to classes, then I met up with him to go take a tour of the hospital where he is currently working. It’s called Austin Hospital or Mercy Hospital, depending on which side you’re on. The Mercy portion is run by the Sisters of Mercy and is a Catholic hospital, whereas the Austin is government funded. There’s virtually a line across the floor where the one hospital turns into the other. Kind of bizarre/funny really. Luke took me on a tour of the facilities, and I was able to see his office, which had a fantastic view of the outskirts of the city. Melbourne goes on FOREVER, by the way. You can legitimately drive for an hour outside of what would seem the city limits, and it’s still all considered part of Melbourne. Each suburb has a name, & generally its own footy team. I’m learning TONS about footy here. It’s pretty much a necessity if you want to understand at least half the conversations around here. Luke & his family are Collingwood suppporters, since the suburb of Collingwood is generally known for being pretty Catholic, blue-color down-to-earth folks, but also for having a substantial “bogan” following. Which I will explain now in my Aussie-American dictionary. It’s a quick list of all the words I’ve had to learn pronto in order to follow conversation.


by Grae Worthington

  • bogan (n.)- An individual who is generally uneducated, dressed poorly, probably of a lower socio-economic status. could serve as a synonym for loser, weirdo, poor person. a pretty common put-down.
  • parma (n.)- What we would call a chicken parmigiana- but an extremelyyyy popular dish that’s served in almost every pub. fried chicken, covered in marinara sauce, with cheese, & possibly a slice of ham. generally served with chips (see next).
  • chips (n.)- French fries.
  • wedges (n.)- Fatass french fries. we might call them steak fries. almost always served with sour cream and a sweet & sour sauce. pretttty tasty stuff.
  • chemist (n.)- Pharmacy, similar to a CVS but a lot smaller, and a lot more expensive.
  • Uni (n.)- University. “College” cannot be used as a synonym, or it will greatly confuse the listener. College refers to high school here.
  • holiday (n.)-  Vacation. Saying “on vacation” doesn’t make much sense to the listener.
  • car park (n.)- Parking lot.
  • rubbish bin (n.)- Trash can.
  • rubbish (n.)- Anything from a poor performance in sport, to physical trash needing to be thrown away.
  • footy (n.)- Aussie Rules Football, or the actual football itself. an intense & extremely popular sport here. everyone generally roots for a favorite team/suburb, and generally also feels quite strongly about it. Footy is discussed routinely, at least several times a day. It’s helpful to know the names of the teams in order to feel like part of a conversation.

N.B. One would never say “roots for a team” here. “Root/rooting” is a very offensive word that I won’t define here. Also, don’t use the phrase “blowing someone off” in order to convey snubbing someone. It doesn’t mean that here. Something very different.

That’s enough of the dictionary for now. I’ll probably have plenty more to add on later.

The rest of Friday was spent walking through the gardens of the city- the Treasury Gardens, the Fitzroy Gardens, etc. There seem to be freaking gardens everywhere you look. You can’t swing a dead cat around these parts without hitting a garden, you might say. A similar Aussie phrase for this would be “Every c*** and his cousin have a garden around here!” Pretty crude, yeah. Phrases like that one are part of a sort of subgroup of the Australian English language, commonly referred to as “Strine.” Say “strine” aloud, and you get more of an idea. “Let Stalk Strine” was the name of a book one of the ladies at the Jesuit Mission Office jokingly offered to me to help me better understand Australian slang and culture. Again, it needs to be said aloud in order to get the idea. ha But the gardens. Back to the gardens. It started to rain pretty aggressively as we strolled around town, but it was really beautiful. I got to see Captain Cook’s original house, which they apparently took apart, moved to the heart of Melbourne, and put back together for viewing purposes. I got some good pictures. Also casually strolled past a  sign directing us toward a “Model Tudor Village” & “The Fairy Tree.” Yep. I want to just leave the blog entry at that because it’s so ridiculous, but I won’t. I don’t really have much of an explanation except that someone decided it would be a good idea to build a little miniature town of Tudor houses in one of the gardens in the city, and a local author who believes/believed in fairies carved the trunk of a tree into the shapes of animals & fairies, and painted it. The plaque beneath it reads something like “this tree is a special place, for the children, and for the fairies, but more importantly the fairies.” I think Mr. Fairy-Tree-Author-Man may have been dabbling in either some psychadelic drugs, or was just plan freaking insane. See pictures for reference.

This looks like a bad shroom trip to me, not a safe haven for children. maybe it’s just me.

I think this is the product of a couple Australian dollhouse-makers getting hammered and saying “why not?”

Friday night we had the Newman Ball, which was really enjoyable. We got all dolled up in our formal attire, & ventured out with all the residents of Newman College. The College had rented out a renovated theater, where we had a 3 course dinner, open bar, & live music. Eventually the DJ played some good old American tunes like Iyaz-Replay and Metrostation-Shake It. You should have seen the Aussies flip their shit. The Aussies may not like us as a country exactly, but they do love our freaking music. We ended the night shortly after an unfortunate college student projectile vomited on the dancefloor & the open bar closed down. All in all, a good time, & it felt good to recognize some faces, as well as meet some new people. The dancefloor was a quite different scene from what it would have been in the States. Essentially, there was zero physical contact. Now don’t get me wrong here, I’m not advocating freak dancing, but I was blown away by how people literally just stood in circles, moved around a bit, and sang at the top of their lungs. It felt a bit awkward and disconnected, and I love my Aussies, but there was little to no rhythm being shared/experienced throughout the evening ha. I was very impressed by the amazing sense of community & camaraderie that I think can be quite hard to find on a college campus. I was lucky enough to find it with the Newdos (shout outttt) and its clear that Newman serves as that kind of family, but on a bigger, less intimate, and less badass scale.

Saturday we spent primarily hanging out with Luke’s family. Luke’s sister Lucinda is a real gem. She’s just so hilarious & vivacious & lovey. Luke & I fixed the “sail” in the backyard for Luke’s mum, and in return I was able to borrow two essentials:



FTW. So excited. I’ve been sleeping so so so so much better since I landed the fan, it’s unbelievable. So props to Luke’s mom for hooking me up there. Still have to get a sim card in order for the phone to work, but I’m uber-pumped to be able to be in contact with people if need be. It’s a big scary world when one is phoneless & has no idea where she is going in a massive, unfamiliar city. I miss the days of my Droid, where I could speak into the phone and it could tell me where to go! Gahh, America, I’ll be home soon enough! Went to a birthday party Saturday night, which Luke failed to inform me was a costume party. Epic fail. It was held at a ginormous mansion in Ivanhoe, another one of the local suburbs. I was so wiped out from the busy day that we called it a night fairly early, especially since we had to be up early for the Anzac Day ( Service….

Graeeeeee, wake up! I think that’s what he’s trying to say here.

After missing the Dawn Service, quite similar to one we’d have on Veteran’s Day that I probably wouldn’t make it to either, we went to Mass with Luke’s fam. Luke was feeling pretty ambitious and was encouraging me to wake up for the culture and Australian patriotism of the Anzac Day sunrise service, but I had a strong inkling the night before that it wasn’t going to pan out. Let’s be real here. Of course it didn’t pan out. But I can’t say that I was altogether disappointed. We all know that Grae loves her sleepy sleep. And now that I’ve got a fan, I mean, I might just not leave my room…ever. In the afternoon we went to L’s friend’s engagement party at a pub nearby in the suburb of Carlton. I spent a good portion of the party holding a baby, ultimately putting him into a deep, but gentle slumber. I mean, no big deal. I don’t want to say that I’m sort of like Mary fing Poppins, bursting into Melbourne and caring for the little babies around the city. I won’t say that. You can draw your own conclusions. Just keep that imagery in mind when drawing them.

In case you needed some inspiration, imagery-wise. This photo was taken of me upon my entry into Melbourne.

Everyone had off work today for the public holiday, so it was nice to sleep in & have a lazy afternoon to properly blog, for goodness’ sake. Tomorrow I’ll probably be heading back to Hawthorne (the suburb where the Jesuit Mission Office is) for some more volunteer stuff, but hopefully for no more anti-American lectures. In the afternoon I’ll probably be going to visit Lucinda’s school and sit in on her dance class. It looks like it will be a busy day. Further down the line I’m making plans to see some of the stereotypical sights around the city and outside the city- a couple things I want to do- the Great Ocean Road, some flipping shopping :), Eureka Tower, Philip Island (to see all the little penguins!), & potentially New Zealand later on. Who knows, who knows…

Luke stumbled in this evening from a 16 mile run which made me feel relatively to moderately unproductive about my day, but I got over that feeling fairly quickly. I think pigs would literally be in flight in the sky before I’d ever consider doing something like that to myself. We had a casual dinner at Newman, & went out for a bit afterwards for coffee and dessert with some of the other Newmanites. I’m just going to call them Newmanites from here on out. There’s a really interesting cafe culture here that reminds me much of the streets of Europe. We don’t have much in the way of cafes really the way they do here. It’s very common to walk down the street at 11 PM and see dozens of people gathered at cafe tables, sipping espresso & discussing the day’s footy game. Also quite interesting- they don’t drink liquor here hardly at all! It’s so expensive that everyone sticks to wine & beer. They don’t even sell full handles of liquor in “bottle shops” aka ABC stores, which kind of blew my mind. Obviously this didn’t stop the eager little Newmanites the other night at the ball, eh? In addition to every other American thing I look forward to experiencing when I’m home again, you can tack on bourbon & gingers. That is all.

Anyway I hope this was a sufficient summary of the past few days. I’ll try to post more frequently to keep this thing at least a little more interesting for you guys! Missing you all, per usual, and feeling incredibly homesick for everything familiar. Keep me in your prayers, por favor!

Love to you all! Keep reading! It gives me something to look forward to doing! 🙂

yours always xoxo,





One response

28 04 2010

Thanks for making my afternoon fly by! Looking forward to more posts to come (no pressure or anything) and catching up for a coffee outside of College some time.

There are so many things I want to comment on with this post, but I’ll just say one thing: Most of the people who have opinions about America have never been. If they visited, they would realise how wrong they are. Hope you’re feeling the love!

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