Against the Clock

Some spam that I received today, obviously in response to the hard work of my alter-ego:

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This is my public declaration that I intend to run in the Bridge to Brisbane 10K event in two months. Yes, on 30 August I will join thousands of other runners who will race across the Gateway Bridge on their way to the EKKA showgrounds. My plan is to merely finish. I haven't done any serious running for eight years, and my 30-min jog today nearly wiped me out. But, I'm determined to shake myself out of this sedentary lifestyle before it kills me.

Humpin' My Bluey

Will and I were listening to "The Great Australian Songbook" this morning while playing with his trains. This album includes such classics as "Waltzing Matilda," "Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport," and "Red Back on the Toilet Seat." But I was pleasantly surprised when Track 11 came on--an Aussie version of "I've Been Everywhere." I knew it as an old song, and was most familiar with the Johnny Cash version that features in a Comfort Inn (I think) ad back in the U.S. It goes something like: "Reno, Chicago, Fargo, Minnesota, Buffalo, Toronto, Winslow, Sarasota, Wichita, Tulsa, Ottawa, Oklahoma, Tampa...I've been everywhere, man, I've been everywhere..."

Well, it turns out the Australian version is the original version, as it was written in 1959 by Geoff Mack in New South Wales. It was later rewritten for a North American audience and recorded by Hank Snow in 1962. I had heard it on Telstra television ads prior to today, but just assumed that they were adapting the 'American' version for Australia. How wrong I was! According to this Wikipedia entry, the Australian version starts:

"Well, I was humpin' my bluey on the dusty Oodnadatta Road..."

The place names listed are:
Verse 1
Tullamore, Seymour, Lismore, Mooloolaba, Nambour, Maroochydore,Kilmore, Murwillumbah, Birdsville, Emmaville, Wallaville, Cunnamulla,Condamine, Strathpine, Proserpine, Ulladulla, Darwin, Gin Gin,Deniliquin, Muckadilla, Wallumbilla, Boggabilla, Kumbarilla
Verse 2
Moree, Taree, Jerilderie, Bambaroo, Toowoomba, Gunnedah,Caringbah, Woolloomooloo, Dalveen, Tamborine, Engadine, Jindabyne,Lithgow, Casino, Brigalow, Narromine, Megalong, Wyong, Tuggeranong,Wanganella, Morella, Augathella, Brindabella
Verse 3
Wollongong, Geelong, Kurrajong, Mullumbimby, Mittagong, Molong,Grong Grong, Goondiwindi, Yarra Yarra, Boroondara, Wallangarra,Turramurra, Boggabri, Gundagai, Narrabri, Tibooburra, Gulgong,Adelong, Billabong, Cabramatta, Parramatta, Wangaratta, Coolangatta
Verse 4
Ettalong, Dandenong, Woodenbong, Ballarat, Canberra, Milperra,Unanderra, Captains Flat, Cloncurry, River Murray, Kurri Kurri,Girraween, Terrigal, Stockinbingal, Collaroy, Narrabeen, Bendigo, Dorrigo, Bangalow, Indooroopilly, Kirribilli, Yeerongpilly, Wollondilly
What a silly American I am to think that the Aussies stole something from Johnny Cash! As penance, my goal is to memorise this version. I'll let you know when I do.

The Perils of Preschooler Travel

We're back home in Brisbane. Once again, we're suffering the consequences of transoceanic flying. Jet lag is as rampant in our household as flies in the summer. I'm writing at 3 am because Will was wide awake at 2, just as he was the night before. He's watching 'Ratatouille' and asking why it's still dark outside. V returns to work later today, so I'm trying to let her sleep. I'm staying at home with Will because he's not allowed to go to daycare for a week, simply because he's been to the U.S.

Our trip back to Australia started this past Thursday with a four hour drive from Springfield, IL (where we had been visiting some friends) to Chicago's O'Hare airport. After checking our suitcases, V and Will went through security while I returned the rental car. I didn't return for over an hour because it took nearly 40 minutes in rush hour traffic to find a gas station to refill the tank. We then boarded our plane for Los Angeles. Things went pretty well on that flight, until the final hour when Will decided to empty his bladder on my lap (via a leaky diaper) while we were playing a game on my iPhone. V was able to change him in the plane's toilet (how she does that is still a mystery to me), but I had to wait until we could pick up our suitcases from baggage claim for my own change.

We then hauled our bags to the Bradley International terminal to check in for our Qantas flight. Extremely lucky for us, our tickets were upgraded to Premium Economy and we got to sit together. Our 11:30 pm flight was delayed 45 minutes, however, so by the time we boarded Will was acting like a drunk pirate. In fact, he fell asleep while the plane was still taxing. V and I got to enjoy a wonderful dinner (complete with a white tablecloth) and movie while Will continued to doze. It was about five hours into the flight, after all the other passengers had fallen asleep, that Will woke up screaming at the top of his lungs. He never really opened his eyes much, but he was completely unhappy with his seat. Because the fancy seats in Premium Economy don't have moveable armrests, I couldn't have him lie across my lap. He soon was bellowing at maximum volume, and we could do nothing to soothe him. I picked him up and took him to the lavatory. There I rocked him for about 15 minutes until he stopped crying and coughing (all those tears got him very congested). I was a little worried that a flight attendant would hear all the coughing and report us to the health officials when we landed. Alas, Will did finally fall asleep. I carried him back to the seat where he slept a few more hours. The rest of the flight went pretty well, even after he woke up again with five hours to go.

In Sydney we faced the same bedlam that I experienced 2 1/2 years ago when I came over for my job interview. Since then I have always flown directly to Brisbane to avoid the connection, but we couldn't do that this time. Sydney is the major entry point for Australia, and it appears that most of the international flights arrive there within the same hour each morning. With four or five 747s emptying their bellies at the same time, the immigration and customs lines quickly look like the freeways of LA at rush hour. Will soon became bored and we had to keep him from climbing between people's legs and opening their suitcases. The worst part about flying into Sydney, however, is the connection to the domestic flight. Qantas makes you take all your bags to the other side of the international terminal where there was a one-hour wait to drop them off (even though they had been tagged back in Los Angeles). While we waited, Will sat perched on top of two suitcases on a trolley, playing with my iPhone. As we neared the front of line, the staff suddenly called our flight (we were getting close to missing it by this point, even though I scheduled a nearly 3-hour layover). As we pushed our trolleys into the "express" lane, Will rolled off the trolley and hit his head on the floor. He was OK, but his crying alarmed the Qantas staff, who quickly put us at the front of the line. Gee, if I had known that a little head banging would have sped things up, I might have tried that trick earlier!

After finally taking a shuttle to the domestic terminal, we almost immediately boarded our flight to Brisbane. Will slept the entire flight, but was delighted when we pulled into our gate in Brissy because he knew we were home. He was smiling nearly the entire 40-min taxi ride to Graceville. When I unlocked the front door, he ran to his toys and immediately started putting together his train tracks. V and I hauled our five suitcases up the steps and then crashed on the sofa.

And they lived happily ever after.


Chigger Redux

Sure, we get all sorts of nasty bugs down in Australia. And, sure, we don't have window screens (a.k.a. "fly screens") on our house in Brisbane, thus making it that much easier for various antipodean insects to come bother us in our pajamas. But, none of those bugs are as irritating as chiggers in Arkansas! Amazingly, I mentioned this in a blog entry during our last family visit to Hot Springs two years ago, and here I am again scratching away as I write this.

Chiggers our particularly bothersome because you never see them. They lie in wait in the grass, in bushes, or benches, ready to leap onto your body undetected. They then lay larvae on your body, which crawl around until they find a cozy place to take hold. This description from an Ohio State website says it best:
The preferred feeding locations on people are parts of the body where clothing fits tightly over the skin such as around the belt line, waistline, under girdles and under socks, or where the flesh is thin, tender or wrinkled such as the ankles, in the armpits, back of the knees, in front of the elbow, or in the groin.

ChiggerChigger larvae do not burrow into the skin, nor suck blood. They pierce the skin and inject into the host a salivary secretion containing powerful, digestive enzymes that break down skin cells that are ingested (tissues become liquefied and sucked up). Also, this digestive fluid causes surrounding tissues to harden, forming a straw-like feeding tube of hardened flesh (stylostome) from which further, partially-digested skin cells may be sucked out. After a larva is fully fed in four days, it drops from the host, leaving a red welt with a white, hard central area on the skin that itches severely and may later develop into dermatitis. Any welts, swelling, itching, or fever will usually develop three to six hours after exposure and may continue a week or longer. If nothing is done to relieve itching, symptoms may continue a week or more.

I'm scratching in all sorts of difficult-to-reach places. Won't I have a fun time on our long plane ride back to Oz on Thursday night?


My Daddy Hung It

Our current stop on the Great Midwest Tour of 2009 is Hot Springs Village, Arkansas. For the past week we have continued to experience a wide range of severe weather wherever we go. On Friday morning, while we enjoyed our Holiday Inn Express breakfast, a huge thunderstorm went over us in Ponca City, Oklahoma. That same storm eventually found its way to Arkansas. In today's Arkansas Democrat Gazette, an article on the storm contained the following delightful passage on American patriotism and the weather:
A quick-moving Friday storm shook the [Chrysler] dealership and demolished one of the building walls, however, leaving no chance of sales Saturday.

"I just had a complaint the American flag was displayed the wrong way," co-owner Ethel Cook said. "It's insanity. I said, 'My daddy hung it for the people on the inside. We didn't know the wall was going to be blown out.'"
It must have been one of those foreign storms messing things up.

A Whirlwind

The American ex-pats who live in Oz will greatly appreciate this picture. It was taken at a Kohl's in Coralville, IA, where V., Will, and I had a spontaneous orgy of shopping after discovering the store directly across from the gas station where I was filling up the rental car. It was nearly 6:00 on a Monday, and I said, "I bet that store is open until at least 7." Of course, we nearly went crazy when we saw the generous opening hours--and it was only Monday night! Back in Brisbane, there's usually only one evening any store is open (Thursday, in our neck of the woods), so we don't even think about shopping after 5 anymore.

My friend Diane will want to kill me when she reads this entry. You see, she lives very close to the location of this photo, and I had just told her a few days before that we weren't planning to drive through Iowa. Well, I had a very sudden change of plans, as I was really desperate to see Iowa again. We stopped briefly in beautiful downtown Iowa City for a cup of coffee at the Java House and a loud tantrum next to the Englert, and then we drove out to the City Park so that Will could have some time at the playground. And then we were off again...a total of 60 minutes in I.C., maybe, until we were detoured in Coralville. After saving nearly $250 there, by the way, we drove to a Des Moines surburb to stay at a Holiday Inn Express (how utterly luxurious!). Today we proceeded south on I-35 through Madison County (home of the "Bridges Of..."), across the border to Missouri, and straight on to Kansas City. Unlucky for us, we endured severe weather, complete with tornado watches and warnings, for the next six hours. We briefly stopped off in Lawrence, KS, to see the University of Kansas, and then it was on to Topeka (where there's actually a National Historic Site for the Brown v. Board of Education decision), and south to Wichita, and finally Ponca City, Oklahoma, where we rest now.  There were moments during the final hour of the drive that were utterly terrifying as the visibility dropped to about 10 feet in blinding rain. V. said it was the scariest 10-minutes of her life.

Next time, Diane, we will definitely stop by your ranch, I promise!


It's 4:41 am in Rockford, Illinois. It's very early dawn, and I am listening to a lovely concerto of  North American birds singing outside the window. I've been awake for about three hours--ever since Will started playing with my toes at the end of the bed. I responded by lying down next to him until he fell asleep an hour later. Then I was too wide awake, so I came out to my brother's living room to surf the web. Our trip across the world on Thursday was very long. Our plane in Brisbane was delayed nearly an hour. Then our plane from Los Angeles to Chicago was delayed two hours due to a mechanical problem.  Will was excellent for the largest part of the 20 hours we travelled. He spent a lot of time watching the in-flight entertainment system, and he slept (on me) for nearly six hours during the first flight, and another two during the second. We couldn't sit together as a family on either flight because both planes were full and something happened to our original seat assignments. We finally got to Rockford at 10:30, but didn't go to bed until 1 am. All three of us slept until 11:30 the next day (yesterday).

That's a lot of detail about sleep. You can see what's on my mind. In fact, I'm suddenly tired, so I'm going to try to go back to bed before there's too much daylight.  Good night or good morning or whatever suits.

The Romance of China

One my PhD students is working on a manuscript about her honours thesis, which looked at, in part, the implicit prejudice that White Australians may hold towards people who are ethnic Chinese.  Much like in the American West at the time, Chinese immigrants faced riots and other forms of severe discrimination in late 19th Century Australia.  This led to the "White-Australia" immigration policy of the country, which wasn't really dismantled until the early 1970s. Since then, the number of Chinese immigrants has steadily increased, and Chinese Australians are indeed a vital part of modern, "multi-cultural" Australia.  Still, ethnic prejudice exists, and my student did find that it predicted discrimination on a simple decision about whether an applicant should be given a scholarship.

More broadly, my beloved New York Times has a great article today about Australia's uneasy relationship with China. The article discusses Australia's heavy reliance on mining exports to China, which has been the primary reason why Aussies have enjoyed such a brilliant economy in the past decade. Now the Chinese want to increase those exports and own more of those companies, mines, and land that produce them. There's a slowly building antipathy towardsChina as a whole, which should have some interesting implications for how Australians view the Chinese (and Chinese immigrants) in the coming years.


I hope that one day George Tiller will be recognised by most Americans as the courageous hero that he was. His strong convictions to help others, even when he was shot at, repeatedly harassed and threatened, and finally, murdered, make me realise me how scared and selfish most of us really are.

The Compleat Aussie Academic

I've been contemplating writing a guide for the American academic who takes up a position at an Australian University. It would include the kinds of things that don't appear in other guides to the country--the 'unadvertised' stuff. A few that come to mind today:
  • Australian students (certainly those who study psychology) don't like to buy books after the first year of uni, and often their instructors merely suggest books, rather than require them for the final exam. A couple of reps from academic publishers told me that it is really difficult to sell textbooks here (compared to the States), even though there isn't really a huge difference in price (maybe 5-10% higher here).
  • Three-hole punch loose-leaf notebooks are available here, but the two-hole paper punch and notebook are much more the norm. Why anyone prefers just to keep their papers in such a notebook (the two holes are near the center of the page, leaving the tops and bottoms hanging around pretty loosely) is a mystery to me. Of course, this mystery goes in both directions. I once asked a student to use my American three-hole punch with a three-hole notebook for a lab project, and she responded, "Why?"
  • They're called brackets, not parentheses, here. I don't think there is a way to differentiate between () and [] in normal Aussie speech, although perhaps you could say "square brackets" when referring to the latter.  And, quotes (' ') are referred to as "inverted commas."
  • If you don't have the rank of Professor, be happy being addressed as "Dr." Of course, the students will probably call you by your first name anyway. In fact, the only people who don't use my first name when they first meet me are usually international students from Canada or the U.S. Back in Atlanta, where much of the etiquette is full of strong Southern tones, I worked with a PhD student who called me "Dr. Vanman" the entire five years I knew her--even though I repeatedly insisted that she call me "Eric."
  • The document created by a Master's student here is called a "dissertation" and the one produced by a PhD student is called a "thesis." That's exactly opposite of the American convention.
  • PhD students here don't normally have to defend their thesis orally.  In fact, the examiners of the thesis don't even come from one's own university.  When the student submits his or her thesis, it's sent to two examiners with an international reputation who have 6-8 weeks to write a report about the thesis. The student then responds to any suggestions/criticisms when the reports come back. Back in the States, a student gives an oral presentation of their dissertation, followed by questions from their dissertation committee and the audience. Then, they continue with another 1-2 hours of interviews with the 4-5 members of the dissertation committee. The dissertation committee is made up entirely of faculty members from the university, unless there is a need to have someone outside the university with special expertise. Finally, after the defense, there's usually a celebration with champagne and nibbles. Here, because the examination process carries on over several months, it's much harder to feel like one is done at some particular point.
  • Australian academics like really, really long PhD theses. I was the examiner for one that was nearly 400 pages long. By contrast, my own PhD dissertation was about 50 pages long.  This norm appears to be changing, as international assessors of Aussie theses often refuse to examine such long documents.
  • Australian universities like forms. There's a specific form for any activity here that a student undertakes. It's driving me nuts.
  • Australian undergraduate students like to focus on their "Assignments" during the semester (they can usually tell you exactly how many they have across all their subjects), and then, and only then, do they start to think about the final exam when they have heard the last lecture.
  • School (or Department) governance is more often run like an oligarchy or is even completely concentrated in the all-powerful Head of School. This is changing in my school, where input from staff members (i.e., "the faculty" in U.S. parlance) about major decisions is increasingly welcome. Back in Atlanta we spent countless hours discussing nearly every matter as an entire faculty group.  More democracy occurred there, but it was also a lot of wasted time. I am much happier with the benevolent (and competent) dictator model here.
Of course, the list largely reflects my limited experience in this one department at this one university. Perhaps I will find other North American academics to contribute to it...

Hog Heaven

Kahneman and Tversky published a series of influential psychology articles in the 1970s about heuristics--the mental shortcuts that we all take when processing the constant bombardment of information that is inflicted on us during every waking moment. One of these is the availability heuristic, which, according to the Wikipedia entry, is a cognitive bias "in which people base their prediction of the frequency of an event or the proportion of the population based on how easily an example can be brought to mind." I've been lecturing about the availability heuristic for years in my social psychology courses. One example I always mention was how a friend of mine in graduate school refused to fly on DC-10s after just one high-profile crash in Iowa, even though DC-10s at the time had one of the best safety records of all aircraft.

Well, right now I'm suffering from the power of the availability heuristic as it pertains to the swine flu "pandemic." And I'm not the only one--emergency rooms in New York City are full of people who think they have the swine flu:  “The consensus among these physicians,” said Dr. Steven J. Davidson, the chairman of the hospital’s emergency medicine department, “is that the influenza is mild but the patients are unusually scared.”  Here in Australia the frequency of swine flu stories in the news has noticeably increased in the past week.  Some newspapers give daily Australian "swine flu tolls," as if they were counting deaths from the flu, although no one here has actually died in the over 170 cases that have been reported. Today's Courier-Mail included several pages of coverage to the swine flu, which included a major story about a cruise ship that has been sort of quarantined at the Great Barrier Reef (but the passengers continue to "party on," as one Brisbane bloke told a reporter). Another story was about the fact that the state and federal governments are now requiring that all children who travel to countries with high rates of swine flu (e.g., the United States) must stay at home for seven days when they return to Oz.

Why is this causing me a problem? Well, we are scheduled to leave next Thursday for the U.S. with our 3-year-old in tow (who looked very much like that boy in the picture above when he was younger!). V. and I have thought seriously about cancelling our trip, and waiting until next year to try to travel again.  We would lose lots of money if we did so, and we (and my family members) would be very disappointed.  But, you know, it's our son that we're talking about here.

But, alas, we have decided to stick to the facts. The fatality rate from the swine flu is about the same as any strain of influenza, and, our chances of getting the flu (of any strain) are probably no greater when going to the U.S. now than staying around here where it seems our colleagues and friends are coming down with all sorts of viruses (remember, the flu season has just begun in the southern hemisphere).  I had a flu "jab" a few weeks ago that is supposed to inoculate me from both Brisbane strands of the virus (dubbed last year as "more deadly than any seen in the past two decades in Britain"). 

Damn you, availability heuristic, I'm going to stick to the facts this time when estimating the probability...

The Romantic

We watched "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" on Saturday night with Will (his first time). Call me an unrepentant romantic, but I just can't get enough of this song:

A Star Was Born (Somewhere Else)

I got up early this morning and headed off to the Seven television studios on Mt. Coot-ha to do a live "cross-over" for 'Sunrise,' the top-rated morning show in Australia. I have written in this blog before about the hosts of this show, Mel and Kochie, who have a style that would be considered completely inappropriate in the States. I adore them! Anyway, a few minutes before they cut to me, I got to speak briefly to Kochie via an earpiece. Then, following the news of a foiled terrorist plot in New York and torrentials rains in NSW, Mel went to me for an explanation of a recent article about the possible brain mechanisms that underlie love.  If I appear stiff and awkward in this video, it's because I was.  I was worried about fidgeting, talking too loud, and lifting my head too high to avoid a reflection on my glasses, all while I worried whether I was going to say something stupid on a one-second delay that appeared on the large television below the camera.  You can watch it for yourself:

Poor Will was watching this live at home, and when I disappeared from the screen, he ran to the front door, opened it (for the first time!), and began screaming for me.  Perhaps he sensed the quick fall from stardom that I now faced...

Would You Hire This Guy?

There must be a real shortage of quality executives out there because the guy in this picture, Sol Trujillo, an American businessman who recently returned to the States, actually thinks he's going to get hired by another American corporation because he's good at "fixing" broken companies.

For any non-Australian readers, Trujillo's name probably won't ring a bell. But, here in Oz, Trujillo had, until a few weeks ago, been running Telstra, the largest telecommunications company in the land.  It's Telstra that takes at least $300 a month from my pocket in return for a somewhat crappy iPhone service, our meager home telephone service (we pay for every phone call in addition to a $30 monthly fee), and providing internet service at a premium price. This is also the same company that had its Board of Directors meeting in Las Vegas last summer, while the current financial crisis finally started to have an impact here.  And Telstra is the company whose shares have dropped nearly 38 percent during Trujillo's tenure.  If Telstra had any real competition in this country (like the kind that goes on in the U.S., for example), I am certain it would be out of business by now.

Yes, Trujillo was recently forced to leave Telstra after breaking it (maybe this is why he's an expert on fixing broken companies?). During the four years he ran Telstra, however, he earned more than $30 million (US$21 million).  Now he's back in America, and according to an article in today's Australian, he's trying to defend his record at the company: "I don't know if you noticed that there is a global recession going on and we have outperformed the ASX [the Australian stock exchange] in total shareholder return."

Geoff Elliott, who wrote the article, then points out in the next paragraph: 
From the day Mr Trujillo started on July 1, 2005, to the day of his departure last Thursday, Telstra shares have fallen 37.8 per cent compared with a 13 per cent fall by the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index. Based on total shareholder returns, which takes into account dividend payments, Telstra shares have underperformed the wider market by 18 per cent, according to Bloomberg data.

Since the peak of the stock market in late 2007, the S&P/ASX 200 is off about 44 per cent, while Telstra shares are down just 32 per cent. Still, Telstra shares never moved more than a few cents past the $5.06 mark when Mr Trujillo joined the company and closed yesterday at $3.21.

And this is how someone earns $30 million in four years?  Running a sub-standard company that doesn't even benefit its shareholders, let alone its customers? Fortunately for Trujillo's successor, most Australians don't seem to know how substandard their telecommunication services are compared to the rest of the industrialised world, and therefore expectations are pretty low that it's ever going to get better here.

After digging around a bit, I discovered that before he came to Australia in 2005, Trujillo was the CEO of US West until a hostile takeover by Qwest in 2000. Then he became the CEO of Orange, the French telecom, which has an infamous reputation as an ISP provider in the UK. He's still on the Board of Directors of Orange today.  Gee, I sure hope that someone asks to see Trujillo's resume before he's allowed to "fix" his next company.  


Herding Ducks

We had an early start on Sunday morning so that we could attend the Brookfield Show in NW Brisbane. After driving only 15 minutes from our home, we found ourselves in the middle of a beautiful valley that felt far away from the Brisbane metro area. Here, next to the Brookfield State School, was a country-fair (an agricultural "show" in Australia) with all sorts of attractions for our 3-year-old and his two pre-school friends (who met us there with their parents) to enjoy. Our first stop was the sideshow alley, where the kids boarded three kiddie rides. I was relieved that this time Will didn't try to climb out while his ride was still moving. He did, however, try (unsuccessfully) to convince me to take him on the adult rides. And when I ordered a Diet Coke at the refreshment stand, he cheekily added to the order: "and a red lolly!" We later saw various water fowl in the poultry pavilion, a stuffed dingo, several snakes, a group of piglets taking a nap between races, a camel caravan that wandered among the crowds (seen in the picture on the right), and some beautiful border collies who demonstrated their herding skills on a trio of ducks in an obstacle course. Will and his friends also enjoyed the petting area, which seemed packed with mischievous children who cheerily pulled the tails of the baby animals. I think Will's favourite part of the show was the huge display of cakes, cookies, and brownies up for competition in the cookery pavilion. In his sweetest voice, he gently repeated, "please, Daddy, can I have that one?" We took a pass on the $50 'chopper' rides, which involved a dinky helicopter that looked like it was put together as a kit in someone's garage. Finally, we cheered the horses jumping obstacles in the Arena, although I really didn't understand what was happening in the competition.  By the time we left 3 hours later, Will and his friends (and their parents) were exhausted.

I really love 
these Australian agricultural shows. The granddaddy of them all, the EkkA, is just three months away... 

Croc Bait

I saw this picture in a gallery of photos titled 'Croc Bait' on the Northern Territory News website. Territorians seem to be the ultimate thrill-seekers, and perhaps a good research population for my next study.


Next month we will celebrate our two-year anniversary in Australia, and that's made me think about how I'm starting to lose some of my American ways.  Examples:
  • I no longer know what time it is back in the States (in any time zone). I used to think about it constantly, but now depend on my computer to figure it out.
  • I no longer need to convert the temperature to Fahrenheit.  In fact, I know that a max of 25 C is 'perfect,' and that anything below 12 C will require a jacket. I don't even know what those temps are in F, but I could compute them if you want me to.
  • Occasionally we come across some celebrity gossip from the States, and I am surprised about how many of the new 'celebs' are people I have never heard of.  I am not sure what "The Hills" is all about, for example.
  • I phoned a friend today back in the States and accidentally slipped into the conversation "nappies," "cot," and a few other Aussie words for which I momentarily forgot the American equivalent.
  • I now pronounce 'tomatoes' the Aussie way when I order a sandwich at Subway.
  • I regularly use my $1 and $2 coins these days.  This took a long time to master.
  • When the seasons occur (e.g., referring to winter in June) is starting to make sense.
  • I was listening to our voice messages from our American number, and was startled when I heard someone with a Georgia accent. That's one I now rarely hear, if ever, here.
  • I am starting to greet co-workers and friends by name when I see them--this is one of those amazing aspects of Australian hospitality that has taken me way too long to reciprocate.
I still diligently follow the news from America (probably better than I follow Australian news). I don't know if that will ever change. And we still subscribe (via iTunes) to three or four American TV shows, including "The Daily Show," so I haven't completely forgotten my cultural roots. But, who knows. Maybe a year from now I will actually care about who wins the Logies.

Small Country

I received the following email today (FYI: the intended recipients are Australians):

The population of this country is 20 million.

11 million are retired.

That leaves 9 million to do the work.

There are 5 million in school

Which leaves 4 million to do the work.

Of this there are 2 million employed by the federal government.

Leaving 2 million to do the work.

0.1 million are in the armed forces preoccupied with killing Osama  Bin-Laden.

Which leaves 1.9 million to do the work.

Take from that total the 1.5 million people who
work for state and  city Governments. And that leaves 0.4 million to do the work.

At any given time there are 18,800 people in hospitals.

Leaving 381,200 to do the work.

Now, there are 381,198 people in prisons.

That leaves just two people to do the work.

You and me.

And there you are,

Sitting on your ass,

At your computer, reading jokes.

Nice. Real nice.


At a Minimum

I was talking to one of my honours students the other day. She told me that she would soon have more time for her thesis project because she was losing her job as a waitress. I asked why. She said, "oh, you know, I'm turning 21." As if that explained everything! I reminded her that I am an American eager to know more about Australia. Well, it turns out that when she turns 21 the employer must pay her more, and because of that, they will make up the excuse that slower business means that she is no longer needed. The student didn't seem particularly bothered by this. Indeed, when I checked with other students, as well as some Aussie colleagues, they all gave me a look of "well, of course!"

So, I did a little research and discovered that there are in effect several minimum wages in Australia. With the exception of certain professions and union agreements (and that covers quite a few people), the standard Federal Minimum Wage (FMW) is $14.31 per hour, or $543.78 per week. [As a comparison, on July 24th this year, the U.S. minimum wage will increase to $7.25 per hour, or $9.82 per hour in Aussie dollars].  However, people under 21 are considered 'junior employees' in Oz, and thus are not entitled to the full FMW:
A junior is any employee who is younger than the age set down in an award, or in other industrial instruments, defining adult (or senior) employment status - typically this can be an age between 18 and 21 years. Most awards and agreements set different wage rates for each age group up to senior status.  Usually a junior would receive a percentage of the appropriate minimum adult rate. source here
An example of these percentages from the Queensland web site are: 
  • 17 years and under or 1st year of experience as an apprentice: 55% of FMW
  • 18 years or 2nd year of experience: 65% of FMW
  • 19 years but less than 3rd year of experience: 75% of FMW, etc.
I find this all a bit strange.  Why should a 20 year old who starts working at a coffee shop on the same day as an 18 year old be paid $4-5 more an hour, simply because she is older? (By the way, "years of experience" only apply to special apprenticeships).  And, surely the common practice of sacking people when they turn 21 must raise some eyebrows in union and government offices?

I think being a small business owner in Australia must involve a lot of bureaucratic frustration. And I belong to a union!  (More on that later).