Australia Day in Mother England

I like to think that I adapt to new surroundings fairly quickly. A year has gone by and I already feel like I have been in London forever. On most days, London feels like home. However, now and then I forget I’m in London. It’s usually when I am brought back to reality after being deep in thought. Like today, I was at the gym listening to the Black Eyed Peas while resting between sets of bench presses. “What the hell happened to these guys?” I thought. “They used to be so goddamned goooooood. Didn’t they?” It was deep stuff. While contemplating Will.I.Am’s descent into mediocrity, someone tapped me on the shoulders. I took my ear plugs out and a much more buff gym-fellow with an incredibly unflattering pony-tail asked if I was done with the twenty-eights. “Nope. I’ve still got one more set.”

Before I answered, I was taken aback. Not because I had been interrupted during my gym routine. Mondays at the gym are a pushy, brutal environment, over-crowded and with limited facilities to satiate the excess of testosterone. I was caught by surprise because, despite having been living in the UK for a year, I did not expect the guy to have an English accent. Somehow, the Black Eyed Peas must have reminded me of Australia and I had forgotten where I was. It’s a jarring experience that I seem to experience at least once every fortnight, and is one that usually ends with the feeling of sheer disbelief in that I actually had the balls to move thousands of kilometres from home.

Usually this is a joyous feeling, coupled with anxiety at the impending leaving date. However, sometimes it transforms into an extreme yearning to be back home. And nothing has made me more home sick than when I was forced to celebrate Australia Day in the old country.

For those who don’t know, Australia Day is celebrated on 26 January (yes, I am that behind in my posts). It commemorates the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788 however, just like Independence Day has broadened its relevance to a general celebration of Americanness, Australia Day is now an excuse for one big Australian self-love-fest. However, the historical significance is not forgotten by all. In fact, many Aboriginals and Aboriginal welfare advocates denigrate the celebrations, referring to it angrily as Invasion Day. On the other extreme, extremist nationalist half-wits will also often rear their ugly heads on this day, spouting their love for “their” Australia to the exclusion of all foreigners. Especially those “bloody illegal boat people”. Ironically, most of their ancestors came to Australia as criminals on a boat.

I’m not one to get into the socio-political relevance of the day. However, Australia Day has been my favourite public holiday for all of my adult life for one pretty basic reason: it is a day off work in the middle of summer.

Many like to celebrate the day by having a picnic in a park, at the beach, or down by the foreshore to see the evening fireworks. I prefer to avoid the crowds. So, since I was nineteen, I have spent every Oz Day in a friend’s backyard frying up snaggers (sausages) on a barbie (barbecue), lying in a kiddie pool, sinking back (drinking) stubbies (bottled beer) and listening to the Hottest 100. Fair Dinkum! (Truthfully!)

Without any beach, barbecues, or general sunshine our options for celebrating Australia Day were limited. We opted to go to a party arranged by a group of Aussies at Bloomsbury Bowling. To the organisers credit, they did a fantastic job in creating a little Australia Day haven. There were Australian flags, green and gold streamers, blow up kangaroos, vintage AFL games played on TVs, Australian beers behind the bar, and Aussie tunes blasting out the speakers. However, it just wasn’t the same. It was frightfully cold, winter’s night, we were trapped in a dingy bowling basement without any natural light, the music was kitsch and excessive and we were surrounded by hundreds of Trust-Fund bogans.

bogan

Traditionally, the term bogan conjured up a very specific image. Flannel shirts, tight black jeans, curly mullets, Winnie Blues, Monaros and dole cheques. However, since the noughties and the coming age of tolerance, the term has been used more liberally to encapsulate a much broader societal base. There are wog bogans (Italians and Greeks with gold chains and Kappa snap pants), gay bogans (gays who drink rum and coke and wear wife-beater singlets) and trust-fund bogans (bogans hailing from society’s elite).

I always tried to avoid walking into a room full Western Suburbs’ lawyers when I lived in Perth. They’re an unremarkable breed, recognisably littered in one form or another in cities around the world. New York’s Upper East Side. London’s Inner West. Paris’ Sixth Arrondissement. Sydney’s Central East. They are all different versions of the same thing: the fortunate, the entitled, the self-important, the heir elite. They are rich and more often than not they are incredible bores.

If any of my friends read this blog, I might have to apologise. However, just to be safe I will note that I do have some friends from the Western Suburbs who are perfectly nice and incredibly interesting and intelligent individuals. However, there is a large contingent who, despite their private school education, speak with awfully broad Australian accents, wear ridiculously unfashionable clothing, and talk about the most inane and immature topics. Like how they are so cool for living in Hamstead Heath. And how it has been such a struggle catching the tube everyday. And how they are only just surviving with an allowance of $500 per week from their parents to supplement their income.

Maybe I’m just jealous. Or maybe I am just bitter that we got kicked out of the party at the embarrassingly early hour of 10.00pm for reasons I will never publicly disclose.

Strangely, spending Australia Day evening with a bunch of wealthy brats wasn’t the weirdest part of the day. Despite being a Saturday, I woke at 7:00am. Part of the reason was because I was awoken by the early morning winter chill and the other reason was because I was heading into work that morning. Two things that would never happen to me on a normal Australia Day.

During British winter, Perth is eight hours ahead, so I decided to check in on the end of the Hottest 100 through my Triple J radio app. Triple J is a nationwide youth radio station which promotes alternative and Australian music. Each year, the station hosts a poll, where listeners vote for their ten favourite songs of the year and the top 100 are played throughout the day on Australia Day. I always take great joy in compiling my own lists and hearing what other people are voting for. And there’s always a bit of a buzz in the weeks leading up as people guess what the number one song will be.

When I tuned in there were twenty songs left in the countdown. Some I had heard of, many I had not. Over the last year I missed an entire year of listening to music in Australia, so I had no real concept of what Australians were listening too. I tried to keep in touch with Australian music through Spotify, however I had no idea to what extent the music I was listening to had been embraced by the larger Triple J audience, which made my Hottest 100 listening experience somewhat unsettling. The biggest surprises were there top two songs.

Coming in at number two was Little Talks by Of Monsters and Men. This was an amazing surprise as it was one of he songs I voted for. Not only did I not realise that Australia had embraced this band, but I had no idea that this particular song (my favourite of the album) was so wildly popular.

In first place was Thrift Shop by Mackelmore & Ryan Lewis, which was also a surprise, however one that I was not quite as excited about. Unless you have been living under a rock (which apparently I had) then I am sure you have heard it. When the song broke out with its signature saxophone sample, my first thought was “is this a joke?” Wanz’ deep, plodding vocals soon followed and I thought, “What? This song? This is definitely a joke!” A minute went by, then two and soon the song was over. I checked Facebook to find friend’s status updates about “wearing their grandpas clothes” and it I knew it was confirmed: this was not a joke. Thrift Shop has won.

Grandpa’s clothes? Sure, the song was fun, but wasn’t it a glorified parody song? Wasn’t it a bit commercial? What is going on Australia?

This was an over simplified assessment. Sure, the song is kooky and funny and a bit dorky, but with repeated listenings I have come to realise that it is actually pretty clever. It’s a subversive rap, taking a pot shot at the culture of rappers bragging about all of their ostentatious bling. A tonuge-in-cheek counter-culture anthem to the excesses of the rapping world. And damn it’s catchy, which explains its success.

Some Triple J aficionados get upset when commercial songs are played on the station, however I’ve never agreed with such stringent purism. The fact is that Triple J usually plays songs before anyone has heard of them, so if a song crosses over to the mainstream it is a testament to Triple J’s success in promoting alternative music. Just look at last year’s number one: Lonely Boy by The Black Keys. This song rocketed the band to mainstream success, however Triple J had been supporting The Keys since their Big Come Up days, five albums before.

The weird feeling for me was realising that there had been a musical phenomenon in Australia that I was unaware of and had completely missed out on. I imagined my friends rapping in their cars with the windows down on the way to the beach. I could see them krumping in their backyards as the beat dropped. I imagined an entire summer of my friends singing and dancing to that song. Without me.

It’s the little things that always get me.

How did all you other Aussie expats celebrate Australia Day? Are you a trust-fund bogan? Do you hate me? Don’t be silly.
And what about all of you other expats? How do you cope with missing out on your homelands traditions while living abroad? And did anyone else vote for the Hottest 100?

In case anyone was wondering, here are my votes:

My Top Ten

Don’t Save Me by Haim

Family by The Cast of Cheers

Heartbreak by Clubfeet (feat. Chela)

Holdin’ On by Flume

Hold On by Alabama Shakes

Gasoline by Alpine

Little Talks by Of Monsters and Men

Love is All I Got by Feed Me & Crystal Fighters

Myth by Beach House [favourite song of 2012]

Sun by Two Door Cinema Club

Songs I nearly voted for, but didn’t quite make the cut:

Breezeblocks by Alt-J

Feel to Follow by The Maccabees

Hail Bop by Django Django

Hands by Alpine

Open Season by High Highs

Tesselate by Alt-J

V.E.L.I.S. by Bloc Party

Blue Jeans by Lana Del Rey

~Expatria

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