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There is an obvious sub-text to my short story: The Secret, that I wrote in 2015 after a trip to Russia. Silly things, we might come to believe in, like 'the law of attraction' are not harmless. 

The story is also a reflection on the difference between American and Australian stereotypes, that were evident from conversations on the cruise.

I lived in New York for some time and my eldest daughter was born there. I have visited the US fairly regularly since. It is, in many ways, the closest country to Australia that you will find, outside New Zealand.  So, I have often been surprised by how different it is in other ways to Australia, given the great similarities in the median standard of living, shared popular culture and immigrant demographics.

I have come to the conclusion that this stems from our different founding origins.

Starting as a penal colony from which convicts could be emancipated and 'make good', Australians are surprised and gratified when things turn out well and put this down to good luck (The Lucky Country).  As a result, Australians share a national inferiority complex and are always checking to see how they stack-up overseas.  There is no 'true path', you just get on with it and do what works. You don't go off, trying to take-over the world or telling others how to run their country - unless we are backing-up our big cousin across the Pacific.

America started as the 'Promised Land'. Unlike Australia they had a founding myth and fought Britain for their independence.  Then they fought with Britain again in 1812, Mr Maddison's War, in an attempt to annex Canada. In 1836 they fought with Mexico to successfully annex Texas. Then, between 1861 and 1865, they fought amongst themselves, over sovereignty over Texas and the southern states; and to preserve slavery in the South. Then they fought with the Spanish again 1898 to 'free' Cuba, Hispaniola and the Philippines. 

Meanwhile, they purchased vast tracts from France and Russia and fought pitched battles with their own indigenous peoples. Latterly they plotted with revolutionaries, of all ilk's, to overthrow numerous other Colonial powers and governments, to whom they were antipathetic for one or another reason. For more on this see: Overthrow and the 'Arab Spring' on this website.

Stereotypically, Americans, as a people, believe in their country's Manifest Destiny. That is, like Pangloss, that 'American Democracy' is the best of all systems of government and will, or is destined to result in, eventually, the best of all possible worlds. Thus, it needs to be spread far-and-wide, if all people are to have good, peaceful and happy lives.  

This belief in themselves as do-gooders is reinforced by the highest level of religiosity of any developed nation. They are shocked, and almost disbelieving, when things don't go well.  As a result, they are often their own harshest critics, believing that problems arise because they are straying from the true path, even though they usually disagree about what that is.

Australians, stereotypically, have no such vision or belief, beyond a general sense of belonging to 'Team Australia' and an egalitarian feeling that everyone ought to have equal opportunity; or at least to have a say in how we are governed. Hence, it is compulsory to vote in Australia. And we don't like people breaking the duly enacted laws of our society. Because, despite our 'larrikin self-image', we are among the most compliant, law-abiding populations on the planet.   

Yet, generally speaking, we wouldn't want to enforce our system on anybody else.  Not even on Papua New Guinea, for which we once held responsibility: "There it is mate, our form of government, take it or leave it."

As a gross generalisation, Australians tend to be prepared to take others as they find them and, maybe, learn from them. Americans are often evangelical when it comes to their form of democracy and the: American Dream. Thus, Australians are noticeably better received by the locals in foreign lands and, possibly foolishly, regard everyone as a potential friend, whereas Americans tend to be more wary.

These are stereotypes and stereotypes always have exceptions, like the older American couple who attended the Opera with us; who, like us, clearly took the Russians at face value.  

There were several other nationality groups on the same boat, each exhibiting stereotypical behaviour.  Possibly people adopt their national stereotype when attempting to bond with, otherwise unknown, fellow countrymen in a strange environment.

As to the US settings in my story:

Despite the recent spate of highly publicised school murders, the US is becoming much safer. The homicide rate has declined substantially from 9.8 in 1992 to 4.8 per 100,000 persons now.  

By comparison the rate in Australia is 1.2 per 100,000 and the homicide rate in Moscow in 2009 was 4.6 per 100,000 but lower across the nation.  

The last time I visited Lancing and Detroit was nearly 40 years ago.  Detroit was where the guy I was meeting on business insisted he send his security guard with me when, on leaving, I told him I had parked the rental car in the public car park across the street.  As we approached the building the guard un-clipped his holster and half drew his gun.

So I had to do a bit of virtual revisiting via Google. There I found a YouTube tour of the Detroit Ghetto.  It remains one of the most dangerous urban places in the World and not a place to get a flat tyre.  The setting for the car-jacking was taken from that short film.  

According to Forbes in October 2013:

Make no mistake: Detroit is still a very dangerous place. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s crime database reports Detroit had 386 murders last year, up from 344 in 2011 and essentially unchanged from 2000 – when the city had 200,000 more residents.

The steady outflow of residents has driven Detroit’s murder rate up to 54.6 per 100,000, more than 10 times the national average and the highest in the country among large cities.

Equally troubled Stockton, Calif., fifth on this year’s Most Dangerous list, has less than half the murder rate of Detroit.

This compares to 8.4 murders per 100,000 for Mexico City.  Mind you, both Wendy and I wandered about in Mexico City and saw nothing but surprisingly happy people enjoying themselves or going about their business.

Unemployment in the US is presently very high by Australian standards and many professionals are doing it tough.

The relative pay difference between bar work and journalism in the US was recently illustrated in a documentary aired in Australia on the ABC's Foreign Correspondent.

As far as I can tell using Google there is no bar in Chicago called 'Bree's Bar'. I made it up. But the hotel in Paris, later on, is real - and very nice.

Russian elements are from direct experience. You can read about them on this website.

By the way, just as you can safely tour Detroit in Google Street View, you can do the same in Moscow and many other Russian cities. You might be surprised.


24 October 2013





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Central Australia



In June 2021 Wendy and I, with our friends Craig and Sonia (see: India; Taiwan; JapanChina; and several countries in South America)  flew to Ayer's Rock where we hired a car for a short tour of Central Australia: Uluru - Alice Springs - Kings Canyon - back to Uluru. Around fifteen hundred kilometres - with side trips to the West MacDonnell Ranges; and so on.

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Fiction, Recollections & News

Getting about



This article contains a series of recollections from my childhood growing up in Thornleigh; on the outskirts of Sydney Australia in the 1950s. My parents emigrated to Australia in 1948 when I was not quite three years old and my brother was a babe in arms.

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Opinions and Philosophy

The Meaning of Life




This essay is most of all about understanding; what we can know and what we think we do know. It is an outline originally written for my children and I have tried to avoid jargon or to assume the reader's in-depth familiarity with any of the subjects I touch on. I began it in 1997 when my youngest was still a small child and parts are still written in language I used with her then. I hope this makes it clear and easy to understand for my children and anyone else. 

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