For a country that prides itself on being rough and ready, and defines itself in contrast to the prim and proper UK, visitors to Australia might find themselves surprised by the hand-wringing and nannying that goes on here.
You cannot set foot in a bar without being assaulted by enormous, conspicuous posters warning you not to drink too much, not to try to purchase alcohol if you are already drunk, and the seriousness with which any attempt to get hammered is taken by the Victorian government. As far as its stance on alcohol consumption goes, it is an authority which is aptly named.
One of the first things I noticed in Melbourne’s bars was the presence of jugs of tepid water and empty glasses plonked at random places. I can only assume this is done in compliance with some law enacted to address worries that somebody who wants alcohol might find himself more in need of water, which is presumably hard to come by in Melbourne.
If you thought the bullying, cajoling, nanny-state was bad in the UK – and it is – consider that in Australia wearing a helmet while cycling is compulsory. This is a country which sends its males of fighting age overseas to stand in bars telling everyone how tough they are back home.
This might be a bit unfair to the average Australian. If Australia is anything like the UK, the political class is made up of a minority of wankers who are barely representative of any demographic other than their counterparts in other countries, from whom they are virtually indistinguishable. And voting these wankers in are people who, lacking any discernible talent or skill, like nothing more than to feel the respect and recognition that escaped them in the playground by telling other people what they can and can’t do. In this regard, Australia has imported the very worst aspect of the UK: the whining jobsworth.
I saw a depressing example of this when I flew back into Melbourne two days ago. A middle-aged woman, whose job was unclear but sported the all-important ID badge, was berating a passenger in Tullamarine airport for using his mobile phone in the baggage collection hall. She referred to signs – which were there, but generally lost among the million others telling people what they should and shouldn’t do – which said mobile phone usage was banned and that to do otherwise attracts a fine of several thousand dollars. For a laugh, I asked her why. She said that the baggage hall was a “restricted area”, as if from that statement the underlying reason was self-evident. A Melbourne tram is a “restricted area” too, as is the entrance lobby to my apartment building. Given neither Amsterdam Schiphol or Paris Charles de Gaulle sees the reason to impose such restrictions, it is hard to determine what threats the management of Melbourne Tullamarine think they’re neutralising by banning people from phoning their friends and family in the half-hour they are standing waiting for their bags with nothing else to do.
Actually, I do know what they’re neutralising: the nagging self-doubt that beyond the cheap nylon jumper, the hi-viz vest, and the ID badge they are nothing but the school loser who had no friends and craved the day they would be in charge so they could make people sorry. Because really, that’s what this is all about. A sad fact about western society – particularly the English-speaking countries – is that a solid minority desire nothing more than to tell other people what to do, getting an almost sexual satisfaction by exerting even minuscule authority over others. No rational risk analysis would proscribe mobile phone usage in a baggage collection hall, but a gaggle of poorly educated, inadequate losers would drool at the idea. Which is why I got the utterly nonsensical “restricted area” response from the SS private on duty.
I didn’t reply to her directly, but I did loudly remark that although Australia is a very nice country, I do miss the personal freedoms I enjoyed in Russia and Kuwait.