As my time in Australia draws to a close, I would like to reflect on an area where many Australians (myself included) spend a fair bit of time: The Pub. Australian Public Houses (Pubs for short) are very common occurrences in every city and township. My favorite pub sign while driving through the country was a large banner outside a roadside pub boasting "Last Pub for 100 meters." It is always good to know how long it might be until you can get another cold beer.
We all now know that the Aussies are fond of the drink. Hell, you didn't need me to inform you of that cultural tidbit. All you really needed was a VCR and a couple of Paul Hogan movies. But more interesting to me is the venues in which the Aussies choose to consume their alcohol.
Often the pub is the focal point for a community's social life. Friends meet up, start and end the evening, play pool, eat dinner and release the minimal stresses from their daily work lives. I must say I have been pleasantly surprised by food in bars here. Especially in Sydney, most bars will have a bistro with specialized food. Not just your standard pub-food of fish & chips, but actual gourmet shit, like seafood pasta and kangaroo quesadillas.
The people of Oz will often refer to drinking beer as drinking piss. This is because most of the beer here is light in color, and if you don't drink it fast enough, the beverage will warm up to a comfortable 98.6 degrees. Once you have drunk too much piss, you need to take a piss, so you head off to the loo. Like bars in the United States, many pubs in Australia have coin operated condom machines. These I am quite used to. However, adjacent to most condom machines in Sydney bars are machines dispensing "Wipe on Sex Appeal." For the bargain price of $2, you too can be fighting the ladies off with a pool cue. With Wipe on Sex Appeal, you instantly become irresistible to females regardless of physique, cash flow or personal hygiene. The secret behind this genius invention is the "highest quality pheromones" strategically placed in the package. The box actually warns the user to take extreme precaution while using the product. Apparently, according to the makers of Wipe on Sex Appeal, the product "can trigger powerful responses," and women will fall in a deep emotional love trance as soon as they smell this wicked concoction. The Wipe on Sex Appeal is actually just a $2 wet nap like you might find at KFC. But that is what is so great about the pub! People will actually buy these things when they are drunk!
The other interesting aspect about the toilets is the fact there is always water running. All of the bars have trough urinals which seem to flush at seemingly random intervals regardless if a flush is needed or not. For a country in a serious drought, Australian pubs seem to waste more water than it would take to clean the tarmac of Sydney Airport. The better of these pubs have a sensor attached to the door, so that when the door to the bathroom opens, the toilet flushes. While this seems better than flushing once every 2 minutes, 24 hours a day, it is still flushing twice as much as is needed. From Sydney to Tibooburra, this country wastes hundreds of gallons of water each day flushing at inappropriate times.
Major recreation at the pub actually revolved around what Aussies call "Pokkies." In the US we call them slot machines and they are usually only found in Casinos. Here in Oz, they have slot machines in EVERY bar. It is a huge industry here, as well as a huge problem. The Aussies love to gamble. So much so, they end up gambling away quite a bit of their wages. To be fair, it is a minority of the population that does the majority of the gambling. But this minority constitutes huge profits for the owners of the pokkie machines and the publicans. However, the real winner in this equation is the Australian government, who levies huge taxes on gambling, netting the state and nation millions of dollars a year. And this, more than anything else, is why the government will never step in and put an end to gambling in this country.
Still, there would be no one in the pubs to gamble if Australians didn't love to drink. They will drink on cold days to stay warm and on warm days to stay cool. A Bottle shop attendant commented to me on drinking in the Queensland heat by saying, "Two states to be: Queensland & Pissed!" It is so ingrained in the country's culture that Aussies abroad tend to act the same way. A unit of Australian soldiers over in Iraq wanted to have some beer with their Christmas dinner, which happened to be located in one of Saddam's palaces. Whether the people in charge didn't want them drinking in the palace or just didn't want a bunch of drunken Aussie soldiers roaming around Baghdad, I don't know, but their request was denied. This prompted an Australian Army Sergeant to comment to the news media, "We've been on the dry since we got here. That's about 6 months. Its Very Un-Australian!"
So on my last day here, I plan on heading to the pub very soon. The rain has finally cleared, though it did rain last night, so maybe it is OK that the toilets run endlessly for today. We will hoist our glasses to a successful trip through the vast great country and we will drink to safe future travels. Hell, we have so many things to toast we might just get drunk!
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