One of the wonderful things about playing overseas is that unlike visiting different countries, you actually get the opportunity to live in a certain country for an extended period of time, which really allows you to immerse yourself in the cultures and customs of your host country in a way you don’t really get to do as a tourist. So as this is my 4th season playing in the W-league and Australia is one of my favorite cultures to immerse myself in, I thought for my blog this month I would give you a crash course in Australian 101 to share some of the things I have learned in my time living down under.
GEOGRAPHY: Australia: an island country continent. Located in the southern hemisphere Australia is the only country in the whole world that is also its own island AND continent. John Donne may have been right when he said “No man is an Island, entire of itself,” but Australia certainly is.
HISTORY: The basics…
- Captain Cook was their Christopher Columbus.
- They did the same thing to the Aboriginals as we did to the Native Americans.
- We kicked out the British, they didn’t.
LANGUAGE: English…well, sort of…typical Aussie conversation…
-Hey Mate, how ya goin?
-Yeah Not bad, how you goin?
-Yeah good, good yeah. Nice singlet. Have you worn that before?
-Yeah no, picked it up yesterday at the shops when I was buying some thongs and a new pair of sunny’s. There was a sale on. It was good as.
-No way, I reckon that’s heaps good. Looks like it’s gonna be a scorcher today. Wanna throw on our swimmers and head to the beach?
-Sounds good. Let me just finish my cuppa, then we can jump in the Ute and grab some brekky at Maccas on the way…my shout.
-Hi friend, how are you?
-Good, how are you?
-Good thanks. I like your tank top. Have you worn that before?
-No, I bought it yesterday at the mall when I was buying some flip flops and a new pair of sun glasses. It was really good because they were on sale.
-No way, I think that’s great. Looks like it’s going to be hot today. Do you want to put on our bathing suits and head down to the beach?
-Sounds good. Let me just finish my cup of tea, then we can jump in the (there is no direct translation for “a ute” as there is nothing quite like it…it stands for utility vehicle and the only way to describe it is if you imagine a sedan and a pick up truck had a baby.) and grab some breakfast at McDonalds on the way. Breakfast is on me.
ASTROLOGY: Because you are in the southern hemisphere all the stars that we know are turned upside down. They call Orien’s belt the sauce pan because instead of the sword on Orien’s belt going down, in the southern sky the sword goes up making it look more like a handle on a sauce pan. They also have a lot of stars in their sky that we in the Northern Hemisphere cannot see. The most famous constellation being the Southern Cross which is made up of the stars that can be found on the Australian flag.
RECREATION: Australians love their sport. They love watching it, playing it, and betting on it. Among many other sports they have 4 different types of footy, 3 different types of cricket, and one horse race that stops the nation.
If you ask any Australian what their favorite sport is many of them will tell you it is footy, but that doesn’t really tell you much as they could be referring to 1 of 4 different sports: Rugby Union, Rugby League, AFL or soccer. In order to know to which sport they were referring to you would need to know in what part of the country the conversation took place and in what context the term was being used to truly identify the sport to which they were referring, but that’s a little advanced for Australian 101. For now it’s enough to know that Rugby League is a faster paced version of Rugby Union and AFL, short for Aussie Rules Football, involves 36 players on the field at the same time, trying to kick or punch a rugby-esque type ball through 4 up right posts on either end of the field whilst avoiding being smashed in the most aggressive way possible by the other team. Melbourne is considered the sporting capital of Australia and where the majority of the AFL teams are located…they can’t get enough of it down there!
Melbourne is also home to Rod Laver Arena where the Australian Open tennis tournament is held and the MCG, the most famous cricket ground in Australia, where the boxing day (the day after Christmas) test match is always played. When it comes to cricket you have three different versions. 20/20, 1 Day Matches, and Test Cricket, although if you are a true cricket fan, such as myself, anything other than test cricket is well…just not cricket. The difference between the three versions is again more than we need to cover here, but basically it comes down to the length of the match. 20/20 takes about 2-3 hours, 1 day matches, well they take about 1 day and test matches can go on anywhere between 2-5 days after which the match could still end in a tie…sounds ridiculous I know, but when understood and appreciated in all its glory it is simply magical ; )
What is ridiculous though is that in Victoria there is a state wide public holiday for a 3 minute horse race. The race is called The Melbourne Cup. Cup Day, as Aussies refer to it, is celebrated all over Australia, but takes place on the first Tuesday of the month in November ever year at the Flemmington Racetrack in Melbourne. Those attending the race dress to the nines and wear fabulously big hats or strap wonderfully ornate fascinators to their heads which are made out of a combination of flowers, ribbons and wiry shoots of decorative mesh…(you can’t make this stuff up). Kids are out of school and everyone takes off work to watch the race, making it a race that really does stop the nation. Gotta love a country that has public holidays for sporting events.
FOOD: 4 staples that you would find in most Australians homes are Vegemite, Weet-bix, Cordial, and Milo. Vegemite is a brown yeast extract that is chalk full of Vitamin B and unless you grew up on it like most Australians, the first time you eat it, it definitely tastes as bad as it sounds. The “proper” way to eat Vegemite, if you are brave enough to try it, is to spread a thin layer on buttered toast. It’s also quite delicious with avocado, tomato and egg, but is certainly an acquired taste. Weet-bix is Australia’s breakfast of champions and is delicious with a little bit of milk and honey. Cordial is to Cool-aid what Milo is to Yoohoo. They’re not quite the same thing, but close enough.
For the most part the Aussies are a meat and veg kind of folk. Kangaroo and roasted pumpkin are amongst my favorite (yes, I said Kangaroo, it’s not overly common, and you can’t over cook it, but when it’s cooked on the barbie just right, it’s delicious. Not to mention it is a very lean and healthy meat as well!). When dining out, I’ve noticed Aussies prefer their Asian and Thai food. For their sporting fare, instead of a hotdog with ketchup at a baseball game, Australians go for a meat pie with tomato sauce at a Cricket match. One of my favorite parts of Australian dining is their fast food sushi. It may sound sketchy and unsanitary, but it is actually fresh, affordable and DELICIOUS. 4 rolls for 12 bucks…can’t beat that!
WILD LIFE: Basically, everything will kill you.
Okay, maybe not everything but right off the bat you’ve got poisonous snakes, spiders, jellyfish, and octopi. And if they don’t get you, you’ve also got your flesh eating crocodiles, great whites, and dingos. You aren’t even safe with the cute little furry Koala’s, Wombats and Kangaroos, as they will tear you limb for limb with their massive man-machete-ing marsupial claws. Even their beautiful birds, although colorful and interesting to look at, will aggressively attack you if you so much as look in their direction when their young are being hatched. And after all of that, if you’re still alive, you have to contend with the number one killer on a continent full of killing machines…the sun! (Skin melanoma is the number cause of death in Australia. All Australian school kids have a rule for recess and sport: No Hat, No Play)
But don’t worry, the laid back, friendly demeanor of the Australian people more than makes up for the wildly aggressive and dangerous wild life.
Obviously there is a lot more to this great island country continent, but these are some basics to get you started. If you would like a more in depth look at Australia, apart from coming down to explore for yourself, I would highly recommend “A Sunburnt Country,” by Bill Bryson. It’s a very informative and extremely entertaining book about Australia.
Australia a beautiful country filled with wonderful people and lots to explore. It’s a loooong way down here, but well worth the trip. I am certainly thankful that my soccer travels have provided me with the opportunity to immerse myself in the Aussie culture and customs. I have enjoyed every minute and hope at some point, if you haven’t already, you will have a chance to enjoy life down under as well!
Until next time…
Kendall Fletcher in a midfielder/defender who has just finished up her Swedish season with Vittsjo and is on her way to begin playing for Canberra United in Australia’s W-League. She has previously spent time in the US’s W-League before being drafted into Women’s Professional Soccer in 2009. She spent three seasons in WPS with the LA Sol, St. Louis Athletica and Sky Blue FC. She has spent time in Australia, previously with the Central Coast Mariners and the Melbourne Victory. She is a 2002 Under-19 World Champion (USA) and has made one appearance for the US Women’s National team. She played for the University of North Carolina from 2002-2005 and won a national championship in 2003.