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Apes Abroad in OZ

By Julie Wiskirchen

The Firm has sent me to Sydney for eight months, providing me with the opportunity to observe an entirely new strain of popular culture. Although I'd rather be hanging ten at Bondi Beach, my co-editor Mary seems to think I should file Ape Culture reports. So I'll check in periodically. I've been here for three weeks -- here are some initial observations.

The Qantas business class experience, 15 lines for 15 hours

  • Depart LAX, 10:30PM, Saturday, read Valley of the Dolls while businessman in 8C reads Fortune
  • Dinner is served but I just want to sleep
  • Play with settings on the recliner until I'm in a womb-like state, rifle through free makeup bag
  • Browse sucky selections on personal video monitor.
  • Watch Music of the Heart. Is this a TV movie? Why did Meryl get nominated for looking frumpy and acting Silkwoodian?
  • Sleep
  • Awakened by businessman next to me climbing over my reclined legs to get to the loo
  • Check video channel that tracks plane's progress...somewhere over the pacific...there's a lot of blue
  • Sleep
  • Recall visiting Alcatraz, relate
  • Watch Flawless, discover it's misnamed; pray that De Niro might have a sexual Awakening and put on a frock
  • Breakfast is served
  • Watch Mystery, Alaska. Why make another movie about hockey when Slapshot said it all? Russell Crowe is Australian and hot. This movie is growing on me.
  • Arrive Sydney, 8:30AM, Sunday. I haven't felt so dirty and disgustin' since Woodstock.


There are only five channels. Cable has been available in most areas for a couple of years, but it's not popular. I don't have cable at my flat. So, while I'm likely to undergo Real World and Strangers with Candy withdrawal, for now there are enough new programs to keep my interest and enough of the old American favorites, from Seinfeld to The Practice to Charmed. There are quite a few US shows on Aussie TV, although some are a season behind (does that have something to do with crossing the International Date Line?). And for a special bonus, some US pay cable shows like Sex and the City and The Sopranos are free here and unedited. The Aussies have no problem with boobs and cussing in prime time. Ricki Lake, Jerry Springer and Oprah air during the day here and they show WWF Raw too. So they've got our low culture and our higher culture offerings like ER and The Jim Lehrer Newshour. They have hybrids like Australia's Funniest Home Videos. There's a new reality show called The Mole which I've yet to see. It's a Road Rules type show where they send a group of people on various missions and someone in the group is sabotaging things and they have to fight amongst themselves until the mole is discovered. On Sunday, I caught Under One Roof and House Gang, shows that are so bad they reminded me of a US weekend show I used to watch and marvel at its awfulness, Small Wonder. Under One Roof comes from Singapore and tries to generate humor from fat vs. thin neighbors and excruciating self-inflicted Asian stereotypes. House Gang tries to outdo Life Goes On by giving us not one, but three cast members with Downs Syndrome. Two of the special folk live with one cranky old man, a boy-crazy teen girl, and a nerdy teen boy. Wacky hijinks ensue!

Rugby and Cricket

Any game that has Tom Jones as its pitchman is okay by me. Tom's adverts for the NRL, National Rugby League, play constantly. Tom sings "Whatta Game" to the tune of Salt N' Pepa's "Whatta Man" with the lyrics altered as follows: "Whatta kick, whatta kick, whatta mighty fine kick. Whatta try, whatta try, whatta mighty fine try." Tom's stirs up enthusiasm just as Hank Williams Jr. does with his NFL rallying cry "Are You Ready for Some Football?" Rugby is football here, or footy. There are several different leagues that abide by different codes. NRL seems to be the most popular but there is also AFL, which is Aussie-rules football, which seems to be considered more pure. When I asked the difference between the two, I was told it was too complex to be explained. Or perhaps just too complex for my feeble feminine American mind? I will press on in my search for the truth. I've watched a couple of games on TV and figured out that when they cross the goal line it's called a "try" I'm not sure why it's not called a "succeed." The football players don't wear any pads, unlike like US football girly men. They tackle each other with clothesline maneuvers and get bruised and bloody. There's plenty of action and violence to keep me interested, unlike cricket. I tried to watch a match but it was like watching golf. Maybe its because nobody gets tackled and their uniforms stay neatly pressed. Dullsville.


My first weekend here, I was staying at a hotel and in the mood for something simple. I ordered a beef burger from room service. It arrived with two giant slabs of beets and a fried egg on it. Aussies seem to love beets (called beet root here) but I find them repugnant. They put them on all kinds of sandwiches and on burgers. I went to McDonald's and the only unfamiliar item on the menu was the McOz burger, differentiated from a quarter pounder only by its beets. They don't put beets on the fish and chips, thank God.

Pop Music

The charts are full of a lot of the dreck I'd hoped to leave behind in the US, such as Christina Aguilera and Backstreet Boys. The Australian band of the moment is the teenaged Killing Heidi. The current number one song is "Bloke" by Chris Franklin (above). This is a tune that's probably not going to have much crossover appeal in America because its full of Aussie slang that I had to look up in my guidebook. Franklin is a cross between Weird Al and Jeff Foxworthy, and his song "Bloke" is a parody of Meredith Brooks' "Bitch." Franklin wears his mullet proudly and extolled on the virtues of the haircut on an American Bandstand-type show here. The song is a defense of the typical "bloke" or "yabbo" (defined in my guidebook as "an unrefined male...think redneck, guido, hoosier) and a harsh critique of the sensitive 90's guy with lines like "You look at me like maybe I'm an angel underneath. Haven't brushed me teeth" and "I'm a bloke, I'm an ocker and I really love your knockers." "Ocker" also means unrefined male. There's heaps of support for native bands and INXS and Men at Work still get airplay. There are a lot of cover bands that play the pubs, some of which do INXS or Midnight Oil shows, and all of which play "Down Under" to enthusiastic drunken crowds that love to sing along. I have yet to eat a vegemite sandwich as mentioned in that song, but I'm working up the courage.

That's it for now, mates. I'm off to the pub.

Coming soon... A full report and photos from Sydney's fabulous Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade!!

More Apes Abroad?

Post a comment chiding Julie for not trying the McOz..


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