Matthew Parris Matthew Parris

Forget that frontier spirit stuff: Australians are neither adventurous nor subversive

Forget that frontier spirit stuff: Australians are neither adventurous nor subversive

New South Wales

The name of the station seemed to ring a bell. An hour or so south of Sydney, and through the window of my double-decker Australian railway carriage, I could read the sign ‘Thirroul’. Wasn’t that the little seaside town where D.H. Lawrence stayed with his wife, Frieda, and where he began his novel Kangaroo? Did the couple not stay in a bungalow here close to the Pacific and where the story starts?

I did not much care for Kangaroo when I first read it. But as with Patrick White’s work, I later found that having thrown the book aside, thoughts it had aroused stayed pulsing strongly in my imagination. Thirroul. I could picture the bungalow. In my mind it is not far from the beach. It is dark. There are tall eucalyptus trees almost overhanging a little track down to the sea’s edge, and always the roar of the great Pacific breakers on the shore. When I last tried to find a copy of Kangaroo it was — disgracefully — out of print, but it had made its imprint on me.

I like Australia better this time than when I came here before. Then, nearly a decade ago, I visited only Western Australia and people told me that was no way to judge the whole country, that the eastern states were a world away from WA, and that, unlike Perth, Sydney was a great international city. But I haven’t found New South Wales as different from the west coast as Australians suppose, and Sydney is in many ways terribly English, and nothing like San Francisco at all. It is the constant refrain both of Australians and of their visitors that the country has changed almost beyond recognition, that the umbilical chord with the Old Country has been well and truly severed, and that if you want the flavour of Australia, think Asia, think America, think Pacific Rim.

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