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Archive for June, 2009

When I die I don’t want no coffin
I thought about it all too often
Just strap me in behind the wheel
And bury me with my automobile
– James Taylor, 1977

The old Volvo got Berra numberplates today. Suppose that means I’m really here now.

numberplateI took the Tasnarnian ones in to Territory & Municipal Services and sighed a little as I handed them over. I’ll miss the slogan, Tasmania – Your Natural State; it’s suspect on so many levels. The bloke at TAMS then requested a sum that would have been funny if it wasn’t true, and after I stopped choking and handed over a credit card, he handed over new plates with a slogan pointing to the ACT Centenary in 2013. At least other drivers will no longer curse me for a “bloody Tasmanian Volvo driver”.

The Berra is a city of cars and driving. Almost nowhere is walking distance, and that includes from one end of Garema Place (the main mall in the CBD) to the other. True, there’s not a lot of traffic most of the time so nowhere is very far away – if you have a car. Before re-registering the Ovlov, we had decided to become a one-car household, which would have been manageable if at times inconvenient. As it turned out the car market isn’t quite depressed enough for our wallets just yet, so that project is on hold.

But all the research did make me think about how many people in the Berra feel about cars. They loooooove them.

In the Berra, you can pick where the party is by the dozens of vehicles parked outside, littering the naturestrip. Colleagues with teenage children routinely moan about how many cars they have to maintain, just so their kids can drive themselves to their a part-time job. One of the most bitter arguments fought by Berran couples is over whose turn it is to be the designated driver, because unless you’ve saved for a month for the taxi fare, you need a designated driver. The house across the road from us has three adults, but seven vehicles (okay, two are up on blocks. But still.) Large tracts of open land in the busiest suburbs that would have developers elsewhere tearing each other’s limbs off to acquire are in the Berra tarred and used for carparks. There is almost no incentive to give up one’s car, apart from the punishing registration fees. Public transport buses are universally inconvenient and you can’t walk anywhere.

For someone who didn’t feel the need to get a driver’s license until I was 24, this motor-centric way of life seems dreadfully indulgent. I hear many people say they’d rather not drive all the time, but there’s a deep apathy towards transport reform in the Berra too; everyone seems to be waiting for someone else to do something. And no-one wants to refuse their employment-packaged car.

While we’re talking about what the Berra is (and isn’t), as someone said to me recently the Berra is a city of clubs. (It’s certainly not a city of pubs, to my lasting disappointment.) It’s been fascinating to watch the slow disintegration of the Cronulla Sharks Club in Sin City in recent weeks, as it crumbles under the weight of its amassed, generational block-headedness. I’m unaccustomed to this club culture that pervades NSW and the ACT as it doesn’t exist in the Australian suburbs where I grew up, yet barely 12 months in the Berra and I am a member of no less than three clubs. I think my memberships are mostly about food (yum cha and seafood feasts) but for most locals they’re about sports, or gambling and inexpensive drinks.

Anyway, just days before that 4 Corners story aired, I found myself at the Berra’s night-of-nights for clubs, their annual Awards for Excellence. Wow, a chance to glimpse the inner workings of this juggernaut that involves so many Berrans. It was no small matter. There were more than 700 people glammed up and crammed in to the Southern Cross Club, one of two giant club edifices perched on the edge of the Woden shopping centre precinct. As you might expect, it was cheesy but pleasant. The night was 60s-themed, with waitstaff dressed in retro gear and a Beatles cover band on the stage. The people on my table, a mix of local pollies, sportspeople and club people, were really lovely. The food was good, you didn’t want for a drink, the assembled crowd of men and women of all ages were having a good time. It was clear that for many the club can be a lifetime commitment; from the time you pull on your boots aged five, through your job, your family’s social life, a career path in multi-million dollar hospitality management for your daughter, to your post-retirement hub of activity, the club is there. These were all elements of stories told through the awards.

dancerBut there were two things that bothered me about the night. The first was the pair of cages at the sides of the stage, in which danced two girls; weird, but perhaps it was something to do with the theme, I thought. Then, at a point later in the presentation, the MC jock paused to chat with a sponsor about the women in low-cut dresses who were handing awards to the recipients.

“I understand you provided the girls for this evening,” said the jock to the sponsor. “Very nice. Very tasty.” The sponsor laughed.

He used just the tone two blokes might use to discuss meat, or similar bought object or commodity. This was all on the main stage, through microphones, before an assembled crowd of 700 which included smart, switched-on women and their husbands, brothers and fathers.

I nearly fell off my chair. “Did I really hear that?” I said, very loudly, to my colleague. No-one else on that table of 10, men and women alike, paid me any mind.

Which strikes me, now, as exactly the kind of attitudinal rope by which the Cronulla Sharks are now hanging themselves.

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