THERE’S an amazing Australian tradition in which our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people perform a “Welcome to Country” ceremony at official openings, conferences and other important gatherings around the nation. Essentially, through dance, music and talk, it’s a message to convey that you are meeting on the sacred land of the traditional Indigenous custodians, and that you are welcome. Last night, arriving back in Australia after a work trip to Fiji, I experienced a very different welcome to country courtesy of our Customs officials.
I had spent five humbling days in Fiji reporting on voluntourism activities being spearheaded by the Outrigger group, and surveying a country still hurting in the wake of the devastation of Tropical Cyclone Winston. Every single moment of every single day, I was greeted with a hearty “Bula”. Arriving in Australia last night things rapidly went from Bula to bullshit. Australian Customs and Border Protection Service have recently been combined into one new entity: Border Force, and it appears some officials are taking this $10 million rebrand seriously.
Despite having “nothing to declare” on my Customs form, I, and several others from my flight, were taken aside for random luggage tests. I secured the grand fortune of meeting Border Force Officer Emma #39308, who, when I asked her why I was being detained, barked: “That is classified information. You are a Person of Interest. If you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about.” Emma criticised the way in which I loaded my bag onto the x-ray machine (despite her male counterpart saying it was OK). And then she pulled me aside after another officer claimed I was carrying an “orange” in my hand luggage. As she started to rifle through my luggage, Emma turned to the line of other travellers whose luggage was also being x-rayed and said: “Do you still think I’m picking on you?” To which I replied: “I don’t think you’re picking on me, I simply asked why I was being detained.”
So intent was Emma on finding the alleged “orange” in my handbag (for the record, I can’t remember the last time I ate an orange and certainly not when I saw one in the South Pacific) that she kept saying “I know there’s an orange in here somewhere.” Unfortunately, for Emma, it was my Revlon face powder that turned out to be the “orange”.
But Emma wasn’t done with me yet. During her search for the catastrophic citrus fruit, she stumbled across something so heinous, she could hardly breathe. She found…a packet of Panadol! A packet of Panadol I had bought off the Coles supermarket shelves in Australia. Emma then proceeded to read me the riot act, and told me that I needed to mark that down on the Customs form in the same area that you tick that you are carrying firearms. “Is this not a medicine?” she barked.
Still not content that she had berated me enough, Emma then went through my checked-in suitcase where she discovered, horror of horrors, half a box of Green Tea, that I had again bought off the Coles supermarket shelves. There were five tea bags in the box. Emma took great pleasure in telling me how that was “food” and that I could face serious fines or jail for this.
Curiously, when Emma stumbled across some coconut sugar scrub that I had, in fact, forgotten all about and had bought in Fiji, she simply looked at it, smirked, and said: “Oh, look, it’s spilled in your bag.” She then told me I was free to go. I resisted the urge to remind Emma that there are young Aussie kids dying from our current Ice epidemic and that she might want to focus on the drug smugglers in future.
Having spent the past 30 years travelling the globe, and returning to Australia, I have never ever faced such scrutiny. At this point let me say, I am the daughter of a grazier in the Lockyer Valley and having seen first-hand the diseases which have been brought into this country, I know the damage undeclared items can wreak on our agriculture industry. I have also spent more than 15 years reporting on the tourism industry and know the struggle that Australia has trying to convince overseas visitors to travel Down Under. Despite our reputation for being a beautiful land, repeatedly we fight the perception that Australia is “too far away” and that it’s a “some day” destination.
What Australia does have above all else, is a reputation that we are a friendly nation. If, what I experienced last night, is an indication of what’s to come under our new Border Force, then this is cause for serious concern. Welcome to Country? I need a cup of Green Tea and a Panadol.
THOSE crazy funsters at STA Travel have released a new survey, which reveals some of the most popular pick-up lines among holidaymakers. A survey of more than 600 Aussies reveals we are not only well travelled, but we know a thing or two about romance while on the road. God, it’s the entire modus operandi of The Global Goddess, so you can imagine my delight when this literary gold landed in my inbox late last week. In no particular order, here’s the Top 10 travel pick-up lines (and my take on them).
The only part of Dubai I’ve ever seen was the airport, and to be more precise, the hole-in-the-ground airport toilet where I dashed from the plane nearly 30 years ago, on not only my first international fight, but my first flight ever. Suffering from motion sickness and culture shock, I dashed past the men with machine guns at the airport in my mission to be violently ill. Thus guaranteeing no one would use this pick-up line on me.
While I’ve never been to Jamaica, I certainly feel like I have, as does any Australian traveller who has spent more than their fair share of time in Bali. The Indonesians love Bob Marley as much as they love their Bintang brew, and it’s a dreadlock holiday every time you enter the country. No Woman, No Cry? Not an issue in Bali.
I have been fortunate to travel to Vietnam on a number of occasions. On my most recent trip, in which I found myself in Saigon, not only did a little girl become enamoured with me during my visit to the confronting War Remnants Museum, so did her aunty. Just my luck to have a middle-aged Vietnamese woman fall in love with me.
It pains me to say this, but I have been to Paris three times, and each time I have stood in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower just willing the love Gods to strike me down with that fabulous French magic by which other travellers swear. Has. Not. Happened. All I can see is a nation of chain smokers and some pretty nasty dog poo on the streets. I know, I know. Sacre bleu!
While I have been known to frequent the sunny shores of Thailand’s famed beach destination on numerous locations, I have yet to find love among the long tail boats. This could have more to do with the fact that for years I have been mixing up the Thai terminology for “the weather is hot” (because I’m such a witty conversationalist), and instead telling every poor Thai man and woman upon whom I stumble that “I am hot” (as in sexy) right down to fanning my body. In retrospect, this does explain all the strange looks.
Ah, Rome, sweet Rome. Home of all those gladiator types, you’d think I’d be able to pick up. Hell, I couldn’t even find the Spanish Steps. The fact I was sitting ON them, while looking for them, is somewhat concerning for a professional travel writer. I did, however, catch the eye of a young Roman girl on a public bus, who pointed at my then boyfriend at the time (yes, I ONCE had a boyfriend, miracles can happen), and asked in perfect English so that everyone could hear. “Is he your lover?” Had I known then that boyfriends would become such a rare commodity, I would have shouted “yes” from the rooftop, rather than pretending I was a German tourist who couldn’t understand this crass child.
Well, you’ve opened the floodgates with all this boyfriend talk and it was this very same European trip, with this very same boyfriend (did I mention I ONCE had a boyfriend?) that we travelled to Amsterdam. And being broke backpackers we decided to stay in some stranger’s home for a very reasonable fee, long before not only was Airbnb not invented, but the entire bloody internet. We wondered for years how we managed to get this room so cheaply until it dawned on us that some nefarious Netherlanders who knew the Internet was just a decade or so away from becoming a reality probably captured our nether regions on some hidden camera.
Despite being a massive, and rather tragic, child fan of the TV series MASH, Seoul has never been top of my travel list. But based on this pick-up line, perhaps it should? Move over Hotlips Hoolihan, The Global Goddess is in town. I wonder if Klinger would lend me a frock?
I’m flat out spelling this destination, let alone knowing where it sits on the US map. A quick check of Dr Google reveals it’s in Nashville where I believe Australia’s very own country singer Keith Urban lives. If things don’t work out with Nicole…
10. Customs and Immigration
It would be fair to say if I added up all of my travelling, I have spent several years simply standing in customs and immigration queues around the world. So it stands to reason that I should have found love somewhere along the line. Given Australia is so far from anywhere else, the chances of me looking even half decent by the time I arrive in a foreign land, and have to clear customs, is reasonably remote. The hilarious line I like to use on immigration officers “I look much better in real life than my passport photo” hasn’t jagged me a boyfriend yet either. But I had a boyfriend ONCE…did I mention that?
The Global Goddess is off to Fiji this week on assignment and is searching for some witty pick-up lines fearing “I’m feeling a bit Nadi, do you want to Fiji me?” may be lost in translation. All suggestions welcome…
LAST Friday I was attacked by a man I had never met before in a supermarket car park in Brisbane. I use the word attacked because while it was not physical, it was very verbal and extremely emotional and at one point, I believed he was about to become physical. I could also use the word abuse. So what prompted this attack? While parking my car, I had mistakenly parked over two car spaces, as the white lines indicating where to park had faded. It was a tight two spaces, because a tree in the corner had uprooted the bitumen, so I chose to park as far away from the uprooted bitumen as possible.
What happened next rattled me. As I alighted from my car, an angry white male, in his late 50s to early 60s, was standing there, screaming at me, saying he had wanted to park in the space beside me (for the record, there were plenty of empty car parks around). And in an absolute rage he started roaring: “Just take a look at yourself Sweetie!” At first, I didn’t know what I’d done and then I pointed out that I simply could not see where the white lines were meant to be. He paused and agreed with me, stating he had already complained to the shopping centre about this. Which I would have thought was the end of the argument. But then he came menacingly close, and just kept yelling at me: “Take a good look at yourself Sweetie!” The only thing I could do was mutter: “Don’t call me Sweetie”, which further infuriated him as he spat out the word “Sweetie” over and over again, at one point stepping close as if he was going to hit me. Eventually he drove off, and I sat in my car and wept. I cried because I was shocked, scared and stunned at the blatant sexism of this man.
I texted a male friend who urged me to call the police. But I argued the man had not committed any real crime. At the same time a female friend texted and she insisted I make my complaint to shopping centre management, which I did, feeling embarrassed and foolish the whole time, as I wept and shook. They were kind, giving me water and tissues and recording my complaint, but essentially powerless to do anything. As I drove home, without my groceries, I wondered what would have happened had I been dressed in a burqa. I’ve been thinking for weeks about writing about the simmering anger that seems to be pervading Australian streets right now, but until this incident, I felt unable to articulate this new paradigm.
I am not, for one minute, suggesting last week’s incident compares at all to what is happening to peace-loving Muslims in Australia right now. If there are any parallels to be drawn, it’s how unjustifiably angry and disenfranchised some Australians seem to be. And how prepared they are to act on this anger. And that scares me. In the past week, there’s been numerous reports of attacks on Muslim people simply going about their business. A woman in a burqa being set alight by a man; another woman having hot coffee thrown on her from a car window; Muslim kids in a kindergarden in lockdown to protect their safety. Every single day, there’s something nasty and new against Muslim Australians.
I’m horrified and disgusted by what’s happening to our country right now. And ashamed. I love Australia and I believe we are a big country with a big heart. There’s no room for bigotry. And no room for stupidity. For a Prime Minister who is meant to be showing leadership, I’m appalled that all Tony Abbott has achieved is whip up a culture of pure hatred. I’m stunned that those attacking everyday Muslims going about their business are so ill-informed that they cannot separate the radicalism of those who support the Islamic State from everyday people who look a little different. Given our long record of immigration and multiculturalism, I’m bemused when somebody accuses someone else of being “un-Australian”. I am yet to see a definition of what being an “Australian” is. Is it in how I dress? The colour of my eyes, hair and skin? What I eat or don’t eat? Does it lay in my religion or lack of faith?
The day after I was abused in the car park, I returned to the shopping centre, as I still needed to get my groceries. And for the first time, I felt fear. But as my morning progressed, I realised that Australians are essentially good people. He’ll never know it, but I thank the man who accidentally bumped into my grocery bags, and then stopped to apologise. Another man let me go first in the queue, even though it was his turn. And so, my confidence returned and more interestingly, I found myself remembering to be compassionate towards others. Yes, we’re Australians, but we are also global citizens, who happen to be incredibly lucky to either be born or have immigrated to this amazing land Down Under. This largely peaceful place of droughts and flooding rains. Of sunshine, beaches, barbecues, rainforests, reefs and yawning Outback. An attack, whether it is by a terrorist organisation, or an angry man in a car park, has always been likely. But a life lived in fear is no life at all.