AS you walk along the Tuross boulevard overlooking the South Pacific these lazy summer mornings, it’s mighty hard to escape the thought that Australia is just about the best there is.
We have our long holiday at the happiest time of year – Christmas – and while all those poor folk in the northern hemisphere are battling blizzards, we can relax in the sun. School’s over; it’s too hot to work and we’ve got the longest coastline in the world to play in. And we lead the world (with NZ) into the New Year celebrations with weeks of holidays ahead.
A little further along an attractive young Asian/Australian woman is doing strength and aerobic exercises on the biscuit-coloured beach. You can’t help but be reminded that we’re no longer that pinched-faced, boring Anglo mob of yesteryear. At last we’re beginning to accept – and even enjoy – our place as a vigorous member of a very exciting region.
Over the little rise toward the shopping centre and other walkers are heading your way tugged along by their furry friends.
You collect your paper from the newsagent, crack a running joke with the hardware shop bloke and slowly wend your way back home in this best of all possible worlds. You boil an egg, butter toast, perc the coffee and take the tray into the writing room. The egg is perfect this morning, runny in the middle, firm at the edges. You fire up the computer, but before starting the day’s writing, click to the ABC to see if anything’s happening…
It is. A religious nut from the Middle East – that wretched cradle of hate – has taken 17 of your fellow Australians hostage in a coffee shop right in the heart of Sydney. It takes a while for the horror to sink in. You try to work but it’s useless; you can’t help but put yourself in the shoes of the hostages; you feel their shock at the unreality of it, then the outrage, the terror, the hope mingled with fatalistic despair…
You feel for the TV hosts when they know only the bare facts and have to repeat them endlessly or cross gratefully to “experts” who know even less. But you can’t leave; to do so would be to abandon the fateful 17, until nearly midnight when you know something is going to happen in the early hours but your body has betrayed you.
You wake early, hit the TV, and you were right: something did happen. Bullets flew; two of your 17 compatriots have been killed, four others wounded, the nutcase riddled with lead. But then came the flowers and the “i’llridewithyou” hashtag. That was good. It brought us together.
That’s how we said goodbye to 2014. We remembered it at Christmas, remembered it at New Year and on the boulevard as we said our morning greetings. It echoes. You hear it in the hollow thump of the waves on the biscuit-coloured beach, in the whispering surf upon the sand, and in the sea shells your sandy granddaughter holds to your ear. We’re still the best there is. But we’re all a little older, a little sadder, but ever hopeful as we turn the page to 2015.