Column: Lessons learned in the land of Oz

I got back from Australia, or “Oz” as the Aussies like to call it, a couple of weeks ago.

This opportunity came about through a program for my journalism major at The Ohio State University. What an experience!

We visited two cities, Sydney and Melbourne (pronounced Mel-bin by Australians).

I got to see kangaroos in the wild and I went to a play at the Sydney Operahouse. I saw some incredible wildlife in the Taronga Zoo, like the Tipton, wombats and the Tasmanian devil (and you know, he didn’t look at all like he did in the Bugs Bunny cartoons. Who would have thought?). But it wasn’t just the wildlife in the zoo that captured one’s attention; let me just say all critters in Oz held their own.

A friend and I were walking one night in Melbourne and saw a group of what looked like very large rats that had no qualms coming right up and giving you a menacing look if you weren’t willing to fork over some food. Later, we found out they were Australian possums, but they did not look like they were in the mood to play cutesy for the tourists. Now I admit, I haven’t seen too many American possums, but I do know I have never seen possums that traveled in packs and looked like they meant business.

The kangaroos were a different story. The zoo kangaroo had a world-weary look that said “Go on and take your picture, and then get outta my face, you tourist,” while the wild kangaroos were scared silly of us American yahoos out in the bush craning our necks to get the best picture (whilst avoiding kangaroo poo).

Some of you may be disappointed to know that I tried kangaroo meat while I was there. A lot of Australians look at eating kangaroos much like Americans view eating deer meat; while not everyone here eats deer, it isn’t exactly unheard of. And to answer the question people have asked me numerous times about eating kangaroo – it does not taste like chicken. It actually tastes more like beef.

And speaking of food, the Aussies definitely have different portion controls at restaurants than we do stateside. I ordered a seafood platter at a restaurant which was supposed to have crab cakes, scallops and shrimp. I got two shrimp, two scallops and two crab cakes, each the size of a Post-it Note. All this for $15.

There were other unique culinary experiences. For instance, Vegemite was not that bad, it just tastes salty, but you have to make sure not to put a lot on your bread or else it tastes like you are drinking a beer. Vegemite is made out of yeast, so no surprise there.

And do not even try to order lemonade in Australia; it is not the lemonade Americans know, which is made out of lemon juice with sugar.

Lemonade in Australia is Sprite. I asked an Australian how one could go about ordering a drink that consists of the juice of lemons with sugar? He suggested I go to the grocery store.

Instead of Burger King, there was something called Hungry Jack’s that looked suspiciously like the Burger King logo, complete with Whoppers on the menu. An American professor said this had to do with licensing issues, but did not elaborate. I wondered if the Burger King knows about this?

The cost of living is higher in Australia, but the Australians also get much better wages. For instance, when a 16-year-old starts his or her first job, they start out at $16 per hour. Every year after, their pay increases a dollar until that person turns 21; after that, pay increases are merit-based. Oh, to be 21 and Australian!

The first thing I noticed about Australian people when I got off the plane is that most people there are fit and fabulous. I saw maybe five or six through the trip that could stand to lose weight, and one of those people was me. It was as if “Vogue” bought themselves a country and that is where all the models move.

There were things about Australian journalism that I both appreciated and things that gave me pause for things we American journalists take for granted, such as the Shield laws that protect us from having to reveal our sources to the government.

According to representatives at an Australian paper, in Australia, there are no such laws, so if a journalist refuses to reveal their source, they likely will serve jail time.

At the same time, the right to privacy is held very sacred in Australia.

Publishers are not allowed to publish photographs of a defendant until after the trial. There is also no photography allowed in court rooms; sometimes sketches from a sketch artist are done but not often.

The media can also not unknowingly record or observe someone on camera without their consent.

So what were the most important things I learned on my trip to Australia?

First, that while I loved visiting Oz, there truly is no place like home; and second, that it is really not necessary to take your laptop with you to Australia. There are Internet cafes there open practically all the time, all over the place. My aching shoulders will thank me next time.

Heather Taylor is a staff writer for the Columbus Messenger Newspapers.

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