Thursday, December 5, 2013

Two sides

I was put on the spot recently: "Tell me a story that tells me what Australia is like." I was stuck for words. Since then, I've thought of two stories which could provide pretty good contrasting impressions.

The first, humourous. There is some audio on YouTube called "'the Rheem Hot Water Man". It's a bloke  thinking he's calling the Rheem Hot Water Service After Hours Emergency Number. "Me bloody hot water system's pissing water everywhere." The trouble is - no-one's there. I tell Americans that Australians love to swear. I myself often upbraid inanimate objects, in such an adjectival manner. You don't hear much 'cussing' here, that's for sure. But these 'recorded messages' illustrate this Australian characteristic - in full flourish as the man keeps leaving irate message after irate message.

The other story concerns the Japanese midget-submarine attack on Sydney Harbour in World War II.

One of the midget-submarines being salvaged the morning after
On the night of 31 May-1 June 1942 three midget-submarines made their way into Sydney Harbour. Two of the submarines were detected before they could attack and the crews scuttled their boats and committed suicide. The third fired on the US battleship, Chicago but hit an Australian depot boat the Kuttabul, instead, killing 21 sailors onboard. Now these attacks put the wind up Australians. They certainly showed Australians how vulnerable Australia was to attack. But the Australian government located the bodies of the four submariners whose crafts had sunk in the Harbour (the third was only found outside the Heads in 2006), and here's the thing: accorded them full naval honours, cremated them and found a circuitous way, I think via the Red Cross, to return the ashes to Japan. I read once that the Japanese government felt that this reflected great credit on the Australians. I certainly do.
The remains of the dead submariners arriving in Yokohama, October 1942
As postscript, the Australian government hoped that the respect they'd shown the Japanese dead might lead to an improvement in the way Australian prisoners-of-war were treated. It didn't, and when the Japanese used the funerals for propaganda purposes, the Australian High Command forbade the conduct of similar ceremonies in the future. But I like to think that the initial Australian instinct was one of respect, even for an enemy.

Now to bring our attitude to 'boat people' back in line with traditional Australian instincts...


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