Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Brisbane: New Adventures in an Old City

February 16 – 18, 2014

By Alexander Corwin

On Sunday, February 16, we returned to Brisbane from our respective research trips. I visited Byron Bay in New South Wales with three other students. We had an amazing time; the town is stunningly beautiful and very laid back. We were able to get a lot of research done while enjoying the majestic scenery—a win in my book!

As a group, we cannot wait to explore Brisbane. The city roughly resembles Portland with its large central river and many bridges. The ethnic food we have enjoyed in West End, the same neighborhood the GED office is located in, has been delectable. I have twice visited a small Greek taverna called The Little Greek. Their style of cooking and warm hospitality reminds me of my Greek grandmother, my Yia-Yia, and all the times she prepared traditional Greek meals for me as a child. 

On Monday, we commenced classes in Brisbane. Our first lecture concerned women’s roles in contemporary Australia, along with a brief history of early female settlers and convicts. Females were outnumbered 6:1 during the first few decades of English settlement in Australia. Female convicts and settlers were infamous for being promiscuous and sexually active. That is largely the case however, because some women had to negotiate their place in convict settler society using their sexuality as means of survival. Sexuality was one of the few things these women actually had control over, and thus some used it to their advantage. This theme vaguely echoes sentiments voiced much later in the second wave feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s, especially by Australian Germaine Greer. In The Female Eunuch, Greer asserts that the nuclear family represses women sexually, rendering them powerless eunuchs. To Greer, sexual liberation is the key to women’s liberation. We also learned about the first wave of feminism in Australia, which achieved female suffrage in federal elections in 1902, long before 1920, when American women had suffrage in federal elections.

Our second lecture on Monday covered Australian environmental history since European settlement. We discussed the initial British attitudes toward the continent and their futile attempts to transform the landscape into something more reminiscent of England. We then explored Australia’s history of land use and extensive exploitation, beginning with the enormous sheep trade in the early 1830s all the way to contemporary issues with agro-business and factory farming. Lastly, we briefly covered the rise of Suburbia in Australia, which closely mirrored the post-war de-urbanization trend that America experienced during the 1950s. 

I constantly find it interesting how similar Australia is to America. Sometimes, I find myself walking down the street and falling into a daydream thinking I am back in the States. While Australia usually follows in America’s economic footsteps, the States should take a cue from Australia on their progressivism on social issues. Gun control is a non-issue here and many Australians are appalled by the relaxed gun laws in the United States, especially considering the insanely high incidences of school and mass shootings. Their tobacco laws are also better: cigarettes are taxed significantly higher here and packs cannot be openly displayed in stores. Also, packs now feature pictures of the health horrors caused by smoking. A similar piece of legislation failed to pass in my home state of NY, even though studies clearly prove that not having cigarettes visible behind store counters truly cuts down on minors smoking. 

A few other observations: Australians have mandatory paid vacations, enjoy longer maternity leave, and many jobs even offer paternity leave. More Australian cities have bike share programs than their American counterparts. Last but certainly not least, healthcare: while our system is on its way to being fixed, there is much work to do. Australians have enjoyed great state-provided healthcare for years now, and America is only starting to catch up.

Well, those are my humble reflections!



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