Foreigners and friends

Nov 25th, 2007 | By | Category: Personal Columns

There wasn’t much choice about what to watch on television during the 1970s -BBC 1, BBC 2 and ITV – not even Channel 4 in those day. Maybe it was because all the resources were focused on three channels, but the programmes tend to stick in the memory.

There was a science fiction film where the final scene remains in the mind. The characters are transported to a parallel world, which is identical in every way, except the planet where they have arrived has two moons that shine together in the sky. They attempt to return to Earth, but are unsuccessful and the film closes with them standing staring at the two moons. It’s not their home, but neither is it alien.

Standing outside of a phone box on the edge of English Bay in Vancouver on our first trip to Canada in 1998, the film came to mind. Eight hours of time difference from home, thousands of miles of flying, it was not home, but then, neither was it in any way alien. The Canadians speak better English than the English; Queen Elizabeth’s head was on all the coins; everything was familiar and friendly; it was a good place to be.

It was strangely reassuring to feel at home so far away.

The two moons feeling returned yesterday morning. Getting materials ready for the parish Nativity Play next month, the coverage of the Australian election results provided company for three hours. Eleven hours ahead, and on the other side of the world, it could have been the RTE studios in Donnybrook or the BBC in London.

It wasn’t just the format that had a familiar feel, it was the people who presented and the people who appeared. In a world markedly different from, or even hostile to, the old and the familiar things of these islands, there was a sense that here were friends. No matter how much I might have disagreed with Prime Minister Howard’s support of the Iraq war, or his treatment of immigrants, I always thought he would be a good guy to have at your table at dinner, or to have a pint with, or to invite to a barbecue. These people were people you would understand and who would understand you.

The voice of presenter Kerry O’Brien created a sense that timeless traditions were being upheld and that there was still a world where the best of the old Western values had a place. As they rolled through the constituency names, there was a poetic mingling of the Old World and the New World, of the reassuringly usual with the interestingly exotic, but there was never a sense of any of it being foreign.

I’m reminded of the story of the London cabbie with a pair of backpackers in his taxi who was asked whether somewhere would welcome foreigners, “Blimey mate, You’re not foreigners, you’re Australians”.

The land of two moons lives on.

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  1. True that . . more similar than different we are! Many of us even sound like Londoners and none of us are averse to the odd Barbie invite!

  2. Aussies seem to congregate in unlikely places! I remember being in a little town in Austria a few years ago, Saint Johann in Tirol, and there being Australia Day celebrations in one of the bars.
    Another year, at Zell, my Austrian ski instructor was shouting to one of his colleagues.

    “Why does that Englishman not answer?” he said.

    “Because he’s Australian. Hey! Cobber!”

    And the colleague turned around and smiled!

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