Thursday, 1 July 2010

Australia v Britain

While I've been faffing around, humming and hawing, turning over bits and pieces in the messy jumble that is my mind, my husband, paragon of orderly thinking and intelligence, has been putting together a list of the pros and cons of Australia and Britain. Here it is, and any contributions anyone else has will be gratefully received :

Britain and Australia: Pros and Cons

Britain: Pros

Rural natural and built landscape in unspoilt, uncrowded areas e.g. West Country, Norfolk, North Yorkshire, Peak District, remote bits of Wales and Scotland

Ancient churches and trees

Pre-WW2 architecture (except most twentieth century suburbia)

Old pubs esp. with open fires in cold weather

- large number of pubs in nice rural spots with reasonably-priced accommodation

- letting dogs into pubs

Surviving traditional caffs, e.g. the ‘Regency’ in Westminster

Regional differences including accents

No need to worry about watering gardens


Radio 4, despite all the faults – esp. its light-hearted programming (unlike much of Radio National) including silly panel games

BBC Shipping Forecast

BBC/ITV/Channel Four television, despite all the faults

Five good daily newspapers, plus the ‘Economist’, ‘Private Eye’, the ‘Spectator’, ‘Week’

London’s large choice of theatre, live music, museums and shops

Free major museums

Cross-channel and Scottish island ferries

Exploring London by foot

Traditional London taxis

Long-range country footpaths

Old country road signs


Surviving large old cinemas, incl. Odeon Chelsea, Curzon Mayfair

Well-off parts of London

Pall Mall clubs

Historic cores of Oxford and Cambridge

Old country houses

Carpeted bathrooms

Fact that all parts of the country easily and quickly reachable

Proximity of Europe

Britain still one of the world’s great cultural centres, especially evident in the publishing/arts/theatre/music/media worlds

Britain: Cons

Default grey skies

Long dark winters

General personal coldness, esp. in London

Love of and rigidity about rules

Shoddy service standards/high levels of inefficiency/incompetence

Crowding, esp in the south-east – nightmarish public transport at rush hours

road congestion and endless roundabouts

- large numbers of once nice places blighted by busy roads and ugly development

Public drunkenness – much more noticeable than twenty years ago

Dismal aspects including most twentieth century suburbia, most seaside resorts (e.g. Margate, Ramsgate, Bournemouth – exceptions include Southwold and Llandudno), allotments, use of terms ‘lorry’ (truck) and ‘estate’ (station wagon)

Incompetently managed immigration, leading to large numbers of unintegrated immigrants, high terrorism threat and racial tensions

Overpriced, crowded, noisy restaurants, esp. in London

- almost complete absence of BYO restaurants

Lack of air conditioning

Hopelessness of Heathrow

Failure to master plumbing, incl. those irritating and weak ‘power’ showers

Absence of interesting spoken word radio other than Radio 4 (in contrast to choice between Radio National and Newsradio in Australia)

Having to pay to visit Westminster Abbey/St Paul’s

Distance from Australia

Australia: Pros

Default blue skies and sharpness of the light

General cheery friendliness

Competence/efficiency and overall good attention to customer-friendly detail, e.g. brilliant banking system compared to Britain

Pre-WW2 architecture; esp. verandahs

- old homesteads, pubs and churches

Corrugated iron roofing, old water tanks, shearing sheds and windmills

Brilliant beaches – strong surf, beautiful sand, lack of crowds

Ancient trees, including elms which no longer survive in Britain

Lack of crowds


Rural sense of vastness - ‘the sunlit plains extended’

Surviving old-fashioned milk bars/caffs, e.g. the ‘Paragon’ at Goulburn

- milk shakes served in metal containers

Bleached grass

Clear starry skies at night

No need for a clothes dryer

Cheap, plentiful, reliably-sourced fruit, vegetables, fruit, meat and seafood – agriculture not as industrialised as in Europe

Thrill when it rains

- the smell after summer rain

Radio National, despite all the faults – Newsradio generally an interesting spoken-word alternative

Wonderfully archaic orchestral fanfare for ABC radio news

ABC/SBS television, despite all the faults

The ‘Australian’ and ‘Sydney Morning Herald’

Vibrant cultural life in major centres

Sydney ferries


Ubiquity of BYO restaurants

Generally successful immigration programme

Big city skylines – despite the sad loss of the fine buildings they replaced

Qantas (incl. the nice acronym)

Efficient airports

Giving names to highways, not just numbers

Good air-conditioning

Native wildlife, esp. kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, kookaburras, cockatoos, rosellas

- nice natural bush noisiness, incl. cicadas

National treasures including Les Murray, Barry Humphries, Geoffrey Blainey, H.G. Nelson and Mark Colvin

Australia: Cons

Regular temperatures above 30 degrees

Canberra - despite the leafy charm and nice setting blighted by many unlovely modern buildings (some exceptions e.g. the National Library) and monotonous suburbs

- Central area, Civic, an indictment of a planned city – why wasn’t it integrated with the lake and more non-commercial elements, e.g. churches?

Humourless, earnest fare of much of Radio National

Suburban sprawl

Distance from Europe

I have to say I have no idea why allotments are so objectionable, but I have never met a pure-bred Australian who doesn't find them absolutely awful.
I would also add these things to the list:
Daily question time when federal parliament sitting (best free theatre in the Western world)

Country motels (they have their own weird 1960s charm and are always reliably what they are - and cheap)

John Bell

Victorian gold towns - there is a touch of a kind of Ozymandias lost grandeur to some, especially Bendigo

Less domination of retail by chain shops than in UK, where Boots, Top Shop, et cetera seem to have driven out almost all small establishments

Greater variety of fiction published - local publishers seem less driven by market and genre

A sort of dry teasing, specially from country people, that I rather like


  1. I think the list reflects as well on your husband as it does on the two countries. Despite irritations they both sound really enjoyable places to live - and that's an indication that the compiler of these lists is someone who enjoys life and has a generally positive attitude to the world.

    As I get older I'm getting less and less tolerant of people who let the bad in things overwhelm everything else. I think it's quite a grave sin.

  2. Always interesting to read these lists, which must inevitably be subjective. For example, I wouldn't necessarily have "Default grey skies" and "Long dark winters" as cons. But then England is in my bones.

    Agree with Gaw on the whining about bad things. I have no time for Britons who complain about how awful is Britain, especially when it goes with a certain strain of frog-worship.

  3. australia pros:

    farmers union ice coffee

  4. Unbelievably, one of my friends wants to add morris dancing to the pros of England.

  5. I confess to enjoying les danseurs morrisiens (sp? gender?). But surely they should be accounted part of the poetry of England rather than added to its pros. (Geddit?)

  6. You didn't mention how difficult it is to get a decent meal in London (unless you're prepared to pay a squillion and even then it's not guaranteed).

  7. Nurse - Good point, how stupid of us. If you're there again any time soon, the Giaconda Dining Room in Soho is supposed to be good and cheap, although you can't book (it is run by Canberrans)