Super White & Kinda Racist: 5 Realities Of Australia
When Hollywood wants to film a movie set in a blasted, apocalyptic wasteland, it turns to Australia. The sets decorate themselves!
"Oh, the mask isn't part of the costume. I found it out here."
Otherwise, what do you really know about the place? The country is known for its cartoonish outdoorsmen, both real and fictional (Crocodile Dundee, Steve Irwin), its murderous wildlife, and for the fact that it was originally founded as a huge prison colony. You'd probably think it's a pretty weird place. And you'd be right.
To find out how weird, we spoke to Elsa Moriarty, who works in the Australian "Outback" and told us...
There Are Toilet Frogs
If you saw this alarming GIF uploaded by a redditor ...
If you're ever dining on vacation here, don't get the frog legs.
... you probably assumed it was a hoax. Maybe he threw a couple of his pet frogs in his toilet for the cheap internet karma. But no, this is apparently a fairly common problem in the land down under. For practical purposes, Elsa classifies toilet frogs into three distinct subtypes: "First are the tiny surf ninjas, hiding out under the rim and riding the wave with every flush. Then there are the fat and cocky bastards, so smug at having won the outback water lottery that they sit at the bottom of the bowl, stare you straight in the eye, and won't move for anything. Then there are the frogs that cling to the side of the bowl, where you won't see them. Those are the ones most likely to jump up and touch your butt."
You see, in northern and inland Australia, summers are filled with days hotter than 110 degrees, and lakes and streams dry up for months at a stretch. And when the Australian sun can turn a frog into amphibian jerky in no time flat, the filthy pool of water at the bottom of your toilet bowl becomes a precious, life-giving oasis. Right up until the moment someone shits right on them.
But the point is that, despite the country's reputation for deadly fauna, the real danger comes from directions you least expect. So while the infamously deadly redback spider hasn't killed a single person since 1956, there are thousands of car accidents every year caused by kangaroos.
Only about 25 percent of which are animated.
Okay, so maybe you would expect that.
The Country Is Overwhelmingly White ... By Design
If you look at a world map, you'll see that Australia is a stone's throw from Asia. And yet demographically, it's a continental Tim McGraw concert -- that is, it's 92 percent white. Of the rest, seven percent are Asian, which leaves a mere one percent for the Latin, Middle Eastern, African, and Aboriginal population (that is, the natives who had the continent all to themselves before the Europeans showed up). The overwhelming whiteness is no accident.
"I foresee nothing bad coming from this!"
The reason a country a few hours' swim from Indonesia got to be so white is largely because of the so-called "White Australia Policy," a set of laws established beginning in 1900 which tried to mandate that Australia be strictly a white country, and thus restricted any immigration by people who didn't meet a very narrow criteria of skin color. Imagine if the KKK got to dictate immigration policy for an entire nation. These laws were dismantled in the 1970s (the "19" is not a typo), but there are still politicians who get a terrifyingly large percentage of the vote by opposing Asian immigration.
For example, a political party called "One Nation" picked up nine percent of the federal vote in 1996 after its leader, Pauline Hanson, made a speech in parliament saying, "I believe we are in danger of being swamped by Asians." That's right, seven percent of the total population qualifies as being "swamped."
We can't even call her a "cunt," because over there, that's a term of endearment.
According to Elsa, "Racism is a huge issue in Australian culture, and just because it isn't as obvious an issue in certain cosmopolitan areas (and Australians tone it down in front of tourists), doesn't mean it isn't still happening behind closed doors ... One of my best friends at uni was Chinese; she really struggled with all the stereotyping, particularly with the fact that one of her roommates seemed to think all Asian girls were promiscuous (even though she was extremely modest and a virgin)."
And then there's the way they've treated the Aboriginals. In the 1860s, Aboriginal people were forced by the government to work for white folks, usually for a much lower pay than a white person would have received in the same job. And then, for a period of about 65 years, Aboriginal children were yoinked from their homes in order to be raised to be, um, more white. This went on until 1969.
Keep in mind that we're talking about efforts to erase a culture that goes back about 50,000 fucking years -- eight times longer than the Bible says the universe has existed. The bush fires that periodically devastate the Australian landscape? Those didn't happen before white settlers arrived, because Aboriginals mastered controlled burning techniques before the Egyptian pyramids were built. Such knowledge was already ancient during the birth of Western civilization, and each time another Aboriginal tradition dies out, it's like burning another book from the world's most ancient library.
You Could Fit Half Of Europe In The "Outback"
Despite having less than one tenth as many people as the United States, Australia is just as damn big (excluding Alaska):
As seen here in an artist's rendering of the United States of Ameristralia.
But while Americans -- presumably due to variations in levels of fear of kaiju invasions from the sea -- inhabit both inland and coastal regions, Australians straight-up dare Godzilla to come ashore so they can punch him straight in his big, swinging lizard dick.
"Trust us, we're protecting you from what's inside that green blob."
If you can't read the color coding there, the red parts are where the people live. "What red parts?" you ask? Look really close around the edges. There are like a dozen pixels, all along the coastline. When you hear them refer to the "outback," they're talking about those interior green, blue, and yellow sections. Another term for it would be "most of the country." There are 2.5 million goddamned square miles of it.
Hardly anyone lives there, which is why a single cattle ranch can cover more land than some European nations, and why there are distance education schools that serve a much greater geographic area than the United Kingdom, yet have only 100 or so pupils. Elsa has traveled to many such places in her capacity as a ranch governess and nanny.
"While there are a few major highways criss-crossing Australia, most of the outback is cartoonishly isolated and only connected to the outside world by poorly-marked dirt tracks that can get rained out for weeks at a stretch," she said. "Get lost or break down, and there's a reasonable chance you'll die of exposure. That's why nobody -- including Australians -- realizes how incredibly geographically diverse the Australian landscape is." These two photos were taken an hour-and-a-half drive from each other, for instance:
Pro tip: There are about 200 animals hiding in that bush that can kill you.
This unfamiliarity with the landscape is a huge boon for butt-lazy film producers, who long ago realized that nobody will catch on if they keep reusing the same couple of archetypically "outback" locations for their movies. The remote New South Wales town of Broken Hill, for example, can be seen in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert, and even Wolf Creek -- so named for being set near the Wolfe Creek Meteorite Crater National Park. The problem there is that Wolf(e) Creek and Broken Hill are thousands of miles apart, and in completely different temperate zones:
Hollywood knows the distance on this map isn't the actual length, right?
So filming a movie called Wolf Creek in Broken Hill is like filming a movie called Ibiza in a Norwegian fjord, after hastily replacing a few street signs with Spanish names and yelling at a bunch of extras to "look more Spanish, goddammit!" And now there's Mad Max: Fury Road, whose production was moved from Broken Hill to freaking Namibia because all the rain and flowers made the outback town look completely unlike the "outback."
If you're wondering what type of people do live there, well ...
Outback Culture Is Extremely Weird
Not everything you've heard about rough-and-tumble outbackers is completely far-fetched. Elsa said, "One my favorite anecdotes (and this story was told to me in front of small children) was about an eccentric relative who still occasionally performed the quirky local tradition of castrating sheep with his teeth to entertain tourists."
The outback is the type of place where a recluse can buy a piece of land with a hole vaguely resembling a goldmine and sit around all day guarding it with a shotgun. Near Elsa's current location is a town so small that you don't need a library card to borrow books, yet which still has its very own apocalyptic Christian cult.
If the cultmobile's a-rockin', REPENT YE SINNERS FOR YOUR IMPURE THOUGHTS.
When it's your sacred duty to inform people of Yeshua's second coming via a creepy van, there are certain realities of human nature you must be prepared to accept, such as unenlightened sniggering every now and again. "But nobody treats cultmobile man like Jim Jones or the Unabomber," said Elsa. "Cultmobile man happily goes about his business unmolested, treated just like any other member of the community."
The outback is living, breathing proof of Dunbar's number. When people are forced to coexist in such tiny groups, it makes it much more difficult to exclude someone based on things like their taste in music or their opinion on Nephilim fossils. "The thing that makes outback Australia so great isn't the spellbinding sunsets or landscapes; it's the weirdos."
Honestly, this guy would feel right at home.
But there is a more serious side to this coin. "Suicide has always been a huge problem in rural Australia," Elsa said. "Living on a [ranch] is like being stranded on a small island with a tiny group of people, some of whom are your parents or in-laws. The work is intensely physically demanding, the beef industry is slowly declining, and families often spend generations trying to pay off loans on their properties, which can be lost at any time to drought or bushfire."
If you're thinking, "Well of course the people are strange; they're all descended from British criminals," well ...
It Wasn't Founded As A Prison For Violent Criminals -- Just Regular Criminals
Much of the mythology surrounding Australia in the popular media holds that it was originally a giant prison, and that everyone who lives in the country today is a descendant of murderers and thieves. So if you go there on vacation, you'd better keep one hand on your wallet, lest the locals submit to their intrinsic criminal instincts.
While it's true that Australia was originally used as a dumping ground for Britain's criminals, for the most part, "criminals" was a code word for "poor people," and it wasn't prison so much as exile. After America's whole War of Independence thing, England was at a loss as to where to stick all their petty criminals. Really serious crimes like capital theft and murder didn't create such a predicament -- people convicted of those crimes were simply sentenced to death or torture. The real problem was what to do with people who stole a loaf of bread or some potatoes because they were hungry. They couldn't very well let those people run around all willy-nilly, or else the population might realize there was some sort of poverty problem.
Unbeknownst to Victorian Londoners, their entire economy ran on scrappy ragamuffins.
So whenever the British authorities found some excuse -- any excuse -- to banish poor people, they gave them a one-way cruise ticket to Australia. Rather than hardass, shank-you-in-your-sleep criminals, Australian convicts were mostly average, working-class folk who committed a public faux pas or failed to show proper respect for The Man. Once in Australia, they generally weren't even subject to that harsh a punishment. More often than not, after a fraction of their sentence, they were released on good behavior and allowed to marry, start their own businesses, and more or less live as normal (albeit with a lot more snakes and crocodiles than they were accustomed to in urban England).
Far from being one giant Guantanamo Bay breeding facility full of terrorists and Hannibal Lecters, early Australia was basically an average colony of white folks from the start. And in a few short generations, it managed to rise like a phoenix from its humble origins in poverty and petty crime, and get its revenge on the world by creating Rupert Murdoch.
He broke out of the green blob.
S Peter Davis is the author of Occam's Nightmare, a book about the history of conspiracy theories and weird ideas. Get it on Amazon, or visit his blog. Jason is an editor for Cracked. His Facebook page is entirely about toilet frogs (starting now).
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Think the Outback sounds rough? Read a different account of Australia in The 5 Weirdest Side Effects Of Moving To A New Country because the only thing harder than the Outback is homesickness. Also check out 7 Terrifying Creatures You'll Never See Coming. Friendly tip: If you're in Australia and run into a stonefish, don't touch the poisonous barbs.
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