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This may be the only place on the planet I can say that I am sick of being crook and expect some degree of understanding and sympathy.  “Crook” has taken an evolutionary twist on its way to the Southern hemisphere, its meaning leaning towards “ill” or out of sorts. I am guessing now that what I thought was a cold or an allergic reaction may, in fact, have been the flu.  I probably picked it up at the Writer’s Festival.  Everyone knows that writers are solitary creatures and should never get together except in bars or at Irish pubs. Only bad things can come of it.

The strain that latched itself on to me came on like Sarah Palin’s proverbial bulldog and I am still suffering from the symptoms, which seems hardly fair.  I eat right, exercise, and usually start each day with Uncle Toby.  For those of you unlucky enough to have been born somewhere other than Australia, or those who may not have read Laurence Sterne’s 18th Century novel, Tristam Shandy, the name may not trigger instant recognition.  A briefing is in order.

Captain Toby Shandy, Tristram’s uncle, and brother to Walter Shandy. retires to a life of obsessive attention to the history and science of military fortifications after sustaining a groin-wound in battle.  Much of the action of the novel is concerned with domestic upsets or misunderstandings, which find humour in the opposing temperaments of Walter – splenetic, rational and somewhat sarcastic – and Uncle Toby, who is gentle, uncomplicated and a lover of his fellow man.  (According to Wikipedia’s Sterne expert)

Which brings us around to breakfast cereal.  When Clifton Love, an entrepreneur from Sydney, decided that his family-owned spice grinding business should branch out into milling oats, his sister, Nellie was enlisted to come up with a name for the new product line.  She latched on to Uncle Toby and devised the logo, which has barely changed in 115 years.

The company was listed on the Sydney stock exchange in 1919 and went on to stardom in the breakfast cereal firmament.  In 1993, Uncle Toby was the number two brand of breakfast foods in Oz, right after Kelloggs.  Two years ago, the brand was gobbled up by the Swiss company, Nestle.

The thing about breakfast cereals in Australia is that the boxes get really big, there is a huge variety on offer, and there are a  number of cereals without excessive amounts of sugar.  I am not sure why that is.  Australians certainly have a sweet tooth, but they appear to indulge their penchant for sweets with cookies (biscuits), chocolate and the like, rather than load their breakfast cereals with sweeteners. The Uncle Toby pitch is about good health and nutrition, not about selling fructose to toddlers.

Over the years, the brand has made use of various athletes, including the swimmer, Grant Hackett, as a spokesman.  I wish they would have chosen Cliff Young instead.  He grew up on a sheep farm outside Melbourne which did not have horses or four-wheelers.  He would play sheep dog and run down the sheep.  In 1983, at the age of 61, he decided to enter an ultra marathon foot race between Sydney and Melbourne, a distance of 700 kms, or 442 miles, 17 marathons in a row.  Cliff showed up in gumboots and overalls.

Cliff was not flashy or fast, but five days and fifteen minutes later, he won, finishing the race two full days ahead of his competitors.  He did the one thing that the others had not thought possible, not sleeping.  Cliff never repeated that success, but he went on to run more than 20,000 kms in his career.  What a great Australian story.  Just like Uncle Toby.

Now, If only I could get over feeling crook, I’d be right as rain.  Ready to run down a few sheep, or, at the very least, get back on the bike again.


This city is going through an existential crisis at the moment, but my last post was so heavy with angst I don’t feel like taking it on. The gist of it is, like all attractive, thriving destinations, Melbourne is being loved to death. It is growing at a rate of 1200 new people a week. It now has a population of 3.5 million. By 2030, it will approach 6 million, probably surpassing Sydney.

And this is a very, very, very spread out city, with a population density of just 1500 people per square km., compared to Paris at 3400 or London at 5100. It is rapidly eating up the surrounding countryside, generating new suburbs without the transportation infrastructure to support them. The Economist just named it as the 2nd most livable city in the world (right behind Vancouver), but it carbon footprint is that of Tyrannosaurus Rex.

The expansion on the outer edges is turning the metropolis into a bifurcated city of haves in the inner city (with access to the transport that is already in place), and have nots in the outer suburbs, reliant on increasingly expensive petrol to get to work. And so on.

But I was not going to write about that. I was going to write about Australians you have heard of, but probably don’t know are Australian. Errol Flynn, for example, born in Hobart, Tasmania in 1909. His early career as a gold prospector, plantation owner, slave recruiter and womanizer was nothing to brag about, but probably enhanced his stature when he hit Hollywood.

A photograph in a newspaper caught the eye of an Australian movie maker, who cast Flynn as Fletcher Christian in the 1933 epic, “In the Wake of the Bounty.” The success of that role led the Tasmanian to London and a role as Captain Blood, then his triumph, “The Adventures of Robin Hood.”

He had the looks, the cocky attitude and a stunt man’s fearlessness to make his mark as a matinée idol. Onscreen, it was period pictures and a pairing with the lovely Olivia de Havilland. Offscreen, it was Don Juan in the flesh. Parties, orgies, drugs and alcohol. He set the lowest possible standard for all young hunks in Hollywood to follow. “In like Flynn” was coined to describe his innumerable erotic conquests.

His last great role was no stretch for him as an actor– he portrayed an alcoholic in Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises.” He died of a heart attack at the age of fifty.

Counterpoint– another very physical matinée idol, Jackie Chan. I’ll bet you thought he was from Hong Kong. He is, actually, but the Australians don’t mind claiming him as a native son. He was born in 1954 in Hong Kong, where his father worked as a chef at the French embassy. In 1962, both parents were offered employment at the American Embassy in Canberra.

The son remained behind for a few years, studying martial arts at the Peking Opera School. In the mid 70’s he came to Australia to live with his parents. He attended school, then worked on building sites, where he picked up the nickname that stuck with him for life, Jackie.

He had already caught the eye of film makers back in Hong Kong, however, He returned to the colony and made his breakout film, “Drunken Master.” In 1994, he made “Rumble in the Bronx,” and the rest is kung fu cinematic history.

Jackie made two films in Australia in the late nineties, “First Strike” and “Mr. Nice Guy,” and has often used post production facilities here to finish pictures. His mother died recently, but his father remains a resident.

Hugh Jackman, Heath Ledger, Toni Collette, Nick Cave, Bryce Courtenay, Peter Finch, Colin Friels, Rachel Giffiiths, George Miller, Morris West, Naomi Watts, Dame Joan Sutherland, Percy Grainger, Dame Melba, Helmut Newton, Guy Pearce, Havelock Ellis.

Just a sampling of Australians who found their way into the global awareness, at least in the West.  More power to them. It is time for bone dry antipodes to bloom.

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