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Short story By: Philip Roberts

Humorous look for the fictitious "true" Australian. Inspired by the writings of O.Henry.

Submitted:Dec 24, 2010    Reads: 175    Comments: 0    Likes: 0   

Dernham Wellington came Down Under in the summer of 199-, looking for a true Australian. Like most Americans at that time, his appetite for the land down-under had been whetted when Paul Hogan had appeared on American television in the 1980s, advertising Australian beer and telling Americans he would throw another shrimp on the barbie to make 'youse Yanks' feel at home.
In those dark days before Hoges' first appearance, Dernham hadn't even been quite sure where Australia was; let alone what life was like Down Under. Now after honing up on all the Australiana he could get his hands on, he not only knew where the country was, he even knew that no one in Australia would ever eat shrimps. Down Under they eat prawns, or at the very least yabbies.
He supposed Paul Hogan had been living in America for so long by that time, that Hoges had simply forgotten what life was like in Australia. Dernham, on the other hand, had no desire to be some kind of cheap, knockdown copy of an ocker, but rather wanted to discover the essence of true Australia.
Which is why he had spent part of his life-savings on airfares for a month-long vacation to the Land Down Under.
Dernham's first look at Australia had been Melbourne Airport, out in the boondocks of Tullamarine. Looking around the starred-and-striped T-shirts and reams of cameras worn throughout the terminal, Dernham had known there were no Aussies here, so he had headed straight for the airways bus.
It seemed to take hours for the bus to transport them from Tullamarine to the heart of Melbourne. Dernham had to catch a tram down St. Kilda Road to his hotel, but first he stopped in front of Melbourne's famous Flinders Street Station with its redbrick facade of arches, cornices and cupolas, covering a large arcade outside the station, from where a strange voice emanated.
Dernham listened to the voice from across the street for a moment, before going across to investigate. He located a grey-haired old man selling newspapers inside the arcade, calling out at the top of his voice, "Errol Dunn taped hairy newts! Errol Dunn taped hairy newts!"
Dernham listened to the strange sounding syllables for a few moments, trying to decide whether the paper seller was a Vietnamese boat person, a refuge from Siberia, or perhaps an immigrant from Tibet, or even Swaziland. But wherever he came from originally, it was obvious that the old man spoke not a word of English, so could not possibly help Dernham in his quest.
So, after a moment Dernham walked across to the intersection at the corner of Flinders and Swanston Streets, boarded a tram, and started toward his hotel. He had almost reached Spencer Street, before realising the tram was going in the wrong direction.
Before setting out from the air terminal, Dernham had been careful to find out that St. Kilda Road is just an extension of Swanston Street. However, what he had not discovered, until too late, was that for some bizarre reason the main entrance of Flinders Street Station actually looks out into Swanston Street.
So naturally assuming Swanston Street to be Flinders Street, he had gone to Flinders Street and caught a tram, which he thought would take him to his hotel. After a few moments of panic, Dernham managed to change trams to get back to Swanston Street and eventually walked into the foyer of the lavish Grecian-cum-colonial style Hotel Victoriana in St. Kilda Road.
Not wanting to spend his Australian holiday amongst other Americans, Dernham had carefully enquired about the number of U.S. tourists staying at the hotel, before confirming his booking. He had been assured there were definitely no other Americans staying there at the moment.
When Dernham walked into the red-carpeted foyer, he found that he had been told the truth. There were about a million Japanese tourists staying at the hotel, half a million English tourists, and a few hundred thousand French and German tourists, but not another American anywhere.
When he complained to the West Indian born manager of the hotel, Dernham was told, "All you asked was whether there are any other Americans staying here --" He waved his hands around the foyer -- "And as you can see, there aren't...Unless you regard the five thousand Brazilians on the top storey as Americans...?"
Sighing deeply, Dernham was forced to concede defeat. After checking into his room, he hurriedly unpacked, then went down to the bar to drown his sorrows. He was almost insensible by the time the bar closed that night, and woke up the next morning with a throbbing headache and a firm conviction that today he WOULD find the true Australian.
He took a tram to Flinders Street Station, then alighted and started to walk up along Swanston Street. He had only walked a block or so, when from across the street he heard a loud voice say, "G'Day cobber. Owya go'en?"
"Real bonza sport. I've ada real beaut day. Ow's yasalve?" came the reply.
"Middlin' fair, cobber. Beena bit crook ladely, but reckon id'll clear up soon 'nuff,' said the first voice. Dernham started looking eagerly around the street.
After a few moments he spotted a couple of young men dressed in corduroy trousers, open-neck shirts, and wearing swaggies' hats, complete with dangling wine corks to ward away the Aussie flies; standing together on the opposite side of the street.
Dernham could barely contain his excitement as he waited for the streetlights to change, then rushed across the road to get to the two dinky-di Aussies.
"'Scuse me, sport," said Dernham, trying to emulate their Aussie speech. "Do'en wanna intarup ya...."
"Then don't," said one of the two "ockers." "Can't you see we're making a film?" He pointed to where a movie camera was standing a hundred metres or so away, beside which the director was waving furiously for Dernham to get out of the picture.
"Sorry," apologised Dernham, "but I've just gotta talk to ya. Ya see I'm a Yank tourist ova ear ta try ta find a true dinky-di Australian."
"Well don't look at us, pal," said one actor. "We're both Yanks also. I'm Bertrand Birdchip..." He paused a moment, expecting the usual near-obscene comment, then added emphatically, "That's Bird...chip. And this --" indicating the second actor --, "is Leonard Gilbert, from the NBC daytime soap opera 'Beautiful Boredom'."
"Hi pal," said Gilbert, "I bet you want my autograph?" Pen ever at the ready, he had started to sign while still talking.
"Er?...No, thanks," said Dernham.
"Gee whiz," said Gilbert, putting away the pen, "no one ever wants my autograph any more."
"But if you're both Yanks, how come you were just talking like Aussies?" asked Dernham, his brow wrinkling in puzzlement.
"Because we're making a film about the early life of Aussie actor Peter Finch," explained Birdchip.
"I play Finch," said Gilbert, grinning idiotically.
"But how can a Yank play the lead in a film about Peter Finch?" asked Dernham, amazed. "Besides, I don't think Finch spent much of his early life in Victoria."
"None at all," agreed Bertrand Birdchip, "he was born in London and grew up in New South Wales. But since when have American film makers ever let little things like reality or credibility stand in their way?"
Dernham had to think about this for a moment. But then, as a patriotic Yank, he decided there was nothing much wrong with an American starring as Peter Finch, in a film set in the wrong state.
"Besides," continued Birdchip, "this is the state where the plane from America set down, so this is where we set the film. After all, you surely don't expect us to go to the trouble of flying all of our equipment interstate, when we've already come from overseas?"
"Then you can't help me to find a true Australian?" asked Dernham, bringing the conversation back onto track.
"Sorry pal," apologised Leonard Gilbert, "but we've been in Melbourne for nearly a month now and we haven't met a single Aussie yet."
"What?" asked Dernham, amazed. "But what about all them?" He waved his arms around furiously, indicating the crowds of people swarming up and down the street.
"Yank and Jap tourists for the most part," assured Birdchip. "A few Limmies, a handful of Frenchies and Huns, plus a few hundred thousand unemployed kiwis touring the continent courtesy of the AustralianCommonwealth Employment Service."
"But there must be some true Australians here, surely?" protested Dernham. "After all, that's why it's called Australia, isn't it?"
Birdchip and Gilbert simply shrugged their shoulders. So with a sigh Dernham said his goodbyes, then (to the relief of the director who had been eyeing his wristwatch throughout the exchange) set off along Swanston Street again.
He paused for a moment at the next corner, then turned left down Bourke Street, heading toward Elizabeth Street where he almost turned again, until realising that the dirty, grey-brown, colonial-style relic on the corner was the Melbourne G.P.O.
"Surely they can help me in here?" he thought.
Dernham was halfway up the steps when he noticed a fantastically beautiful blonde walking down toward him (or, as he fancied they might say in Australia, "a beaut blonde bit"). He was ogling the top half of her T-shirt as she came down the steps, heading toward where he had stopped. It was only as they almost collided he realised the red-white-and-blue design on her T-shirt was the Australian flag, distorted almost beyond recognition by her very prominent chest.
Looking more closely, he noticed the four thick, plastic shopping bags she carried. The white bags all bore the green-and-gold triangular made-in-Australia symbol and were overflowing with a mixture of groceries and fluffy toys. Including an enormous grey-and-white stuffed koala.
"Eureka! Success!" thought Dernham, emulating the words of Archimedes after his valiant stand beside Peter Lalor and Gordon Jackson at the Eureka Stockade.
"G'Day cobberette," he said to her. He had decided that cobberette must be the female equivalent of cobber. Although he then wondered whether female equivalents were still appropriate any more in these emasculated times.
After a moment's hesitation, he managed to drag his vision up from her T-shirt to look her in the face. He explained about his quest to find the true Australian and his assumption that she must be a genuine Aussie sheila.
"No, my name isn't Sheila," she protested. "It's Bonnie. Bonnie Bloomington, and I'm English, not Australian."
"English? But you're wearing an Aussie flag on your --" He paused for a second, lost for words --, "On your front."
"Oh that, it's a souvenir T-shirt I bought," explained Bonnie. Shaking her head ruefully, she added, "You obviously don't know much at all about the true Australian, or else you'd know no Aussie would be caught dead wearing an Australian flag on their T-shirt. In this country outward displays of patriotism are regarded with suspicion. Australians are more likely to wear Coca Cola or Pepsi T-shirts."
"Then what about those?" asked Dernham, pointing to her prominent chest.
For a moment Bonnie hesitated, too shocked to speak. The she realised he was referring to the two badges pinned to her T-shirt: one shaped like Australia; the other like a koala.
She shook her head again and explained, "No true Aussie wears Australia badges, or buys stuffed koalas, for that matter. They're more likely to wear Snoopy the dog badges and buy stuffed Garfield the cat dolls."
She paused for a second, and then added, "Garfield is very big in Australia. They're talking of making him the King of Moomba in Victoria next year."
Dernham sighed his frustration, ogled her chest for a moment, and then sighed again, though not necessarily from frustration this time. They chatted for a while longer and swapped addresses, with Dernham promising to look her up if he was ever in Essex. Then the Yank tourist went on his way, more determined than ever to find a true-blue, dinky-di Australian.
Dernham searched around the streets of Melbourne until sundown, by which time he was frustrated and leg-weary. However, he was up again bright and early the next morning.
Armed with a tip-off from the West Indian manager at the Hotel Victoriana, Dernham set out for the Melbourne Cricket Ground, confident that at last he would achieve his goal. It was the first day of the cricket test match between the Aussies and the Kiwis, and the manager had assured him there was bound to be plenty of dinky-di Australians in the crowd.
When Dernham stepped inside the MCG, he was astounded by the size of the cricket oval, which he had been told was the largest cricket ground in the world. And he could well believe it: one of their American baseball diamonds would have almost fitted into the space occupied by the drinks stand, and dozens of baseball diamonds would have filled the oval area itself. And the rows of seats seemed to extend for as far as the eye could see. He had been assured they could fit nearly one hundred and twenty thousand people into the ground, if they crammed them in like sardines. If they were more humane, they could fit in a good ninety thousand people.
As it was, however, there were only thirty thousand or so spectators there at the moment. Just enough to be able to spread out comfortably around half the stadium.
Unfortunately it was the other half, since foolishly Dernham had entered from the wrong end of the stadium. So he had a fifteen-minute walk through the empty seats to reach the other people.
Finally, puffing from exhaustion, Dernham reached the audience area. He looked slowly around the crowd for a moment, before selecting a small grey-haired old man, who sat by himself on the lawn in front of the rows of plastic seats.
The old man sat on a large beach towel which he had spread out on the grass, and was dressed in shorts and thongs, and had a white, floppy hat to ward off the sun. His face was painted white by zinc-cream, his bulging beer-belly was bare, and beside him sat a gigantic Styrofoam Esky, full of ice-cold cans of Foster's Lager beer.
"Surely this must be a true Australian?" thought Dernham as he made his approach.
"G'Day cobber," said Dernham, tapping the old man gently on the shoulder. "I'm a Yank tourist and I wondered if you could tell me how this game is played?"
"With a bat and ball," said the old man, before taking a long swig from a can of Foster's Lager. Most of which missed his mouth and poured down his chin to run across his prominent belly.
'My God, he even drinks like a true Aussie,' thought Dernham in admiration. He took a quick step backwards for fear of being drenched.
"No, no," protested Dernham, unsure whether the old man was trying to be funny. "I meant what are the rules to this game cricket?"
"Please not to ask me," said the old man. "I just flew in from Kyoto late last night."
"Kyoto?" asked Dernham. "Is that up in Queensland?"
"No, no, in Japan."
"Japan," repeated Dernham, amazed. "Then you're Japanese?"
"Of course," insisted the old man. "What do I look like?"
Wisely Dernham chose not to answer the loaded question. Instead he decided to unburden himself. "Look I wonder if you can help me?" he almost pleaded. "I'm desperate to locate a true-blue, dinky-di Australian."
"Then you're wasting your time here," said the old man. "Australians don't watch Australian Rules Football or cricket any more."
"They don't? Then what sports do they watch?"
"Mainly baseball and basketball."
"Baseball and basketball?" asked Dernham in disbelief. "But they're both American sports."
"Maybe," agreed the little, grey-haired old man, "but they're both very big Down Under now." Seeing Dernham's look of distress, the old man couldn't help feeling sorry for him. "Why not sit down and watch the cricket for a while," he said. He moved over on the towel and offered the American an ice-cold can of Foster's Lager.
With a sigh of frustration Dernham accepted the old man's gracious offer. For the next seven hours they sat side-by-side on the towel, watching the test match, eating cold prawns and drinking their fill of Australian beer.
By the end of the day Dernham had given up his quest, accepting that the true-blue, dinky-di Australian is just a myth, but satisfied that at least he had experienced a slice of Aussie life along with the old Japanese man.
© Copyright 2010
Philip Roberts


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