Tim Boden’s Letter From Australia #2 – The Scene

Tim Boden

Tim Boden has been a grumpy old man since he was about 13. Born and raised in the darkest East Midlands, he now lives in Australia as part of an ongoing project to avoid getting a proper job and settling down for as long as reasonably possible. His interests include comics, beer, rugby league, 20th-century history and other things mostly favoured by middle-aged men who spend a lot of time in sheds. He has very strong opinions on vegetables.

Tim had good friends, a steady job, a nice place to live and the convenience of never being more than spitting distance from a branch of Gregg’s. Then he decided to chuck all of that in and move to Australia. This is what he’s learned so far.

 

Last time, I shared my first impressions of Australia. Now I’ve been here for a couple of months, it’s time to dive in and brave the shark-infested waters of The Gay Scene.

Australia’s a funny place to be gay (or any other variety of LGBTQ*). On the one hand, this is the homeland of such icons of camp as Kylie, Kath and Kim, and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert; the Sydney Mardi Gras rivals San Francisco as one of the biggest Pride parades in the world, and the high court have recently issued a ruling that makes Australia one of the few countries that legally recognises gender identities other than male and female. On the other hand, outside of the urban centres it’s apparently such a different story that the British Home Office actually warns gay travellers to ‘take care when visiting rural communities‘.

This is the country where a state (in fact, the state I live in) legalised gay marriage, only for the federal government to angrily wade in and un-legalise it again. Where they’re currently debating whether a ‘right to bigotry‘ should be enshrined in law. In short, it’s as divided and indecisive as much of the rest of the Western world.

As for me, a mostly gay bloke in a mostly gay-friendly country?

Well, I live in Canberra, the weird little holding pen they built to put the politicians in. The good news is that Canberra is one of the most liberal (in the small-l, left wing sense, as opposed to the big-L, ‘Tony Abbott and pals’ sense) cities in Australia. The bad news is that hardly anyone lives here and everywhere else is a bloody long way away.

There’s one gay bar in Canberra, and half the people who go there aren’t gay – not that I have any opposition to that, as it’s possible that the place wouldn’t be able to keep running otherwise. It is in every detail precisely like every other small-to-medium-sized gay bar I’ve been to – matt black walls and squeaky leather seating; Lady Gaga and generic house music on heavy rotation; that distinctive smell of beer, sweat and artificial smoke that still clings to you the following morning until you haul your hungover carcass beneath a shower and frantically scrub away the shame. I’ve been once. It was enough.

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Even the people in its own promo images don’t exactly look thrilled to be there.

So if the bar scene’s a dud – and let’s face it, unless you’re part of the lucky fraction of queer society that really likes squeaky leather seats and generic house music, that’s most of us – it was clear I’d have to explore other venues in order to meet people. Which, yes, meant I downloaded Grindr.

I know, I know. I haven’t actually signed in or messaged anyone. I mostly just wanted to see what was there. The results were illuminating: far fewer Eggsies than back in Yorkshire, but a significantly higher proportion of headless torso shots, which I’d attribute to a younger local demographic and a climate that means it’s less likely that your sexy selfie will be spoiled by goosebumps. There’s also a small but significant contingent of the head-scratchingly bizarre. Like the man whose profile picture shows him gurning through a toilet seat (not attached to toilet). And the guy who’s posing with someone dressed as Peppa Pig. Unless the profile belonged to the person in the Peppa Pig costume. Honestly, I didn’t want to ask.

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This hasn’t shown up yet, but it’s only a matter of time.

It looks like I’m just going to have to resort to the old-fashioned technique of ‘getting out there and meeting people’. It’s a phrase I’ve always hated, generally said blithely by the kind of person who has the right kind of looks and engaging personality (and low enough standards) that they seem barely able to walk down the street without bumping into someone they click with, but at least as a student I have the time and opportunity to meet a lot of new people. I even got a date out of it, if only by accident – I met someone, we got on well, and I considered texting him but then changed my mind halfway through composing a message. Then I tried to delete it and sent the bloody thing by accident.

If this was a movie, this would be the sort of cute mishap which ends up blossoming into a series of wacky misunderstandings and eventually true love. In reality, what it ended up in was a couple of very awkward hours realising that there’s not much to do on a wet afternoon in Canberra, and that I am a pretty terrible date when I’m not drinking. (I’m probably a terrible date when I am drinking but I don’t notice it as much then.) The coffee was good, though.

So, overall? I’d say the scene in Australia’s a lot like the one in the UK, with its big urban hubs and big gaps between them, except the extremely high concentration of the population in a handful of cities and the thousands of miles of fuck-all in between make it all the more pronounced. I’m beginning to see why the swagmen had to resort to waltzing Matilda*.

The Other Things I Learned This Month:

– There are beer bottles here which look like they have regular crown caps (the kind you need bottle openers for), but can actually be unscrewed by hand. I am pretty sure they do this just to keep drunk people guessing.

– I tried absinthe (or at least some highly dubious and vividly blue Czech stuff claiming to be absinthe). Once was enough for a lifetime. Approximately five seconds after it hit my stomach I was seized with this life-draining nausea and had to sit very still for about an hour while my insides contemplated what to do with it. Never has being sick been so welcome.

– On a lighter and somewhat less disgusting note, the best news story down under this month has been the release of the diaries of the former foreign minister, Bob Carr. Sounds incredibly dull, right? Not when it’s got such gems as “I have more energy than 16 gladiators”, “I am Foreign Minister… I soar above the mundane and serve my country” and his self-description of his obsessive lunchtime requirements as ‘Fuhrer-directives’. Who knew that this whole time, Australia had been harbouring the Mariah Carey of politics?

* You didn’t know that song’s about a guy shagging a mattress? It’s totally about a guy shagging a mattress. Well, it’s also about stealing a sheep, but Matilda? That’s the Aussie vagrant (the swagman’s) name for the bedroll he carries with him. And sure, maybe, ‘waltzing’ just means travelling, but if it’s your only companion and you’ve gone as far as to give it a woman’s name…