People in the United Kingdom find it very hard to appreciate just how big Australia is — even when I tell them that it is as big as the whole of Europe I don’t think they quite understand.
I think a major reason for this is that atlases tend to show the UK on one whole page and then later on in the book, they show Australia, occupying another whole page, so that the subconscious thought this plants in their heads is that both countries are about the same size. They completely forget the little bar down the side of the page, showing the scale of the particular map, which points out that the scale used for England is completely different from the one showing Australia. A distance shown as about 25mm on the England map, may only cover 5mm on the Australian page.
They hardly believe me when I mention that an easy-going road trip from Melbourne to Cairns can take three days or more, depending on how many stops you make along the way, and it completely blows their minds when I say we went out to lunch yesterday, to a nice place about a 100km from home, which took us 1.5 hours to get there! When we lived in England, we considered a 20-minute drive to the next village to be about as far as we could manage and even then the food had better be very good, or we’d never take that long a trip again.
One of our favourite places for our annual holiday was the Lake District, in the north-west of England, a trip that use to take us, travelling by motorway, about an 1.5 hours from Bath, and we always considered that a pretty dramatic trip to take. We’d pack the car as if we were going on some sort of safari, with rain-wear, sun-wear, fishing tackle, hiking gear, smart clothes for evenings, casual clothes for the days we weren’t going hiking or fishing, toys for the three kids (and sometimes a few of their friends too), and of course the family dog, Grotty, and all of his stuff. I tell you, it was as if we were about to tackle the dead heart of Australia, without food or water, and we were by no means unusual in this, it’s the way Brits do it!
That is one of the troubles about being born and brought up in a small country, you think small too, without even realising it — everything over a mile is considered to be an epic, to be carefully prepared for, with everything you might possibly need taken along with you. When we mention it to our friends and relatives back in England, they are stunned that we will happily travel hundreds of kilometres to a nice beach, or even (as in our case because we live in the country), to a decent shopping centre, with shops that belong in national chains or other services not available at home, like a heated swimming pool, a library (except for the library truck that comes around once a week), or a theatre. We even consider ourselves very fortunate because we have a solicitor in the town, not many small places do.
I was chatting to a friend in England the other evening, on FaceTime, when I happened to mention that the whole of England would easily fit into our little state of Victoria, the smallest state in Australia, though one of the most heavily populated, but even with all those people living here, the population of the whole of Australia wouldn’t be a lot more than the population of London, meaning there is plenty of room for everyone. I said to him that our local beach is 90 miles long, and on a really busy day, during the holiday season, you could go for a walk on any part of it and you might see about another dozen people, between you and the horizon! That made him think, I can tell you.
Yes, we really are the lucky country here and it scares me to think that some people are trying to make us forget that simple fact. We may be very large and we may be very clean and we may be very friendly, but all of these are advantages we need to be jealous about, or we shall lose them before future generations can enjoy them, as we do!