The joy of FAR (Freedom on Australian Roads)

FAR is one of the more enjoyable aspects of working as a face to face interviewer. FAR stands for Freedom on Australian Roads*. It is the zen-like composite sensation of wide open sky happiness, fresh spicy countryside air indulgence, spacious bushland timelessness, city noise absence relief, and small town secretiveness that frees one’s mind when driving (window open, radio on, hair waving in the wind) on Australian country roads.

 

Australian road from front window of car

 
 
The Sydney Southwest Suburban Frontier

My last two assignments took place in brand new frontier-type suburbs. The suburbs were so new that many of the assigned addresses didn’t even exist on Google Earth; they were just bare fields. The houses in these suburbs were all cut after the same few models with a bit of customisation within the same style and colour scheme.

One suburb had popped up in the vicinity of a major shopping centre (I hate shopping centres), and the other on a bare field in the middle of nowhere,  complete with a mega-school and a brand new Church. It was surrounded by a sea of construction-in-progress of new houses, earth trucks and Lot For Sale signs.

 I have always hated suburbs where all the houses look like copies, so I was very presumptuous. In the mall-infested surburb particularly, I expected  to meet nothing but empty eyed shopping-zombies, but I was wrong. People were friendly and open minded – mostly young couples, and I had great response rates in these frontier suburbs  (around 85%). After that I thought of them quite fondly.

 
Later on, in Wolf Creek  

My current assignment takes place in a rural town about 100 km south of Sydney. I nicknamed it ‘Wolf Creek‘ after I checked it out in Google Earth’s Street View. Its remoteness and rugged, dodgy properties with fleets of rusty cars kickstarted the horror movie flashbacks, and my employer’s initial rejection after the job interview, citing concern for my safety, came to mind.

My presumptions proved wrong as usual. While the town does look the same in real time as it does in Google Earth (for once), down to individual car-wrecks in the car hoarders’ yards and the sign in front of the single local grocery store/pub/kiosk/post office/motel/news agency**, people I talked to were friendly, cooperative and totally normal (as opposed to serial killer-like).

There is no doubt that this is a local community where everybody know what is going on everywhere, in slightly exaggerated versions.  A lady said that ‘everybody in town has received a letter about a survey’. I replied with the exact number of households that have received a letter (relatively few), and it seemed like I earned a bit of goodwill for the transparency.

 
Destiny flash

It is an eye opener to encounter such a diversity of Australian families and their lifestyles and occupations (or lack of same). Unfortunately it would be a crime to tell about any of the impressions.

Many of my work hours are spent on the road. Driving down a scenic road recently, breath taken by its countryside peacefulness,  it occurred to me how useful it may be that I am getting used to approaching strangers, communicating with a diversity of people and conducting professional interviews. I wrote recently that

 

Better ideas and a clearer sense of what I would like to do has since slowly been taking form, and I’m planning to write about my thoughts about them in the near future.

 
The key slow growing idea is: I would like to undertake research and write a book. I would like to work with that insanely puzzled feeling that fuels my relentless inquisitiveness rather than focus on its downside – the alienation from the world.

A few days ago while driving on the road in the photograph above, I imagined to travel around in countryside Australia and interview people. Qualitative, story-oriented interviews, not just quantitative data collection like I do now… and eventually shape all the collected information into a major body of insights.  I think it is something like that I’m meant to do.

– To be continued – 

 
Road through car front window

 
Recently burned bush, Australia

 
Related stories

 

* You guessed it: I just made up that term

** This is an exaggeration. I am exploiting the fact that no one knows which town I’m talking about to give the description a notch up

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10 thoughts on “The joy of FAR (Freedom on Australian Roads)

  1. bloodfreak

    Wow, why don’t we have fun jobs like that in Canada?? I hear a screenplay in the making! Maybe not Wolf Creek (haven’t seen it, sorta turned off thinking it was slasher-horror a la Hostel, and don’t much care for that), but like a Jim Jarmusch/Mike Leigh slice-of-life-ish road movie. Of course, you could make it all romantic-Aussie-desert-western-like with a Dirty Three/Nick Cave soundtrack like a modern day “The Proposition” and that would be cool too. I’d watch it.

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    1. Mados

      Thanks for your reply and apologise for my late response! I have been unusually Internet-inactive lately (to someone else’s great appreciation).

      The survey I am doing is one of the most thorough of its kind in the world, and one of the most expensive… Canada does have similar surveys, but they are mainly done as phone interviews, so that takes the fun out of the job I guess (and much of the data quality).

      Yes, the scenery is perfect inspiration for a countryside mystery thriller! (or a multi-layered crime-story book)

      Wolf Creek is the strongest horror movie I have seen. The (few) horror movies I have seen include Stephen King’s (several), Aliens (all of them), the horror comedy with New Zealand sheep and a few others, mainly Science Fiction.

      Wolf Creek is totally different. It is, for most of the movie, laid-back and dusty summer-like in a trustworthy, slow, low-key kind of way. You get to feel relaxed with the key characters who are on a road trip through the outback, and although subtle warning signs begin to build up late in the movie, their significance don’t become obvious until it is too late. The scenery is remote arid outback landscapes where people can disappear without a trace and inbred small-town conspiracy, and it is one of those rare horror movies that creeps in under your skin before it strikes. .. NOT a good movie to see if you are planning a road trip through outback Australia! 😉

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      1. bloodfreak

        Don’t worry about late responses. I know real life requires occasional intervention to keep it chugging along. I don’t expect real-time updates 🙂

        Re. the survey, yeah, that’s my point, they don’t do surveys like that here (that I know of at least). There are many aboriginal communities up north with limited access to communications infrastructure and virtually no transportation infrastructure aside from air transport (and skidoo in winter). We “southerners” have a limited perspective on life up there, aside from the occasional news story about deplorable living conditions (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2011/11/24/f-first-nations-infrastructure.html , http://www.northernpublicaffairs.ca/index/hicks-aglukkaqs-shameful-response-to-un-food-envoy/). Re. a multi-layer crime story, think you’d want to write a semi-autobiographical one about a murder mystery-solving interviewer in the Outback? I could see that on public television 🙂

        So Wolf Creek is that good? I’ll give it a try. I generally don’t care for gore-for-gore’s sake, so I avoid anything that sounds like that (Hostel, Saw 3+, Final Destination 3+). To me, atmosphere is more important than buckets of blood. I also enjoyed the Alien series (first esp.) and King’s (esp. what he does *not* direct). I’d like to see more Clive Barker stuff on screen. First two Hellraisers were enjoyable and then that franchise went to sh**. Seen a few interesting Asian horrors recently (I enjoyed Audition (Japan) and I Saw the Devil (Korea)). Re. NZ horror, I’ve heard of the one you’re talking about but can’t remember the name right now. Have you seen Peter Jackson’s Braindead/Dead Alive? I remember that one had some laughs tossed in with the ewww.

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        1. Mados

          Aws your comment had ended in the spam filter (maybe due to the links)… good I checked before emptying it.

          I actually didn’t know that Canada had an aboriginal population to speak of. But of course, that makes sense… I guess any nation-of-immigrants has one.

          From the photo in the first article you link to, they look Greenlandish. Their words sound Greenlandish-like too, like ‘Aglukkaq’, ‘Inuit Nunaat’. It also appears that they have some of the same issues as the people of Greenland. Greenland is a colony of Denmark, and has had Danish culture, system and language imposed upon its society and educational system, but it is not that a lot of Danes live up there… it is far away from Denmark (and pretty much all countries), it is very expensive to get there, and it is damn cold and void of career opportunity unless you are in some narrow specialised field that exploits Greenland’s geology or something like that.

          Re. a multi-layer crime story, think you’d want to write a semi-autobiographical one about a murder mystery-solving interviewer in the Outback?

          That sounds like a great plot!

          To me, atmosphere is more important than buckets of blood.

          Same here… Actually I don’t usually like horror movies as such, but I do like some of the scary movies for other reasons than horror. I think the Aliens series is both thrilling and has clever philosophical aspects, such as when Ripley discovers her many failed Ripley-alien hybrid clones in Alien Resurrection (I see that aspect as a cultural comment to human greed & unethical Science).

          I haven’t heard of the other movies you mention.

          Actually, I have seen one horror movie lately, ‘Shaun of the Dead’. It is a comedy and has a happy ending, so I’m not sure if it really counts.

          So Wolf Creek is that good? I’ll give it a try.

          Wolf Creek works.

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          1. bloodfreak

            Hey Mados, I didn’t realize you had followed up here. I just discovered it while exploring the WP.com dashboard a bit. I actually saw Wolf Creek a couple nights ago. Thanks for that recommendation! It was refreshingly un-American; it quickly killed off all the female protagonists (wha-what?!??), the first who was arguably the smartest of the three victims, and the survivor was the one who played the smallest part in the entire drama. It was tense. It was raw without being gratuitous (like Rob Zombie and Roth tend to be). And I really liked that John Jarratt, especially during the chase in the Statesman near the end — he looked like a sinister, lecherous Eric Idle!

            Re. nations-of-immigrants, there are few that aren’t. The story of humanity is one of migration; groups move around, fight one another, conquer, assimilate, disappear. Not a happy narrative and not unique to “New World” countries like yours and mine, but I guess ours are the most recent in memory and there are still people who remember the stories of their ancestors from before they were conquered. Canada has a large number of very diverse aboriginal nations, including the Inuit, who live in Canada’s Arctic and Greenland, hence the similarities you noticed. But their populations are relatively small. According to 2006 stats (repro’ed here: http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/01/27/a-snapshot-of-the-aboriginal-population-living-in-canada-graphic/) total population of all aboriginal peoples (Inuit, Metis, and First Nations) was a bit under 1.2 million. Total Canadian population, about 31 million.

            Re. Aliens Resurrection, it’s hazy in my mind. The details of sequels after the second generally tend to blur together for me. I think I vaguely remember the hybrid, but not much about the plot. Did you see Prometheus (the so-called Aliens prequel)?

            Re. Shaun of the Dead, yeah, that one’s lots of fun!

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          2. Mados

            I am glad that you liked Wolf Creek (I think;-) Yes it is a movie that works well in its own sinister way. Remember to not plan any road trips in Australia if you are just a bit like me as you may end up seeing male & female Micks in every little town:-) (but probably not everyone gets as traumatised by movies as I do;-)

            Re. nations-of-immigrants:

            you are right in principle, but for example my home country Denmark was very homogenous until quite recently while English speaking countries known as immigration magnets and ‘cultural melting pots’ are much more likely to attract immigrants. Of course Danes migrated to Denmark at some point in the past but that is so long ago that it doesn’t really count, and the immigrants probably didn’t come ‘from all over the world’ so racial and cultural diversity isn’t much part of the national culture. US, Canada, Australia and Singapore on the other hand, are obvious nations-of-immigrants.

            Total population of all aboriginal peoples (Inuit, Metis, and First Nations) was a bit under 1.2 million.

            1.2 million is a lot of people. Most Scandinavian nations don’t have more than 4 – 5x times that, or less. E.g. Denmark has about 5 million people, same with Norway. Iceland has 320,000 persons, Faroe has Islands 48,459 persons. (The numbers are from Wikipedia!)

            Not a happy narrative and not unique to “New World” countries like yours and mine, but I guess ours are the most recent in memory and there are still people who remember the stories of their ancestors from before they were conquered.

            In the case of Australia, it happened quite recently and is definitely not forgotten/forgiven by the aboriginals.

            Did you see Prometheus (the so-called Aliens prequel)?

            No – I think that is the only so-called Alien movie I haven’t seen. The plot sounds a bit lame from the outline on IMDb:

            A team of explorers discover a clue to the origins of mankind on Earth, leading them on a journey to the darkest corners of the universe. There, they must fight a terrifying battle to save the future of the human race.

            but maybe the movie is good anyway!

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          3. autisticook

            I think Shaun of the Dead counts as horror because even that one managed to give me nightmares. I did think it was hilarious though. 😛

            Ah, the joys of my overly trusting mind! It’s a miracle I didn’t turn out to be a religious fanatic or something. 😛

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