Friday, May 2, 2014

The Australian Syndrome

  You first became aware of what you've begun to think of as The Australian Syndrome during a collaboration with your great chum, Digby Wolfe.  Somehow, during a pitching session with a television producer, where you'd gone in with a carefully rehearsed plan for a project you both liked, you got the sense early on that the producer was flat out not interested in your crown jewel.  As the conversation was winding down to the thanks, we;ll get back to you stage, you threw out a spark of an idea that had come to you while listening to the producer.

His ears could be seen to perk.  His expression changed.  "Wait a minute,"  he said.  "Why haven't we been talking about that?  Tell me what you plan to substitute for the whale.  It is, you know, all about the whale."

The whale was, of course The Great White Whale of Melville, Moby-Dick.  And your substitute for it was a mass of atomic waste that had been rocketed out toward a distant asteroid, where it could dispel its radioactivity at a safe reach from earth.  Trouble was, it refused to settle into the retirement that had been planned for it, and began attacking space probes, at first unmanned, then one or two of the manned variety, wherein the equivalent of Ahab lost his leg.

The producer, for a time intrigued, urged you and Wolfe to supply believable contemporary crew members, one of whom Wolfe turned into a mysterious Englishman who, after some time, was revealed to be an Australian.

The project came to the equivalent of grocery money for you and Wolfe, not so much because of the Australian as because the idea of taking Moby-Dick out into the reaches of space was not as substantial as a vehicle.  In the weeks you met to wrap story around the conceptual armature, you began recalling similar ventures in which moodily Englishmen appeared, were on the verge of scoring some political, romantic, or financial coup, possibly a combination of the three,  only to be revealed at the last moment as an impostor, actually an Australian.

Wolfe had nothing but admiration for Australians.  For their part, they seemed to adore him.  Life went well for him there as a performer, among other things having the host role in the Australian versions of This Is Your Life, and  What's My Line.

"The main problem Australians have,"  Wolfe explained to me, "is their having bought the English propaganda.  They would all rather be English."

This led you to suggest a reversal on the theme, with an Englishman, "such as you," you said, pointing at Wolfe, "pretending to be an Australian."

There was only one other time when you'd seen him respond with so much enthusiasm, your casual mention of the possibility of a Dramatic Genome.  Unfortunately for your friendship and the world, Wolfe died before you could finish the work.  Now, you have to imagining him taking you on at every turn as you make good on your promise to him to finish the book for the two of you.  You may even have him confess to you that he so preferred Australia to Felixstowe on the Devon coast, which he claimed as his birth place, because his true place of birth was Sydney, or Adelaide, where he enjoyed being visiting professor.

You were reminded of much of this one recent afternoon while you waited outside a coffee shop for a friend to arrive.  At length, you were joined by a tall, neatly barbed man of about sixty, wearing well-laundered working clothes and a black duckbill cap with ornate lettering.

He came right to the point by telling you how difficult it was for a man of his experience and abilities to find meaningful work these days.  In rapid succession, he cited some of the things at which he acknowledged expertise, which became a lead-in for his major complaint:  the Australians.  To his knowledge, he'd never said or done anything to offend any Australian, but they seemed to have it in for him, causing him to be fired from jobs related to cement, reinforced concrete, tree trimming, orchard management.

Moments before your friend arrived, the man asked you about your accent.  "West coast,"  you said, all the while sitting on the temptation to say, "Perth.  West coast of Australia."

Two disparate events, reminding you of a remark you made last night about the clues all about you.  This clue is to look for the Australian Syndrome in the characters and places you create, the quirks, notions, mysterious pole stars and talismans they carry.  If you cast a cold eye, you will come away with a better sense of why they called themselves to your attention in the first place. 

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