Australia through American eyes


VegemiteWent to visit a classroom of nine-year-olds the other day, the topic being Our Friend Australia, and I was invited because I have been in Australia for nearly 30 days in my life, all told, and so obviously I know the country like a twin brother, and things got so hilariously out of hand in class that I wrote down as much as I could remember right away, and here are the highlights.

Do Australians hate us?

No, because we invented basketball.

Who does Australia hate, then?

The Collingwood Magpies.

Who is the president of Australia?

Gary Ablett Junior.

What does the country look like?

Like Utah married New Jersey, but with crocodiles.

What do Australians eat?

Yeast paste. You wouldn't believe how foul and horrifying this food is. It tastes like someone ground up a penguin and then left it in the rain for a month before adding rubber and dirt to it. It is incomprehensible to me how anyone could ever in this lifetime eat such a terrifying food. It's not even the color of any food known to man. It was invented by evil trolls who pretended to be a man named Cyril. No one else knows this story. Don't tell anyone. Forget we had this conversation.

Are Australians better at sports than us?

Yes, except for basketball. Although they have Lauren Jackson, the best female player in the world. But she'll get old and then we will be the best again. No worries.

What color are Australians?

They range from light tan to dark tan, except for Rod Laver, who is red.

Who is the most famous Australian ever?

Cathy Freeman, the only woman who ever carried two countries on her shoulders in an Olympic race. Also the greatest cricket player ever was Australian.

What is cricket?

Something to do while eating yeast paste.

Who is their best writer?

Paul Kelly.

Why did you get so upset about the yeast paste?

It's a criminal conspiracy. The first time it touches your tongue you want to die, or move to Canada. It's like the revenge of all the foods that are not delicious. It's the sort of food they find traces of in the tombs of pharaohs, and you wonder after a while why all the dead kings have traces of Vegemite in their crypts, why is that? It makes you wonder.

What is Australian Rules football?

Like soccer married basketball and then took steroids.

What was your favourite thing about Australians?

Their brave grace and the ceaseless river of their dry humour.

And your least favorite thing?

I don't want to talk about Vegemite anymore. It's dangerous to even think about it. Your head starts to swell and you become a Collingwood fan. That's the dark side. Let's not go there.


Brian DoyleBrian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, and the author most recently of Thirsty for the Joy: Australian & American Voices. 

Topic tags: Brian Doyle, American, Australia, Vegemite, basketball, lauren jackson, cathy freeman



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Existing comments

I always enjoy Brian Doyle's articles. Thank you.
What a light hearted way to start a day !
DAVID HICKS | 19 January 2011

Must be a slow day at Eureka Street or, maybe, the Editor is indulging in a bit of post 'happy holidays' self loathing, Australian cringe.
David Timbs | 19 January 2011

We do not add rubber and dirt to Vegemite.

We just add rubber.
David B | 19 January 2011

Gee Brian, anyone would think Vegemite was a Weapon of Mass Destruction.
Better be careful you don't wake the sleeping elephant.
Otherwise, the US may wanna save the World from Vegemite!
Bob GROVES | 19 January 2011

It was the local doctor in Albert Park who invented Vegemite. Albert Park is an inner suburb of Melbourne. There is a monument to him in Kerferd Road, just down the street from my place of employment. Occasionally I pay brave, gracious homage to this monument, remembering that many of the great things we do we do in our life we do in our spare time, the time we should have all the time, but don’t. I wonder how many monuments there are in America dedicated to the inventors of condiments.

Another practice that I wish I could relegate to spare time is barracking for Collingwood. Not that I go to many matches, but Collingwood is there as part of general consciousness and likely to force its way into my day without warning. I have had to make it a spare time fact, just to handle the challenge. For others Collingwood people live in a parallel universe, with the wish that they would stay there. Brave and gracious, I finally went to a Grand Final where we won all four quarters. This was the sweetest spare time in recent memory.
PHILIP HARVEY | 19 January 2011

As an Australian, I heartily concur with Brian Doyle's remarks re vegemite. Its appeal to my fellow countrymen is one of life's great mysteries.
Terry O'Neill | 19 January 2011

Vegemite urban legends: in honour of Brian Doyle

Very few people appreciate Vegemite who were not introduced to it in infancy. Aussie mothers smear it on their nipples when breast feeding.

In most Australian schools a Vegemite sandwich is the only approved lunch. Children are usually locked in a classroom until they have eaten their Vegemite sandwiches.

Vegemite is readily absorbed through the skin: usually a thin stripe is painted directly above the stomach (“blacklining”); high-dose blackliners (“dosers”) cover the line with a gauze bandage, but responsible users say if you need the gauze you’re lining too much.

The principal Vegemite shrine is in Kerferd Road, Albert Park, where Dr Cyril Callister invented Vegemite in 1922. There used to be a candle-lit vigil there most nights. Hearing a crowd sing the Vegemite song was always very moving. Problems caused by dossers led to outlawing of the vigil, but the Callister Society is working to re-establish it. Clandestine vigils are still held and the cops generally turn a blind eye (all Aussie cops grew up on Vegemite, most are blackliners).

Australian-made Vegemite has never contained penguins, but that is why they ceased production in New Zealand.
Paul C | 19 January 2011

Thanks, Brian! What a delicious story. Mind, I enjoy vegemite on toast and especially with cheese added - even although I landed in Australia when I was already 25.
Joyce Parkes | 19 January 2011

More Vegemite urban legends: for Brian Doyle

“Broth” is Vegemite dissolved in hot water (proper colour is opaque). Most Aussie bars will do you a broth cocktail if you ask (a “Jack broth” is very cool; vodka broths are out this year). Avoid broths with Bailey’s (curdles in the stomach) and using plastic cups and straws (plastic/Vegemite interaction is sometimes fatal).

It’s important to note that Vegemite is *a food*. It does not work as a fuel additive, especially in cool climates.

Vegemite’s stickiness makes it a fantastic undercoat (for dark colours, mainly black). However, the yeast content encourages fungal growth on walls.

A broth solution (opaque) can be applied to repel crawling insects, but should not be used on the legs in regions where snakes are common.

Aussies are secretive about other uses, especially the military applications.

Paul C | 19 January 2011

For quite a long time now I've seen Vegemite as the social equivalent of American politics. You can only understand it if you were born in the country.
Kim Miller | 19 January 2011

Most enjoyable article. Visited the campus of Uni of Portland when I lived in your beautiful city. Hope to resume my residency in Portland.
Terry Steve | 19 January 2011

To David T: hey, I was just kidding. To Paul C: your notes made me laugh out loud and I think I sprained an ear or something. Thanks.
Brian Doyle | 20 January 2011

Vegemite has been owned by the Americans (Kraft) since the 1940s - another product which pretends to still be ours while the Americans steal our identity and pretend it still belongs to us.
sue | 28 January 2011

I suppose Brian Doyle's article could be construed as a light-hearted way to start the day. However, I do have to wonder where some of the comments originate. From Australians themselves perhaps, hell-bent on exaggerating aspects of life here to have a sneaky laugh at foreigners' ignorance or limited knowledge of any country other than there own. Did this article really deserve publishing?
Isabel Hodgins | 03 February 2011

North-west US humour is not unlike Aussie humour! I lived for years in Japan. Unlike most folk from the US who like sweet - the Japanese go more for savoury - and it is in this region of taste that Vegemite reigns. Many Japanese who have been introduced to Vegemite (properly) become hooked. It is a kind of miso (a by-product of the brewing of sake). I inserted "properly" to the method of introduction because I have also had Japanese look at me in horror when I have asked about Vegemite.

Shuddering at their memory of the first taste - I have asked them what happened. Well, they explained, on a first homestay in Australia their hosts had handed them some bread (toast, maybe) covered with what appeared to be some kind of thick chocolate spread. With the appropriate taste receptors switched to sweet, they had bitten down into the chocolate - only to their shock realising this was something quite other - and reacting with revulsion.

Of course their hosts have laughed - and taken clear pride in the fact that only real Aussies can eat and love this taste. When I was able to introduce it - I always explained it was a very salty taste and that just a little was daubed across the buttered toast - or buttered bread. That it was a kind of miso. Mouths appropriately readied - I never had anyone who found it off-putting. Folk from the former Yugoslavia region have said they have something of similar taste - and the English have Marmite. It is not exclusively Australian at all! Thanks Brian for resurrecting my memories!
Tokujiro | 10 March 2011


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