G’day from Australia

A friend once asked me how I choose which countries to fake travel to. Often, it starts with the food. As I’m a terrible cook and have no disposable income, I have to choose travel destinations with food options that I can easily acquire. Australia proved to be an interesting challenge on that front. When I think about Australian food, I think of two things: Tim Tams and Vegemite. I prefer sweet things to salty, so vegemite was out of the question. But Tim Tams are something I’ve associated with Australia since the Australian BookCrossers bring a whole lot of them to every BookCrossing convention. I knew they were available at Target. The key word there being were, because there were no Target stores in my area that carried them, and they could not be ordered from Target online, either. I found out that Trader Joe’s had a similar product of Aussie-style cookies, but none of the stores near me had those either. So I had two choices: give up on Tim Tams and choose something else or give up on Australia and choose a different country.

I chose the third option: order Tim Tams from Amazon. They were a little pricey, about $7.50 per package, but I could use an Amazon gift card to cover the cost. There’s no trip to Australia without Tim Tams. I especially enjoyed my Alexa voice assistant telling me that “Tim Tam is at [my PO Box].” Once I had acquired the elusive dessert treat, I set to work figuring out what food, movie, book, and music to explore for my trip.

My Choices

Meal: Apart from Vegemite, which I had already ruled out (I refused to spend $17 on a food I already knew I disliked), there weren’t a lot of vegetarian-friendly options for Australian food. I went through countless lists online before I settled on two things that I could adapt to be vegetarian:

  • Pigs in blankets: One article on Australian food explained that instead of wrapping hot dogs in dough, some Australians wrapped hot dogs in bacon. Meat wrapped in more meat seems like a strange choice for a vegetarian, but I already had veggie dogs in the freezer, and veggie bacon is readily accessible to me as well. So I gave it a try. It was surprisingly delicious! I would make these again in a heartbeat. Vegetarian bacon isn’t as juicy as the normal stuff, but the taste is surprisingly similar. I cooked them separately, and wrapping real crispy bacon around a hot dog after the fact would be impossible. But its vegetarian counterpart was crispy but just pliable enough to allow it.
  • Beet burger: I got a “meat lovers” veggie burger, which was as close to the real thing as I could get and added a layer of canned beets to it. I don’t often eat hamburger rolls, but I treated myself this time to get the full experience and also to keep the beets in place. It was all right, but I’d already filled up on pigs in blankets, so by the time I finished my burger, it was cold.

Dessert: The classic, chocolate Tim Tams were just as soft and decadent as I had remembered them to be. I ate three of them for dessert with no regrets.

Music: Some might say that I cheated a little bit with this, but Sia is from Australia, so I decided her music counted. I did three different new-to-me workouts to Sia songs on my travel from home day:

Book: I was in the mood for a graphic novel, so after looking through a number of lists, I stumbled upon Home Time by Campbell Whyte. His website describes it as a “distinctly Australian fantasy series set in Perth that has been met with critical acclaim.” That sounded perfect! I read a bit on my travel from home day and finished volume 1 up later. At first, the style and monotone colors made it difficult for me to tell characters apart. But once the children find themselves in the fantasy version of the world, like the land of Oz in the Wizard of Oz movie, everything was in vibrant color; there was also one fewer character to keep track of, which helped as well. Each subsequent section of the story follows a different character, and each is done in a unique art style that depicts the character’s mood and personality; I found this affective and interesting. And I loved exploring everything with the kids, from a whole bundle of chips to love letters to a village of beings who considered the children their saviors from the nearby, threatening lizard people. What I loved the most was the world building, which included diagrams, songs, photos, tea, and even journal entries. The story itself fell short for me, as I kept waiting for the adventure to really kick in, and most of it was rooted in the kids either rejecting or too-quickly accepting the reality of being stuck in this fantasy world for months. The most exciting moment in the plot happened “off camera” in fact, because the character we were following wasn’t present, so we only see the aftermath. I didn’t love it, but I certainly liked it enough and was invested enough to start reading volume 2 of the story.

Movie: I love me a good folk hero story, so I watched the True History of the Kelly Gang. I think somewhere on Mount TBR I have a copy of Peter Carey’s book the movie was based off of, and the 2019 movie had stars I knew from other movies, including Charlie Hunnam, Russell Crowe, Nicholas Hoult, and George MacKay. I knew the story did not end well for Ned Kelly, but I wasn’t expecting what this movie had to offer. It wasn’t a biopic, and the statement at the beginning warning me that nothing I was about to see is true should have been the first indication, despite the title. It was a blend of legend, social commentary, raw emotion, punk music, and strobe lights. Oh so many strobe lights. It was like the director found some strobe lights on sale and decided to use them every time he possibly could. The acting was strong and fantastic, the cross-dressing was strange but kind of endearing, but the borderline blackface made me uncomfortable and confused. Even more confusing to me was spending time developing armor that they didn’t even wear during the final shootout. At the end, I stared at the screen wondering what it is I had just watched and wishing I’d opted for the Orlando Bloom and Heath Ledger 2003 Ned Kelly movie instead.