At Large

The Ultimate Elsewhere

In the dead of winter, relocation to a sunny faraway continent beckons.

By 3.1.07

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If you've been around any of the 12-step programs, you know the term, "pulling a geographic." It means moving somewhere to try to leave your troubles behind -- with the implication, of course (for 12-steppers), that you just take your troubles with you wherever you go.

Nonetheless, the Great Elsewhere can beckon very strongly. In the deep midwinter, looking out at the haunted, frightened trees, contemplating chill darkness at 4:30 p.m., sunny Australia comes on the telly with the Australian Open tennis tournament and the three big Australian golf tournaments, and there you see strapping dudes and lovely girls and glistening beaches and fabulous seas, and it looks awfully good -- and not just for a vacation, either.

Thinking of Australia for yet another winter, I remembered an old friend and former editor of mine, Mary Driscoll, who actually moved there, and I thought to get in touch by e-mail and research the matter. Instead, I found her right back here in the Boston area, working at the same old stand at CFO Magazine. She had come back to handle a family illness.

But she intends to return to Australia, which she first visited after having married an Aussie. "And I definitely intend to retire there," Mary told me.

"IT'S BEAUTIFUL," MARY SAID. "THE SOPHISTICATION of New York with palm trees. San Diego weather. It's very connected to European fashion trends. Film is very cutting edge. (My husband) Mark was involved in the film and theater industry, so I wound up in that crowd. -- lifelong writers, artists, dancers, and photographers."

Despite the sophistication, though, Australia as a whole is like a small town. In that respect, it sounds something like Alaska, in which, though it is huge, you are always running into people you know.

Australians, Mary said, are very relaxed. "They don't get obsessive about time the way Americans do. It's common, in a business meeting, for people to arrive fifteen or more minutes late." Maybe that's the infusion of beach culture. It is not unusual, Mary said, to see a young businessman in a suit on a metro train with a briefcase in one hand and a boogie board in the other.

There's very little anxiety about crime, either.

"I was shopping with my mother-in-law. She put her pocketbook down on a chair and was trying on shoes on the other side of the store. And my American instincts kicked in. I said, 'Don't leave your pocketbook on the chair like that.' She wasn't at all concerned."

DRAWBACKS? REAL ESTATE HAS gotten expensive. Mary cited the influx of Chinese money after the reversion of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty. She told a story of a local realtor who had some 20 properties displayed in his window, "and one day a Chinese guy came in and bought all of them."

So for a retiree or student renter, living circumstances would have to be relatively humble. Mary compared the possibilities to living in a Boston suburb like Malden, instead of a toney neighborhood like the Back Bay.

The country, too, is provincial in a kind of endearing way. Their sports heroes are "huge," as Mary said. Tennis great John Newcombe gave the annual Australia Day address some years ago -- imagine a national address being given in the U.S. on the Fourth of July by Michael Jordan.

And Australians' reactions to fame can be laughable. Mary described how, when Aussie media mogul Kerry Packer died, "You would have thought the Queen of England had died." Packer, a kind of Donald Trump type of aggressive, in-your-face rich guy, "was all over every kind of media, above the fold stories with giant pictures. And I'm not talking about tabloids. Major newspapers."

ROBERT HUGHES, WRITING IN HIS EPIC of Australian history, The Fatal Shore, said something like this (I paraphrase): "Australians will put up with the most godawful intrusive Grundyism, because, if they can surf at lunch, they think they're still free."

Prospective emigrants among The American Spectator's conservative audience will be all too aware of some aspects of that "Grundyism," like the nationwide gun confiscation program instituted not all that long ago. Mary is the wrong person to ask. Her only comment about government is that it's "very efficient. When you call a government office, you get a real person, a cheerful, happy, helpful person."

Whatever. Australians are still surfing at lunch, and they still live in a climatic paradise. "It's gorgeous," Mary said. "The weather is perfect. You want to spend your whole life outdoors."

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About the Author

Lawrence Henry writes every week from North Andover, Massachusetts.