Uncle Hercules

Like with most families, if you shake the Lenton closet hard enough, you’ll hear the dry rattle of shame skeletons rattling around inside. And as the years have passed, time has unearthed the calcified details of some truly great stories. For example, I could have gone with the tale of Uncle Bob, supposedly the kindest and gentlest of uncles when my mother was growing up. But like all great men, he possessed a fatal flaw, a tiny weakness which in the end would prove his undoing. Such as when he was arrested for shooting at some kids who were trying to steal his marijuana crop. Crazy Uncle Bob was raided by the feds, and discovered to have alongside his extensive collection of firearms and drugs, a house rigged from floor to ceiling with home made traps, like a stoned, psychotic MacGyver was squatting at its centre.

So, yes, I could have written a story about Bob – he is the reason why our family has a collective eye twitch whenever we hear the eponymous saying ‘Bob’s your Uncle’. Yes, he really was.

But the story I’m going to tell is the myth of Uncle Herc, the Mayor of Cobar. For my entire life, we’ve heard stories of Uncle Hercules, who in our tiny family managed to live up to his legendary name. He first reared his ridiculous head when my parents were only newly married, my mother at the tender age of eighteen, my father at a slightly stringier twenty one. My father had been hospitalised with glandular fever, and my grandma decided to calm my distraught mother with the story of how Uncle Herc, who was the Mayor of Cobar, had died young from glandular fever. He even looked remarkably similar to my dad.

ARTISTS RENDITION

ARTISTS RENDITION

Now, it would be wrong for you to consider my grandma malicious, despite what seems to be quite obvious cruelty from that story. She’s just odd. This is the woman who has for years played scrabble against her invisible friend, Anne – and lost. Who spends the majority of her day filling piles of notebooks with the most useless minutiae of information, such as the spelling of football players names long dead or numbers of lottery results long spent. This is the woman who once didn’t come to Christmas because it was too windy. And I know what you’re thinking – we all go a little funny when we’re old. But she’s been like this since she was thirty.

Grandma is known as Shirley the First – my grandfather married another Shirley after her. Shirley the First takes an inordinate amount of pride in her nickname, obviously taking it as a measure of preference, rather than numerical ordering. And at the funeral of my grandfather it became obvious that Shirley the First was living in a fantasy world that only vaguely resembled reality.  She spoke lovingly of all the wonderful years they spent together, and called him the ‘best husband in the world’. She seemed to forget that he’d cast her aside for Shirley the Second.

So, it shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise when the horrible truth was revealed about Uncle Herc on one ignominious day. While grandma hasn’t gotten any weirder with age, she has obviously forgotten about some of the lies and fantasies that she enjoyed in her youth. So, after I proudly told my girlfriend – a one time resident of Cobar- the story of Uncle Hercules, the Mayor of Cobar who tragically died young, grandma nonchalantly corrected me on a few details.

One – while he was distant family, he wasn’t actually related to my dad

Two – he wasn’t the Mayor, he was a civil clerk.

Three – he didn’t look like my dad.

Four- he only died recently, of old age.

Five- Herc is short for Hector.

Then, this woman who had for some reason invented an entire person, questioned our sanity. Like we were the ones who were living in an elaborate fantasy world, where a man named Hercules was the Mayor of Cobar and tragically died young. A different world. A better world.

THE SCORE:

1/5 stars. Big disappointment.

Australia

Have you read Miranda Devine’s article on Camilla’s parasol? Read it here. Not only is it the strangest homage to Rihanna’s ‘Umbrella’, it is also immensely embarrassing to read as an Australian. Devine seems to think that our fusion powered sun is as patriotically ours as Vegemite and Emus, and that by erecting a parasol to ward off the worst of its cancer lasers, the Royal consort has spat in the faces of our children. Why do we as a country have such a strange reaction whenever somebody from overseas comes to our shores? If you’re not famous: detention centres. If you are famous: losing our tiny goddamn mothershitting minds.

Australia dealt with Obama coming to our humble shores in 2011 with all the dignity and aplomb of that girl who vomited all over herself furiously when someone dressed as Batman came to her birthday party. It wouldn’t have been so embarrassing if the same level of gormless, over-excited regurgitation didn’t occur whenever the Queen, Oprah or even that one racist prince decide to come over. For a long time, I’ve assumed our treatment of foreign celebrities – which ancient Incan gods in the middle of blood sacrifices would have declared tacky – to be because of cultural cringe. It’s long been established that we are embarrassed of our own international high-flyers – Crocodile Dundee, Steve Irwin, Schapelle Corby – and look up to foreign stars. Kim Kardashian for example, with the same starry eyed, slack jawed idolation as a toddler imitating the family Labrador.

And cultural cringe does exist in Australia, I’m not disputing that. But what people don’t understand is part of Australia’s embarrassment of their own country, stems from cultural fear. To put it frankly, Australian’s are terrified of Australia. On a basic level, the very fauna and flora seem designed to kill us. Our population centres cling to the shores like terrified mollusks  desperately ignoring the nuclear heated red centre of our country, seething with the majority of the world’s poisonous snakes and spiders. And there are millions of camels, and I saw one of them bite the face off an American tourist once. True story. And while the coastal areas are more temperate, they simply expose us to giant sharks and jellyfish and sand between your toes when you’re wearing thongs.

When I was a kid, I cross-stitched me and my friend Matthew’s names on a small pillow in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, because I’m an expressive friend and also a giant nerd. And this is still less embarrassing than Australia’s collective appreciation of Oprah’s tour of our opera facilities. But subconsciously, I think we were all in such of a lather of excitement because we are impressed with anyone who actually wants to come here. When Obama touches down in Airforce One, we just can’t fathom why he would brave the gauntlet of Crocodiles to meet us. When Oprah bellowed for us to look under our seats, our collective hearts were in our communal throats, because there were probably Redbacks mixed in with the gift packs. I’m going to be uncharacteristically optimistic and hope that Australia’s shameful demonisation of refugees and asylum seekers is actually a misguided attempt to save these poor people from the poisonous spurs of our platypuses.

Historically speaking, my theory makes perfect sense. Since the moment Australia separated itself from the mega-continent, it’s been home to things the rest of the world is better off without. If you’ve ever researched the species of mega-fauna that Australia played host to, a pantheon of truck sized wombats and tree dwelling kangaroos with razor sharp claws and guided-missile scrotum’s, you’ll understand where I’m coming from. Gaia has basically been using Australia as a dumping ground for creatures too deadly or weird to exist anywhere else.

Even the British Empire – the dickiest of empires – realised that the best possible use for Australia, a country roughly a million times larger than their own withered penis of an island, was to dump all their criminals here.  Possibly lost in the mists of time and colonial outrages, is the fact that the British aristocracy was using Australia as an enormous gladiatorial contest between hardened criminals and belligerent echidnas. Like a pre-television reality show, they probably assumed one side would wipe the other out in a systematic and entertaining manner.

To this day, anyone who has experienced the scourge that is Australian tourism and its effects on another country, would have to agree that Australians should be kept inside the country. It’s not often that one debates the wisdom of inventing air travel – but watching ten shirtless bogans wearing Australian flags, singing Waltzing Matilda at 3am in Hoi An and throwing beer bottles at a pond full of carp will usually get it done.

I am terrified of Bob Katter. I once had the misfortune to strut happily into his mobile sneer while working in the Sydney ABC building. As a portion of society he refuses to believe in, he is representative to me of some of the fear I hold towards my own countrymen. Having been stuck in the middle of such nation-building events as the Cronulla riots, I know that my neighbour can be just as terrifying as a nine-foot salt water croc, wallowing in a pool of racism somewhere. In a way, Bob Katter and his giant hat fulfill the same role as the Sorting Hat in the popular Harry Potter novels. Much like being put into Slytherin, I know that anyone voting for Bob Katter  is probably an enemy of everything I stand for, and will drag their feet in helping me hunt down horcruxes. Yet, while I am scared of him, I feel virtuous in the knowledge that he is Australia’s problem. We keep him safely trapped here with the snakes, spiders and other elected officials.

Australia is and always has been, to an extent, a type of prison. Whether it’s cane toads spreading from Queensland, or  Queenslanders, Australia exists to keep these plagues within its borders. So, while we exist in perpetual fear of our country, countrymen and country music, we can at least know that unlike most countries, Australia has a purpose – because if they weren’t here, they’d be assing up somewhere else. And if this means that we act like gibbering meth-cats every time a famous foreigner comes over here, I’ll secretly understand, behind my mask of seething intolerance.

THE SCORE: 5/5