Waltzing Matilda

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I started working for the Times’s Australia bureau in 2020, writing stories from my kitchen table — my makeshift office in a locked-down Melbourne.

The theme that ran through many of the stories I worked on in those early days — days which, by now, have now all fused together in my mind in a blur of pandemic monotony — was how Australians had decided that they were willing to sacrifice individual freedoms for the collective good, keeping the national pandemic death rate far lower than that of countries like the United States.

Of course, the latter half of Australia’s pandemic response was marred by issues like the lackluster vaccine rollout, and confusion and concern when the country transitioned to “living with the virus.”

But when I look back on the three years I’ve spent reporting on Australia for The Times, that’s one of the things that stands out to me: the willingness, throughout Melbourne’s cumulative 262 days of lockdown, to follow the rules to keep everyone safe.

My time with the Australia bureau is coming to an end — soon, I’ll be moving to Seoul to join The Times’s breaking news hub there — and I’ve been reflecting on a job that has allowed me to see and write about the best and worst of Australia, and all the weird, zany and amazing stories in between.

Among other things, I’ve learned the value of a waterfront view in Sydney’s wealthy northern suburbs and the lengths someone might go to to achieve one; how residents in the Northern Territory consider the rest of the country to be something of a nanny state; and how a dinosaur boom in Australia’s outback is rewriting our past.

Some of my favorite stories gave me a glimpse into how people see and make sense of the world. How do locals understand a string of disappearances in Victoria’s high country? Why do residents choose to stay in a town where every breath could carry deadly asbestos particles?

Working on these stories has made me really appreciate the country’s vast, wild landscapes; Australians’ unending friendliness, even when it’s sometimes mixed with a little bit of reservation when speaking to a journalist; the fact that there’s at least one (usually more) excellent pie shop in every country town; and our ability to not take ourselves too seriously.

There are also subjects Australia struggles with, like its unresolved relationship with the hundreds of Indigenous tribes that first occupied the continent, and how that manifests: in the contest between ancient heritage and industry, in the debate over race-based laws on things like alcohol bans and, most recently, in the Voice referendum.

And there are the uncertainties. In covering the numerous floods that hit Australia the last few years, I witnessed incredible resilience in residents whose homes were damaged again and again — and also spoke with those who worried about how long such resilience would last as the continent is battered by more and more climate-driven driven extreme weather. As we head into what the authorities say will be our first horror fire season since Black Summer, everyone I’ve interviewed has said that we’re better prepared — but wondered whether that will be enough.

It’s been an incredible privilege to meet people from all walks of life and to visit the far-flung corners of this vast nation. Having grown up here, I thought I’d had Australia more or less figured out. It turns out I’d barely scratched the surface.

It’s been a ridiculously fun ride. Thank you dear readers, for following, nay, waltzing along.

And now, for the stories of the week:

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