An Americans Guide to Australia in 10 minutes or less.
May 31, 2011 9:45 PM   Subscribe

What would a Kiwanis group would like to know about Australia?

I'm an expat Australian, now living in the USA and have been roped into giving a 10 minute talk to my Father in Laws Kiwanis group (they are a service group like Rotary or Lion's club). I have asked him several times what he thinks I should talk about, but his only suggestion has been to talk about "the economy".

The only knowledge of the Australian economy I have is what I'd learned from reading newspapers before I left 3 years ago, so I have no idea how to make this current, never the less that interesting.

I have however in my life been a tour guide in a National Park in South Australia and have a pretty good knowledge of Australian wildlife, history and lifestyles.

I am happy to do some research as needed and am pretty confident at public speaking so I that side of things doesn't bother me. It is more I am scared of boring everyone and embarrassing my Father in Law, who despite his tendency to throw me in the deep end like this has been nothing but kind to me since he met me.

If you had to listen to someone talk for 10 minutes about Australia what would like to know?
posted by wwax to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
All the things that can kill you.
posted by unliteral at 10:00 PM on May 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

Kiwanis groups (in my limited experience) are usually quite interested in history and national heritage. It sounds like you could use your National Park experience to talk about aspects of Australian history and cultures; I'm sure that you'll have a very polite, engaged audience. Tell some stories about your own experiences in South Australia, and, if you can, relate those stories to the larger historical landscape of the place. Leave a little time at the end for questions, and you'll be able to address specific areas of interest, at least a little bit, that way. I doubt there's any need to do much research; just plan what you mean to say and practice a few times before you go. If you have some photos or "artifacts" to show and/or pass around, so much the better.

Don't be too nervous; it's a friendly audience, assuming my experience is typical. I once gave a talk to a Kiwanis group (mostly ladies of an age to be retired, a few older gentlemen among them) about an archaeology project I did in the Western Isles of Scotland. The group enjoyed hearing my stories about the locals, a brief history of the islands, and the less-technical, more colorful aspects of doing archaeology there.
posted by Spinneret at 10:02 PM on May 31, 2011

I live in Australia. Nobody wants to hear a talk about the Australian economy (and I've heard lots) unless they're being paid to be there and probably not even then. The wildlife and history are fascinating though so I'd talk about one or two items which really enthuse you - as conveying that enthusiasm to your audience is the most important thing and it's easier to do it for real than to fake it. Use your material from your national park tour guide days, throw up some pictures (no text) on a screen if you can and you'll do fine.
posted by joannemullen at 10:04 PM on May 31, 2011 [4 favorites]

Knowing nothing about Kiwanis, but based on what people above have said about natural history & national heritage, I bet your audience would get a kick out of hearing a bit about Aboriginal history, eg:

- bush tucker & living "in harmony" with the land for tens of thousands of years - your knowledge of national parks & fauna would be handy here

- early extinction of the easily-hunted megafauna

- fire management (setting fires for hunting purposes) - showing how the simple "living off the land" actually changed the landscape by inadvertently favouring species that could bounce back from bushfire (and how bushfire has become indeed *necessary* for many species to procreate...talking flora here, obviously)

- European settlement/invasion - diseases, stolen generations etc

- the land rights movement & native title
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:19 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

(actually, if you could describe a couple of colourful ways of gathering bush tucker, that'd be really the frogs out west that burrow into the desert sand to survive, and can be dug up & squeezed for the liquids that they hoard during the dry seasons - that kind of thing)
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:21 PM on May 31, 2011

Everything you ever wanted to know about the bunyip, but were afraid to ask.
posted by cior at 10:24 PM on May 31, 2011

That drop bears aren't real, despite what Australians may say to gullible Americans. Seconding the deadly animals and wildlife. Maybe talk about the limited TV? Its pretty exotic. The vast distances, and low population are interesting too.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 10:30 PM on May 31, 2011

The Kiwanis groups I've encountered are mainly successful middle-aged to elderly Caucasian businessmen who like to give back to the community by raising funds for uncontroversial things like children's cancer hospitals and scholarships. The purpose is basically charity and business networking. I don't know how well that audience would receive the more confronting aspects of Aboriginal history, especially in just ten minutes.

A slideshow of Amazing Animals of the Barossa or whatever would be pretty safe (I am partial to magpie calls, as they are pretty beautiful and there's nothing close to them in the US). The Role of Small Business in Australian History would probably seriously appeal.
posted by gingerest at 11:04 PM on May 31, 2011

TVTropes has surprisingly comprehensive articles called Useful Notes on most major nations; the one for Australia includes sub-articles on Australian history, the Aborigines, cities/states, politics, wildlife, and tons more. Most of the articles are quite funny and cite interesting anecdotes and sidelights for beginners, so be sure to check out the articles for the topics you want to cover and you'll find a lot of usable material.
posted by Rhaomi at 11:28 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Another approach would be to highlight the commonalities and intersections in Australian and US history - e.g.:

- The best "in" for connecting Australian to American history is the fact that the decision to make the first Australian settlement a penal colony was motivated in part by Britain losing the American War of Independence (i.e. it couldn't send its surplus convicts to the U.S.)

- The roughly contemporaneous Californian and Victorian gold rushes shared a lot of common features. You could use this a 'hook' to talk about how important mining became to Australian economic development, and was Australia's first experience of significant non-Anglo immigration.

- How Australia's foreign policy outlook shifted from Britain to the United States during WWII. Or to put it more lightly, you could talk about Australia and the U.S.'s shared experience in WWII. Not many Americans know just how many US servicemen were stationed in Queensland in the lead-up to the turning the Japanese back (there's a great song in that link). You could reference Curtin's epochal 'Australia looks to America' speech after the fall of Singapore, and say the US has been our most important ally since. You could talk about the Battle of the Coral Sea, when the US and Australian navies fought together in a battle still commemorated today. (Obviously there's a lot of WWII stuff you could cover off - cherry pick as required.)

- The fact that the two countries are both immigrant nations.

- If you think the audience is receptive, you could also highlight and contrast the experiences of the two nations' indigenous peoples. Or cover off UbuRoivas' list above.

- The Economist links above are a good survey of the current state of play. The key economic point for audience is that Australian banks managed to avoid the sub-prime financial crisis that swept the US and Europe and things are pretty damned healthy down under right now.

There's a lot of shared history there - you could really flatter your audience by letting them now how important the United States has been to Australia over the years and how much we have in common.
posted by bright cold day at 4:38 AM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Once upon a time I encountered a young lady from Australia in an on-line game whose view of the United states consisted of New York city, a strip of agricultural land about 100 miles wide, and then Los Angeles. She was absolutely certain that I could see a major rock concert every night if I wanted. I almost felt bad about explaining that there were huge swaths of the United States that were on par with Alice Springs in terms of a night scene.

Odds are are that these guys have a similarly unrealistic view of Australia cobbled together from things like Steve Irwin, pictures of the Sydney Opera house and Ayers rock and memories of a bunch of Australian bands from the mid-eighties. That, or they think it is almost exactly like the United States only the water goes down the drain the other way around and the snakes are more poisonous.

Giving them a better picture of the scale and diversity of things, how Australian society is like the US and how it is different, the things that seem really important to people in Australia that people in North America or Europe might not consider.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:26 AM on June 1, 2011

You probably don't need to talk about "the economy" in a wonk sense, but perhaps outline some features that may be relevant to your audience, like Australian businesses they may contact or read about. I'd spend a small part of the time debunking myths, such as the aforementioned one about the Outback. Talk about how Australia has changed in the last couple of generations to a much more globally diverse population with trade relations focused on Asia. Briefly outline political structure with the Queen being the Head of State but the government being parliamentary and the states being federal, in many ways like ours. You may perk up a few ears mentioning Australian service in the Vietnam War, or Afghanistan and Iraq, to different extents. Another angle to bring up might be Australian casualties in the Bali bombing. Again, try to relate this to your audience and think about what headlines they may occasionally see about Australia and how to illuminate that.

Although you may find a more receptive and knowledgeable audience than you think, with Australian actors and musicians among the top and several recent movies set there.

Anyway, Kiwanis and other service clubs see these presentations all the time. You don't need to overthink this. It's really more about the camaraderie and such than it really needs to be any kind of educational experience. Your bar, should you choose to meet or exceed it, is the recent overseas exchange student explaining their slideshow in a monotone.
posted by dhartung at 11:38 AM on June 1, 2011

« Older Vancouver Stylist   |   How old is a particular computer model? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.