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Last week, I wrote about Australia and foreign policy — examining the federal budget for signs of how Australia sees itself and its global mission.

This week, like the country itself, I’m looking inward.

That’s not always a welcome trait — navel-gazing tends to be unattractive in both lovers and nations — but I’ve been thinking lately about what Australia is so eager to protect.

Clearly, there’s a lot, but let’s be honest: These things are personal. And they change.

So think of the list below as a temporal snapshot, in the spirit of Nick Hornby’s “High Fidelity.” These are the things on repeat in my mental playlist at the moment.

Got your own Top 5? Send it our way at [email protected], or share your list in our Facebook group.

And now, the five things I really love about Australia at this very moment:

1. The Coastline, I Mean, I Can’t Even

A cliché? Yeah maybe, but seriously, how fantastically gorgeous is the Australian coast?

From Sydney’s rocky cliffs to the Northern Territory’s tropical lagoons to the Great Ocean Road to Noosa to Denmark’s ruggedness (easily the best part of “Breath,” the movie), I am perpetually amazed at the rich bounty of the world’s most beautiful island continent.

I am eternally grateful whenever I get near it, even when I’m getting smashed by waves that remind me I don’t know how to surf.

2. Johnny Spit

Whenever I watch Australian movies — this week “Dead Calm” (great) and “Breath” (disappointing) — I find myself comparing the writing and characters to Johhny Spit, the scene-stealer of “Gettin’ Square” played by David Wenham.

John Francis Spiteri is the ultimate larrikin, a savant, a satirist and a fool all at the same time. I long for the day when I can cock my head just the way he does and tell someone, as he does in court, “Hey, you’re trying to verbal me, trying to put words in my mouth!”

3. Attica

Ben Shrewry’s restaurant in Melbourne is nothing short of a world-class gem. Dinner for two may cost as much as a diamond but it’s the kind of experience that sticks with you like a favorite wedding.

I’ve had many great meals in my life, in many cities and countries. Attica tops the list. Hands down.

4. Understated #Auspol

When I went to interview John Howard, the former prime minister, I ran into him in the elevator, alone, without an entourage.

When I was in Manus reporting on Australia’s offshore detention center there, I ran into Nick McKim, the Greens senator from Tasmania, traveling alone, without staff.

Never could I have imagined such a thing happening in the United States or in many other countries where I’ve worked. The accessibility and willingness to eschew the trappings of power were a welcome sight.

On the other hand, no one in Canberra seems to get along and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has repeatedly refused our interview requests.

5. Work-Life Balance

Maybe it was during Nippers, or when the people who run my son’s soccer club pointed out that everyone involved is a volunteer — but at some point I realized there are structures of life in Australia that depend on parents being there for their kids in significant ways.

A lot of those link to sport, sure, but there was no shortage of parents at my daughter’s dance recital either, and what that tells me is that this is a society that treats work as just one part of a fulfilled life.

There is an expectation of balance or at least a respect for it as a lived reality (Americans write about it more than they live it) that I find enormously refreshing after moving here from New York.

Many Australians probably don’t even notice it, but for me, it’s nothing short of thrilling and wondrous.

… And one thing I loathe:

No, it’s not Vegemite, but close. It’s food delivery.

Here in Sydney, there are at least three online providers, Deliveroo, Foodora and Uber Eats. I’ve tried them all. They’re terrible.

It’s not necessarily their fault. Restaurants appear and disappear on their apps, delivering some days, not others. Menus are just as fungible and wait times often extend mysteriously like gambling debts.

Yes, this is a first-world problem. No, it doesn’t change how much I love it here. But still.

Now for news of the week and some don’t-miss features — plus ya know, another recommendation.

Send me your Top 5! Or your Loathsome 1!


The health issue of The New York Times Magazine is out, and Michael Pollan, who usually writes about food, has a doozy of a story about guided psychedelic therapy.

“My first psilocybin journey began around an altar in the middle of a second-story loft in a suburb of a small city on the Eastern Seaboard,” he writes.

And from there, the trip is on, with a mix of serious science and skepticism.


People all over the internet erupted in disagreement on Tuesday about an audio clip in which some people hear “Laurel” and others hear “Yanny.”

Our friends at The Upshot built a tool to gradually accentuate different frequencies in the original audio clip so you can hear both. Because that’s just how smart and geeky they are.


A decade ago when I covered Iraq, many of us figured Moktada al-Sadr would eventually run the country. Now it might actually be happening. Here’s what’s going on and why it matters.

The Truth About Mass Shootings in Australia: The Father Usually Did It: Gun deaths are exceptionally rare in Australia, but those that do occur are often suicides. Mass shootings usually involve family members.

David Goodall, 104, Scientist Who Fought to Die on His Terms, Ends His Life: Mr. Goodall wanted to die because of his deteriorating health, and he flew to Switzerland to find legal services to assist him, choosing Beethoven for his last song.

Culture / Fun

Troye Sivan Is a New Kind of Pop Star: Here, Queer and Used to It: The 22-year-old singer is climbing the charts while demonstrating how his sexual orientation is both part of his art and beside the point.

An Australian Environmentalist’s Next Act: ‘Frugal Hedonism’: David Holmgren, who decades ago encouraged homeowners to turn their backyards into gardens, is now calling for suburbanites to go further off the grid.

‘Man With the Golden Arm’ Saved Millions of Australian Babies With His Blood: After six decades of giving blood, James Harrison, 81, has made his final donation. A rare antibody in his blood helped save more than two million babies, officials said.

‘I’m Here With You, Mate’: A picture that captures the true spirit of Aussie sportsmanship and mateship.

Why Australian College Graduates Feel Sorry for Their American Counterparts: Readers point to a simpler way to pay back loans and avoid “soul-crushing debt.”

Hot Grapes and Liver: Outtakes From an Australian Restaurant Critic: Many spots don’t make the cut — but some are still worth visiting.


… And We Recommend

When we were in Tasmania, we visited a number of vineyards (our children were not pleased) and last week, the boxes of wine we ordered finally arrived.

Our two favorites are from the Craigie Knowe Vineyard: the 2017 chardonnay (light, not too oaky) and their 2017 riesling (crisp but flavorful).

You can order both from its website if you get the urge.

Damien Cave is the new Australia bureau chief for The New York Times. He’s covered more than a dozen countries for The Times, including Mexico, Cuba, Iraq and Lebanon. Follow him on Twitter: @damiencave.