James Cridland

Notes from Brisbane vol 8: voting, estate agents, and “too easy”

We’ve just had an election here. Voting in Australia is mandated by law, and is, I discover amazingly complex.

On turning up to vote, there are people outside with complicated-looking pieces of paper. The green one — voting in your representative in the, er, House of representatives — seems relatively straightforward. You label your preferences in order.

The white one: well. It’s an amazingly long piece of paper (over a meter wide), with two ways of filling it in. No wonder there were a set of volunteers trying to help you understand how to do it to best return the leadership you wanted.

Australia’s size is also quite evident when you look at some of the “electorates” (constituencies). Brisbane itself has relatively normal-looking areas, as you’d expect in a city this size. But then you zoom out to discover, for example, Lingiari — an electorate that is 1.3m km² (four times the size of Germany), with just 63,000 people eligible to vote in it. And no, that’s not the biggest in Australia either.

Also a staple part of many Australian election days are the “sausage sizzle”: where local charities sell you a bite to eat while you vote. There’s a website dedicated to documenting where they all are. The thing to the left was $2.50 (£1.40).

While other countries have a big “vote” campaign, ensuring that people have their say in voting booths, Australia doesn’t have this. However, what I did notice coming up to the election was a surprisingly large amount of pleas on television and on radio to not spoil your ballot. Nearly 6% are “informal votes”, which don’t count; but only 25% of those appear to be deliberate (drawing a set of ‘cock and balls’ onto the paper). Nearly 75% of spoilt/informal votes are because voters haven’t understood what to do.

A slightly disconcerting phrase that people use here is “too easy!”. A few months ago we had some air conditioning installed in the home office, and I asked them to put the unit in the corner, and to try and put the outside unit next to the other one, and the response was “too easy!”. Today, I’ve just asked someone if they’d have some decent loudspeakers for the presentation I’m going to give in their office next week, and their response was “too easy!”. In both cases, I feel slightly embarrassed that I didn’t ask them to do something that was more of a challenge, and felt slightly bad that what I asked wasn’t more deserving of their attention.

Estate Agents here appear to market using the name of the individual estate agent, not the estate agent company. There’s a picture of Andrew Keogh at one of our local bus stops. His name is way more prominent than the real estate company’s. Andrew is a “licensed real estate agent” for Calibre, the real estate company we bought our house from. He lives round the corner, and publishes a little colour magazine every few months with local news, a house or two that he’s selling, a slightly incongruous deal for a ski holiday, and his own positioning statement. It’s an interesting tactic to sell the people who work for your company, rather than your company itself, but it appears to be the main way that real estate companies work here. Incidentally, a house just sold on the same road as we’re on for $4.3m, so I’m guessing it’s likely that we are more targeted by estate agents than most.

More Australian slang:

Schmicko — glamorously attractive.

Jaffle — a toasted sandwich, which you’d cook in a jaffle iron.

Beer’s smaller measure, a “schooner” (425mL, three-quarters of a UK pint) is the perfect size, it turns out, for a cold Aussie beer. Half a pint isn’t enough; and if you drink slowly, a full pint begins to get a bit warm by the bottom. And, of course, it costs less.

Finally, since I’m British, let’s talk about the weather. Yesterday, Brisbane winter temperatures went down to 7ºC (at 6.45am), and reached a high of 22ºC (at 3.00pm). Much like a typical UK summer. Except that houses here don’t appear to be particularly insulated: certainly this one isn’t. So if it’s 7º outside, chances are it’s 7º inside, too. On some days, I have never been so cold in the early mornings…