This is Australia, land of the spooks.
By Ian Jarrett ~ The Grumpy Traveller
Monday, 7th November 2005
It's been a spooky kind of week in Australia but Ian Jarrett is trying to remain calm, at Kerry Packer's Crown Casino in Melbourne, three Buddhist monks performed a spirit-cleansing ceremony in a toilet said to be haunted. Nervous gamblers were blaming a poltergeist for their bad luck. Others claimed they simply put their chips on the wrong numbers.

On the racetrack, Makybe Diva won the Melbourne Cup but my pick, Plastered, didn't have a ghost of a chance because injury forced it to withdraw before the start.

Then a baby grand piano mysteriously appeared on our local beach and was destroyed by the tide. While we wondered whether we should call sea rescue to search for a sunken pianist - after all, Pavarotti was in town at the time – we were told that the piano-in-the-sand was part of an "artistic performance".

In other words, it was probably the brainchild of art students who were handed fistfuls of taxpayers' dollars to come up with something so silly it defied explanation.

After that the Prime Minister, John "Trust Me" Howard, spooked us even further by pushing new anti-terrorist laws through Parliament on the back of a melodramatic warning that Australia is facing a home-grown terrorist plot.

Howard, the master of politics of fear, couldn't reveal any details, of course, but frightened the opposition parties into supporting his new counter terrorism laws.

Those with half decent memories will recall that prior to the last Federal election in Australia, the Chief Spook claimed refugee boat people were throwing their children overboard in an attempt to get help from Australian naval vessels. This of course – just like Saddam's WMDs – turned out to be nonsense.

The terrorist attack warnings came in a week when Australia got itself into its annual lather over daylight saving. Across the country there are now several different time zones – the biggest of three hours between west and east coasts and, absurdly, of 30 minutes in southeast Queensland where the locals have informally opted for New South Wales time rather than Queensland time.

In Western Australia, the business community, which has argued for daylight saving to allow it to keep in step with Sydney and Melbourne, has been ambushed by those in the community who argue that an extra hour's sunlight in the summer months would fade the curtains and confuse the dairy cows.

Queensland has a more sensible reason for refusing to fall into line with New South Wales and Victoria. It argues that it works in a global environment and it is more important to stay in touch, time-wise, with business partners in Asia than it is to give Gold Coast surfers an extra hour on the beach at the end of the day.

Personally, I'm all in favour of daylight saving because I would probably get more sleep. It would delay the dawn chorus that alerts the family cat that it is time to be up and about with the birds.

If daylight saving means I don't get spooked by a paw in my face at 5am, it gets my vote.

IAN JARRETT is based in Fremantle, Western Australia from where he travels frequently in Asia on assignments for travel magazines.

He is a member of the BamBoo Alliance, a group of leading travel writers in the region. He can be contacted at ianjarrett@mac.com
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