It’s Australia Day in Whistler, and the Longhorn Saloon has been doing a roaring business since the first green-and-gold face-painted patrons started lining up at 9:30 a.m. By the time the lifts close, a huge pyramid of empty Victoria Bitter beer cans piled behind the pool table attests to some serious all-day partying.
A DJ spins an antipodean groove from some of Australia’s most-popular music exports-AC/DC, INXS and Men at Work. The latter’s anthemic Down Under packs the dance floor from the opening horn riff. Between breaks in the music, the well-liquored crowd huddles together rugby-style and belts out the call-and-response battle cry familiar to those who watched the Olympic Games in Sydney: “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oi, Oi, Oi! Aussie! Oi! Aussie! Oi! Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oi, Oi, Oi!” Off in a corner, one young male reveler is, ah, relieving himself.
As a chronically mild-mannered Canadian, I’ve long admired the boisterous way Australians celebrate their country, which is nicely complemented by their tireless”up-for-anything” love of worldwide travel.
While American ski resorts rely on Hispanic labor, the grunt work of hotel-room cleaning, burger-flipping and car-parking at Canada’s largest resort is farmed out to eager young citizens from a faraway land. As members of the British Commonwealth, Australians under the age of 27 can be hired at Canadian resorts with relatively painless paperwork and “no worries” about visits from immigration officials. Resort officials estimate that up to 2,000 Aussies enter the local work force annually.
The “red island” was viewed by the British government as a solution to prison overcrowding. The first flotilla of British soldiers, administrators and convicts landed at Botany Bay on Jan. 26, 1788, which is Australia’s version of the Fourth of July.
Oddly enough, Whistler’s ex-pat Aussies celebrate their Independence Day with greater gusto than natives do in Sydney, Melbourne or Canberra, Australia’s capital. Rodney Morgan, 19, has lived in Whistler for barely three months, cooking at an on-mountain restaurant. “Australia Day is an excuse to drink, and this is an excuse to drink away from home,” he says. “We try to live it up and be a bit more Australian than we would at home; we want folks to know where we’re from.” No problem, there. Morgan patiently waited two hours outside in the 30-degree chill for the bar to open, wearing nothing more than green and gold body paint and a loincloth.In the middle of the bar, a man dressed like Dorothy (Aussies affectionately refer to their country as “Oz”) is enthused. He’s a young newspaper publisher who lives the good life in “The Lucky Country,” as British writer Kingsley Amis once called it. Interestingly, he thinks he can do better in Canada. “I live right on the beach back home, but I’d chuck it all to move to Whistler. In fact, I’m ‘ere lookin’ for a girl to marry so that I can move here. Surveying the crowd of Sheilas crowding the dance floor, I need a CANADIAN GIRL!” he blurts.
Ahh, but then the loin-cloth clad Morgan points out the sobering reality of Whistler life. “If my brother’s friend who told me to come here had let on how expensive it was, I might have gone someplace else. I’m living in one big room with six other people-and we’re paying $400 a month each for rent.” Later in the evening, Morgan gives a drowsy nod and says, “It’s not quite what I had in mind. I thought I’d get a lot more rest…”
As Australia Day 2001 draws to a close in Whistler, however, I continue to marvel at the Aussie ingenuity at stretching a buck while living life to the fullest. Australians may make the world’s greatest ski bums-perhaps because “bummer” just doesn’t seem to be in their vocabulary.