From little Gaza to chunky Australia
- 11 August 2013
- From the section Magazine
"Well, you have certainly got a bigger patch," one of my friends in Gaza remarked as we strolled along the beach on my final sun-kissed summer evening on the shores of the Mediterranean.
A little heavy of heart as I stepped around children flying kites against an ever-pinkening sky, I was about to leave the pint-sized Palestinian territory and set off on the interminable thrombosis-inducing journey to the vast expanses of Australia.
And since I touched down on the world's biggest island, jaded by jetlag and infused with insomnia, I have become somewhat obsessed with matters of size.
It began with a bit of night-time number crunching which revealed to me the probably never-before-reported fact that Gaza would fit inside Australia no fewer than 21,366 times.
And you would still have a couple of acres left over to set up a barbecue.
Australia's vital statistics, to put it politely, are chunky.
Gaza, meanwhile, is positively petite. Less than four miles (7 km) wide at its narrowest point and just over 26 miles (42 km) in length.
The organisers of the Gaza marathon boast that the strip was built to host such an event. The race covers the territory tip to toe. The course record is less than three hours.
But I have recently learned that, at the more extreme end of extreme sports, there is also a bunch of people who like to run across Australia.
The record here on a meandering, not to mention blistering, 3,000-odd mile (4,800 km) easterly route from Perth to Sydney is 43 days.
It is held by a German man, Achim Heukemes, who is presumably rather fit and possibly clinically insane.
And there are other big things too. Do bear with me if I am beginning to sound obsessed.
For Australia's general election next month, the biggest parliamentary constituency will be the western district of Durack.
It is roughly three times the size of France or, if you want to stick to the Palestinian method of comparison, 4,000 times the size of Gaza.
And Australia has the world's biggest farm. The Anna Creak Station is a little bit larger than Wales but with more cows.
You certainly would not want to be absent-minded and leave your cattle prod behind in the lower field.
Sun lovers can visit Ninety Mile Beach. The clue is in the title.
And I have been delighted to learn that there is a whole category of tourist attractions known quite simply as the "Big Things of Australia".
They are just that - a series of huge roadside novelty structures and sculptures dotted around the country.
Imagine the excitement to be felt as you bowl along the highway towards the town of Humpty Doo (yes, you read that right), only to see looming in the distance the Big Boxing Crocodile, an eight-metre high fibreglass croc squaring up to you in a full set of red gloves.
Or in Queensland, in the town of Tully, where tourists can flock to sample the joy of the Big Golden Gum Boot.
A gigantic yellow welly, the size of a house.
There are 150 or so such Big Things: the Big Prawn, the Big Avocado, the Big Paperclip. If there are more, I intend to find them.
But Australia's vastness presents a challenge as a journalist. In Gaza, when you get word of a story, you can drive pretty much anywhere in 45 minutes.
But my predecessor here in Sydney tells me he once got a call from an editor in London who asked if he could pop over to Perth to catch the end of the cricket.
Sydney to Perth is a more than four hours' flight or, as we have already discussed, a very long jog.
With its wall, fences and watchtowers, Gaza is not a place for the claustrophobic.
There are neighbourhoods with some of the highest population densities in the world.
In Australia, though, agoraphobia, or fear of open spaces, is more likely to be the issue.
Most people live in the coastal cities, but take the country as a whole and there are fewer than 10 people every square mile.
There is plenty of room to rattle around.
And in terms of news, Gaza always punches way above its weight.
It is usually in the headlines for the wrong reasons and often with the intractable conflict throwing up stories many feel they have heard before.
Australia in comparison feels refreshingly untapped. At least for me it is a big, big, BIG new world waiting to be discovered.
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