Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Demography in Australia


What a relief that wacky Australia exists! Because, unlike in the rest of the world, Demography in Australia is a purely theoretical discipline, in which you don't have to meet the people you are counting. Which means you can work as a demographer without getting an erection! This is what I currently need, and since I am on holiday in New Zealand anyway when the job position is announced, I apply. And I am offered the position. Of course, there is the initial difficulty of getting to Australia from southernmost New Zealand at all. Since New Zealand extends further south than Tasmania into the "roaring forties", there is this massive wind from the west against you. But eventually I manage.

Next surprise: the outline of Australia has changed radically. Western Australia is all still there, but most of Eastern Australia has sunken into the sea, leaving just a cluster of land blotches with interconnecting land bridges in the south east. There is a leg stretching out from the west into a southeastern pancake, connected to Tasmania which is still there, and to a small headland shooting up a little bit to the north, but all of Queensland is gone, none of the major cities in the South and East are there, and, far more surprisingly, all the Eastern mountains are gone. How can the mountains have disappeared without a trace?

I realise I have to start doubting the plate tectonics theory; maybe there has never been a Gondwanaland! Maybe Malaise and Odhner were right in their Atlantis theory about random successive upheavals and submergings. All these landbridges, they were indeed an important element in all pre-plate-tectonic biogeographical theories. No Gondwanaland! All that we have built our knowledge on gone like so much dust! Everything is vain! Then, no doubt, I can easily spend the rest of my life as a loner in the Australian outback.

Because there are indeed no major cities here at all. I am supposed to work in a small town called Fox. It is the main city of the remaining Southeast, but really nothing more than a shitty rural smalltown. It is all flat and you can hear the wind blowing around garbage in the streets. I arrive in Fox at half past three in the afternoon, and walk into the public library which is where I will be working. Of course, in this small town everything closes at 4 pm, so I only have half an hour. Life is going to be slow here anyway, so I don't introduce myself, I may just stand and look at a bookshelf for half an hour, and then come back tomorrow and tell them who I am. Though sometime in the future, I will reinvent the song "Fox on the run"; not as a joke, but as part of my work.

Also, I don't quite know how these Australian demographics are done. I suppose it is mainly by modelling population change and entering the relevant parameters into a set of small machines that may, for all I know, be common taxicab taximeters, indeed they look like a common car stereo, but series-circuit coupled in tall racks, ticking away. If plate tectonics is wrong and Gondwanaland never existed, everything I believe in is ruined anyway. The only empirical work you are allowed in Australian demography is that you may possibly try to walk the distances that people are assumed to be have walked, like a Heyerdal. But I'm starting to get an unorthodox theory already. I have this strange feeling that the really tiny dull burrowing weevils of the genus Barypeithes are actually people, so they will have to be counted too.


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