Planet Preschool

Devils Marbles

(Editor’s Note – The opinions expressed in this blog belong solely to the author. Any questions/comments should be directed to its author, Josh Selig, and not ...
November 16, 2010

(Editor’s Note – The opinions expressed in this blog belong solely to the author. Any questions/comments should be directed to its author, Josh Selig, and not Magazine.)

In Central Australia, somewhere between Darwin and Alice Springs, there is a patch of desert covered with gigantic, perfectly round boulders.  This dry, surreal area is called “Devils Marbles,” because the boulders are scattered about like marbles and there’s a feeling in the air that the Devil will return at any moment to finish his game.

I passed through Devils Marbles on a backpacking trip here fifteen or so years ago.  On the same trip I ate crocodile, camped out in the desert under the stars, juggled and ate fire on the streets of Bondi Beach, held a baby koala in my arms, and learned how to dive on the Great Barrier Reef.  It was just like the Australia commercials, only better.

Whitsunday Islands, 1995

Whitsunday Islands, 1995

So if you’re puzzled as to why I fly halfway around the world every year to Sydney to attend the Screen Producers Association of Australia conference, or SPAA, now you know.  I love this country.  I love everything about it.  The people.  The land.  The giant box jellyfish that make our Jaws look like a goldfish.  I even love the big, sleepy fruit bat that fell on my head last year as I strolled innocently along Sydney Harbor wearing my good suit.

Australia also happens to be a great place to do business.  I’ve found the broadcasters here to be among the most gracious and creative in the world.  (Perhaps it’s a tie between them and the lovely, smiling Canadians.)  When you pitch the Australians, they listen closely, they don’t check their BlackBerrys, and they ask you really good questions.  And when you e-mail them to follow up, they actually e-mail you back, a triumph in any nation.

Now, you probably think I’m just trying to butter up the Aussies so that when I open up my sack of preschool show bibles this week they’ll say, “Oh, he was so nice to us in the blog, let’s go ahead and buy a few of his shows!”  But that’s not the case.  The Australians aren’t that easy.  In fact, when they look you in the eyes, it feels like they’re seeing right down to the bottom of your soul.  I suspect this x-ray vision is rooted somewhere deep in the history of the country, and I must say I find it both disarming and attractive.  You can’t get away with any subterfuge here, which is fine with me because I suck at subterfuge.

In New Hampshire they have license plates that say, “Live Free or Die.”  In Sydney, I think they should have a big banner in the arrivals hall of the airport that says, “Welcome to Australia, mate, you can drop the bullshit.”

But there’s a deeper reason that I come to Australia every year and it has nothing to do with preschool television or koalas.  There is a lightness in Australia that I do not, as a person, naturally possess.  Fortunately, it’s quite contagious, so after a good run through the Botanical Gardens and a few pints down by the harbor, my workaholic tendencies subside and I find myself doing odd things like humming, staying out past ten and even, yes, laughing.  As a result, I’ve even made a few friends here, and I don’t just mean the KidScreen Mipcom kind, I mean the real kind.

But here’s what I like most about this country:  It feels real, as though the hot sun has baked off anything unnecessary or insincere, leaving the Australians a bit tougher and a bit kinder than the rest of us.  After all, when the Devil showed up in Central Australia, they didn’t try to chase him away.  They sat down and played marbles with him.

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