So, there's that old myth about the toilets flushing counter-clockwise in the southern hemisphere. The Aussies don't call it counter-clockwise though, they refer to things that move opposite the way a clock does as "anti-clockwise", and regardless, it's not true anyhow. I thought of this myth one day after I'd been there for about a week. I'd noticed plenty of things in the land Down Under, but I hadn't paid attention to the way the water moved down the pipes. What I did notice was that everywhere I went, all over Australia-- from big cities to small towns of 30 people, from rest areas with no doors to public toilets in city centres, from big fancy hotels to the hostels I stayed in, every single toilet I encountered (save one, in Hobart) had two buttons to flush. One flushed with full water; the other was a half-flush. Suction, in general, also seemed much better. I was stunned though. Such a simple thing to conserve water-- something Aussies are very passionate about-- and it was everywhere, wholesale, proving to me how easy to is to enact change. And for the record, when I did my duty the next time and did watch how the toilet flushed, it looked exactly the same as it does at home in the States (except of course, I used the half-flush button).
Australia seems the earth-mother hippie cool kid that everyone respects enough to obey its taunts, and actually be shamed if they don't conform. And it will taunt you for many things which the average American never even flinches at, nonetheless thinks about with any real sense of environmental responsibility. For one, Most stores will not give you a plastic carrier bag. Larger chains might even charge you if you ask for one to hold your groceries. The majority of people buy green (literally, they're colored green) canvas bags for between $1-2AU and use them for everything. The totes were so stylish and used for so many things, I was actually quite sad I didn't get one while I was there (I usually used my backpack for purchases, much as I had done when I used to live in the UK).
Australia has been suffering a severe draught-- not just in the Outback and more remote regions, but in big cities to the South as well. In Melbourne, you could only water certain types of plants, and only certain days of the week for certain hours (though there was some grace time allowed the elderly, which seemed oddly sweet, despite it putting them out in terrible heat). I know many places enact watering restrictions (my parents used to live in the desert), but I have never known of an American city that had special units driving around to fine people they found watering when they were not supposed to.
There were commercials on TV about taking shorter showers and recycling products. Public transportation and bikes were everywhere. Without being obnoxious, signs or facts about the environment were everywhere. In Tasmania, where I spent a considerable amount of time, locals were most concerned about sustainable agriculture and keeping habitats intact for native species. Everywhere the message is the same: conserve, choose wisely, think about the consequences of your actions. And these messages are so engrained in Aussie culture that I was astounded. Simple things.
Simple things, and yet we never seem to do them. It just made me think how possible change is, and how easily we can become a city that cares about the environment and emonstrates that without being holier-than-thou and shoving granola down others' throats (although incidentally, the Tasmanian yoghurt and granola I had was very good)...