Diary Australia

Australian diary

26 September 2015

9:00 AM

26 September 2015

9:00 AM

The Fort Worth Hilton’s concierge could not have been more helpful. ‘Welcome to the land of liberty,’ he said, after I’d asked if there was anywhere nearby where a visitor might enjoy a cigarette with his drink. Such a wonderful place was just two blocks away. I walked in, ordered a beer, lit up a Winston and immediately travelled back decades to a far better time.

Texas is like Australia with the handbrake off. There is no individual income tax and no corporate income tax, which explains the state’s rapid economic and population growth. A recent downturn has sparked some concern, however. Apparently Texas will only create another 150,000 jobs during 2015 – about the same number as Australia, from a population only a few million larger. In a good year, that number of jobs is easily generated by a single Texan city.

I have a couple of appointments, so the hotel arranges a car and driver. This is the same hotel where John F. Kennedy and Jackie stayed the night before JFK’s assassination. Haunting photographs of the doomed President are everywhere, including one that shows him leaving through the front doors on 22 November, 1963, and heading for his Lincoln. I leave through the same exit – approximately; the place has been renovated – and blanch when I see that my car, too, is a Lincoln. At least mine has a roof. ‘Please,’ I ask the driver, ‘don’t drive past any bookstores.’ No sense tempting fate.


Fort Worth and Dallas are only 40 minutes apart by road, but their rivalry makes that between Melbourne and Sydney seem like a Greens-ABC lovefest. Dallas views Fort Worth as a hick-infested cowtown. Their western neighbours sneer at Dallas’s perceived pretentiousness. And both cities are suspicious of Austin, the Texan capital, with its music, hipsters and embrace of oddball culture. The friendly mood of the man at the rental car counter shifts a little when I tell him I’m Austin-bound. ‘Why?’ he asks. Then he warns me against drag racing. The car is a Kia.

Well, here’s one reason to head for Austin. I’m staying at the sprawling compound of mysterious internet identity David Burge, among America’s most perceptive and hilarious online commentators. A routine is quickly established. By night, the Burges take me around Austin’s finest and lowest establishments (often they’re the same). By day Dave runs whatever business he’s involved in – stolen human organs, for all I know – while Mrs Burge and I check out the sights. I buy a pair of shoes at a store that also sells pistols, rifles and semi-autos, drop by Torchy’s for a Trailer Park Taco (experienced hands know to order them ‘extra trashy’) and then we wheel the Burge family’s train-sized Ford F150 through a car wash. Remarkably, the car wash is beneath a scale replica of the University of Texas tower – a structure notorious for gunman Charles Whitman’s 1966 killing spree, which reduced the university’s need for graduation diplomas by 14. ‘You should have seen it before,’ an employee tells me. ‘The university made us change the top so it didn’t look the same.’ The university is notable, of course, for reasons other than Whitman’s mass slaying. For a start, it’s the only place in Austin where people seem glum. UT attendees are just as beat-down and dismal as any sad second-year sociology students at the University of Sydney. In 1966, UT students rushed to their dormitories, grabbed their rifles and pinned Whitman down while police stormed the tower. The current mob look like they’d read Sylvia Plath’s poetry at him. A statue of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy during the Civil War, has stood at the university since 1933. The day after I photographed it the statue was removed due to complaints about racism. Students cheered. Finally, something made them happy. The bronze statue is now destined for a museum, where it will presumably appear alongside other university relics such as jokes, freedom of speech and students who aren’t total whiny bitches.

As a general rule, the shabbier a barbeque joint, the more delicious will be its various briskets, ribs and sausages. Texas isn’t big on regulation, but many of its best barbeque sites must be in breach of a building law or two. Some seem so aged and fragile that they’re defying the law of gravity. Let’s reconsider that; maybe I’m looking at them from a perspective warped by Australia’s excessive safety rules. After all, the building that since 1948 has been Vencil Mares’s barbeque cafe is the only one in Taylor to survive the great fire of 1879. It’s still going strong. So is 91-year-old Normandy veteran Vencil, although he’s in hospital with a broken leg. A kind waitress gives me a newspaper signed by the great man. Texas is the future of the US. For that matter, it should be a guide to the future of Australia. NSW in particular could learn from the superbly predatory methods of the Texan government, which as a matter of policy targets for relocation businesses in higher-taxing areas. If Texas was between Victoria and Queensland, both of those Labor states would be reduced to economies based on ad revenue from anti-fracking websites.

From Texas to New York. My beautiful nieces Amy and Lauren are enjoying this city for the first time, ahead of further US adventures. We spend a fine day strolling around Greenwich Village, which despite a crowded street fair conspicuously lacks Austin’s energy. The girls are brilliant company, as always, and are eager for travel tips from their old uncle. I’ve never been very good at advising my nieces, but on this occasion I know exactly what to say: ‘Go to Texas.’

Tim Blair is a columnist with the Daily Telegraph

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Show comments
  • stubbs

    I believe that Kennedy was killed near a school book depository, a place books were stored. Texas had (has) some arcane law regarding textbooks that necessitated this storage As far as I know there were no books for sale at that location.

    • aelfheld

      Oh dear.

      There was/is no ‘arcane’ law. The Texas School Book Depository was just what its name implies, a depository (warehouse if you prefer) for the storage & distribution of school textbooks and related materials.

      • stubbs

        Oh dear! From a 4/11/2002 article in the Wall Street Journal:

        “The Texas School Book Depository folded in 1988, a victim of bad
        investments by its owners. But the seemingly antiquated institution of
        the depository lives on in Texas and 14 other mostly southern and
        western states — a testament to state laws inhibiting competition,
        quirky regional business practices and behind-the-scenes lobbying.”

    • darthlightbringer

      You can visit the School Book Depository as it is part of the JFK museum in Dallas. Back in the 1960’s books were stored and re-used in education much more so than today. No laws. Just a building to store books.

      • stubbs

        I’ve been there. See reply to aelfheld above. I worked in textbook publishing, where the nutty need for depositories was common knowledge.

    • Techtor Gorch

      The Texas Schoolbook Depository now houses the Sixth Floor Museum. You can sit in Oswald’s sniper nest and look down on the spot where JFK was mortally wounded. Not a difficult shot by any means, particularly for a guy who learned to shoot in the USMC.

      • Jim Causey

        Whitman was also educated in the fine art of shooting by the USMC. Jack Ruby, on the other hand, wasn’t.

        • jimb82

          Yeah, but at a distance of one foot aimed center of mass, it’s kind of hard to miss.

  • Techtor Gorch

    I’ve never been very good at advising my nieces, but on this occasion I know exactly what to say: ‘Go to Texas.’

    Sorta like Davy Crockett said, “You may all go to Hell, and I will go to Texas.”

    • Jill

      While in the Red Center of Australia, I commented to my husband that it was if Texas and Britain had produced the most resplendent love child in the history of the world.

      • Techtor Gorch

        That’s funny. I’ve heard it said Virginia is the mother of Texas. Nobody knows who the father is, but Tennessee is suspected.

        • Les Legato

          WHOA!

    • CruisingTroll

      Well, if one goes to Houston in the summer, it’s hard to tell the difference.

  • tomsmithdeal

    I have some doubts as to the authenticity of this article inasmuch as he never once mentioned armadillos, Willie Nelson or Lone Star beer.

    • perhaps he has better taste?

      • tomsmithdeal

        Nah, Tim Blair’s tastes are just fine. I have been avidly reading his articles for many years. Yours however indicate an elitist liberal snob. I’ll stick with Tim’s.

        • Well Tom, since my comment inferred that Mr. Blair was the one with better taste, your reading comprehension seems to be lacking…

    • Elena

      Forget Lone Star, what about Shinerbock?

      • tomsmithdeal

        Elena, I stand corrected. Shinerbock, it is.

      • richard mcenroe

        Two words and it’s wonderful. Lone Star is okay these days, but it’s better for the guests you don’t want to overstay their welcome.

  • jhp151

    Texas, like Norway, generates a large portion of its economy from oil. The current downturn in oil prices has caused many of the oil jobs to be suspended. The fact that the State still generates 150,000 new jobs while at the same time loosing jobs in oil (and coal) is fairly commendable.

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      losing

    • Adelie Manchot

      Uh huh…that may have been true 50 years ago but not now.

      Texas has the world’s largest medical facility in Houston and leads the way in medical research. The port of Houston is the U.S. #1 port in international imports and #2 in overall tonnage. Google and Apple are both moving most of their U.S. operations to Austin. The space industry is growing as companies like SpaceX leave California for Midland. Houston is home to more Fortune 500 companies than New York City and has more consulates than Chicago. Dallas is home two two major airlines and companies such as AT&T, IBM, Kimberly-Clark, etc. San Antonio is home to HEB, SWBC, Toyota, M7 Aerospace, etc. This is just a partial list…there are companies leaving the bleu states in droves and relocating to Texas and it is hard to keep up with them. These companies run the gamut from construction and manufacturing to high tech.

      Unfortunately they do bring with them some of their bleu state employees but, for the most part, once they get a taste of freedom they drop their bleu state voting habits. Valerie Jarrett (the de-facto president) and George Soros have been trying mightily to turn Texas bleu. You can see the fruits of their labors in the last election where the Democrats got the crap kicked out of them. They thought they had it in the bag with all the bleu state refugees that have flooded the state since 2008 along with all the Obamadreamers but it didn’t turn out that way. Sure, you do have pockets of foaming at the mouth SJW’s and other liberals such as Travis county and the city of Houston but what you have to remember in those is that the vast majority of people in Houston do not live in the city of Houston, the live in unincorporated Harris county and surrounding counties. Travis county can be summed up by the old adage “Every state has an insane asylum and in Texas it’s called Travis county.”

  • richard mcenroe

    Richard McEnroe

    I recommend the original Salt Lick, out toward Johnson City (not the one in Austin, ain’t tried it yet).

    Place started out as an open pit and a smoker. Then as business picked up they added a shack around the pit.

    Then another building around that one.

    Then another building around that one.

    Why no, they didn’t knock down the old buildings.

    The
    place doesn’t have a liquor license but there’s a good winery on the same
    property. You take a tin bucket, walk next door, and walk back to your
    table with a bucket full of very good wine bottles or the beer of your
    choice.

    The BBQ is orgasmic.

    • Archie Tinkle

      The original Salt Lick is in Driftwood, TX, and is nowhere near Johnson City. I guess that means you have never been there, have you?

      • richard mcenroe

        We drove through Johnson City from Fredericksburg (Up from Hondo on the 173, to Bandera, out to Fredericksburg on the 16 and past Pedernales State Park, to get to it. Happy?) Note I said out toward Johnson City, and you’re quite right about Driftwood.

        • jimb82

          You must be a Californian. No one else uses “the” before a highway number.

          • Les Legato

            LOL!

    • Adelie Manchot

      Salt Lick is Carolina barbecue…yecch!

  • midnightyell

    I lived 5 miles from the Salt Lick for years.

    I cannot recommend it. Long wait. Below-average BBQ.

    • richard mcenroe

      De gustibus non disputandum est. We got right in and the food was awesome.

    • Monsyne Dragon

      Eh, I’d recommend heading south of Austin to Lockhart, TX, specifically Kreutz Market. Wonderful BBQ, Also the saurkraut is amazing.

      • richard mcenroe

        Had not previously heard of Kreutz (only been here two years and there’s a LOT of BBQ). Will put it on the list.

  • GrahamPowell

    The Hilton is across the street from the building I work in. Hope you enjoyed your trip. While in Fort Worth you should have eaten at Bailey’s BBQ, a shack surrounded by skyscrapers.

  • Well Come to America! Please make sure that you at least take a drive in one or two fo the other Southern states. You’ll be shocked at how nice and helpful people OUTSIDE the cities can be, especially to vistors from outside the country. You’ll see real Southern Hospitality that way. South Alabama, Southern Georgia and NW Florida are good places to start.

  • Aaron M

    Nonono, none of this. Please. We’re already being overrun by economic refugees from California, rushing in by the tens of thousands, eager to vote for the same stupid policies that wrecked their original home like idiot locusts.

    Texas is bad! Guns! NASCAR! Oil! Football! We beat up vegans! Please stay out.

    Unless, I suppose, you love guns, NASCAR, oil, and football, but hate vegans.

    • richard mcenroe

      Never found a good recipe for vegan.

      • Jeff Gauch

        Vegan flambe is pretty good.
        It’s even better if you don’t try to eat it.

        • Les Legato

          Best recipe for vegans is the same as used for asian carp on cedar plank.

          There’s the usual lines and lines on how to tenderize it with spiked and hammerish looking implements of destruction, as well as sprinkling tons of high-capsicum containing powdered peppers, then bake it for an hour or two at 350, then throw away the carp (or the vegan) and eat the plank.

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  • Your readers will also discover that Americans have VERY high regard for Australians.

    • MrJest

      Indeed; a lot of us regard Australia as “closer” in the Anglosphere to us than GB. We take note that Oz is always the first on board if we need military support, and a lot of us love to travel there to visit as well. Enjoy your trip!

    • Jill

      I spent a month in Australia two summers ago. My husband had to physically drag me onto the airplane in Melbourne to return to the U.S. I want nothing more than to return to Australia.

    • CruisingTroll

      Well, rumor has it that the surfing is great in Australia, Aussies generally understand what “wide open spaces” actually mean, and Australia has lots and lots of sunshine. Of course, there are a few downsides to Australia. The snow skiing is pretty weak…. They drive on the wrong side of the road.

      Australia is #2 on the list of countries I’d like to visit, after Germany.

    • skusmc

      Anecdote; I had a Marine buddy I deployed with to the Far East who went on a mini deployment to Australia at the same time. He said he’d be out drinking with Aussie servicemen, one would make joke, the other would punch him, they’d fight and then get up and start drinking and joking again. He said that one story fits all Aussie social life. Said it was like Valhalla for a Marine.

  • Davy Jones

    For all of Blair’s shabby snark about Charles Whitman, not all of his victims
    were students at U of T. Whitman’s first two victims were his wife and
    mother.

    And it may surprise Blair that students at the university
    and other civilians nearby were able to retrieve their personal
    firearms and return fire, almost certainly keeping Whitman from killing
    or wounding even more victims.

    Man up, Oz!

    • RoCr

      And it may surprise Blair that students at the university
      and other civilians nearby were able to retrieve their personal
      firearms and return fire, almost certainly keeping Whitman from killing
      or wounding even more victims.

      Or not (from the article):

      “In 1966, UT students rushed to their dormitories, grabbed their rifles and pinned Whitman down while police stormed the tower.”

      It’s generally a good idea to actually read the fucking article before criticizing it.

      • Davy Jones

        I read his F-in article as you describe it and I thought his snark about UT not needing 14 diplomas was inaccurate and in poor taste, to boot, which I pointed out I believe.

        • RoCr

          That was only half of your post, and it wasn’t the half I addressed.

        • John Shore

          THAT bit was overly snarky and, as you say, in poor taste. He immediately followed it, however, by lauding those who back in 1966 risked their own lives to pin down Whitman and interrupt the killing. THAT part wasn’t snarky at ALL, and his tone may reflect a wistfulness that both his Australians, and our own modern college denizens (as well as most other city dwellers) would be more likely to stand about like quail, cower behind their womenfolk, or instantly form a protest-and-poetry group railing against g*nz and white people rather than respond effectively and decisively.
          Overall, great article, and fun to read, Mr. Blair.

  • MrJimm

    NO!! Please, please don’t tell me that Mr. Burge no longer resides in the northern suburbs of Chicago. I’ll miss those occasional beers with him at Meier’s Tavern.

  • Ken Harkins

    I visited Australia in the 70s. I was in Darwin for a few days and Perth for a week. My first impression was, “This place looks like Texas.”

  • Sam Valley

    A long time ago I was reading something that when roughly describing Australia said “try to imagine Texas, except with English accents and Great White Sharks”. So I knew I’d love it there, and I did! This was a good read too

  • SleeperG

    “I check out the sights. I buy a pair of shoes at a store that also sells pistols, rifles and semi-autos.” Sounds like you hit the Academy store. Bought my AR-10 there. Also, check out the Brushfire and #4 breakfast taco next time you are at Torchy’s.

  • tomsmithdeal

    It’s too bad that Blair didn’t get to spend any time with Kinky Friedman. He would have had enough material for several columns. Friedman has the honor of being the only musician to perform on Austin City Limits whose performance was banned from ever being aired for being too politically incorrect.

  • CommonSenseIsnt

    So much this: Pithy, Succinct, Spot on, Zing!

    “For a start, it’s the only place in Austin where people seem glum. UT
    attendees are just as beat-down and dismal as any sad second-year
    sociology students at the University of Sydney. In 1966, UT students
    rushed to their dormitories, grabbed their rifles and pinned Whitman
    down while police stormed the tower. The current mob look like they’d
    read Sylvia Plath’s poetry at him…..”

    “The bronze statue is now destined for a museum, where it will presumably appear alongside other university relics such as jokes, freedom of speech and students who aren’t total whiny bitches.”

  • laurawright

    With you, Aaron M., but we do love an Aussie visitor. Come by and let us take to REAL Texas BBQ at Smitty’s in Lockhart, then a tiny beer joint overlooking the lake that I will keep our secret. But as Rich says, and it is true, you must then visit LA (Louisiana) south parishes and mosey along through Mississippi, Alabama and up to Arkansas and Tennessee. Definitely some of the friendliest people and best food — totally unafraid of a couple of sticks of butter — you’ll ever meet.

  • Johnny_Layabout

    As a Texan, I appreciate the article. Though, as a minor correction, Texas does have a corporate tax, which it calls a “franchise tax”, though it ranges from .475% to .95%, depending on the type of business and its total revenues.

  • Sebastian Cremmington

    The Davis statue was removed from the UT campus because it was the nonsensical propaganda from a wealthy DEMOCRAT CSA apologist that wanted whitewash history and perpetuate segregation. The great Sam Houston refused to pledge allegiance to the CSA and the memorial was like spitting on his grave. To make the decision even better they removed the statue of the awful President Wilson as well. It was a great day for UT!

  • Jayrod

    No! Stay away! Go back home! If you like something we hate it and treat it poorly here. There’s nothing here for you except poisonous snakes and humidity. Everyone who has ever thought about coming to Texas needs to forget that idea quick, fast, and in a hurry.

    We have plenty of people anyhow and there’s no room for you.

    (Visitors are, of course, welcome, but are highly encouraged to go back and not screw up our home by staying.)

  • HansonBro

    Bravo, Tim.

  • nsirchov

    I

  • Jon

    Going to Austin is pretty much going to the only part of Texas that wishes the rest of the state was more like Greenwich Village in New York or the more bohemian (and big-government-friendly) parts of California, because the combination of one of the largest university campuses in America and the nexus of government for the second-largest state in America attracts progressives like files to sugar.

    (And since the liberals in Texas haven’t won a statewide office since 1994 — after trying to sneak a state income tax past the voters when they held power in 1991 — it’s no wonder you saw so many glum people around Austin. In their eyes, the rest of the stupid state doesn’t know what’s good for them.)

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