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Fences in Australia

Since my first visit to Australia, way back in 1992, I am struck by a question, which I find really puzzling:  How can people in a country as “free” (and as large) as Australia create that large a variety of fences?  Wherever ever you travel through this vast continent, whomever you visit  – there’ll be fences all over …The other day I visited an old friend for a house warming party.  This family just recently had moved from one of the more traditional suburbs in Adelaide into a new housing estate on top of some kind of a hill somewhere else in this city.  Driving there by car was as good as any other trip through Adelaide:  travelling along the major roads with walls and high metal fences all along.  Having lived at one of the major transit routes through the city of Frankfurt, Germany, I have a lot of sympathy for these people living here, trying to “fence off” as much of the traffic noise as possible.
Eventually I arrived in our friend’s neighbourhood, as mentioned above, a newly established housing area.  At first sight it wasn’t as bad as some others I have seen in the past: Trees, a little park with play and sports ground and BBQ facilities, quiet side roads, a bus line passing through … of course the typical lack of any urban infrastructure, i.e. small shops, cafes, church or community centres – but then I am not in Germany.
Anyway, being welcomed into the house and shown around I finally ended up in a lovely backyard looking out into the west – with a bright red sun just setting.  But looking around it suddenly hit me:  Apart from the sun set, all I could see were the roofs of neighbourhood houses, and … of course, fences, actually:  a real maze of fences.  Even this property, small as it was, had a metal green fence around it, almost two meters high, and all around!
Completely shocked I asked my host:  “How, in God’s name, can you live in a place like this and with a fence of this size around your place ??” My friend looked at me, initially not compre­hending my question?  “Why ?”, she asked, ”that’s really good!”, was her reply.  “I am happy to have a bit of privacy! What’s wrong with those fences?”
Hmm, I wondered, and in the course of our lovely evening realized:  After several weeks living there, this family still hardly knew any of their neighbours, not even those right on the other side of their fence, nor having even seen them.  To me, this seems to be a strange kind of privacy.  Actually, it’s the ten years old son, who enjoys establishing friendship with neighbour­hood kids — and through him his mother with other people around.  Interesting development!

(Written for a TAFE ESL course in March 2007)
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