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AT LARGE: Let it begin

AT LARGE: Let it begin

I'm on safari again. This column comes to you from the deepest unexplored wilderness of Tasmania, gentle readers. Picture my campsite all set up, with the swag leaning against a mountain ash, the fire slowly dying down as the billy boils away and I polish off the last remnants of my wallaby stew.

Actually, I'm sitting in a nice warm house in one of the more fashionable areas of Launceston, although it is true that I haven't had much time to explore. The kettle is electric, e-mail access has not been difficult to track down and, with the possible exception of some slightly questionable "lamb curry", I don't believe I've eaten any wallaby.

So what brings me here? The hunt for the elusive Thylocene, or merely a desire to escape my home city's passionate embrace of the Olympic spirit? It's been an immeasurable relief not to be told where that bloody torch is every few minutes, but I do find that I'm still surrounded by clocks counting down to the mystical moment in time when the Games will begin. Note for future Games cities: just put a little tracking beacon in the torch so that those who really want to know can follow its historic progress via the Web site - the rest of us are happy enough to see it upon arrival. And for goodness sake tell people an official "starting moment" for the Games so that at least some of the countdown clocks will agree. (My favourite - probably the one in a shop window here that has it starting roundabout 7:06pm on the 19th).

To be perfectly honest with you, I'm amazed to see these countdown clocks outside of Sydney. As a jaded, cynical Sydney type of person, I had come to believe that the rest of the country was essentially trying to ignore the whole thing. I find it reassuring to find that it is not. Without wanting to fall into the hollow platitude that this is "Australia's Games" (because it frankly isn't), it should be obvious by now that the opportunities offered by the Olympics stretch well beyond the Emerald City.

And what opportunities are those? I'm glad you asked. The same opportunities that were there before the Olympics came to town. The difference is that now, the world is looking. For a country this size, Australia is remarkably entrepreneurial. Many people here invent new and better ways to make money all the time. And, contrary to reputation, the Australian public has historically supported this kind of entrepreneurial spirit. For one thing, we're a nation of early adopters, and hop readily onto each new technology bandwagon as soon as it hits town.

The combination of entrepreneurs trying to make money, and a public all too willing to spend it, would seem to make Australia a prime spot for overseas investors to head in and partner. But we're held back, essentially by remoteness. It's much easier to seek good opportunities closer to home. But the Olympics will be putting Australia onto many more people's lists of places to check out. Just look at the sudden influx of American chain stores such as Borders and Starbucks over the past few months. They haven't arrived here to take advantage of an expected short-term Olympic boom. They're here because (whacky new tax system notwithstanding) Australia is a good place to do business, but they've only just noticed. And the terrific thing is that once the mental leap across the Pacific has been made, distances within Australia don't seem so remarkable. An opportunity in Launceston or Broome is just as good as one in Sydney or Melbourne.

Wherever you happen to be in Australia, you have a window of opportunity during which time you won't automatically be dismissed as "too remote". If you have a good idea that wants only a bit of investment to make it fly, get it out there and in someone's face. It may help if you stress the "Australian-ness" of your plan - try saying "strewth" and "bewdy" and "dinkum" from time to time.

Which brings me to the hunt for the Thylocene. While I've been tragically unable to uncover evidence of the continued survival of this allegedly extinct predator, I have found something almost as rare: people who use the word "cobber", and mean it. Must bring a few back to Sydney to impress our Olympic visitors.

Matthew JC. Powell will be saying "G'day mate" to any Americans he meets for the next few weeks, just to keep them guessing. Drop him a line at mjcpowell@ozemail.com.au


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