Aussies really do seem to take their barbecuing very seriously. We’re staying in an unfortunately expensive dive apartment, but parked outside is a stellar barbecue, nicer than the rental’s kitchen.
Or so I thought, until yesterday afternoon, when one of our hosts took me on a quick trip to a gigantic warehouse store. Something like Home Depot or Lowes in the US, Bunnings Warehouse was more like two of them melded under one roof.
We were in search of swimming pool chlorination gear, wandering the aisles, when I spied a barbecue bigger than our kitchen. With six burners in the middle, a hookup for water for a sink at one end, and longer than 1.6 meters, this spaceship cost A$1,300. I did a doubletake when I first saw it, wondering if we could use it to replace the countertop in our rental. (I wish I knew how heavy it is, but the maker, Matador, is not forthcoming.)
This was not the only shocking thing in the store: right next to it were stacks of solar powered lamps meant for the backyard. I was contemplating the shelf laden with $6 posts, in hopes of finding an easy solution to our poorly lit entry. Until I looked down one level: stacks of solar lamps, all $2 apiece.
Two dollars. Think about that for a moment: That’s a small jug of milk, or a Sunday newspaper, or a few candy bars. And here’s this weirdly complex yet simple creating of plastic, silicon, metal that makes light, from the sun. For two dollars.
That made my poor little mind spin – how much were the materials costs? How much are the people in the Chinese factory getting paid? Dear lord, how many people handled this small lamp each step of the way? And will it really actually work?? Could I buy bushels of these and give them away to poor people in developing nations so their kids could study at night with clean renewable energy, instead of by the light of smoky kerosene lanterns? Damn.
I fled to the plant section with my companion, to contemplate other issues.
Among them, the fact that plants for sale in Australia seem awfully cheap — except for the natives! This place had a so-called grass tree for sale, a young tiny version of the giant hairy trees we saw on our hike on Saturday in the rainforest in the mountains. Maybe one-hundredth the size of a mature tree, these tiny nubbins with draping green fronds were on sale for A$65. I bet that sets off waves of plant kidnappings of these trees, from the new housing developments where developers plant them for cachet! Oh, and the beautiful evergreens! Also expensive, at A$150 a pot.
But ferns, orchids, houseplants – all of these were cheap, around $12 or less… so I bought a few to take home to spruce up our basement digs. The shiny new barbecue would not have fit in the car.