Innocent in Australia

A Scot down and under in Melbourne

I dream of Carmen Miranda, and waking up with an Aussie banana

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Ooh, yeah, I'd be smiling too.

At the weekends, I sometimes stand with my kids and wife in the supermarket watching the bananas. There are fewer than there used to be, and they’re way more expensive.

Where bananas of old were yellow, many now have a silver tinge: they’ve been rubbed to a shine by the curious and the envious – even though store security guards are under strict orders to smack your fingers with a ruler if they see you stroking the merchandise.

My sallow-cheeked boys look up at me as the well-to-do barge past us, lift one of the few remaining bunches and sweep through the checkout.

I smile and say: Daddy’s sorry.

A bog-standard Cavendish these days sets you back $3.50, or $15 a kilo – nearly 20 times dearer than Britain, where they retail for 18c.

They’ve shot up 470% since my arrival in Oz. How I rue those banana–taken-for-granted days.

You rarely see the dainty Lady Fingers variety any more – only when you look through the window of a high-class restaurant, salivating and banging on the window, as some posho rams one into their gob.

You don’t have to peel back the layers very far to see the problem’s due to Cyclone Yasi in February, Cyclone Larry in 2006, flooding and mudding in the north.

Australia has gone from producing 550,000 trays a week to as few as 35,000.

Trade restrictions mean you can’t import them legally; but something of a black-spotted market may yet come to fruition … the country’s ripe for it.

We get a weekly fruit delivery at work with loads of oranges. But I don’t want an orange. I want a banana. And I want one now.

Thanks to a frosty winter, the nanas that have made it through are of poor quality.

The one time I did splurge, a few months ago, slicing the banana into four equal parts and serving these with water for a special weekend family meal, it didn’t taste the way I’d hoped it would. A bit dry, a bit stringy.

My boys are potassium-deprived – we all are. We gather together to watch Bananas in Pyjamas – it has become our favourite show.

I’ve found myself whistling songs by Bananarama.

We’ve talked as a family about bananas we have known in the past.

I read somewhere years ago that the world’s bananas, after 1,500 years of agressive inbreeding, now come almost exclusively from two wild species, musa acuminata and musa balbisiana, and as such are vulnerable to extinction.

I was concerned enough at the time to write a song about it. It seems I was way ahead of the curve.

Of course, it’s the hope that kills you. I dream at night of six-foot, seven-foot, eight-foot bunches … then wake to realise it’s all come to naught.

State news on the topic is infrequent and unreliable. They say it’s going to get better, that we’ll soon we swimming in peel … But maybe this is to quell the riots.

Meanwhile, I stroke my boys’ heads in their cots at night, tell them I love them.

It’s all I can do.

Some 99.9% of life forms that ever existed have gone extinct, including 29 other two-footed ape species. We’re hanging on in the last 0.1%, alongside bananas – but for how long?

Chiquita, you and I know, how the heartaches come and go.


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