The Real Australia

Americans know a lot about the place, most of it wrong. Our art critic evokes its true glories and flaws as only a native son can

Steven Vidler / Eurasia Press / Corbis

Most of Australia's residents live on the coast.

The first thing to mistrust, should you be an American thinking of going to Australia for the first time, is your idea of the place and its people. Probably you think the 2000 Sydney Olympics is a vastly important event for all of us, a huge national rite that will "put us on the map"--the same map, presumably, on which the last Australian Olympics, in Melbourne in 1956, failed to inscribe us.

Actually, despite our traditional obsession with sports, despite the coercive drumming of pre-Olympics hype, some of us don't care that much about the Olympics. We think we matter for...

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