A Travellerspoint blog

Aussie Rules

An outsiders perspective

Australian Rules Football, it kind of makes sense doesn't it? For a nation that defines itself by the little differences, i.e. hopping mammals and red soil, it's only natural that they have a unique national sport. Aussie rules is played solely in the land down under. This is of course excluding a small town in the USA , my source on this latter fact is again somewhat questionable, but allegedly it's true. The only other sport in the world which is similar to aussie rules is gaelic football, played in Ireland. I have always thought that Australia's national sport was a direct descendant of the Irish version of football, but apparantley aussie rules is more a mixture of many different versions of football, brought to the country by those fine, founding settlers (even if they were in chains). However, due to the similarities between Australian football & Irish football, an international match is played each year between the all-Australia team and their Celtic chums. The outcome of this match, according to any Australian you ask, is a thorough spanking of the Irish. In defence of the Celts though, the aussies use a rugby style ball whilst the boys of the four-leaf-clover use a real football. Each year it is taken in turn which ball to use. So imagine the poor Irish lads trying to bounce this egg shaped ball in front of them, only to find that it boings back in the direction of their nether-regions.

Anyhow, the fundamentals of Australian rules footy are that their are 18 players on each side, with goals at either end of a large, grassy oval. The goals are 4 vertical poles, two long poles in the middle with a stumpier one at either side. The attacking team can use any part of their bodies to get the ball between the two largest poles for six points or if they get the ball between a large post and a stumpy post it's called a "behind," and they are given a consolitary one point. Both sets of players appear to be allowed to beat the shit out of each other, all in the name of a good game, whilst the umpires look-on. The only time when a player can get a hold of the ball without the possibility of a knuckle in the eye-socket, is when they catch a kicked pass from a team-mate. This being called a "mark." These appear to be the main rules of the game with the rest being a bit of a free-for-all. There are guys who dash on and off of the field dressed like road-workers that are called "runners," relaying messages and instructions from the coach. And there are also a few randoms who walk on with water bottles for the players and just hang about a bit, watching the match from a players perspective I suppose.

After my many months roaming this land from one end to the other, I have adopted the Adelaide Crows as my team of choice for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the first ever aussie rules game I saw was at AAMI stadium in Adelaide, between The Crows & The West Coast Eagles. The game was a fairly dire affair compared with some of the games I've seen on the TV since and Adelaide played so bad that I just had to support them. I mean it's not as if they need anymore fans as the stadium was packed, but it's just that any team I support is normally as successful as any tropical nation at the winter olympics (for proof, see Dundee United's results over the last 10 years). I'd better add here that I have since been proved wrong on the Adelaide Crows front, what with them finishing top of the ladder this year and making the finals, but I would just like to say that I decided to support them at the start of the season when they were being tipped to finish bottom and am therefore exempt from any glory-hunter jibes. My second reason for supporting them was even more unorthodox. Whilst at the Crows-Eagles game, a young boy in front of me kept on shouting, "C'mon Shirley, get into them Stiffy!" And I just knew that any team, whose fans who could shout these players names with a straight face, was the team for me.

Going to a live game is both a good and bad way of getting to know what aussie rules is about. In my experience at the afore-mentioned game, because the pitch is so large, I couldn't actually see what was going on at the other side of the field. And when the match actually started with the bounce in the centre of the pitch, it was, from where I was sitting, like watching a 20-man wrestling match in the middle of a cricket oval for 10 minutes. It was just chaos. Although despite struggling to keep up with some of the game I actually found that I picked up the rules very quickly watching it in real life. A few days earlier I had been at a BBQ at a friends house and a pre-season friendly match was being shown on the TV. This was my first experience of seeing an aussie rules match that didn't end with the Neighbours music. I just could not understand what was going on. I did my best to make sense of the basic rules but I think I'd had one too many of the Barossa Valleys finest by that point and the game just flowed over me without making any sense. So it was perhaps because of this lack of understanding that I found myself in the burning afternoon sunshine at AAMI stadium, devouring a Mrs Macs beef pie and Farmers Union iced coffee, soaking up the match like a thirsty sponge. Determined to learn the intracacies of this fine game.

Aussie rules matches have two other notable good and bad aspects. The good thing is that there is no supporter segregation in the stands and despite beer flowing freely from the kiosks, there never seems to be any trouble whatsoever. Compare this to any European football game where crowd violence is rife and it's a small miracle. Imagine if beer was sold at a Rangers-Celtic match in Glasgow, there would be even more stabbings after each game than there already is. The bad point of a live aussie rules game is, however, probably what keeps the crowd harmonious. Everyone is unified by the hours of advertising crap that they have to sit through before kick-off. From the mascot driving around in the "Noodle-Box" wagon to the "Farmers Union" walking iced coffee doing the live "Foodland" lucky dip, or whatever it might have been. This conitinual advertising bombardment of the fans in the stands must keep many AFL (Australian Football League) clubs in the black. At the same time the mutual boredom felt by the supporters must create a more communal atmosphere. Perhaps I've destroyed my own argument here by saying that the advertising might actually add to a more peaceful environment but I think that if you were to ask an average fan at a game to sit through another 3 hours of the advertising, he would probably choose to be stabbed in a supporters brawl outside the stadium instead. To experience the commercial overdose is at first almost comical, but to put up with it every week must be mind-numbing.

From an outsiders perspective, Australian Rules Football is at first a confusing experience. But once you master the finer points of it you realise it's just another branch of the beautiful game.
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Posted by scotsman 20:30 Archived in Australia Comments (4)

Backpackers Make The World Go Round

Well, kind of....

Every year the Australian government issues around 100,000 working holiday visas to travellers between the age of 18-30 and who come from a country which isn't Iraq, North Korea or Afghanistan (well it might be a bit more specific than that but you get the gist). This means that at any one point the ratio of working-holiday backpackers to Australian residents is 1:200 (based on the fact that there are roughly 20 million Australians, give or take a few for those lost in the bush). One in every two-hundred! And that's not including the hardy-rucksack transporters who visit on a 3-month tourist visa.

The majority of backpackers here are however on a working-holiday. And it is this group of travellers who contribute the most to keeping Australia running smoothly. For example, if the various Europeans, and a few North Americans, who slave away in vineyards, orchards and various other places of greenery all stopped, the shelves at Woolworths & Coles fruit & veg departments would be bare. Albeit there might be a few nitbits about, picked by the Vietnamese, but the majority of the work is backpacker, back-breaking stuff. I have to admit that when I first experienced fruit picking work and saw the Vietnamese workers toiling away, I was seriously impressed. I thought if ever there was a nation that should export fruit-pickers, it should be Vietnam. I wondered to myself whether there was a university of fruit-pickery in Hanoi, founded perhaps by Ho Chi Minh himself in honour of the many fruit trees lost during the American war!? Unfortuneately not. Although excellent workers, my oriental horticultural heroes didn't quite turn out to be the superstars of fruit that I had envisaged.

As a result, backpackers fill thousands of fruit-picking and packing jobs each year all over Australia. The government run job-search website even has a specific "harvest-trail" section, aimed at backpackers looking to earn a few extra dollars. However, it's not just in agriculture that backpackers are the essential workforce. In almost any job that doesn't appeal to the average Australian you'll find a backpacker slaving away. Working in roadhouses, helping out on a cattle station, kitchen-hand work or various other jobs that involve cleaning a "dunnie." It's the humble backpacker that keeps things running smoothly. And the Australian government know this! A few months ago, Canberra decided to change the rules so as to make more use of the backpacker labour. Formerly, a working-holiday visa was a once in a lifetime affair, but now you can have a second visa if you did 3 months of harvest work during your first stay. Perhaps if we hang on a bit longer, John Howard and his cronies will offer a residency visa to anyone willing to pledge allegiance to the fruit trees?

Anyhow, despite being a sought after labour force, the traveller still has to give up 29 cents in every dollar that he or she earns, to the Australian tax coffers in Canberra. Although technically you are entitled to claim the tax back, in nine months travelling around this fine country I have only met one couple who actually knew how to go about claiming it back and were actively pursuing their cash. Most people can't be bothered with the bureaucracy. So backpackers are contributing thousands of dollars to the Australian government and the only service they get in return is a Medicare card and maybe the possibility of a free stay at the Woomera detention centre if they overstay their visa? Free accommodation!

Aside from ploughing cash into Peter Costello's pocket, backpackers aid the economy in a more simple way. The money they earn in Australia, is spent in Australia. The obvious beneficiary is the tourist industry. Thousands of young nomads roaming the country with cash to burn means that hostels and campsites have a steady supply of customers, even in the quiet seasons. The national park services also get a steady cash flow. Uluru Kata-Tjuta national park alone could probably clear a sizeable chunk of third-world debt, what with its $25 a head fee. And mechanics all over, benefit from backpackers who travel in cars that should have been turned into tins for baked beans years ago. Only a traveller on a tight budget would look at a Holden or Ford with saggy axles and bald tyres and think, "She's a beaut!" Then willingly hand over several notes of large denomination, believing that their new tin can will safely get them around one of the largest countries on earth. Only to find themselves 3 weeks later standing in a mechanics in a backwater town called Woolyrooballs, speaking to some guy called Bruce about the complexities of having an engine that is essentially buggered.

Where would Australia be without the backpacker? It's a question worth thinking about...
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Posted by scotsman 00:46 Archived in Australia Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

It's All About The Wildlife

Kangaroos & Koalas?

A major part of what makes Australia so unique from the rest of the world is the wildlife. For millions of years the various critters that roam this red land were left to their own devices and allowed to evolve in whatever way they saw fit. As a result, when the first Europeans came to Australia they were somewhat baffled by the various furry creatures. One of the first englishmen to observe a kangaroo described it as a "small bird of beautiful plumage."

Today there are more kangaroos in Australia than when Europeans first arrived 250 years ago, due to more water and food sources being created by the development of agriculture. This however has both positive and negative outcomes. It's obviously good for our hopping friends as it helps keep the population strong and growing but the flip-side to this is that a larger population means they are harder hit during times of drought. As the tucker dwindles in the back of beyond, the roo's come closer and closer to the road in search of food and the outcome is gruesome. And due to our furry friends being nocturnal, they generally meet their maker on the steel bars of a hurtling road-train. The more unfortunate encounters for both man & beast are when the average car hits a kangaroo. The animal being likely to either end up somewhere inside the engine of a Ford or Holden or apparantley, if you are unlucky enough to hit one whilst it's mid-hop, it could end up coming through your windscreen. A close encounter with the wildlife that you really didn't count on having! On the long drive between South Australia & Western Australia, there is a stretch of road between the Cocklebiddy Roadhouse (which incidentally has it's own time-zone! That's got to screw up your TV guide.) and Caiguna where around every 200 metres lies a kangaroo carcuss. It's about 150km's between the afore-mentioned destinations so without doing any calculations it's easy to see that's a lot of dead fur.

It was on this very stretch of road, on a cold, misty morning that my good lady and I added to the carnage on the tarmac. We set off from the Cocklebiddy roadhouse at an hour which we thought reasonable enough for the kangaroos to be settling down for the day. Ten minutes into our days drive I happened to look to my left, through the passenger side window, only to lock eyes with a wedgetail eagle standing in the low shrub at the side of the road. I only caught a glimpse for a millisecond (we were going 110k's) but it was one of those moments where your brain takes a snapshot and it sticks in your memory like glue. Seconds later my girlfriend emits one of those high-pitched lady yelps reserved for times of extreme fear. I turn around and see a kangaroo directly in front of the passenger side of the car and doing it's best to outrun our hurtling Ford Falcon. I slammed my feet on the brakes so hard that if we hadn't been wearing seatbelts we could have flown to Perth through the windscreen. Everything went in slow-motion. The poor little bugger must only have managed a couple of bounces before he tried to jump out of the way and slipped onto his side on the wet road, but it seemed to last for minutes. By this time the car had come down to 60k's but we still hit little skippy with a loud thud. Fortuneately for us and the car, the kangaroos final bounce and slip meant that we drove over his legs as he lay on the road and there was no damage to the car and no roo in the windscreen. The bad news was that our furry friend was left lying on the road with broken legs, unable to walk/hop but still trying to pull himself up. We pulled over and got out of the car, unsure of what we could do to help. We flagged down a car but the lady inside was as useful as a boat in the desert. We tried another car. A gentleman in a 4-wheel drive pulled over and we explained the situation, hoping that perhaps he might know of some kangaroo hospital just up the road staffed by disciples of Rolf Harris. His response to our story was,
"I'll hit it on the head with something."
And drove of before we could say,
He pulled up next to the kangaroo, rustled around in the back of his car and pulled out a golf club. He stepped up to the roo, swung for Australia and then pulled the body off the road before jumping back into his car and carrying on with his journey. All in a days work. We stood for a full 10 minutes with our jaws at our ankles. Stupid tourists.

Another major Australian icon is the Koala. These furry little marsupials live in and on gum trees throughout Australia. They sleep for up to twenty-hours a day, perched on a limb of a gum tree. And when they awake they spend most of their time gobbling up gum leaves. This latter fact is thought by many to be the reason why Koalas have the "drunken" slouching look that they often have in the few hours they are awake. Many people think the chemicals in the gum leaves drug our furry chums. Although according the the Australian Koala Foundation this is a myth. The latter organistation are also responsible for these two, interesting facts:

  • When koalas are born, they are only 2 centimetres long, which is about as big as a jellybean!
  • When koalas become upset and worried ("stressed") by the loss of their homes, they may get a disease called " Chlamydia".

Koalas with STD's? Interesting. However, koalas actually become quite aggressive and noisy during their mating season. When a male koala feels the urge of nature, he climbs out of his tree and goes hunting for a lady. To go near a koala whilst they are on the ground and searching for some lady-fur is a very bad move indeed. Something tells me that the folks at Taronga Zoo in Sydney who charge $3 to hold a koala, either know when these cute furballs are in the mood for love or only use lady-koalas to keep the tourists happy. I've been lucky enough whilst in Australia to see a few wild koalas but when you see a male one on the ground, it's a strange sight.

At the beginning of the year, my girlfriend and I found ourselves looking after a small property in Gippsland, Victoria for a friend who was on a trip to Sydney. The property was a small hobby farm with a couple of horses, a couple of cows, a cat and two dogs. Our job was to keep the animals happy and fed. One night after feeding our assortment of 4-legged friends we sat down to watch the saturday night movie, Apollo 13. The film had been on for around an hour (better make that 30 minutes of movie & 30 minutes of commercials, shocking country for adverts) when Tas, the German Shepherd leapt out of his comatosed state and ran towards the window, barking and baying for the blood of whatever was out there. I went to the window, gazed out for a moment then shouted,
"Naomi, there's a fucking monkey in the back yard."
I immediately started to think about what kind of monkeys there were in Australia so as to try and identify the two and a half foot tall ape. I couldn't think of any. I decided on the next best course of action. I went and put on my glasses and quickly realised that I had made a mistake that any short-sighted tourist to this unusual land would have made. It was of course a frisky koala, out hunting down some ladies. The thing is, because you always see koalas in trees, you don't realise how long their back legs are. Even on most postcards, koalas are sitting on their bums and not showing off those fine pins. I went outside, after a brief tussle with the dogs at the doorway, and found the little furball almost jogging towards the nearest tree. I watched as he climbed up about 8 feet to a spot where he felt safe and could get a good look at the surroundings in order to spy any blood-thirsty dogs. Instead, all he saw was a bespectacled Scottish tourist staring back at him. I wandered around the tree, looking at him from various different angles and not once did he take his eyes off me. I eventually left him to his own devices and went back to the adverts/film on the TV. When I went back out after the movie he had gone, drawn away by the power of lust!

The Kangaroo & Koala are probably the most famous of Australias furry wildlife but there are dozens more characters out in the vast expanses of bush. It's just finding them thats the problem.

Posted by scotsman 23:29 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

The Stolen Generation

A few months ago I was flicking through the West Australian when an article caught my eye with a mention of the fine city of Edinburgh. I read on, curious to find out what was happening in the Scottish capital that might merit a half-page feature in an Australian paper. It turned out to be the story of an Aboriginal man who was a victim of an Australian government policy of removing Aboriginal children from their families and assimilating them with the white population. These children became known as the Stolen Generation. The gentleman in question was one of these children but had not only been taken from his family, he had been shipped out of his country and sent to an adopted family beside Edinburgh. This wasn't altogether that unusual as there were children sent all over Europe. What made this particular gentlemans story unique was that his brother had been sent to Lancashire, England and he knew nothing of him. It wasn't until years later that they found out about each other and made contact.

I was hooked by the story. When I'd finished reading it I wanted to know more. It was like one of those films that finish leaving you with a dozen unanswered questions swirling around in your head. I'd heard of the Stolen Generation before through the film Rabbit-Proof Fence but when a story like this comes out so close to your own home you instantly become more interested. So I thought myself very lucky indeed a couple of days ago when as part of my working-holiday Australia experience I was opening up the Overlander Roadhouse at 5am and was greeted by a couple of Aboriginal fellows waiting to fill up on fuel. One of whom had a Scottish accent stronger than my own and the other as broad a Lancashire accent as you'll hear anywhere in the shire itself. Despite the time of the day being against me for a flowing conversation, after a coffee a 45-minute conversation ensued. Having the chance to speak to someone who is a living example of history really makes the story hit home. Between 1910-1970 100,000 children were forcibly taken from their parents. Many were put into catholic missions, some were adopted by white families and others were sent overseas. The Aboriginal parents never had a say. In the case of the "Scottish" Aboriginal (I never did get his name, it was 5 in the morning though) his mother tried to fight against her son being taken and his adopted family denied any contact with his blood family. It might sound a bit over the top to say but the reasoning behind the Australian governments policy would easily sit in a copy of Mein Kampf. It was an attempt to try and solve their "Aboriginal problem" by wiping out the culture. The following is a list of motives & actions; (taken from the website) http://www.eniar.org/stolen.html

  • The main motive was to ‘assimilate’ Aboriginal children into European society over one or two generations by denying and destroying their Aboriginality.
  • Speaking their languages and practising their ceremonies was forbidden
  • They were taken miles from their country, some overseas
  • Parents were not told where their children were and could not trace them
  • Children were told that they were orphans
  • Family visits were discouraged or forbidden; letters were destroyed.

The following is an extract from an essay by Robert Manne on the Stolen Generation:
If they were to be effectively absorbed it was imperative, he believed, to get hold of the babies or infants before the age of six. By puberty it was too late. Under Western Australian law, he pointed out, he had the power to seize by force, and to institutionalise, any native under the age of twenty-one.

These days [white] Australia is trying to make up for it's mistakes. A National enquiry was set-up to investigate what wrong-doings were done during this period. And the country has set 26th of May as "Sorry Day," as a day of apology & rememberance for those children taken from their families. On a more progressive note is the National Reconciliation Week which looks to encourage a more unified Australia. Although from an outside perspective it's sometimes difficult to understand a country that has problems with the indigenious population but is at the same time one of the most multi-cultural nations in the world. It's all politics...

Posted by scotsman 17:38 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

Australia On The Move

Ode to The Roadhouse

sunny 24 °C

The Australian Roadhouse, an institution itself in outback travel. According to a questionable Canadian source there are approximately 180 roadhouses scattered across this girt by sea. All varying enormously but with one thing in common, your a hell of a long way from anywhere. Some roadhouses you can chow down on a focaccia and slurp a latte, whilst others you question the origins of the meat in their pies and wonder in amazement how on earth they made coffee so weak it tastes like tea!? However, if you by chance happened to spend an entire day at one of these outback establishments you would likely see the most varied cross-section of Austrlian society in a single spot in of all of this land. All with little more in common than sharing the same strip of tarmac connecting one distant horizon to another.

One of the most consistent of roadhouse frequenters is the common "Gray Nomad." These geriatric travellers fall into two distinct categories; the caravan or motorhome crowd & the tour bus traveller. The former are the more independent minded of the two but despite this personal freedom they sometimes find it difficult to see life past their home on wheels, as though somehow living on the road insulates them from outside world. I suppose in a way it does, but when it gets to the point where you witness an elderly traveller verbally abusing a roadhouse employee about how corporate roadhouse mongrels charge more for fuel than service staions in town, you quickly realise perhaps their 4-wheeled home should be confiscated until they once again come to grasp reality. The second category of gray nomad, the tour bus traveller, is however fully entitled to lose all grasp of reality as they are shuttled from one platter of roadhouse sandwich's to another. Indeed anyone who decides to see Australia by bus should be automatically placed on the queens new years honours list. I challenge anyone to sit in a tin can for 3 to 4 days straight, watching "Honey I Shrunk the Kids" and come out of the ordeal psychologically undamaged. The fact that the gray nomads are already teetering on the verge of senile dementia is a recipe for disaster. In my roadhouse experience there is nothing scarier in this world than being behind a counter whilst an elderly woman with a wispy beard, backed up by 40 other senior citizens, screams,
"HAMMMM," across the counter.
You calmly reply with,
"in what form would you like your ham served? Sandwich? Roll?"
"Sandwich it is then."
You place an order for a ham sandwich only to find it 20 minutes later still in the packet on the table but with the ham missing. These people are a step ahead of us all!

Another common sight at an outback roadhouse is the long-distance truckie. Amazingly easy to spot in a crowd. The uniform is generally a singlet (vest), thongs (flip-flops) and the kind of shorts that normally you'd only see on Kylie Minogue (nothing shiny or skin-tight, but definitely short enough for a full-leg tan.) Again they could fall into two categories; those who are desperate to have a conversation with anyone and those who are desperate for conversation but too mind-numbed to make any sense. The latter are the most interesting. They normally only stop at roadhouses for a caffeine hit and to buy as much greasy consumables as possible. My first encounter with a numbed-brain truckie was a moment of joy and disappointment. I thought I'd found a living example of the evolutionary stage between monkey & man. When posed with the standard Australian greeting "How's it going?" the gentleman in question responded with a series of noises along the lines of,
"Ughh, Ugghhh, Ahhhh."
We resorted to sign-language after this which proved to be even less useful. I quickly found out he had little control over his arms as he randomly pointed to an assortment of objects including "ladies towels." Maybe he's got a nose-bleed I thought? No such luck. In the end we managed to narrow down his arm-waves to an area generally containing mugs for coffee and the problem was solved. After his injection of caffeine he began to mumble a few more words, incoherant at first but clearly originating from the english language. It was the breakfast however that managed to turn him back into a semi-normal person and we even had a small-talk conversation, which considering the initial start to our time together was a small miracle. After this I bid him farewell and watched as he ambled across the road to his truck, my jaw dropped. He was driving a road-train so big that it needed an escort car with it to warn approaching vehicles. I couldn't believe that someone would voluntarily give this loose-limbed man a licence to sit behind the wheel of a truck that could drive through a house and keep going. These drivers are supposed to be responsible for the maintenance of their trucks as well as safely driving them from one destination to the next. Yet if they are struggling to stay awake and drive the long distances who knows what kind of condition some of their trucks are in. One example here in WA would be an incident whereby a road-train had been poorly maintained by the owner and on one journey one of the trailers broke off, careered onto the opposite side of the road and straight into an oncoming car:http://www.safetyline.wa.gov.au/pagebin/pg003258.htm. The Australian governments roadside advertsising campaigns of "stop, revive, survive," are exactly what all the brain-dead truckies need roadhouses for.

Another vital service that the roadhouse provides to Australians is that it keeps many of them fat. According to an article in The Age, more than 25% of children in Australia are now classed as overweight and adult obesity in Oz has doubled in the past decade according to Overweight and Obesity by Justin Healey. When I first arrived in Australia nine months ago I spent a few weeks staying in the Sydney suburb of Cronulla. I slowly became convinced that I was possibly the whitest, puniest and least attractive person on the continent as all around I was surrounded by bronzed boobs & biceps. However, once you leave the beach and experience other parts of Australia you realise that the American influence isn't just prevalent on the TV but also in the diets, and subsequently on the bodies, of many an Aussie. The Overlander Roadhouse in WA goes through 3 or 4 boxes of chips every day and enough cheesy delictables to keep an army of mice well fed for years. I have seen people come in who could easily be descirbed as "morbidly obese" and order a couple of burgers and a bucket of chips for themselves, "oh and maybe throw in a cheese sausage as well. For while I'm waiting on the burgers." Add onto this the mountains of Mrs Macs pies and Iced-Coffees that most roadhouses will go through on a daily basis, plus the nitbits for the car that help stave off the boredom, and the roadhouse well and truely does it's share to help keep Australians fat.

The Australian Roadhouse, an institution itself. With hundreds of characters and thousands of stories to be told as well as a place your sure to get a portion of chips....

Posted by scotsman 17:24 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

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