An Australian town with new-found pilgrim pulling power, French Polynesia the rebellion, Australian students get wily, and the next Guantánamo.
For any town that has produced a significant religious figure, or hosted a (delete as applicable) miracle/mass hysteria/transparent hoax, the consequences can indeed be a blessing.
Pilgrims are determined people, willing to travel long distances and spend apparently limitless amounts of money on souvenirs of debatable aesthetic merit.
The latest location to benefit is Penola, South Australia, where, in 1866, a pious young woman named Mary MacKillop opened the first of many schools and orphanages that would bear the name of St Joseph’s, the order she founded. This year, it is expected that the Vatican will confirm MacKillop as Australia’s first native-born saint.
The race to profit, while maintaining a façade of devout seemliness, is now well under way (Australia’s Catholic church has issued a pre-emptive statement denying that there are any plans to to use MacKillop’s canonisation as a marketing ploy).
The challenges are considerable. Penola is a small town, its population barely clearing four figures: there is already talk that a bypass may have to be built to spare its tiny main street the increased traffic. Mary may have a crack at displacing Sebastian as patron saint of road builders.
Fatima, Portugal: In 1917, three children said they had visitations from the Virgin Mary, and were believed rather than sent upstairs without dessert.
Lourdes, France: Apparitions of Mary were reported in 1858. Millions visit each year.
Knock, Ireland: Mary, St Joseph and St John allegedly descended on the tiny town in County Mayo in 1879. Knock now boasts its own international airport.
Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina: After Mary began appearing to children in 1981, even the war of the 1990s didn’t deter hardier pilgrims.
Those looking for a Martini or a Moscow Mule in Sydney might find quenching their thirst more eye-watering than mouth-watering – at €26 for a 70cl bottle, premium vodka down under is among the most expensive in the world (more than double the €12 paid in Madrid).
Beyond sharing a clement climate and a government that changes hands every few months, there’s little that unites the 118 islands of French Polynesia. In fact, this archipelago may have just given birth to the world’s youngest nation – the self-declared Republic of Pakumotu (as we went to press, the French Embassy in London would “neither confirm nor deny” the state of affairs). Speaking on Radio Australia, the republic’s minister for international affairs, Jean-Renee Tehapuru, described a state centred on the island of Moorea (below), complete with 50,000 followers, although he said that funding of the new nation remained a “question”.
It seems that Australian students are forsaking the surf and sunshine for pen and paper this year, with the University of New South Wales reporting a 52 per cent increase in students enrolling for summer-school classes. The eager learners are motivated by a desire to fast-track their degrees. “The usual programme at UNSW is five-and-a-half years,” says Jared Simmons, an engineering and commerce student, “So this allows me to cut it down to five.” But compared to other nations, such as the UK where a degree takes three years, Australian students still have a long way to go with their shortened five-year courses.
Meanwhile, those looking to reduce the cost of their degree would, it seems, be better off heading to New Zealand where they are eligible to pay domestic tuition fees. Around 2,000 Australian students now go there every year and there are large savings to be made: for example, an engineering degree at the University of Sydney costs roughly AU$7,500 (€4,780) a year; at the University of Canterbury, the same degree is AU$4,000 (€2,550) a year.
With Guantánamo set to close and the expansion of its Guam base causing upset, the US may look to another “G” as a military outpost: Goat Island. The mayor of Tinian in the US-run Northern Mariana Islands has offered the Aguijan atoll (Goat Island) as an alternative to Guam. Its bovids are used to soldiers; the island was occupied by Japan in the Second World War.