There are times when one observes cohorts of one's fellow Australians in action and wonders, in horror, if one is even a member of their same species, let alone of their same lucky nationality.
There were horrific examples of what I mean on election night in May. TV coverage took us to a hall full of Queensland Liberals delirious with joy that their local god, Peter Dutton, had been re-elected. I could no more identify with these strangers' tribal enthusiasms than I could with a cannibal tribe's enthusiastic feastings on the steaks and chops of its defeated foes.
And in very recent days there has been another surge of the same phenomenon. It came with the intense media coverage of the unseemly spectacles of teeming people besieging Uluru. The interviews with those spiritually illiterate Aussies queuing to take their turns to clamber (often standing next to signs pleading with them not do something so insensitively disrespectful) were especially upsetting. Looking at them, one half-expected them to have grotesque defining characteristics such as, say, horns, or two heads. But no, they were all disconcertingly like sensitive, refined you and me.
Interestingly, lots of us appalled by the Uluru defilers have tried to find an analogy that fits the case, challenging the defilers to ask themselves how THEY would feel if a place of sacred importance to them (as sacred as Uluru is to its custodians) was traipsed over and pooed on and urinated on (for there are no lavatories on the rock and many climbers are caught short during their long expeditions) by teeming pleasure seekers. Alas, none of the attempted analogies (often cathedrals and churches and sometimes even the Australian War Memorial) really fit the matter.
The First Australians often have places sacred to them but most of the rest of us now lack a sense of the sacred. We would struggle to point to a place or structure deeply dear to us in the profound way in which the rock of Uluru matters to its Anangu traditional owners. Trying to talk to the defilers about the rock's metaphysical importance is as useless as asking a cocker spaniel to appreciate Beethoven's piano sonatas.
Similarly, the notion of something so seemingly inanimate as Uluru being alive and having feelings is bewildering for Australia's Dumbs and Dumbers. But sensitive folk know better.
And even as the Uluru imbroglio bubbled I listened, enthralled, to an ABC radio interview with the swish Finnish cellist Timo-Veeiko 'Tipi' Valve. He is touring Australia with the Australian Chamber Orchestra and has brought with him a venerable cello that is (gasp!) 403 years old.
He and his cello were interviewed together in a studio. The wondrous instrument (built in Cremona, Italy, in 1616) let Tipo do all the talking but then and there in the studio sang a piece by JS Bach.
Tipi's engaging discussion of his relationship with his cello ("It is like a marriage," he confided) moved me to think, yet again, of the relationships that sensitive folk can sometimes have with so-called "inanimate" things. The Anangu's relationship with their gigantic sandstone rock leapt to mind.
"It [his cello] is very much a living thing," the Finn insisted.
"It is ... living, breathing. It is very fickle at times ... We do have arguments. It is like a marriage."
Yes, it is enriching to live a life that recognises how seemingly inanimate things are living, breathing. Elizabeth Jane Howard's novel The Long View alerted me to the truism that rooms and their furnishings are alert to (and sometimes judgmental about) the people that come and go to and from the rooms. Today I never go into a closed room without first pausing at the door to listen if the grandfather clock and lounge suite and bookshelves are in conversation. They always are, shushing the moment they hear you coming in.
But back to Uluru and its defilers and to the thought (for the unexamined life is not worth living) that those of us horrified by the defilers may just be snobs.
Is it that massed tourists are always an ugly sight wherever they are and whether they're defiling Uluru or the Louvre? The phenomenon of "overtourism" is upon us now as zillions of tourists transform the ambiences of the places they, the tourists, infest like plagues of selfie-stick brandishing mice. Is it that those of us who prefer unique travel experiences feel superior to unwashed people who do things in herds?
I could never have gone to Uluru in a herd but might, perhaps, in the years when we didn't know better, have climbed Uluru on my own (like Wordsworth on a lone walk in the Lake District) on an off-season evening, the rock all to myself, sitting at the summit, listening to the sounds of silence, scribbling into my notebook a shy sonnet inspired by my experience.
Yes, it was the TV news spectacles of jostling rabbles at Uluru that seemed especially obscene, each stampeding bogan having his or her mindless, mass-shared McExperience.
And so these foreign Australians (foreign to poetic me) have with their Uluru scrambles ticked something on their "bucket list". But what doth it profit a man if he ticks everything on his bucket list but loses his own soul?