It’s Australia Day on Monday, so Cal Wilson’s giving us the lowdown on what it’s like being a Kiwi in Australia.
If I was a proper Australian, I wouldn’t be able to write this. I’d be too busy having a BBQ and listening to the Hottest 100 music countdown on Triple J (an alternative radio station that plays lots of Aussie tracks and young people’s music).
I love this country, a statement I will, of course, have to deny whenever I go back to New Zealand. My adopted home and the country of my birth have a friendly rivalry which expresses itself in endless sheep jokes and insults about cricket.
In fact, New Zealand and Australia jostle over everything: the rugby, who’s responsible for Russell Crowe and who actually invented the Lamington. The Lamington, which sounds like a fine name for a pet lamb wearing a monocle, is a square of sponge cake, dipped in chocolate sauce, and rolled in desiccated coconut. It’s a delicacy much vaunted in both countries, even though it looks like a tiny brown hay-bale, covered in dandruff.
I’ve lived in Melbourne for 11 years and I’ve finally accepted that I will never not have my accent mocked. You say “tomayto” I say “tomahto,” you say “go on, say fush and chups, say it, say it!”
If I was Irish, or Canadian, or anything else, I’d get an admiring “Oooh, you’ve still got your accent!” As a Kiwi, I get the same comment but it’s delivered with a pitying intonation, as if they want to add: “I hope you can still manage a fulfilling life.”
I’ve come to love the bone dry sense of humour here. Australia (especially the rural areas) has the best colloquialisms. There’s flat out, like a lizard drinking, as scarce as rocking horse manure and, my favourite, hungry enough to eat the crutch out of a low-flying duck. It is a horrifying phrase, I agree, but it does very effectively illustrate exactly how hungry you are.
I’ve been lucky enough to travel round a lot of Australia and to have been welcomed wherever I’ve gone. It’s a vast country, full of incredible landscapes. New Zealand has incredible landscapes too of course, but it’s way more compact (I call it Canada’s Greatest Hits). If you time the ferry right, you could drive the length of the country in about 28 hours and stay on the same highway the whole time. The first time I did a road-trip in Australia and saw a sign that showed our next town as “Alice Springs 1,284 kms”, I nearly lost my mind.
And, coming from a country where the wildlife is essentially just small birds in your choice of brown or green, I will never get over the surreal thrill of seeing kangaroos bounding through paddocks. Our neighbour actually found a wallaby in her garden the day before Christmas. She said the kids were upset because they’d asked Santa for a puppy.
While I could live here forever on my New Zealand passport, I need to get my Australian citizenship so I can vote, because, frankly, I’m not happy with the way they’re running things.
Current Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, not only has a grand total of two women in his cabinet, but made himself the Minister for Women, presumably so they didn’t have to worry their pretty little heads about it. He was recently asked what his biggest achievement has been in his capacity as Minister for Women and he said “repealing the carbon tax”. No one’s quite sure how that ties in, unless it makes it cheaper to turn carbon into diamonds and we all know that’s what us ladies are really after.
Kicking more goals for women, Abbott also once said your virginity is “the greatest gift you can give someone.” I don’t know, Tony, I think that could lead to some weird moments on Mothers’ Day.
And, while Australia has been very good to me, I can’t say it’s been the same for others. Australia’s relationship to its indigenous people has always been troubled, and troubling, and our government’s treatment of asylum seekers is absolutely vile.
Children are needlessly kept in detention and living conditions in the offshore processing centres are appalling. “Stop the boats” has become a catch cry, as if evil refugees want to storm in here and overturn our society, with their unreasonable expectations of freedom and safety.
For a country that has benefited so hugely from immigration (and unless you’re an Indigenous Australian, everyone in the place is the product of immigrants) Australia should be showing far more compassion towards people desperate to come here. It even says so in the National Anthem:
“For those who’ve come across the seas
We’ve boundless plains to share.”
It very specifically doesn’t say:
“For those who’ve come across the seas
You can bugger off back to where you came from.”
I reckon we can do better than that and I hope we will. For all its frustrations and flaws, I adore this country. I love its extremes, its vastness and its down-to-earth confidence. It’s a place full of contradictions, with its wealth of wit and creativity, and a Prime Minister who believes that “no one is the suppository of all wisdom.”
I love it. I’m just glad I came here by plane, not by boat.
Cal Wilson is a Kiwi who calls Australia home. Comedian, Writer, amateur Cat Lady.