Aussie farewell to life in 'Kiwi'

By Claire Harvey

It's part of your national identity, just like pretending you invented coffee and whinging about Phar Lap.

I'm about to share with you the one expression that, when used in a certain way, will set any expat Australian's teeth on edge. It's not "eh". It's not "choice". It's not even "sweet as". It's "Aussie" - as in "I'm going to Aussie on my holidays" or "I hear they're having a terrible summer over in Aussie, eh."

I've been living in New Zealand for five years and although I've endured many little digs at my homeland on a daily basis, nothing has cut me like this one malapropism.

Please, please, if you care about the future of transtasman relations, grasp this: "Aussie" is a noun to denote an Australian-born person (like Keisha Castle-Hughes or the majority of Crowded House), or an adjective to describe a great Australian invention (like pavlova or lamingtons). It's also half of a sophisticated chant at the footy.

It is not a noun to describe a country. If you must contract the word "Australia", you can say "Straya" like we do, or "Oz" if you're posh. If you don't stop it, we'll start calling New Zealand "Kiwi", as in "Wow, there are lots of really crap beaches in Kiwi, aren't there?"

See how infuriating it is?

While we're on the topic, it would be really nice if Parliament in Wellington passed a bill to ban any future derogatory mentions of the underarm bowling incident (as if you wouldn't have done it if you'd thought of it first), Joh Bjelke-Petersen (he was a Kiwi), Russell Crowe (ditto, and don't try to deny it) or the alleged boringness of my home town, Canberra (I refuse to be mocked by the country that's responsible for Rotorua).

Also banned should be any gloating about long-past netball victories over Australia. Sorry to break the bad news, but nobody in Australia over school-leaving age has ever watched, cared about or understood a game of netball (except for the mums and dads of the players). We have much more important international sports (like Aussie Rules) to care about, and we don't let anyone else play, so we always win.

And a few other things I'd like to set straight: it's uncool of New Zealanders to sneer about Australia's record on race relations, immigration, and the environment. We are not all John Howard. And you gave the world Winston Peters, who is even more dangerous than Howard because his allegiances are up for sale to the highest bidder. At least we know old JH isn't going to pop up as a minister again now the Opposition is in power. But back to me. After five years as an expat in New Zealand, I'm returning to the wide brown land, not because I'm sick of you - it's just that I can't handle all this hot weather and drought you've been having. It's so damp and changeable in Sydney, it'll feel just like Wellington.

I came here as correspondent for The Australian, and travelled the country, interviewing everyone from possum-trappers and politicians to Maori radicals and All Blacks, and being mocked for my accent by all alike. Meanwhile, when I go home for holidays I find my Australian friends laughing at the strange way I now pronounce "Maori".

When I landed on that Qantas flight to Wellington in October 2002, I didn't own a winter coat and all my shoes were open-toed sandals. I began investing the bulk of my salary in the New Zealand clothing industry, but although it began as a necessity, it's now my choice - I think you make better clothes than we do. I also think New Zealand women, by and large, dress better than Australian women - you've got that layered, asymmetrical thing working well. When Australian sheilas try it, we look like we've accidentally tucked our skirts into our pantyhose.

In my first years here, my editors in Sydney kept demanding stories about how New Zealand's tax regime, welfare system, health policy and political structure were all better-designed than Australia's. That may have had something to do with the fact the paper was trying to shame the Australian government into changing all its policies - but nevertheless, it's been interesting to remember those days when I read New Zealand media stories about how life is supposedly better in Australia. And to be serious for just a moment, that's the only point about New Zealand I find troubling.

Kiwis are famously humble and unassuming and I love that lack of bluster and arrogance - but sometimes a little more flag-waving might be a good thing. It is possible to be proud without being boastful.

Nearly every conversation with a new acquaintance has involved a variation on the question: "What are you doing here?" It's an odd thing to ask - the implication is I need some sort of legitimate justification for my presence in the country.

But why does it seem so strange that an Australian might choose to live here? Who wouldn't love to live in such a beautiful, fascinating country? You have an extraordinarily rich culture that acknowledges the rightful mana of indigenous people; a rare and precious combination.

Take glory in it - if you don't, nobody else will (I know what I'm talking about; I'm from Canberra).

Oh - and the apples thing? We made that up. The real reason New Zealand is not allowed to export its apples is that they're better than Australian apples and we don't want our own Pink Ladies being outshone, thanks very much.

But it's no more outrageous than you lot stopping us bringing in our sweeter and infinitely more delicious Australian honey. Bee varroa? Yeah right.

I'll really miss New Zealand; its lushness and its generous people; its music and - especially - its spectacular cheese. That's another thing Australia has banned; and I think we all know why.

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