Hoping to advance Australia fair

By Jane Phare

Emma Rahui with her children Lachlan, Amelia and Hazel. Photo / Chris Loufte
Emma Rahui with her children Lachlan, Amelia and Hazel. Photo / Chris Loufte

Emma and Terii Rahui aren't going to Australia to make their fortune. And they aren't quitting their homeland for good.

But they'll be gone for at least three years and in that time, anything could happen.

They will join the thousands of Kiwis heading across the Tasman (3300 left in May alone this year) in search of a better lifestyle, job opportunities or warmer weather.

This week Emma Rahui, 32, was busy packing up her Mt Wellington house, which sold at auction last week, and looking after her son Lachlan, 4, and daughters Amelia, 2, and Hazel, 18 months.

Husband Terii, 38, a sports coach and former development officer for the New Zealand Rugby Union, has gone on ahead. He's staying with Kiwi friends Nicola and Dave O'Reilly, who left Auckland in April last year, at their Coolum Beach home on the Sunshine Coast.

Dave O'Reilly started a business coaching pre-school youngsters in ball skills and Rahui will take up the franchise for the other half of the Sunshine Coast.

Emma, an events organiser, hopes to find part-time work and after a four-day visit to the Sunshine Coast last month, already has some options.

When she and the children board a flight to Queensland at the end of this month, she says she won't be turning her back on New Zealand, but she will be after a better lifestyle.

"Being able to spend more time with the kids was a huge appeal for us."

Four weeks after Hazel was born, Emma went back to work, leaving Terii as a stay-at-home dad. But it meant long hours, struggling to pay off a "whopping" Auckland house mortgage on one income. Off early in the morning, Emma could go days without seeing Hazel awake.

On the encouragement of their friends the O'Reillys, who sent back reports of warm weather, plenty of surf, more time with the children, and friendly Aussies, the Rahuis decided to go on a three to five-year "adventure".

For Dave and Nicola O'Reilly, the move is more permanent. They have rented out their South Head house until the market improves but intend to sell it and make a life in Australia with their sons Maddox, 5, Jackson, 3, and 7-month-old Sophia who was born in Australia.

Nicola, 32, says quite simply that she didn't want her kids growing up and going to school with children from families who did nothing to help themselves, had negative attitudes and a "bludger mentality".

"Over here, it's a lot more positive. People are happier, they get out there and do it, small businesses are really supported. Everyone helps each other."

Already she and Dave, 37, have bought an online surf products business - Dave is a keen surfer - and set up the Kiddy Kicks Soccer business. Five-year-old Maddox has just started at a private school, costing $5000 a year, something they would not have been able to afford in New Zealand.

With three children they qualify for a "large family" benefit and by signing up to Medicare have free doctors' visits for themselves and their children.

In the 15 months they've been in Australia, the couple have met "heaps" of Kiwi families similar to themselves.

All those spoken to were at pains not to be critical of New Zealand, saying they still loved their country, reading local news websites to keep up with what was happening and proudly supporting the All Blacks.

But at the same time there was a common theme, of Kiwis who were tired of "gloomy" outlooks, tired of political correctness, and tired of working hard but not getting ahead.

All said they found Australians friendly and supportive.

O'Reilly's father Chris Birch was one of those who wrote in response to Matt McCarten's column. Birch, 62, and his wife Shirley, 61, arrived in New Zealand from England in 1973 and have had "a great life" here.

Now, having sold their insurance broking business and retired, they've bought a townhouse in Coolum to enjoy the warmer weather and be near their grandchildren.

Birch says there's a perception that New Zealand suffers from "a lot more crime, a lot more child abuse and a lot more people who simply do not wish to work".

He talks of an extra "class" of low life in New Zealand. In Australia, those who are below middle income are tagged as "Aussie battlers", he says, whereas in New Zealand there appears to be a strata below working class who don't want to get ahead. While he acknowledges that view might sound right-wing, Birch insists he's voted Labour all his life.

Project management consultant Sean Sweeney, 52, left New Zealand 12 years ago for Melbourne, taking with him his wife Jacqueline and their three children.

He left behind a successful and lucrative position in Wellington after working for 6 years on the building of Te Papa.

Sweeney is still closely connected to New Zealand, visiting regularly on business. He and his family holiday every second summer in the Coromandel and go skiing in the South Island every winter. He'll be at Eden Park for the Rugby World Cup final.

But 12 years ago he realised that he was running out of big projects in New Zealand. For his career to progress he knew he had to head for Australia.

Within a month he had been asked to help with the development of the National Museum of Australia in Canberra and then headed a large project- delivery part of the state government, responsible for A$3.5 billion worth of projects including a new soccer and rugby stadium in Melbourne, recital halls and museums.

"That's just work that doesn't exist in New Zealand."

This year he was head hunted by Grocon, one of Australia's largest construction companies.

"For me it's been an incredibly positive story which I just couldn't have replicated in New Zealand."

He too says it's a nonsense to think Australians give Kiwis a hard time when they arrive.

"We've been met with nothing but absolute generosity and kindness.

"Australians view New Zealanders like their little brother. It annoys the hell out of me when I see the rudeness and ignorance in New Zealand about Australia. It's just embarrassing."

His daughters Grace, 22, and Eleanor, 18, and son Fintan, 20, have all thrived in Australia, he says, and while they like visiting New Zealand would not go back there to live.

Sweeney says anyone who's made it in business in New Zealand will thrive in Australia.

"New Zealand is a pretty tough proving ground."

The Kiwis who chose to leave are the go-getters, he says, and tend to do well with the opportunities offered.

New Zealand has proved it is capable of world-class excellence, but it needs to be wary of a counter-culture that finds excuses not to succeed and resents those who did.

"If those attitudes stay large, the best and brightest will continue to view overseas as an option and that's the tragedy for me."

- Herald on Sunday

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