Racial slurs fail to deter Maori

By Jon Stokes

Jody Wikeepa can recall being kicked out of Australian pubs because she was mistaken for an Aborigine.

But Dan Taurima, a bouncer at a Sydney nightclub, has seen worse treatment of Pacific Islanders.

And Tautau Nikora thinks the "lucky country" is not necessarily racist - just intolerant of slackers.

The Weekend Herald set out to canvass treatment of the growing 70,000-strong Maori contingent in Australia after African-American actor Laurence Fishburne spoke of a "racist vibe" in Sydney.

The star of The Matrix told the Sydney Morning Herald of wariness and unease towards him after being mistaken for a "Maori bloke".

Yet the perception has not stopped throngs of Maori blokes, and wahine, from chasing better pay across the Tasman. Around one in five of the almost 360,000 New Zealanders in Australia are Maori.

Maori who spoke to the Weekend Herald generally believed other groups fared far worse - especially Aborigines.

Jody Wikeepa, Australian-born and of Tainui descent, said: "I have been kicked out of pubs because they thought I was an Aborigine. Australians are hostile towards them - not so much Maori."

While she is not offended by the misunderstanding, she is grateful not to share the poor social statistics of Australia's first peoples.

Maori life expectancy in New Zealand lags behind that of the rest of the country by about 10 years, but in Australia the gap is 25 years, with Aboriginal life expectancy 52.

"Maori were seen as heavy drinkers, who hung out together in Manly and Bondi Beach, she said, but that was changing as Maori moved to other suburbs and their profile increased.

Tautau Nikora, 68, has lived in Sydney for most of the past 15 years. The former Gisborne man, who worked as a courier until his retirement, says big wages lure Maori.

"Most come here because of work. The pay is better than back home."

He rattles off a recent example of a young couple from Gisborne who crossed the ditch last month.

"The husband is working in demolition, he is earning almost double what he did in New Zealand."

Mr Nikora has not experienced racism in Sydney, rather, intolerance towards those who did not "pull their weight".

He believes Aborigines must take some responsibility for their plight.

"If you don't stand up and fight for yourself, nobody else is going to do it for you. They need to get off their behinds and work for themselves."

And he believes that Maori who come across thinking the Government owes them something are quickly pulled into line, or sent packing.

"When you get over here there is a different approach to life. You don't look back."

He said Maori saw themselves as the immigrants and accepted they must do things for themselves.

Dan Taurima, who recently moved to Sydney from Auckland, has seen plenty of racism.

However, working as a bouncer at an inner-city bar, the thickset Maori believes his race fares far better than most other ethnic groups.

"The Italians and Greeks cop their share. Pacific Islanders also seem to come in for worse sledging from Australians than Maori. Maori tend to slip under the radar."

But he agreed that Aborigines, an uncommon sight in the heart of Sydney, were the most shunned of all ethnic groups.

Despite the mixed reviews of the Australian lifestyle, Maori and non-Maori show a reluctance to take up Australian citizenship. Just 36.5 per cent become fully fledged Ockers - compared with 75.1 per cent for all other immigrant groups.

The Numbers

* At the 2001 Australian census, 72,956 people identified themselves as Maori.
* Maori make up more than one in five of the 355,680 New Zealand-born residents counted at the last Australian census.
* There were 526,281 Maori in New Zealand in 2001.

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