'Do you notice what's different?" asked my Aussie friend, steam rising from around her head, "New Zealand loves its indigenous culture. Australia doesn't."
We were standing over the majesty of Rotorua's Te Puia. I too should have been inspired into deep reflection. Instead I was distracted, ignoring the Chinese tourist ramming her Nikon into my spine. (I was blocking a notice saying, "Danger. Do Not Cross" which she needed to photograph.)
But when I'd finished my campaign of passive resistance, I started to think about what my friend had said. I'd been shepherding my Aussie friends up and down New Zealand for a week. New Zealand had been performing beautifully; they were loving it.
Every 30 seconds, someone would refer to New Zealand's likeness to a giant, partially inhabited broccoli floret. ("It's so GREEN!") Every 20 seconds there was an excited report of a new Maori cultural discovery.
"Vee! Did you know that wood pigeon is kereru in Maori?"
"And aroha means love?" "And Aotearoa means New Zealand?"
"Yes, my dears, yes I did." (I felt like a proud parent.)
And the final key comment? New Zealand respected, integrated and promoted Maori culture in a way that Aboriginal culture never was.
"It's like," said my friend, staring into a gurgling mud pool, "you actually care."
I've heard this a lot since I started studying in Melbourne. Discussions of indigenous rights are the only times New Zealand is mentioned.
Melbournians describe New Zealand like we're their sweet, but forgotten, batty old Aunt. "Oh ... New Zealand ... yes, well ... it's beautiful. God, they're so good with Maori rights!" Cue a frustrated soliloquy, raging about how terrible Aboriginal rights are. This undercurrent of guilt, frustration and helplessness is a defining trait of the Melbournian psyche. This is where the admiration for New Zealand's indigenous relations come from.
Does New Zealand deserve this glowing soundbite?
If we look at statistics, Maori unemployment in 2013 was more than double the rate of New Zealand European. In 2013, Maori earned $3.51 less an hour than New Zealand European. And just ask a Shore girl how many times they've been to South Auckland.
But look at how grim the situation in Australia is. In 2007, 76.8 per cent of non-indigenous Australians completed year 12. Only 39.5 per cent of indigenous Australians did. Indigenous Australians live on average 20 years less than non- indigenous Australians. And measures of indigenous health are ranked globally as worse than Guatemala and India.
A group of indigenous Australians visited my college last week. They'd never seen an elevator before.
It's in this context that I've started to recognise the tiny Kiwi things I do that Aussies don't.
Take language. I can rattle off a bunch of Maori words I would use instinctively. Kia ora, whanau, mana ... It's not a lot. But it's more than Australians can. I remember the first time I referred to myself as Pakeha in Oz. All the Australians stared.
"Oh. It's the word for non-Maori Kiwis. Don't you have a name?"
"Er ... well, some people say black fella/white fella?"
To be fair, it's easier to integrate Maori, as it's one language. Aboriginal languages are multiple. But even the more common ones like Tiwi just aren't mentioned. There are no indigenous terms in common conversation.
I had the same shock in store for them with the Government. I remember explaining, to mystified Aussies how the Maori Party and Maori seat system works.
"But don't you have an Indigenous Australian Party?"
"Er ... don't think so ... "
There's no mainstream indigenous party like the Maori Party. There is Australia's First Nations Political Party. But in 2013, they got 1.44 per cent of the Northern Territory senate vote. They're tiny. There's also no system like Maori seats. And most Aussies struggle to name indigenous MPs, except land rights activist Noel Pearson.
I've often blasted Government departments for Maori taglines; not that they're bad in themselves, they just feel tokenistic. But only now do I appreciate that we have them, when the Aussie Government's only language is English.
Most of the Aussies I've met are genuinely ashamed of the situation. They really do want change. But I am in Melbourne, and Melbournians are not the same as Australians.
How does Australia as a whole feel? I don't know. But I've got the same feeling in my guts as the one you get after hygienically dubious curries. And I'm not giving New Zealand a cookie for being super duper nice. But I understand why Melbourne thinks we're fantastic.
It's just sad when you realise what they're comparing you to.