A right Royals kerfuffle was ignited when an Australian television presenter had the cheek to refer to our home-grown super-star as "the Australasian Lorde". Say what now? Strewth. Back the truck up, mate.
It set off a good-natured banter in which hosts of TVNZ's Breakfast show pondered which Aussie entertainers they would like to poach. Sports teams joined the mix when the Australians offered to trade Kylie for the All Blacks. No deal.
There is, of course, a fond tradition of such trans-Tasman squabbling about cultural icons. There is perennial debate about which country can lay claim to the pavlova, Phar Lap, Crowded House and Russell Crowe. But this latest exchange has introduced a fresh angle. "Australasian" allows Australians to have their cake and eat it too. Because the two words are strikingly similar, they are able to use the former in the interests of obfuscation.
As Richard Wilkins demonstrated, it's handy when they want to claim someone or something that's not theirs to start with - such as Lorde. Similarly, it's invaluable when they are intent on disowning a fellow countryman. I can imagine crafty Australians (wishing to disassociate themselves from a convicted sex offender) deciding that Rolf Harris is Australasian, thus spreading his toxic reputation beyond their sun-drenched shores. Depending on its usage, it has the knack of being all-encompassing or distancing. It's a weasel of a word.
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
Yet, for all its ostensible familiarity, "Australasian" remains a little mysterious. Along with "Australasia", it's not a word I think I've ever used. (And I was a child with a passing penchant for noting the full details of my geographical whereabouts. After my street address, it went: "Hastings, Hawke's Bay, North Island, New Zealand, South Pacific, Southern Hemisphere, Earth, the Solar System, the Milky Way, the Universe." If I'd known precisely what it meant, "Australasia" could have come in handy.)
Before the Lorde incident, I'd have guessed that Australasia referred to New Zealand and Australia. I would have been only partly correct. According to TheFreeDictionary, it is: "1. The islands of the southern Pacific Ocean, including Australia, New Zealand, and New Guinea. 2. Broadly, all of Oceania." The same dictionary defines Oceania as the "islands of the southern, western, and central Pacific Ocean, including Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. The term is sometimes extended to encompass Australia, New Zealand, and the Malay Archipelago." Is it just me or is it kind of complicated? Perhaps that's why it's not a widely used word.
Seldom uttered by the average person on the street, "Australasian" has found its home in the names of various journals and societies: Australasian Journal of Disaster and Trauma Studies, Australasian Journal of Logic, Australasian Evaluation Society - and the Australasian Journal of Combinatorics. Let's not forget the Australasian Hazards Management Conference and the Australasian Podiatry Council. "Australasian" is at home in worthy, serious, academic, unimaginative environments. It most definitely should not be used in association with such a fresh and creative talent as Lorde.
It must (grudgingly) be noted that Lorde is indeed Australasian in the technical sense of the word. This truth does not alter the fact that the word was deployed with a hefty dose of devious cynicism. (A more charitable view would be that playfulness was a factor but there's no fun in supposing that.)
So, in response, to the shameful abuse of the word "Australasian" to bolster the images of our trans-Tasman cousins and give them an inflated sense of their worth, any bona fide Kiwi organisation should shun the word forthwith. Perhaps we should coin a new one to describe things from our general corner of the world. Forget Australasian. New-Zealand-ish has a nice ring to it, don't you think?