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Edition 29

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Essay

Ngati Skippy

FROM DEEP INSIDE the tunnel, a tinny engine revs. It’s Storm Man, half Ned Kelly, half Phantom, a living mascot for all us losers. He bursts out onto the Anzac Day green of Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium, lime quad bike screeching, fists pumping, muscles quivering inside a padded purple Lycra bodysuit decorated with silver and yellow thunderbolts. His head, encased in soft black Kelly-style armour, swivels this way and that, taking in the twenty-five thousand people who have come along to watch the disgraced local National Rugby League team, the Melbourne Storm, take on their trans-Tasman cousins, the Auckland Warriors.

Four days earlier, the NRL had stripped the Storm of its two premierships as a punishment for salary cap rorts. Even if the Storm wins today, the team won’t get any points. The boys are playing only for pride.

Storm Man circles the ground on his bike made by one of the only sponsors still backing the side. White sparks shoot from two posts at each end of the field. Cheerleaders sprint past in their long white socks and little purple jumpsuits. The stadium hums, then roars. Here come the Storm boys! We juggle light beer, hot chups, tickets, cash. ‘I thunk that’s them,’ says the girl behind me in the queue.

The other boys run on and we are silent, even though most of us come from New Zealand too. Like soccer, NRL is an ethnic code in Melbourne, but Kiwis – rather than Brits, Greeks or Italians – are the wogs here today. Soldiers march on. A bugler plays the ‘Last Post’. Because it is Anzac Day, both national anthems are going to be sung. Graciously, the New Zealand performer is allowed to go first. He begins in Maori. My skin prickles. In front of me, four Melbourne Storm supporters bow their heads and sing the words into their chests. E ihowa Atua / O nga iwi matau ra / Ata whakarongona / Me aroha noa / Kia hua ko te pai / Kia tau to atawhai / Manaakitia mai / Aotearoa (O Lord God / of nations and of us too / Listen to us / Cherish us / Let goodness flourish / May your blessings flow / Defend / Aotearoa).

 

WHEN 'ADVANCE AUSTRALIA FAIR’ starts, a young Maori woman next to us belts out a few lines before jabbing her silent boyfriend and taunting him: ‘Sing it – go on, sing it,’ she says. ‘Sing-sing-sing it.’

I understand them both. Silent or singing, it doesn’t matter: as immigrants here we are traitors either way. We’ve betrayed our homeland by crossing the ditch – and then barracking for cheaters like the Storm – but we also betray the nation that welcomes us, employs us, educates us, by refusing to really join in and sing the anthem, support the Wallabies, become a citizen, wrap ourselves in the flag, vote.

 

UNLIKE MANY OTHER Australian residents, who are forced from their homelands by war, poverty, discrimination, hopelessness, we have left somewhere safe, small, beautiful, green and fortunate to come to another, even more fortunate place that is bigger, faster, drier, riskier maybe – a place where the pay is higher and the cost of living lower.

We are members of a growing tribe: Ngati Skippy, Ngati Ocker, Ngati Kangaroo, residents of Te Ao Moemoea, the land of dreaming. We are one of Australia’s biggest, fastest-growing migrant communities, yet we are rarely described as such. We blend in. We avoid attention. We work hard. We are good little Kiwis. When it suits, we can be excellent little Aussies, too: Fred Hollows, Phar Lap, Jane Campion, Ngati Porou’s Stan Walker (winner of Australian Idol), Russell Crowe. So convincing is this performance that one of our most famous expats, John Clarke, can front a documentary on the Australian accent without it ever being mentioned that he is actually a New Zealander.

Every so often there will be an explosion of Kiwi difference. In the 1980s, two groups were singled out: Kiwi shearers (Maori and Pakeha) with wide-toothed combs, and the Bondi Beach dole bludger. The gigantic, thuggish Maori bouncer remains a powerful cultural stereotype. As the migration researcher Paul Hamer noted in his 2007 report Maori in Australia: ‘A search for the phrase "Maori bouncer" on Australian websites brings up innumerable accounts in message boards of drunken Australian male encounters with terrifying Maori bouncers.’

Occasionally, these moments of difference are more positive. Last year, when Stan Walker won Idol, the camera shifted from the gorgeous smiling young ‘Australian’ singer outside the Sydney Opera House to his relatives in the crowd who were going all out – eyes rolling, tongues thrusting, hands quivering, feet stamping – to perform a haka of triumph on behalf of all Mozzies (Maori-Australians). There was a lower-key echo of Walker’s triumph this year when the hip hop dancer Phillipe Witana made the top four in another reality show, So You Think You Can Dance? Before Anzac Day this year, there was also a small eruption of Kiwiness in a debate about the identity of Allied soldiers in rare Gallipoli footage. C. E. W. Bean had claimed the film showed Australians but a New Zealand military historian, Chris Pugsley, said Bean had deliberately misidentified New Zealand and Irish soldiers.

 

STILL, POSITIVE, NEGATIVE or merely pedantic, such moments in the spotlight are rare. If we want news from home, we call, we Google (maybe the website Maori-in-oz.com, with its mission to ‘Tautoko Maori in Australia, Aotearoa and Globally’) or we buy a copy of our one ethnic newspaper, the New Zealander, which reprints the key stories run in the past week in New Zealand’s local papers, most of which are owned by Fairfax anyhow.

In the main, we New Zealanders are the anti-ethnic ethnics, the invisible outsiders, the dull, tentative Madge ready to cop a jibe or two from every glittering, go-getting Edna. As I was writing, the Radio National news had on a mining magnate threatening that ‘Australia’s economy will become as bad as New Zealand’s’ if Labor’s mining tax were introduced.

Unlike migrants from the Middle East, say, or the Horn of Africa, our ‘sameness’ poses no threat to the (non-Aboriginal) Australian way of life, so our growing numbers here are rarely debated. And these numbers are significant. In 2007-08, 34,491 New Zealand citizens came to Australia with plans to stay for twelve months or more. ‘This represented a 22 per cent increase on the previous year and 23 per cent of all settler arrivals,’ noted the Australian Bureau of Statistics in its 2009 Perspectives on Migrants paper.

Imagine the outcry if, instead of being from New Zealand, these people were from Iraq. We are fortunate to escape attention – although as population growth becomes an election issue, this will surely change. An early warning sign was the federal Labor MP Kelvin Thompson’s call, in December 2009, to ‘slash’ New Zealand immigration. The dozens of comments published on the end of the story on News Limited websites give some indication of how inflammatory any immigration debate can be. The most original observation came from Anne of Wellington: ‘I’m a New Zealander and I think we should stop the free-flow of migration both ways. Because once Australia’s impending environmental problems really kick in (drought anyone?) then it will protect New Zealand from being flooded with environmental refugees from Australia.’

For now, though, we are free to come and go as we please. I’m lucky, but my gratitude is patchy. It’s a luxury of the privileged. On Anzac Day at the NRL match, I dished out my disrespect equally and refused to sing either anthem. But later on that night I leaned against the wall by the mixing desk in the darkness of the East Brunswick Club’s band room and happily sang along with the New Zealand post-punk band The Bats, who were in Melbourne for the second time in nine months, enjoying a kind of comeback, I guess, more than twenty years after the release of their first LP, Daddys Highway (1987). The Bats, a four-piece with three guitarists, are part of what is known as the Dunedin Sound, influential 1980s garage bands like The Chills, The Clean and the Tall Dwarfs. I grew up with this music. I love it – the happy guitars, the depressing lyrics (‘it doesn’t look good and I’m feeling like a block of wood’), the geeky anti-rock look of the musicians and the audience.

I crossed Lygon Street behind three such fans, in their early forties just like me. The look: old jeans or leggings, Docs, old T-shirt, op-shop cardigan with wooden buttons and suede detailing, a beanie; bad, self-hacked hair, possibly peroxided. The fans I’m describing were guys, but girls could wear this stuff too – or maybe an op-shop dress featuring every shade of brown, grey and black. For both sexes the feel was earnest, brainy, intense, possibly just a wee bit too serious. (Sometimes, it feels like I’ll burst with all this useless culturally specific knowledge: Prince Tui Teka; Billy T. James; Fred Dagg; David Lange and the nuclear-free zone; Marilyn Waring, the fierce feminist MP; the Rainbow Warrior; the Springbok Tour; Bastion Point; Dunedin bands; The Topp Twins; Upper Hutt Posse; the transgender mayor from Carterton and ‘quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle, the magpies said’.)

Piggy Muldoon, one of New Zealand’s more colourful former Prime Ministers, once said that New Zealanders who move to Australia raise the IQ of both countries. Piggy was PM when I was little. He was the gnome behind ‘Think Big’, the man who laughed like a witch. I went to St Joe’s Primary School, New Plymouth, where my most admired friend was Philippa, an incorrigible chatterbox who managed to be studious and naughty at the same time. Phil lives over here in Melbourne, too. She came in 1993, the same year I arrived. We both intended to study and then go home. It hasn’t worked out that way. We’re both mums now, with Australian-born partners and Australian-born kids. I’ve become a citizen, but half of all New Zealanders here don’t. For Maori, the rate is even lower. Only a fifth become citizens – a decision some refer to as ‘having the operation’. (The only ethnic group with a lower take-up is the Japanese.)

Most of us straddle two worlds: the Kiwi past and the Aussie present. The future, we like to imagine, may be Kiwi again. My past: ‘If you had another brain in your head it’d be lonely,’ we’d yell at other St Joe’s kids, then watch the dumb look on their faces as they tried to figure it out. ‘Don’t think too hard, dick!’ Then the comeback: ‘It takes one to know one!’ And then the final line, the best line: ‘What you say is what you are!’ (Chanted over and over.)

 

NEW ZEALANDERS – Maori, Pakeha, Pacific Islanders, people from Vietnam, China, Mexico and wherever else who have become New Zealand citizens as a way of getting here – account for almost a quarter of Australia’s surging migrant intake, enjoying unrestricted entry as part of the reciprocal 1973 Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement. Until 1982, we didn’t even need a passport to get in. This agreement means New Zealanders are an awkward addendum to migration analysis. As in: ‘Using the latest available migrant statistics data will be included on the migration program including the major streams of Family and Skill, the Humanitarian program as well as New Zealand citizens.’ This comes from the 2009 Australian Bureau of Statistics report Perspectives of Migrants.

New Zealand’s resident population is just over four million but there is a big diaspora. According to Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand, almost a million of us now live overseas. Some are in Britain (up to 160,000) and the United States (ten thousand) and Canada (nine thousand), but most of us, about half a million and our kids, live in Australia. Migration peaks and dips depending on how things are back home, yet in many periods – such as between 1996 and 2000, and again in 2006-07 – we have been the largest immigrant group arriving here, just eclipsing the Brits. Overall, there is little sign of this migration slowing. The New Zealand Department of Labour’s March 2010 external migration fact sheet notes: ‘there is an emerging trend of more New Zealanders departing for Australia.’

 

THE NEW ZEALAND Government deals with this diaspora in complicated, ambiguous ways that perhaps reveal some of the unresolved cultural tensions that simmer, not so far beneath the surface, in my homeland. It has a website that encourages ‘expats and partners’ to return to New Zealand. Along with private enterprise, it also funds the Kiwi Expat Association – Kea for short, one of New Zealand’s native birds, a cheeky green bastard with a bright orange underside on both wings, a feature trampers or skiers normally notice as the bird flies off with their scroggin, sandwiches or camera.

Kea is aimed at professionals. The organisation’s latest campaign, ‘Pass It On’, aims to get expats to ‘brag about’ their homeland in the lead-up to the 2011 Rugby World Cup. The press release suggests that international supporters spread the word about all New Zealand’s great ‘talent and products’. These include fashion designers, musicians, yacht designers, superb pinot noir and, of course, the Men in Black (players of Rugby Union, not Rugby League).

Hip hop performer Savage, New-Zealand born to Samoan parents, helped launch the project but Kea did not list anything Maori in its things-to-brag-about package. It most certainly did not mention Maori TV, the indigenous national broadcaster set up in 2003. The station’s audacious bid to be the main free-to-air channel covering the World Cup caused a near-meltdown in some sections of New Zealand society, because it proposed that 10 per cent of the match commentary be in Maori. This has since been modified to a more general promise that coverage will include ‘5-10 per cent Maori language’, but sixteen games will be simulcast on its second channel, Te Reo, and ‘the commentary will be one hundred per cent Maori language.’

This is but one example of the often divisive cultural politics at work in New Zealand, and these tussles are the background to the story within the story of New Zealand migration to Australia. In the past few decades the Maori population has exploded here. One in fifty Maori lived here in 1966, one in nineteen in 1986, and it is now one in six. This mass migration, this reinvention of Maoridom as a transnational community, has happened in tandem with the incredible revitalisation of Maori culture in New Zealand, especially the revitalisation of the language itself through kohunga reo (language nests) and total-immersion Maori medium-schooling. Tribal hui (meetings) to discuss the settlement of Treaty of Waitangi claims are held in Australia now too. Back in 2004, I went to a one such hui, for Taranaki people, at the Melbourne Business School.

Maori are the people who make Aotearoa notably different from anywhere else in the world, and Maori are the people who undercut any claim that New Zealanders are the same as (non-Aboriginal) Australians. Indeed, living alongside Maori is one of the many things that make Pakeha different from white Australians. One of my neighbours is a Pakeha woman from Dannevirke, a small, conservative farming town in the central North Island. We were talking about home and Victoria said to her husband: ‘When I die, Daniel, don’t you leave me there. Don’t you leave me at the funeral directors. I want to be here, in the house.’ Then she looked at me and said: ‘That’s the Maori influence.’ Some tangihanga (funeral ceremonies) can last for two or three days and family members would never leave a tupapaku (deceased person) alone.

But there are many challenges for Maori expats who want to maintain cultural rituals for births and deaths. Paul Hamer’s 2007 report Maori in Australia, published by Te Puni Kokiri and Griffith University, estimates that half of all tupapaku in Australia are repatriated to New Zealand for burial, and Maori in Australia have set up informal insurance schemes to pay for this. Effort is also required at the start of life. It’s no mistake that in te reo Maori, whenua is the word for placenta and for land. Traditionally, the whenua would be buried on tribal land. Some Maori women in Australia freeze the umbilical cord and placenta and carry it back in a chilly bin (I know, Esky).

But aside from Hamer’s report, these Mozzie – is it a mistake that this nickname for Maori living in Australia is also the word for a pest? – struggles to maintain tikanga (protocol) are rarely discussed by policymakers on either side of the Tasman, though perhaps Stan Walker’s Idol win has opened up the issue. In the Youth Parliament, in July, young Maori Affairs representatives were asked by sitting MPs to debate the question ‘How can we tap in to the talents of Mozzies better?’ Hamer’s research revealed that many Maori felt they had a much greater chance of succeeding in Australia. They were drawn here – like Pakeha – by the lure of higher-paid work in mines, on building sites, in schools, in hospitality, in transport and in the army. Many also wanted to escape ‘negative experiences’ or ‘pressures’, such as racism and family expectations and obligations. One man told Hamer: ‘The media is always full of negative stories about Maori. People are always thinking "bloody Maoris".’ But in Australia, Maori told Hamer they mostly got on well with Pakeha. ‘In fact, from what I was told, it might not be wrong to conclude that nowhere in New Zealand are race relations better than Australia.’

Still, it’s not all good. A new working paper by Hamer, for Victoria University’s Institute of Policy Studies, looks at what trans-Tasman migration is doing to te reo Maori. Many fluent speakers, including 140 teachers who speak Maori, now live in Australia, but there is next to no formal support for language retention outside of New Zealand and speakers of Maori quickly lose their skills. A footnote explains: ‘In 1986 Maori were the thirty-fourth largest ancestry group in the Australian census and te reo was the forty-fourth biggest language. By 2006 Maori had risen to the twenty-second biggest ancestry group but te reo had fallen to fifty-sixth.’

It’s hard to argue for funding the Maori language in Australia when there are still so many struggles to retain and build te reo back home but Hamer suggests, cautiously, that the New Zealand Government might consider Maori to be a trans-national language and extend support for the retention and development of thistaonga (treasure) in the way that the Welsh Government funds a Welsh school in London or the Italian Government funds language schools in Australia. As one te reo teacher said: ‘He wahanga iti nei, ae.’ (A small section of the resources should be made available.) ‘An initial step,’ Hamer writes, ‘might be for agencies responsible for te reo in New Zealand to at least acknowledge that trans-Tasman migration is having an impact.’

There is no marae (meeting house) in Australia either, and both Hamer’s report and my conversations with Maori leaders in Australia indicate that any marae would need the blessing and support of Aboriginal leaders. There is already informal co-operation. The 2008 kapa haka championships in Melbourne opened with a bicultural event – a combination of a smoking ceremony and a powhiri. In her Griffith REVIEW essay on the death of the Mullumbimby High School student Jai Drummond Morcom, Melissa Luchashenko describes how the Bundjalung leader Uncle Lewis Walker, along with other local Maori leaders, held a smoking ceremony in commemoration of the fifteen-year-old.

 

LIKE POOR JAI, I’m also of Maori descent (Te Ati Awa, Taranaki and Ngati Ruanui). I’m one of those people who leave their homeland and discover their roots. My doctoral research at Monash University was on New Zealand, especially Taranaki and Wellington. There are more Maori children at my kids’ primary school than there would be at many schools back home. In the past year, I’ve made four trips home to meet my Maori publishers and my Pakeha editor, to discuss my research with kaumatua (elders) and whanaunga(relatives). In October 2009 in Taranaki, I presented my manuscript at Parihaka, a significant settlement in Taranaki. Another visitor had come from the Gold Coast to symbolically return his dead brother to the pa. His photograph would join the hundreds already on the walls of Te Pae Pae. Inside the meeting house, one kuiatold me off for ‘taking resources’ overseas – but I haven’t taken a thing. The Australian Government funded my PhD and my employer, La Trobe University, helped fund the book.

I am an immigrant cliché. I think about New Zealand a lot. I miss it. I yearn for it. Sometimes I feel so lonely over here. It’s unbearable. I miss the rain and I miss the mountain. I even miss a decent wind. But I’m also grateful to Australia for my education, for my professional life, for my freedom, for the home and family and friends I have made here. It’s silly, but when I’m in New Zealand, I miss Australia – Te Ao Moemoea, the land of dreaming, this beautiful nation that is still happy to welcome us treacherous Kiwis, us phantom Aussies, the ones who understand the urge to breach the salary cap and break the rules. E ihowa Atua / O nga iwi matau ra / Ata whakarongona / Me aroha noa/ Kia hua ko te pai / Kia tau to atawhai / Manaakitia mai... O Lord God / of nations and of us too / Listen to us / Cherish us / Let goodness flourish / May your blessings flow... 


From Griffith Review Edition 29: Prosper or Perish © Copyright Griffith University & the author.

Griffith Review