Sunday, February 6, 2011

Same, same ... but different

While living here I'm constantly reminded of the fabulous saying "same, same... but different".  I'm forever doing a double-take as I admire Perth-made wares which remind me of similar New Zealand-made ones, discovering Australian writers who remind me of favourite New Zealand ones, and spotting Australian versions of New Zealand native plants (as per the Dianellas from either side of the Tasman above).

Our national days fall into this pattern too.  On the surface Australia Day and Waitangi Day are pretty similar though how these two countries go about marking their national days is quite different.  I didn't know whether Australia Day would mirror New Zealand's usual sombre official commemorations and news-making confrontations, controversies and protests. 

So I asked an Australian woman I'd met recently exactly what Australia Day entailed and how Australians celebrated it. Her answer:  "It's a huge party day.  People wear Australian flag board shorts or Australian flag bikinis, stick Australian flags in their cars, go to a public place, burn sausages, drink alcohol, make fools of themselves then late at night during a massive public fireworks display they either get sentimental or punchy.  The next day they ring in sick to work citing "crook guts from dodgy snarler" when the truth is more likely "monster hangover, third degree sunburn, two black eyes and still in the clink." "

Hmmmm, not really my style.  So I said "No, I mean what do the prissy Australians do?"

"Oh" she said,  "they go on a family picnic!" 

So that is what we did.  Into two cars we packed 5 members of this household, one daughter's friend, 2 kayaks, 2 bulging picnic hampers, 3 boogie boards, a picnic rug, a bucket-sized bottle of industrial-strength sunscreen and masses of swimming gear.  We went to a place my partner and I had both spotted on our respective morning walks which we thought would be just the ticket.  There we met up with our son's friend and his mother. When we arrived at 9.30am the place was already dotted with a few other people with the same idea. 

We set about the business of having fun.  It turns out that the spot we'd chosen was not only perfect for kayaking, swimming and picnicking, but it was also the prime vantage point for viewing the flotilla of decorated boats which cruised past us for hours. 

Throughout the day more and more people arrived and it soon became apparent that our chosen spot was also the prime spot favoured by the folks my friend had described, which meant we also had excellent entertainment laid on all day.  The plod came by regularly to check that all was in order but they didn't once check in with our group.  Maybe our wholemeal vegetarian wraps and lashings of iced tea gave us away as too tame to waste time on.

Dolphins cruised past then swam alongside us while we kayaked.  We swam, chatted, ate and were entertained by frequent chants of "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi".  We watched as even more decorated boats cruised by.

We had a lovely time.   I thought about how nowhere I've ever lived was perfect, but how nice it is to find whatever it is that you love wherever it is that you live, to find like-minded people wherever you live and to actually like where you live.  (Below is my favourite boat of the day: an old, elegant, beautifully made, perfectly maintained and stylishly simple number.) I am sure I was not alone in also thinking about what a great country this is and how lucky we are to live here. 

Then mid-afternoon a portly, crayfish-coloured, RTD-fuelled young chap at the neighbouring picnic who was wearing an Australian flag as a cape, climbed a spindly Casuarina tree and bounced about on a branch above his partner, children and friends. I figured that should an ambulance be required then it could probably make good use of our parking spaces so we packed up and went home.

Later that day I watched TV news coverage of Australia Day protests where indigenous Australians dubbed the day "Invasion Day".  That evening I devoured another book by my latest favourite Australian novelist; I wondered whether Helen Garner and Fiona Farrell have met and if they have whether they got on like a house on fire (I do hope so).  A few days later I dipped into The Press online and read about a young Christchurch City councillor's account of bogans at the beachI thought that maybe Australia and New Zealand really are same, same ... but different.

So happy Waitangi Day New Zealanders.  However you mark it, I expect that you too will spare a moment to think about how lucky you are to live in such a great place.


  1. I had that same sort of epiphany/revelation when I first found myself in Mandurah. Willy wag-tails are Aussie's version of piwakawaka. We have an owl that makes a sound we call "Morepork" while Aussies have an owl that makes a sound that sounds to them like "Mopoke". I found a lot of semi-replicated bird species, most of which I can't remember now.

    The reptiles are hugely different though as you will have found.

    Hope Guy is firing on all cylinders...ventricles...aortic chambers (insert prefered name here).

    Love and good wishes,
    Andrew, Christine, Thomas and Ryan

  2. It seems like your initial trepidation is falling away as you embrace the WA experience! Good on you!