Australia


There’s a ton of rivalry between Australians and New Zealanders. If you don’t know much about this, let me tell you how it rolls. Aussies think that New Zealanders (or Kiwis) commune with sheep. Kiwis think that Aussies are loud, arrogant and flashy. Aussies think they are far better at sport than Kiwis; but do concede that the All Blacks are pretty good. Aussies make fun of the Kiwi accent but it’s vice versa on this. Kiwis say they dislike the broad Australian twang.

The two nations have battled over pavlova and movie actors. Russell Crowe, for example, was actually born in New Zealand but is recognised as an Aussie actor. There’s a very funny TV promo on at the moment for The Amazing Race: Australia versus New Zealand. Watch it below and you’ll hear some of the rivalry coming out.

When I spotted a sign at a supermarket up in the North Island, I wondered if Australian was intentionally misspelt as a dig at Australians. Probably not, given the appalling spelling skills of people these days. But, you never know!

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What the heck is happening people? You might have been wondering where I disappeared to. Well, we’ve been dealing with devastation for the last five days and I’ve had NO time at all to blog and check in with you. Last Monday morning, around 4.12am to be precise, we were woken by howling winds. And I mean howling with a capital H.

The house was shaking and windows were rattling. Only a few weeks ago, we were hit with violent winds. No trees came down but we were kept up all night by the roaring noise as the winds thrashed the trees. But this latest round was far worse and the high winds were clocked at 130km/h. We lost twelve trees and we’re talking massive trees.

Here’s the problem  – the trees that crashed down were eucalyptus and willow. Not native species. These trees don’t put down strong, deep roots. And because we’ve also just been hit with snow and rain, this has further weakened the root systems. The previous owners of the property planted a heck of a lot of eucalyptus and willow rather than native species.

Throughout the day, the winds kept howling and all we could do was watch the trees crash down. It was truly frightening and frankly I thought I was caught in a hurricane. Well, actually: according to the Beaufort Scale, I was in a Category 12 Hurricane Force storm. Yeah, don’t need a scale to tell me this. Our outdoor furniture was flying about in the wind, the pet beds disappeared into our stream, hay was flung about and the massive trees crashing down took out a number of electric fences. We lost power for around one hour but were lucky on this count. Friends of ours didn’t have power for over one week during the last high winds because they badly affected local power lines. And during that little breeze that hit the Canterbury region, whole forests of pine trees were flattened.

El Hubs and I huddled in the bed as the winds swirled around the house. We did expect the large plate glass window in the living room to get blown in but it withstood the onslaught. Zeph and Zsa Zsa were safely tucked up in their crates, which are positioned in an alcove – so if a window in the room blew in, they would be out of harm’s way. They seemed to be a little scared but we thought it best to leave them in their crates, which we also covered with a blanket.

When light revealed the devastation, I didn’t let Zeph or Zsa Zsa outside because I was too scared a tree might fall on them. I rushed them out to do their business and rushed them back inside. They were pretty scared, looking around at the leaves and branches flinging around them. By the end of Monday, things had returned to normal and we were left with a property that looked like a bomb had hit it.

We’ve spent the last four days clearing the branches and small trees but we had to bring in a tree man – a dude with a huge chainsaw and tractor that pulls out the tree stumps.

Locals are saying that two strong episodes of winds so close to each other is a tad unusual. They keep talking about 1975 and the strong winds then. That’s the thing around here: everyone remembers the quake of such and such year; or the strong winds of 1975; or the dreadful snowstorm of 1995.

Frankly, we’re a bit over the weather here. If it’s not winds, it’s snow or rain or quakes. We have considered a move back to Australia but we really like New Zealand and I don’t want to return to high temperatures during Summer. Have you heard about the devastating bushfires and ferocious wind conditions in Sydney? The Sydney Morning Herald is calling them the worst bushfires in a decade.

This is one thing I don’t miss about living in Oz. Every Summer, I would worry about the possibility of a bushfire near our home, which backed onto a very large nature reserve full of eucalyptus trees. When I was growing up in Sydney, controlled burning by the fire brigade was a common occurrence during cooler months and helped to reduce fuel buildup from trees and vegetation. I well remember environmental groups arguing that controlled burning threatens native flora and fauna.

So you have the situation now where many forests and nature reserves around Sydney, and in other parts of New South Wales, have large tracts of trees and vegetation that have not experienced controlled burning, which could potentially reduce the intensity of a bushfire. An article I was reading recently suggests that environmentalist polices have led to uncleared bushland being “lethal infernos” – and read about the chap who ignored Local Council laws and cleared 250 trees from his private property to create a fire break next to his home. When bushfires roared through his town in February 2009, this chap’s home was the only one left standing.

It’s a contentious issue I guess. But I lived in Australia for decades before moving to NZ and I don’t recall such devastating fires as Sydney and NSW have experienced in recent years. I’m thinking the hurricane winds of NZ might be preferable!

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A large willow uprooted.

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The next day, Zeph inspects a large fallen Eucalyptus.

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A number of willow trees down.

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Zeph and Zsa Zsa inspect the MASSIVE root system of a fallen Eucalyptus tree.

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Zsa Zsa used to bury her bones around this willow tree.

I was born and raised in Sydney, Australia. Although I live in New Zealand now, I consider Sydney home and I still consider myself an Aussie. As Peter Allen sang: I still call Australia home. So I was REALLY looking forward to my lightning visit to this gorgeous city on our way through to South Africa.

We needed to drop into St George bank and whipped into the branch on the corner of Pitt and Market streets. We had literally just landed and hopped onto a train to Town Hall, rushed down Market Street to the branch and rushed inside. To be met with…..

Firstly, let me say in ALL my years of living in Sydney (which is considerable since I’m incredibly old) I have never really witnessed any violence. Okay a few drunk idiots outside the George Street cinemas many years ago who were throwing empty beer cans around. But nothing like witnessing a robbery or brawl. So it came as a huge surprise to us that we witnessed a dust-up in the St George Bank – a bank let me remind you. Hardly an exciting place for a brawl.

Here’s what happened. We were at a teller’s counter when we started to hear loud conversation going on behind us on the opposite side. The voices rose and I heard a man call someone a bastard and saying something about you have my money. I glanced around to see a scruffy 30-something individual take a flying leap and land on a Chinese man. A younger Chinese man was standing around looking helpless.

Time froze as they say. Everyone in the bank was doing that 30 second slow-motion thing – what the heck is going on? Then several burly men ran to the altercation, which turned out to be taking place in a glass-walled office. This branch is that open plan type bank – the one that makes me feel like I’m at a delicatessen or RTA. You know: take a number depending on your enquiry; sit down and watch until your number appears on the electronic screen; then go to the nominated counter. All rather impersonal and clinical.

Anyway. Turns out the older Chinese man was the bank manager and I saw him literally sitting on this man who was clearly very upset, disturbed, high on drugs. Take your pick. He was screaming abuse and the bank manager’s arm had been hurt due to his being flung up against a wall.

The hilarious thing is that the bank teller we had been talking to continued on as though nothing was happening. Behind him, controlled panic was happening. People ringing the police; customers wondering how safe it was to remain inside the bank; other bank staff rushing to help the bank manager and trying to restrain a fairly strong individual.

Customers then started talking to each other, trying to make sense of the situation and wondering when the police would arrive. Suddenly, about five police officers burst into the bank armed with guns and handcuffs. They pounced on the guy pinned to the floor. By this stage, I think he had three men sitting on him. The police pulled him up, handcuffed him and marched his ass out of the bank. I seem to recall the guy saying something like oh, here we go again. Guess he was a familiar face to the police.

El Hubs and I took ourselves off to Westfield in Pitt Street Mall and a stiff cup of coffee at Coco Noir. Later that day, we needed to return to the bank to inform them of the dates we’d be overseas – in the scuffle, we had forgotten to do this earlier. The staff member who ushered us into his cubicle area was the younger Chinese man who had been involved in the incident. He told us that the chap had been very upset (no kidding!) about his pension money not being available to him. The bank manager had to inform him that the bank could not help; that he would need to speak with the government department responsible (is that FACS, DOCS? what do they call themselves these days?). Apparently, this led to the explosion we witnessed.

I must say it rattled us both and El Hubs muttered that it was a good thing we were now out of Sydney as it was clearly becoming a violent place (a little bit of an overstatement me thinks!). But the staff member said that it was indeed getting somewhat violent in Sydney these days. I spent the rest of the day wondering about this. It’s possible that the level of drug and alcohol intake has risen but hey, you ought to check out New Zealand if you want to talk about high-levels of drug and alcohol consumption.

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I couldn’t get close enough for a decent photo but you can see the police outside St George bank; along with some passers-by wondering what’s going on.

The astute reader will have figured out already that I’ve been silent on this blog for over two weeks. Mon dieu!  Where have I been? What have I been doing? Kidnapped by aliens?

No. I spent April in South Africa. El Hubs’ mother and sister live in Johannesburg, along with assorted nieces and nephews. So we paid them a visit. Lots of posts soon on our various adventures.

We stopped off in Sydney for a few hours on the way to J’Burg and took a train into the city. My heart fluttered when I saw the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge. Sydney hasn’t changed that much I was somewhat relieved to see. The Pitt Street Mall shopping area has certainly had a face-lift but Sydney is still Sydney to me.

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Stopping at Circular Quay train station – the spectacular sight of the Harbour Bridge.

 

We had friends over for dinner last weekend and they were kind enough to give me a huge bunch of gorgeous flowers. Just check out the vivid colours!

I popped them up against a painting showing an Australian landscape. I love this painting because it reminds me of the colours of Australia. So for today’s post, let’s enjoy the vibrancy of Nature.

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I’ve told you about Fritz before. She’s my second mother basically. My great mate emailed me the other day and mentioned that Fritz brought her home a take-away coffee from her favourite cafe. And what was written on the lid of the styrofoam cup? My name: Kim. Clearly, Fritz has not read my post on identity theft 🙂

In the post last week was a letter addressed to me and, when I opened it up, there was a wonderful handmade New Year’s greeting from Fritz (who’s real name is Rita – since you’ll see it in the photo below). She decorated the black paper with a heart and star, a gold figure (I think it’s an angel) and wrote her greeting in silver and gold pen.

I had to do a double-check myself though. I initially thought the flag was the New Zealand flag. I’m still getting used to the difference between the Kiwi and Oz flag. They are quite similar but the New Zealand flag has four red stars with white borders, representing the Southern Cross.

Whilst the Australian flag has five white stars arranged to represent the Southern Cross. Four of these stars have seven points and the small one has five points. The large white star beneath the Union Flag is the Commonwealth Star – a seven-pointed star symbolising the Federation of Australia, which came into existence on January 1, 1901.

There is a variant for both flags and I quite like them with the red background.

I’m sure I sound very knowledgeable about flags but a quick search of Wikipedia confirmed what I thought were the major differences. Fritz doesn’t believe we’ll remain in New Zealand. She’s said many times that she thinks we’ll give up the ghost and return to Sydney.

So I’m not sure if she is being cunning by sticking the Oz flag on her greeting card or whether she thinks the Oz and NZ flag are one and the same. After all, there is a recurrent joke in Australia about how NZ is or should be the seventh State of Australia.

For my American readers who might want to know a bit more about Oz: there are five States on the mainland being New South Wales; Victoria; Queensland; South Australia and Western Australia. And there is one island State – Tasmania. There are two mainland territories: the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and the Northern Territory. Both are self-governing whilst the States are administered by the Federal Government. There is also the Jervis Bay Territory but this is counted as part of the ACT.

As far as I remember from my school days, the external territories are Australian Antarctic Territory, Ashmore and Cartier Islands, Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Coral Sea Islands. There might be more; must look this up. I must also find out more about New Zealand and its dependencies. I know that a small island in the South Pacific, Niue, is an NZ dependency, as well as the Cook Islands and Tokelau.

From Fritz, with love.

One year ago, May 5 2010, I left Australia, where I’d lived all my life, bound for my new home (and the birthplace of my entire family) – New Zealand. Specifically, the South Island and a town called Oxford. No doubt you’re wondering: why the hell Oxford? Good question. It wasn’t a well-thought out plan; I’ll admit that. Hubby and I tend to do things by intuition, whatever feels right.

We decided to leave Australia for a number of reasons but mainly because we feel Oz will be the canary in the coalmine when it comes to climate change. We wanted to move somewhere that had higher rainfall and a tradition of living off the land. After looking at over 40 places around Christchurch (including the Cashmere Hills area, which I love) and sussing out areas like Rangiora, Ohoka, Lincoln, Tai Tapu and Cust – we decided that the last property we visited (in Oxford) was the one. Well, hubby decided that; I preferred a place in Amberley or would have liked to settle in Cust – but I did agree that the Oxford property had more potential to get us into the position of living sustainably.

So…what do I think after one year of living in New Zealand and are we doing the sustainable thing? One year? WTF?! Firstly, I do prefer NZ to Australia for a number of reasons: cooler climate; four distinct seasons; smaller scale and population; more space; the Kiwi spirit (which isn’t that different from the Oz spirit really). So I wouldn’t rush to move back to Oz. But what do I think of Oxford? (Note: my comments below are confined to my South Island experience).

Really, it’s only now that I’m starting to think Oxford isn’t all that bad. I haven’t liked it up to now really. Without a doubt, there are some weird, whacky people here. We’ve met several who have buried food in the hills surrounding Oxford – because they believe society will collapse and they’ll be ready to defend themselves and their food. Ah, should this indeed be the future scenario, then maybe they’re not that paranoid.

I’ve been told by many people that 10 years ago or so, Oxford was the place where the hippies came; and the single mums on the benefit (as the dole is called here); the dropouts and the drifters; not to mention the alternative or intentional communities. You can still find these sorts here but mostly Oxfordians tell me that once Jo Seager moved to Oxford in 2006, things started to blossom. Tourists began dropping into Seagers and the Sunday Farmers’ Markets. There’s talk that Oxford will start to expand, not only because of Oxford being more on the map now, but also people fleeing earthquake-stricken Christchurch are looking for new places to live. Last week, we met a Christchurch couple in a local shop who were scouting Oxford as a possibility.

I’ve said this in previous posts – rural New Zealanders (well, those around here anyway) are not always welcoming of “foreigners” and some have frankly been downright mean-spirited. Because you are trying to fit in, your true personality doesn’t always show through. You suppress what you’d really like to say in the hope of building relationships. So we’ve perhaps put up with more than we should have here, rather than smacking a few people in the chops or telling them to go take a flying leap.

Many people around here have never left New Zealand but consider the South Island to be “God’s Country”. Not really going to argue with this as the South Island is visually gorgeous but hey, so are parts of Oz. But this attitude is prevalent here – people who have never travelled or who have minimal education are extremely opinionated and not all that open to having a discussion on things. It’s their way or the highway. I’ve encountered people too who think they are seriously hard workers but, in reality, would not last two nanoseconds in any organisation I’ve worked in. But we are now starting to meet some really lovely people and I’m doing voluntary work in the community, which is getting me out and about.

As far as our dream of living sustainably goes – we’re getting there slowly but surely. We now have a pretty decent vege patch, although not the final version of it. We have a rooster and chooks (I’ll do a post soon), so we now have eggs. A farmer supplies us with milk and has given us a goat, cows and sheep (in return for allowing his animals to graze with us). I make our bread and whip up batches of jam, quince jelly and chutneys. We are now looking into how to generate our own power. So it’s really taken a year just to get used to things and find our way.

For my NZ readers, I will say one thing. I can’t help myself.  STOP comparing yourself to Oz and stop whingeing about how Aussie salaries are better. Yeah, that’s true but the cost of living there is also higher so any salary increase is swallowed up fast. And Oz has 22 million people; NZ 4.4 million. So you really can’t compete at the same level. What New Zealand should focus on is how it can compete on the world stage in its own right. There’s plenty of talent and ingenuity here to do that. There’s even a Kiwi-phrase for this – the Number 8 wire mentality, meaning if there’s a problem to be solved, Kiwi ingenuity will find a way to solve it.

NZ might have to go through the transition that Oz did back in the 1990s – give more power to business. The legal protection that employees have here, IMHO, can lead to a lazy attitude. On April 1 2011, amendments to the Employment Relations Act 2000 came into effect and allow employers the option of employing new employees on a 90 day trial period. Unions are up in arms about this (the power of the Unions here surprises me; very Australia circa 1970s).

I went through this shakeup in the 1990s in Oz. Don’t remember the exact time but, suddenly, employees were faced with a three month probationary period. If you were a slacko or useless, you were invited to look for another job. If you were pretty darn good, you were permanently employed. Personally, I think this contributed to making Australia the country it is now – it meant that you had to knuckle down and do your job very well. You had to work hard because if you didn’t, you were booted out and someone else took your job. It meant you had to be a cut above your competitor employees. It encouraged innovation, creativity and a very competitive employee marketplace.

I think New Zealand needs a dose of this to wake up some employees from the stupor they appear to be in. I’ve dealt with quite a few people in my consulting business who, frankly, need a swift quick up the (insert word). They need to return calls fast (not days later); answer emails; be more helpful and proactive; go above and beyond what is asked of them or what their job description may say.

But for every slacker I’ve met; I’ve also met some amazingly friendly and professional Kiwis. So I’m not sure if what I’m observing and commenting on is rural NZ per se or I’ve had the misfortune to meet up with a select few who don’t know how to be professional or cooperative.

Whilst living in Oz, I used to come to NZ regularly to speak at conferences and do some consulting work – but that was always in Wellington or Auckland. So maybe it’s a South Island thing?

Hey, I guess it’s all a part of figuring out how things work and how rural New Zealanders think. An English friend said to me recently that rural New Zealanders are only thinking about how to rip off the “foreigner, the outsider”. I think there’s an element of truth in this but I also think that there are many rural people who don’t for one moment think this way.

We did think of moving out of Oxford to maybe Cust or even going to the North Island but have decided to stay here and do our thing. Stay tuned to see what I think one year from now 🙂

Frost on a cold Oxford morning. But the days can be beautiful and full of sunshine.

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