The Big Issue : Edition 469
WHEN I WAS eight years old my most treasured possession was a green- and-gold tracksuit. It wasn’t official Australian sports-team merchandise, but there was no mistaking the sentiment; no mistaking the colours. There was also no mistaking the only kid standing proudly for his class photo, in Wellington, New Zealand, unfathomably wearing Australian- themed tracky dacks. My parents had decided to put an ocean between themselves. Having neatly divided my parents either side of the Tasman, I set about neatly dividing my nationalistic loyalties. Australia seemed like a glistening, golden paradise when viewed through rain- tinted glasses in the shaky, southern isles. It was perfect for an eight-year-old looking to establish his brand. I was at pains to present myself as the ‘Aussie’ kid, or at very least the kid who had travelled the globe, seen exotic lands and gained worldly knowledge that would render me both unrivalled in intelligence and masterful in at least 85% of all known cricket shots. Best of all, I got to fly to Australia in a huge Boeing 747 – a contraption belonging to a society of true technological advancement and unquestionable superiority. In truth, the total extent of my global exploration ranged from south Sydney to somewhere just shy of Nowra (about 150km down the coast), with a possible scenic tour of the Panthers Leagues Club thrown in for good measure. It took me a while to realise that my fellow Kiwis didn’t always share my awe of all things Australian. Yes, in the 1980s Australia was still an oddity: it was hot, sunny, but alas, full of Australians. These people spoke with a shrill accent, harvested uranium rather than kumara (a type of sweet potato), welcomed nuclear-powered warships into their waters and (worst of all) delivered the underarm ball at the MCG in 1981, setting off trans-Tasman sport’s most enduring and tedious sore point. I eventually became victim of good- natured teasing because of my overt Aussieness – no doubt richly deserved. To make matters worse, when visiting Australia during school holidays I would be coerced into renditions of the haka and be made to count aloud to 10, provoking shrill screams of laughter when I got to six. Meanwhile, back in NZ, I was jeered as the ‘Dirty Aussie’ as soon as I was deemed old enough to handle the ribbing. It seemed I couldn’t fit in anywhere. But that was okay, for I was the most unpatriotic kid to ever split allegiances. I loved rugby, but hated the All Blacks; was born (and had my Australian base) in the Illawarra, but was obsessed with the Brisbane Broncos; lived in Wellington, but dreamed of playing for Auckland. In short, I was a seriously weird kid. Guilt, along with adulthood, can do wonders for stimulating irrational pride. When I was 23 I moved to Australia to live for ‘good’, and all of a sudden my heart swelled with a burning desire for the New Zealand cricket team to beat the Aussies. I felt more Kiwi than I ever had when living in NZ. Packing the rucksack to embark on the long and hazardous journey across the Tasman was an exercise in pragmatism: my heart belonged with the people and the mountains of NZ, but a solid pay cheque beckoned in Australia. It’s a familiar story for the thousands of Kiwis who have headed west. But wait! News comes via a media- friendly soundbite that New Zealand’s economy has graduated from ‘basket case’ to ‘rock star’, mostly due to a Hindu-like worshipping of the cow. The cows’ value may have peaked and their extravagant pissing may have stuffed up New Zealand’s famously pristine rivers, but this was a small price to pay for a booming dairy industry. Also, NZ has just re-elected conservative pin-up dag, John Key, as Prime Minister. It’s a mark of Kiwi irreverence that it would nickname an MP ‘Donkey’, and even more so that it would continually elect said ass as PM. Could it be the catalyst for a mass homecoming of deserters? One would bloody well hope so. Deep down, no Kiwi wants to be called an Aussie. It’s nothing against Australians, I swear. It’s just that NZ has its own special place in the world and having the good luck to be part of that small, far-flung and bizarre tribe is a true privilege. Sadly, I’ve outgrown the tracky dacks. » For more Ricky French, see page 12. Kiwi or Aussie? AS A MEMBER OF THE KIWI DIASPORA, WITH LINKS TO BOTH NATIONS, RICKY FRENCH IS WELL PLACED TO BRIDGE THE AUSTRALIA–NZ DIVIDE.