Naked In Nuhaka: God Defend Australia
This is Naked in Nuhaka, a column on the topic of identity and culture in Aotearoa New Zealand (NZ) in the 21st century. This week’s recommended audio accompaniment: Moby 18.
Leo Koziol Nuhaka, Aotearoa NZ 18.10.2001 http://www.nuhaka.com/oshie/
Naked In Nuhaka 6: God Defend Australia
When I was a young boy, living here in Nuhaka in the 1970s, I remember long hot summer days where an odd dry twitch would permeate the air. The cicadas would sing, and we’d laze around bathed in the warm golden glow of fading summer evenings. Then we’d retire indoors to the blue glow of our two TV channels: Channel One, and Channel Two. Simpler choices for simpler times. Goodnight Kiwi at midnight, test patterns at dawn.
On a couple of occasions, usually one of those queer summer days, I recall fiddling around with our TV in youthful curiosity. Just as boredom was about to set in, I’d receive a strange ghostly black and white signal that was unmistakably from foreign shores. It was Australian TV!
Through some weird meteorological bounce-back, signals from broadcast antennas in far off sunburned New South Wales had floated their way over to our Land of the Long White Cloud. Here, in remote far off NZ, I sat there in childish glee watching this window into another world. Blurred pictures of Australian announcers with the latest news from Sydney! TV ads I’d never seen before! I was fascinated and the window was magical to me. And, like all magic, it was temporary. I’d watch the signal for maybe a minute or two, and then it would disappear; as quickly as it had arrived.
Today, living here in Nuhaka, my viewing choices are no longer so simple; and neither are the times. I’ve inherited a satellite dish atop the house I’m staying in, and a couple of months back I got it switched on. I delighted once again at these windows to other worlds, and this time the magic was non-stop.
I watch British BBC, American CNN, and numerous Australian TV channels: Prime television (Australia’s Channel 9 in cheap Kiwi drag), TVSN (Australia’s very own shopping channel), Australia Discovery, Australia Nickelodeon, Australia Animal Planet, and Sky News – Australia’s very own 24-hour news channel.
It’s interesting making comparisons between Australian and NZ TV news services.
Living in NZ, even the most urgent of news is muted in its reception. Even the much-covered Baby Kahu kidnapping case -- which was announced as being solved early one morning -- was not broadcast upon our screens until the noon news (I sat there bored to tears that weekday morning waiting for it to come on!). By comparison, Australia’s Sky News provides our western neighbour with an almost American sense of 24-hour incessant news coverage urgency. If something is happening in Australia that’s important to Australians, it is to be seen Live on Australia Sky News.
Mostly the content on Sky News seems to be terribly stretched out filler, be it resignations from unknown third-party Senators, or unlikely affairs between members from opposing political parties. This week the content on Sky News was no longer like that. This week, I’ve sat engrossed evening after evening watching Australia’s great tragedy, it’s very own September 11th. The October 12th Bali Bombing.
My big brother lives in Perth, Australia. He has lots of Aussie friends, and lots of friends who, like him, are Maori immigrants from NZ. We chat often about the constant ribbing between Aussies and Kiwis. He jokes to me about the Australian beer ads that poke fun at the Kiwi accent, and I joke back about our Kiwi ads that do the same for Aussies. The ribbing is not limited to advertisements, and it’s often quite no-holds-barred in its savagery. But, its always a friendly cruelty; something to slough off with our Aussie mates over a couple of beers, as we joke and laugh pointing out our differences while secretly knowing just how similar we are.
Coming back to New Zealand last year after five years overseas, I’ve made a curious hobby learning about all the cultural, economic, and sporting clashes between us and our Aussie neighbours. Like the mess over the Ansett bankruptcy and the ground strike when PM Helen Clark tried to leave an Australian airport. Or the equally messy situation over hosting rights for next year’s Rugby World Cup (made even worse through a Kiwi MP inappropriately threatening Heineken bottles up uncomfortable parts of a Sydney rugby chief).
The above are all taken quite seriously by our media, and for some issues, I agree arguably so. I’d say the most humorous incident was when an Aussie accounts clerk wrote an anonymous letter to the Sydney Morning Herald accusing NZers of being like the characters in our most famous of films: Hobbits. Dull, fernickity, busybodying, navel-gazing homebodies. One news item I saw was an interview with the NZ Consul-General in Sydney where she stated the ribbing to be of most serious concern to her. Indeed, “It is racist!”, she said. But I just sat there and smiled, because I knew once again, like two brotherly chums, it was all about Aussies and Kiwis showing how much they love each other through friendly insults and cruel inferences such as these.
I think of my brother now, and I think of how he must going through exactly what I went through over a year ago in the United States.
One of the American cultural artifacts I’ve brought with me to NZ shores is a copy of Entertainment Weekly titled “What Lies Ahead: The Challenge to Our Culture.” The issue is dated September 28, 2001. It’s a fascinating read, though it seems somewhat dated on review one year later. But I still think that its those deeper cultural shifts that are really the most profound impacts of such tragic and evil events as September 11th and October 12th.
Here’s my thoughts on a challenge to our culture.
Last December, in a stopover in Fiji, I ended up in a hostel full of “Backpacker Rats.” They were mostly ignorant of the civil turmoil of their host nation, there just to party and to “drop out”. Though they were mostly annoying in their faux poverty, chain-smoking, and “woe is me” lack of direction, through some kind of weird vicarious fascination I grew increasingly fond of them.
These backpacker rats were Me, or at least the Me I fantasised about being on each of my eight days and nights in Fiji. They were free, and they were on their way to the beaches of Legian, Goa, and Kuta Bali. They read "The Beach"; body pierced their tongues, nipples, and bellybuttons; tattooed themselves with Polynesian Pacific patterns; bunjy jumped in Auckland; and dropped cheap party drugs on the beaches of island resorts to the sounds of Moby at sunset. And all their mates -- just like me -- were vicariously living freedom through them, whenever they sent (regular and descriptive) e-texts and hotmails back home.
They were the innocent kids in Bali that night just out for a bit of fun in the tropics. They were from Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and a dozen other countries around the world. And on nights like October 12th -- setting out for a bit of innocent frivolity -- they gathered together, got along, became one, and were free.
On October 12th, the freedoms of a generation brought up with MTV, AIDS, and AOL were torn asunder. The party ended, and we all lost something as a consequence.
Only recently have I begun to fully fathom the full impacts of September 11, 2001. An engrossing documentary by two witnesses to the twin towers collapse -- the two French brothers -- played on NZ screens on September 11 2002 (some six months after it played in the US). It was riveting and it was deeply upsetting, and I found myself uncontrollably sobbing in some kind of post-traumatic stress disorder halfway through the show. And I remembered how my roommate, who’d lived half his life in NY City, sobbed similarly uncontrollably beside me on the day of September 11, in San Francisco, on a warm late summer’s morning.
I feel what has happened to Australia will be as resonant to me, though in different ways.
I feel aroha for my big brother over the pond in Perth as I do for everyone in the Kiwi “big brother” of Australia. The government in Australia has designated this Sunday October 20th as a National Day of Mourning for the over two hundred Australian lives lost and the equal amount brutally injured. I encourage Kiwis to take time out on the day to honour both our Australian friends and those from New Zealand and elsewhere killed or injured by this tragedy.
I think, and hope, that the events of October 12th will bring Australians and New Zealanders closer together. Our differences seem so much more insignificant in the face of global terrorism. But I do hope that we keep hold of our sense of freedom, things like the compulsory “OE” free-spiritedness of our young people. Things like the constant brotherly ribbing between Australia and New Zealand. We’re all hurt by this week’s tragedy, but it’s our big brother Australia who’s been really badly knocked, who’s taken a bloody unfair bludgeon to the head.
This Sunday: God Defend Australia.
“Our Own Sept. 11”; Australia In State Of Shock http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,65697,00.html
One Day In America, By Leo Koziol http://www.scoop.co.nz/mason/stories/HL0109/S00112.htm
>From Salon: A recent special issue of Entertainment Weekly titled "What Lies Ahead: The Challenge to Our Culture" speculates... http://archive.salon.com/ent/movies/feature/2001/10/04/wtc_movies/
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