Aotearoa / Noo Zilland
(This story originally appeared in The Lifted Brow, issue 6.)
So the story goes that Maui fished up the North Island from the edge of his giant Waka, nowadays known as the South Island. And that’s why Aotearoa has two islands. This guy Maui pulled all sorts of crazy missions—ambushed the Sun and hacked up its face with a magic jawbone to teach it a lesson; tied it to the ground with magic flax ropes to make it go slower. So people could work longer, and that’s why New Zealand doesn’t have proper summers, and why my mum’s so stressed out.
But there’s this other story, about some guy who apparently “discovered” Aotearoa. His name was Captain James …Kupe, and he was from Hawaiiki, which sounds heaps like Hawaii, but scientists reckon the crew that settled Hawaii originally came from Melapotamia, and no one knows where that is.
The scientists found a couple of old American-style chicken skeletons on the East Coast. So they think the Maori came over the Pacific in their big-arse Waka, all the way from Chile, and when they arrived they saw these three-and-a-half metre tall birds called Moas stomping around, these huge fat things with stumpy little wings, all friendly and flightless and finger lickin good. So, Kupe took one look at his scrawny pet chickens and roasted em all that night, and after that everyone pigged out on ten-foot drumsticks.
And that’s why there are no Haast eagles left. Haast eagles were so big they ate Moas, their wings were like seven metres wide—no shit.And now, no Moas, and no Haast eagles.
Before the Pakeha came, there was Ngai Tahu and Ngati Arawa and Ngati Whatuwa and lots more—lots of different iwi, lots of trading, lots of fights. Some slaves, maybe even a bit of cannibalism. (People argue about this.) Anyway, when the Pakeha—my great-great-grandparents—came, Ngati Arawa and Ngai Tahu and all the others became ... Maori. This means “the same”, or “ordinary”. Pakeha means “different” or “other”. Some people think it means “white pig”, but, it doesn’t really.
So, one day all these white pigs turned up. But it wasn’t like in Aussie, where the Aboriginal crew had been there so long they’d forgotten about sailing, and seeing the huge white sails bursting over the horizon like a poltergeist—dudes running inland and drawing pictures of bone-white Death Boats all the way to Uluru ... when the Pakeha turned up in Aotearoa, the Maori knew what the deal was, kinda. They’d only just got there themselves, eight or nine hundred years earlier, dudes could still trace their family histories back to which Waka they arrived on.
So when Captain Cook turned up, the Maori were suss. Te Rauparaha traded a chunk of his land for a bunch of muskets straight off, then headed south to massacre all his enemies and scam ten times as much land as what he’d just traded. That was pretty sweet. But after that, things get tricky with the Treaty. Not everyone signed it, and not always the right people. Plus there was abit of a stuff-up with thetranslation—“tino rangatiratanga”, or custodianship, goes in the English version as “get off my land”. Whoops. People still argue about this one. But there were proper Land Wars in Aoteaora, not like in North or South America or Australia, where there were just great lopsided massacres. The Maori lost, eventually, but it took a couple of decades. My great-great-grandparents really had to work for it. And enough Maori survived that, well, that some of their stories survived with them.
Enough that you learn about it in school, learn about Maui and Kupe, learn how to count to tekau, and to not sit on tables cos it’s tapu, little things like that. Enough to be proud of the culture, even if it’s not yours. Enough that honky kids like me can fantasise that maybe their dad’s mum’s dad’s mum’s grandpa might’ve been raped by a dashing warrior princess—which means I might be part Xena and part Maori too bro!
And like I said, there are some choice stories. Like back in the day, there was this bizarre love triangle between Mt Ruapehu, Mt Taranaki, and Mt Ngaurahoe. Taranaki got rejected, so he stormed off two hundred kilometres west, gouging a scar through the heart of the country, until he reached the Tasman sea and had a sook. Sad guy.
Or this one: back in the day, Lake Taupo was actually Mount Taupo, and when it erupted, they knew about it all around the world, they wrote about it in China and Greece and Rome. It makes you proud, stuff like that. Like, I went to high school with Bret and Jemaine from Flight of the Conchords. I even saw their first show, "So Now You’re a Man", before they sold out. They were in Year Eleven. One time Bret even gave me a detention for having incorrect school uniform. Well, his mate did. And—look at us now!
Aotearoa is a little place, far away from everything, on the edge of the world—but every now and then we do something cool, and people round the world sit up and take notice. Even if they don’t know why the sky is burning. Or why Bret’s so funny.
2. If it’s so ixcellent, why do you all come to Melbourne?
I was back in New Zealand last “summer”, passing through. It was raining. A Turkish kebab shop owner in Invercargill had refused to serve an Israeli woman, out of solidarity for the Palestinians. This was front page news for three weeks in the Southland Times. When I was in “Inver-vegas”, as no one calls it, I asked a couple of passersby what they thought about the Falafel Fatwa.
“You’ll have to speak up dear,” one lady said.
“What do I think? Send em back to Turkey!” said a bloke.
Great, I thought. Fight intolerance with intolerance, you bigoted hick fuck.
That was the highlight of my holiday.
I left NZ eight and a half years ago. It was “too small” then, and it sure hasn’t gotten any bigger since. I couldn’t wait to leave the place. All my friends were just sitting round smoking weed all day, talking shit about how famous they were going to become. Some of them are famous now—World Famous in New Zealand. Like, they’ve been on Shortland Street for six years. Or pashed Bic Runga’s sister. Or said something embarrassing to Bret when they were drunk at a mate’s wedding. But I had to get out. I needed to see the world ... and I made it as far as Brunswick.
Nothing much happens in NZ, it’s true. This makes it a great place to grow up, and a great place to have kids—but if you want to do anything with your life, or get ecstasy for less than ninety bucks a pop, you’ve gotta get out before you catch babies. The tick of New Zealand’s biological clock is deafening. How are you meant to get any work done, with all those babies lying around everywhere?
These days, when I’m back to New Zealand, randoms ask me if I’m from Sydney or Melbourne. I say I’m from Wullignton eh bro, making an iffort to shuft my iccent. Last time I was back, my sister’s boyfriend’s mate called me a “fucking Aussie”. That was fucking weird. But when I get back to Melbourne, I feel like I’m coming home. And that’s weird too. Cos while NZ is heaps better than Aussie in lots of ways... it’s not better enough.
And I love Australia. It’s a much more sexist country, which means the girls are friendlier, sluttier, not as terrifying. New Zealand women are FULL ON. Ask any Kiwi guy living in Melbourne and avoiding his ex. I heard the other day, New Zealand had an earthquake and shuffled seventy-five centimetres closer to Australia. Shit, maybe that was my ex! Maybe I should move to West Brunswick.
Will I ever go back there? Yes—for the weekend. For twenty-firsts, thirtieths, weddings, funerals—and to check on the breeders. And any time I feel like a winter holiday in January. But in 2013, when the Murray-Darling basin dries up completely, and agriculture in South Australia and Victoria collapses in a dusty heap, I might think twice about the green green grass of Inver-vegas. Or I might move to Darwin, to write headlines for the NT News.
SALTWATER CROC EATS FRESHWATER CROC, or ISRAELI DOESN’T EAT KEBAB?
It’s too close to call.