June 29th, 2008

New Zealand

Six months in a leaky boat

Today is one of those days that for a long time seemed very far in the future, and I thought and hoped it would never come. However, here it is. As of today, I have lived precisely half of my life in New Zealand and half in Australia. From tomorrow, the count will be going in the wrong direction, i.e. my time in New Zealand will be in the minority.

I'm a bit more at ease with this now that I live in Melbourne. I unashamedly love Melbourne and of all the cities I have ever visited, it is my favourite. Even ahead of my native Wellington. I cannot think of any other city on earth that I would want to live in; none offer me the same benefits Melbourne does. However, what is a real shame is that I wasted over nine years in Queensland before moving down here - which I emphasise was hardly my choice, since I was ten when my mother and I came to Australia and I left that godawful state the first moment I reasonably could!

Let's be honest here. The Gold Coast is one of the most vapid, shallow, materialistic, and fake cities on the planet. It is the very definition of poor town planning; it is just a bunch of similarly tacky seaside resort towns that grew wildly beyond their limits, blurred together, and now have misplaced pretensions of being some sort of city. Its entire existence is based on bimbos on beaches and retirees fleeing cold winters. If the entire place fell into the sea, Australia's average IQ would go up. In case it's not clear, I don't like the Gold Coast. Brisbane is little better; after all, part of the reason the Gold Coast is able to thrive is due to vapid, shallow, materialistic, fake Brisbanites going there every weekend to wallow on rather unremarkable, overcrowded beaches and get sunburnt. Put mildly, the state is not a beacon of enlightenment, intellect, or knowledge. And its climate is dreadful unless you like to sweat all the time and have a deep, visceral disgust for winter's existence.

I sometimes reflect on how big a change it was to leave New Zealand. I come from a little seaside town on the fringe of Greater Wellington, on the outer limit of the commuter railway network and on the border where furthest suburbs become country communities surrounded by farms. Of course, it's not like that any more; in the time I've been gone, the place has doubled in size or something like that and looks nothing like I remember it. It is truly outer suburbia, a kind of satellite of Wellington. But the town of my earliest years was a quieter place, with one set of traffic lights and two roundabouts and that seemed thoroughly bustling. A proposal to build a road that would have put a set of traffic lights between my home and my school was seen by my mother as an awful proposal, something that would split the town in two. Then I came to Australia and, if I remember correctly, my commute to high school meant passing through seven sets of lights. Life completely changed. I often wonder what happened to all the people I left behind, to friends with whom I very quickly lost contact. In many ways, a lot of opportunities opened up to me. The National government of the mid-nineties in New Zealand was not kind to single mothers like mine, while in Australia, we could enjoy something of a higher standard of living. Although I didn't realise it at the time, for a couple of years there before we left New Zealand, we were probably living below the poverty line. Certainly if I were in New Zealand, I would not be at one of the top twenty universities in the world, or even one of the top fifty.

But at the end of the day, New Zealand is the country I love. Australia is my country of convenient residence, and for all my anti-Australia bluster surrounding sport, I feel a genuine affection for the place. It's kind of hard to live somewhere for half your life and not feel something for it. As I've said, I like living in Melbourne; it is my first choice city of residence. But something compellingly draws me back to New Zealand. I'm not sure what or why. In my first years in Australia, I didn't feel like this; you won't find me talking like this in my earliest LJ entries. It really developed during the period from April 2003 to March 2006, when I didn't go back home at all and became increasingly anxious to see the place. I became more acutely interested in its history; more acutely aware of how that history shapes the context in which I live. It has a vibrance and an attraction that I cannot quite describe. 19th century New Zealand is like nothing else, a place of trials and achievements at the edge of existence with a rich legacy. The national culture and the socio-cultural values I acquired in my earliest years are, I would like to think, enlightened and progressive values that reflect a society that has developed very positively. The environment and landscape just about call to me with their sounds and colours and ruggedness. My goal is to make my life's work the study and promotion of New Zealand's history, and I will do anything to achieve that. It is especially important now that I don't live there. I guess it's my way of keeping part of me at home at all times, even if it's just in my mind. It is to my continued shame that as a well-educated Kiwi ex-pat, I have contributed to the nation's "brain drain". Very little upsets me more.

Come back to your land
Show your face, make a stand
Come home, show you care
The future's here, it's not out there
Come home, come home
Come home, we still need you ...

- "Come Home", The Chills