Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Pass The Kool Aid and Mind Yer Business*

*apologies to Cool James

As we landed at Brisbane my iPod kicked into Stan Getz’s gloriously sleazy Mahana de Carnival and the wheels hit the runway as it exploded (the song, not the plane or the runway) at about 33 seconds. I timed it well actually as it faded as the plane stopped beside the terminal.

And so to Brisbane airport. I know I was less than complimentary about Auckland’s airborne hub but it’s positively futuristic when compared to the horror show that is Brisbane’s entry point. I’ve been through this Airport about twenty times in the past decade and it gets no better: unfriendly to the point of aggressive; racist (watch the way brown people are treated going into transit); bad food and generally a shithole. I’ve seen and been through countless airports over the years but nothing compares to the experience of “take yer shoes off” or a gruff “empty yer bag…hurry up” after a long flight. The words please or thank you do not seem to be in the vocabulary of the Sunshine state.

But this is in a state which recently named a road after a man whose major claim was to have shot more aboriginals than anyone else a few decades back.

We left Brisbane and went up to Noosa to hang out with some good and missed friends. I’d not been to the town before and found it, like a lot of Australia, to be very pretty but ultimately, because of the human element, soulless. That breed, the Toorak / Double Bay refugee, the women with the overdyed hair and too much make up and sun were there en mass with their partners, the tanned hairy beerguts hanging over the too small Speedos. Fantastic food though and wonderful, hilarious, company…

So…to keep the eleven year old happy (yep that’s it, it was for the kid) we trekked down the Bruce Highway (lets face it, there has to be one) on the Thursday to Australia Zoo, the home of Mr Crikey himself, Steve Irwin and his wife Terri, not to mention the kids (one of whom reached a level of global notoriety by having Dad hold him / her above a Croc’s open mouth…crikey).

Firstly I should mention a bias. I hate his program, he does my head in and his wife makes my skin crawl. That said, I was open to a fine day. I like a well kept Zoo as much as the next eleven year old and this has a reputation as one of the best (no I’m not going to get into a discussion about the merits of zoos or otherwise). Doncha love reputations...I was even willing to cheer along as he did the biz with the big salties.

Things started to go wrong as we arrived. We were somewhat taken aback by the big clump of mud on our Stevo’s face on the sign outside…someone wasn’t happy. We then, having parked we faced the $43 per head entry fee. Brigid conned the non too bright but very pleasant young ockette on the till into believing that we four adults and a child were actually one big family and we mooned in for a $139 instead of the statutory $201, but still mumbled “this had better be good” as we pushed past the guy trying to sell us the map for a couple of bucks (we had one we’d found elsewhere). And thank god we had one as the route to the stadium was throbbing with eager folks and masses of wild animals to peruse and wonder over. Actually that’s not quite true; it was really only a couple of hundred metres and the only thing to wonder was “where are all the animals?”….the answer to that was clear to us: with Steve and Terri in the stadium for the promised big show.

Seated, we realised we’d missed the snakes and tigers…bummer….I like a tiger when it’s a long way away and behind a tall fence. But we made it for the birds and honestly they were pretty and pretty damn impressive, it’s just that there weren’t that many of them. But, hey, never mind, here comes Steve with the mighty crocs. I’ve seen it on telly and Steve is surrounded by a bunch of the northern-coast-English-back-packer-gobbling things wanting more and writhing. The anticipation…

So it starts with the MC doing a big welcome to all the nationalities eagerly watching for the finale. He asks: “who is from England?”…big roar…”who’s here from Canada”…similar noise and so on...finally finishing with “who’s here from AUSTRALIA” with the predictable results. And Brigid turned to me and said...”they’ve only mentioned predominantly white-ish countries”. Looking back I wondered what the Indians behind me and the Chinese and the Koreans in the crowd were thinking. I guess in Steve’s world they were non persons, just $43. Which explains why the two confused Japanese girls down below almost wandered into the croc area…it was a figment...they didn’t exist.

But here comes Steve…oh, wait, Steve is just on the big screen in a slightly warm and fuzzy little spiel about, um, Steve and Terri. And there is only one croc, it’s a big one but, however the “show”, with lots and lots of references to Steve and Terri lasts about fifteen minutes and that’s it. And truly, that’s just about it. We wandered off after that to find the Zoo, with the aid of our trusty map but could only find 3 crocs, 2 alligators, a few birds, a bunch of kangaroos, a turtle, three wombats, a couple or so Elephants in an enclosure that isn’t a patch on the Auckland Zoo’s pachyderm area, and a dozen or snakes. That plus three tigers which were in a fairly attractive large glassed area, and seemed rather comfortable with the three keepers who were having their lunch on the lawn oblivious to the man-eaters strolling around next to them. I don’t know about anyone else but I like my tigers fierce.

With some bemusement I noted that the enclosure, complete with the signs warning about being good to the planet and our environment was paid for by the Coca Cola company. I kept thinking of all those plastic Coke bottles that float around the waterways of Indonesia.

We caught a train around the perimeter and the guy talking on the p.a. told us some jokes about Steve and Terri and some stories about Steve and buying all the land and the roads around to make more “Zoo”. And then I heard a couple saying “Steve would be happy livin’ in a humbie if it wasn’t for the kids” and it hit me…this was a temple, and Steve and Terri were the Jim Jones of the Zoolology Set.

I looked around and there was more of “Australia Zoo” dedicated to the couple than to the animals themselves and every reference to the beasts was worded in such a way that it somehow referred back to the royal pair and their exalted offspring (TV show coming I believe). There were souvenir shops everywhere you looked with “Steve and Terri and the kids” everything, from T Shirts to surfboards (with “Crikey” on them) to quite bizarre keychain figurines of Steve wrestling with out of proportion man-eating crocs, And to top it all off there was a “boutique” with Steve and Terri fashion creations, including the most, lets be polite, “unusual” attempts at fashion I’ve seen in a while in Terri’s evening range.

And the masses were lapping it up in a way that must make Steve and Terri’s private bankers so very very happy. You can worship the Irwins for only $43 a head. He’s an icon and a national hero and I found it, and the dumbing down of zoology rather ugly and offensive. To quote Lydon: “Do You Ever get the feeling you’ve just been conned”.

On the way out we saw the clump of mud on his face again and understood.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

It is a Great Country..really, it is, honestly, truly....

I found myself in deep shtuk (is that how you spell it, is it even a word, I think it is) over the last post but one. Writing a piece with a title like that (it, like the headings on many of my posts is a lyric…from the once mighty No Tag) on the eve of three weeks in the home country was a foolish thing to do it seems. Whilst there was no abuse as such, last week in Ponsonby Road outside Santos, a person I don’t know from Adam made a point of crossing the road to sneer at me “if you don’t like it, stay away”, and I half expected Kim Hill to lash out at me on my interview. That she didn’t, on National Radio, was a source of much relief. I can deal with the questions about the punk-nazi thing (it was thirty years ago for gods sake and I think that we are still getting a bite out of it from Kim speaks for itself, it worked) and the righteously, almost na├»ve, questions about Indonesian timber which were put in a manner that could only have come from a warm comfy studio in Wellington, but having to defend my patriotism was not something I wanted to do. There were emails too…..nothing too nasty but somewhat bemused and flicked with a sense of betrayal.

I really can’t get my head around the idea that its somehow treachery to live elsewhere. When did this precious little concept gain popular currency? There was a thread full of it on Biggie recently which did my head in. Certainly as a lad New Zealanders were encouraged to leave and it was happily accepted that some returned and some didn’t. Both gave the nation a depth that it otherwise lacked. They still do. William Pickering and David Low are as much about what New Zealand was, is and will be as any All Black. Both were my heroes as a youngster, someone to look up to and aspire to be, as much, no more, than any muscle bound redneck running up and down a paddock with a ball was.

So let’s get things straight. I love my home country. OK? It’s my nest and my heritage; where my whanau and most of the people I hold most dear live. There is nothing more breathtaking than turning into the top of Hakanoa Street in autumn. I love it. I love the warm soft well fed look everywhere, the homeboys in Queen Street who are so wannabe staunch and have no idea how funny they are; I love hearing drum’n’bass, almost a forgotten genre elsewhere, coming out of cars and shops; I love George FM, an independent station that programmes people rather than music (which gives it an edge over bFm, which, incidentally, I also love); I love the fact that so many people try so hard to do something special and so many succeed and even those that don’t at least try and then try again without knowing the meaning of give-up. There is a strong, almost inbreed resistance amongst many to the mediocrity that the Canwests, the TVNZs, the NZ Heralds, the multinationals and their ilk try to foist on the populace as a norm, which gives the nation its spirit and its colour.

And I’ve done my bit so I’m allowed to look around….I don’t feel like a New Zealander within the fences that often implies and never have, so, without apology I’ll live where I wish. Oh..and don’t ever call me a bloody kiwi….

This last visit, for three weeks, I felt more alien than ever before though. Driving was odd, interaction was odd, systems I’ve known all my life I was clumsy with and almost scared of and I got rather sick of having to justify a life in Indonesia to those who were incredulous at me putting myself and my family at such risk…..ummm….fuck off….

One final note…what on earth is wrong with Auckland Airport. The staff (with the exception of the rather pleasant guys x-raying bags at immigration) would do well to hop on an aircraft and fly to Singapore and look. That odd thing on people’s faces is a smile. A special brickbat goes to the seven kilo hand baggage fascists …”that’s 7.2 kilos..you’ll have to check it in now”…..taking a book out and holding it under my arm satisfied them…that’s logic. Petty backward bureaucrats that make Auckland look silly….