HOMEWARD bound, after 15 days of trains, planes and automobiles. Unsurprisingly, the places I’ve visited have changed greatly in the 25 years – yes really – since I was last here.
Perth was literally unrecognisable, Sydney not so visibly round the tourist traps of the Harbour Bridge and Circular Quay, but massively so out in the ethnic-bursting suburbs. Auckland is hugely more modern and impressive than it was.
What hasn’t changed, in any of the places I’ve visited, is the people – the Aussies and Kiwis.
Still can’t stand the sight of one another, until they find themselves sharing a beer and polite civility breaks out.
Then they unite against another common foe – the Poms. And if there’s a Pom sharing the beers as has been the case this past fortnight, it’s pleasantly surprising to find they all share an even greater nemesis – the political elite busy interfering in all of our lives.
Home from home.
I’d have liked a companion on this trip. I’d have liked to lift David Cameron out of his gilded Westminster cage and taken him, much like Marley’s ghost with Scrooge, out on a guided tour of the real world, the world that seems such a complete mystery to him judging by the arrant nonsense he spouts every time he opens his privileged mush.
I’m not sure the coiffured and cosseted Prime Minister would have enjoyed dossing down in the ‘hotel’ (used in the loosest sense) I found myself in in Sydney. His valet would have had to sedate him.
The Australian Sunrise Lodge’s website photos looked decent. My only surprise on checking in, was that colour photography had been invented when they were taken.
Around the time Ned Kelly was running wild, judging by the age of the fittings. That or they took them somewhere else.
I’ve been here on rugby business, but you can’t get past the first couple of sips from your schooner before the familiar themes emerge … migration, Islam, political correctness invading every area of people’s lives like a bureaucratic plague.
Sound familiar? You travel as far as you possibly can on our ever shrinking planet, and it’s like you never left the bar of the Irish Nash.
This week the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull gave his annual ‘Closing the gap’ report into efforts to improve the lot of Aboriginal Aussies.
It was a mixed hand. He would never say it – and there was a line of people the length of Bondi beach ready and waiting to put the boot into him whatever the successes – but reading between the lines, it sounded like some people just don’t want to be helped. Sound familiar?
A few days earlier, New Zealand PM John Key – a remarkably popular politician – had refused to attend the Maoris’ Waitangi Day festival, a public holiday which commemorates the founding treaty of New Zealand in 1840.
The politically subversive Maori leaders told the PM he could come, but couldn’t speak at the event – so he told them to stuff it. His popularity among ordinary Kiwis soared. There would be a lesson in that for my companion David Cameron.
I’VE smiled often, listening to friends I mostly met in a completely different part of the world, California in the early 80s.
Kiwi Gary, a jobbing carpenter in Long Beach, made his money, went home and owns successful skiing and paddle-boarding stores. He wouldn’t watch the Auckland Rugby League 9s because “it’s an Aussie product”.
Here’s his view of the cousins across the Tasman: “They’re a funny lot. Get Aussies off that snake-infested place they inhabit, and they’re pretty decent people. Human beings even. Good sense of humour, good company. When they’re at home though? Bloody insufferable loudmouths. Can’t stand ‘em.”
When New Zealand beat Australia in their one-day cricket series his face was like a five-year-old’s on Christmas morning. It made his year.
Aussie Bob – Gary’s mate by the way – actually exemplifies his view. More bluff and brusque at home than ever he was in the USA, he has an insulting nickname for everyone who’s not direct family. He’d find something to complain about if he won the lotto.
It’s not that Bob’s overtly disparaging about Kiwis and Poms. To an Aussie, they’re just lesser beings. He doesn’t need to waste breath mocking them. That would be like slapping a stepkid just for being ugly – beneath a superior Aussie’s dignity.
Another pal has a similar view of Americans, except in reverse. “Yanks are fantastic people, great hosts. They’re like cheap wine though – they don’t travel well.”
But ask any of them, who in the world they would want at their shoulders when push comes to shove, and the answer is predictable. All of the above. There’s a common bond that runs far deeper than surface sarcasm.
A valuable lesson for Mr Cameron lies within. The world is tribal. Mankind is tribal. People like to belong. For most it’s a valuable part of their identity and underpins their national pride – the Aussies, Kiwis and Americans have that in (over) abundance. Yet in England we’re turning pride into the flag into a hate crime.
New Zealand has a population of 4.5 million – smaller than Yorkshire. It is one of the most remote countries on the planet in trading terms. Yet it is a thriving, successful nation in every way you care to measure.
How do you explain that? I’d start with that national pride. Take sport – they massively over-achieve in everything they turn their hands to. Remarkable.
Prime Minister John Key and his National Party have led the country since 2008 and have huge support.
Any party with ‘National’ in its name in the UK would immediately be labelled fascist.
The Kiwi system is very much like the UK’s, the difference being that their schools, health services and transport systems work far better than ours.
And yet we are repeatedly told that our nation of 60 million people needs to be afraid of leaving the crumbling EU edifice to its ill-fated destiny.
I’ve not seen much about the so-called ‘deal’ David Cameron looks like squeezing out of EU leaders, but it sounds like it isn’t much of one. Does anyone else get the feeling that the French and Germans and friends could give a stuff if the UK left?
They’ll still sell all their goods to us, and buy ours such as they need them. That’s the truth. Nothing will change except the sulky guest will have left the party early – and everyone will be relieved about that.
The only people arguing – or scaremongering actually – for Britain to remain in the EU, seem to have vested interests in it. Britain being deprived of its sovereignty, witnessing our national pride being rubbed in the dirt with every insulting EU diktat, is a small price to pay for their enrichment.
By contrast, I really can’t see what the ‘out’ campaigners have to gain personally. And that says a lot to me. UKIP MPs are actually campaigning to lose their own jobs. That should send a message.
Maybe if he made this journey, David Cameron would realise what separates Aussies and Kiwis from we Poms – fierce national pride.
It’s become a dirty word, a discredited notion in Britain today. But if we had a Prime Minister like John Key who reinforced our heritage and values, then maybe – just maybe – the UK might halt its slide into despair. I’m not hopeful.
I DON’T think Dave Jewitt and his bowling pals at Overthorpe Sports and Social Club need to erect warning signs like this one at Black Head Beach Bowling Club in Hallidays Point, New South Wales.
“It’s just health and safety,” said my mate Bob, while stressing that it’s “Black Head – two words”, thus aborting my nose for squeezing out a cheap jibe at an Aussie’s expense. “Mind you, I found a Black Snake in the yard a while back,” he added.
“Are they deadly Bob?”
“Aw yeah, lethal. But not as bad as Brown Snakes. P*ss them off and they’ll actually come after you. Those bar-stewards bear a grudge!”
The next morning we went down for a refreshing dip in the ocean-fed pool. That’s Bob’s dog Dodger in the foreground. I looked out at a lady sea kayaking on the bay.
“That looks fun,” I said. Bob squinted across at her.
“It is,” he replied, deadpan. “Mind you, her husband won’t be doing it for a while. Shark got both him and the canoe a few weeks ago, right where she is now. Looks like he still might lose his leg.”
Bob stopped short of wondering aloud if he should make an offer for the bloke’s golf shoes. All heart, those Aussies.
As such, as and when when my kids look to their long-term futures, I’ll happily bankroll a move down under. But if they ask where dad would go, I suspect snake-free New Zealand might just get the nod.