Published The Independent Feb 2016
My old man once said something truthful. He said, “If you can’t make fun of yourself, then someone will do it for you”. Another time we were talking about young women who were going about braless, and he commented, “If there is a free show, watch it”. It is to this spirit of natural intelligence that I dedicate my observations on the subject of culture, or to be precise, the astounding lack thereof, throughout Australasia generally.
What Australians did to the Aboriginal is basically what we Australasians did to culture. Wandering through the dense, untamed bushland that was our colonial civilization, or lack of it, we discovered something dark and mysterious that we were frightened of, so we shot at it in order to scare it away. It wouldn’t budge; so we brutally assaulted it, tying it up and throwing it onto the back of a ute. Then , driving it long distances so we could once again savagely beat it, we completely abandoned it in the middle of a desert, where we hoped it would die off quickly.
It didn’t. And that scary thing was called Culture.
So then we ignored it for long periods of time, hoping it wouldn’t rear it’s head, returning only to cast aspersions on it.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Australians. I love them completely: the way you love your drunk uncle or racist grandmother. I lived in Austraya, in Bondi, which is where all the Kiwi huddle until they are brave enough to launch out into the scarier suburbs of Sydney. Bondi is a metaphor for Australia as a whole; the confused remnants of greater civilizations all pressed in together whilst enjoying an outstanding barbecue at the beach. I love everything Australia stands for; namely sports, alcoholism, gambling, and mild prostitution. In fact these represent the solid industries that have long underpinned the great golden land that we know today. All this set against a comfortable backdrop of carefree racism, mateship and an excellent if somewhat dry sense of humour.
It really is a terrific corner of the world, and the wine is excellent.
Aussies and Kiwi (Maori word, no plural) love to bicker about who has the worst accent. This is essentially a mental tug of war to establish who is the second biggest pimple on the arse of mankind. Aussies and Kiwi love to deride one another and in the process, everything and anything we stand for. Or don’t. Arguing with either nationality is like wrestling a pig down into the mud. All fun and games until you realise that the pig is actually enjoying the experience. This is problematic since Australians are the type of people who, though entering the glass revolving door behind you, somehow manage to exit out in front.
Now the Australian accent is, at times, alarming. Vast tracts of the English language have been torn off, screwed up and then lodged tightly in wads up into the nether regions of their nasal cavities. There are simply so many flies buzzing about that it pays to keep your mouth tightly shut at all times, articulating whatever you have to say (mostly abusive), out through your nose. This is fundamentally how they communicate. Or don’t.
There are a tremendous number of loose O’s in their language. Australians have granted the O absolute freedom to go walkabout anywhere it pleases. Buying alcohol over there is not difficult. You can buy it almost anywhere, at any time of the day, with anything, from anyone, when you are involved in almost any activity of any description, whatsoever. You can buy booze off a Nun in Straya. If you are serious though, then you stock up down at the Bottle-O. You then fill the car up with petrol at the Servo, where you probably said Gidday to Jono, Jacko or Davo. Pity the woman named Lesley. Australians are far too lazy to bother finishing names. This is not a generalisation. You will hear names such as Moonie, Stretch or Whitie and one guy I met was called Arsewipe. The women are called Debz, Hollz or Barb. Contractions are pandemic, like a disease out of control. They even contract contractions.
Every Australian program on T.V. has at least one gorgeous blonde bird with enormous breasts. These seem to be the two essential qualifications required to make it as a woman on Aussie T.V. That, and the ability to get down on your knees when necessary to get the hard jobs done. Aussies don’t watch T.V. to learn about the world, they watch it to feel good about themselves. And bad about other nationalities. And for the bosoms. News, sports and lottery results are often all mixed up in a hotchpotch.
“And in news just in, Turkey today had 60,000 people tragically crushed to death in an earthquake. Many victims are dying from thirst. And now for the Lotto results….”
Australians like being abused verbally. Calling your wife, best mate, boss, doctor or priest “a total effin’ dickhead” is considered a mild term of endearment. It is not only men who are dickheads. Women are, confusingly, dickheads as well. Conversely men are often publicly named after women’s every nook and cranny, with the adjunct, “you absolute…” in front of it.
Don’t be scared by this. This is just the Strayan being friendly. Conversing with an Australian is like being slapped, bodily and about the face, with a big, wet barracuda. The women have dirtier mouths than the men. The women look feminine and sophisticated and then they open their dirty mouths. A vile stream of profanity and sexual innuendo is then projectile vomited all about. Their imagery is based solely on base functions of the body. Note, this often means that they like you or perhaps that they wish to sleep with you.
“He really gives me the shits”. (He upsets me.)
“I was spewin’.” ( I was emotionally upset.)
“As tight as a fish’s arse”. (Wow, that is tight indeed.)
Most verbal expressions concern vomiting and defecating. We do both ends, often simultaneously. Both countries print the word “buggar“ with complete impunity.
See? I just did it.
Australasians have largely dispensed with delicate auxiliary verbs. This is a result of our hardy environment. Auxiliary verbs are refining mechanisms; down here we need a big engine to get things done. In the U.K. people express intention by saying, “I shall do this”, whereas we don’t give a fish’s armpit about your delicate personal sensibilities. For us it is enough to state, “I will do this” or in Kiwi vernacular, “I wool do thus” since we have such a strong emotional attachment to sheep. The word “may” has utterly disintegrated. This concept of getting permission to do stuff is a foreign one. We simply need to know whether it is possible, so we say, “Oim gunna do this”, as in you can’t stop me.
We have an intense disregard for any form of authority, except for the Captain of a national sports team deeply implicated in a gambling or sex scandal. This came from Gallipoli, where a collection of English toffs ordered us up a hill, to be randomly shot at. We still celebrate that battle as some sort of victory of the spirit, despite the fact that we technically landed on the wrong beach and then lost the entire confrontation through gross stupidity. Losing for us is okay if you get to blame it all on the Poms (see the Defence of Singapore, which was a defeat that the British at one stage managed to blame on the Aussies.)
In English there is a delicate and separate enunciation of every word such as “Fare, fair, care, hair, here, near, bare, bear, beer, gear , where, weir and wear.” If you listen carefully then you can generally understand which word they have chosen, and why. This is outstanding. Not so in Strine, which is Australian for local vernacular. In Strine, (pronounced “Stroine”, rhyming with “warn”, an alcoholic beverage), all these words are homonyms honked forcefully through the clenched and barely accessible nasal cavities. All with exactly the same level of articulation, which is to say, hardly any. It sounds like the blast of the lunchtime hooter down at your local factory. Or the suppressed fart of a debilitated wombat. Grab the next Australian that you meet and make them pronounce this list of words. You will understand fully.
Note that Australians once invented wine in a sachet. At the time, they thought it was a tremendous idea. Australians always deny this and deny the fact that it was an incredibly stupid Australian who forged ahead and invented wine in a sachet, but they achieved it nonetheless. If you ever get racially abused by an Australian, which is more or less part and parcel of the being friends with an Australian experience, unleash this fact on them and then drive it home hard, because they still don’t bloody well get it.
And then just walk away.
My French friend migrated to Australia in the 70’s. He went to lunch in a restaurant, which was actually the back of a pub, and ordered a red wine. The waiter returned and told him that he had checked right through the fridge and there was no red wine left, so he would have to have a beer instead. Then he plonked a cold beer down on the table and left.
This is why I love Australia.
The Kiwi accent is all over the show. Talking to a Kiwi is like burrowing deeply into a tight bat-infested cave; most of the words are buried right down the back of our throats, and can take days to fully emerge. They don’t come out when you think they should come out and then when they do peep out they explode all over the place in obtuse fashion. Our vowels get confused and tend to fly off in random directions, so that the listener feels like they are playing at net in a badminton game. “Television” becomes “talavushun” and “fish”, similar to the South Africans, becomes “fush”. A “sandwich” is pronounced “semwuch”. We simply cannot keep our strangulated vowels disciplined and in order. Once unleashed they tend to wander all over the paddock like Spring lambs. Young Kiwi males barely produce words at all, relying solely on primeval grunts or the expressive raising of eyebrows to communicate deep set genetic urges in between the odd cold beer.
Dating over here is non-existent. We are simply not dating cultures. We generally, as a nation, get inebriated and then subsequently rut together on an old couch in a drunken stupor; deciding the morning after whether to forge on with a relationship. If and only if we remember who we woke up with. A Kiwi basically eats roots and leaves.
Much of Kiwi humour relies on the power of understatement. This is what we have accomplished in culture, vast fields of unrelenting understatement. Kiwi love to cleverly slip in unnoticed under that radar of quality. In the South Island we have three rivers lying parallel. These streams are three stunningly beautiful forces of nature, all flowing with crystal clear cerulean water. All that beauty scares us, so we call them, “First River”, “Second River” and then, and here is where the humour sneaks in, “Last River”. Kiwi get that.
In my Dad’s home town there were three brothers in the Gear family. The boys became know as “Top Gear”, “Middle Gear” and here it comes, “Low Gear”. Kiwi humour is dry, self-deprecating, low to the ground. As perpetual as a bridehead. Once an Australian politician complained about the vast numbers of illiterate Kiwi leaving our country in droves and emigrating over to West Island, or as the Aussies call it, Australia. Our Prime Minister replied that this was a good thing, since it was raising the I.Q. levels of both nations.
Our current Prime Minister needs subtitles when he goes on U.S. television. He visited a school recently and wrote on the white board, where he steadfastly spelled “you’re” as “your”.
Kiwi developed the Tall Poppy Syndrome. Again this harks back to the war years, but it is the single most defining element of our rapidly drying pool of colonial sub-culture. Or lack of a culture. We hate people getting too clever, too big for their booties. I have often been told in job interviews that I was overqualified for the job; we detest educated people here and prefer barely literate dullards. Makes it more comfortable for the team. Our Transport Minister is a fully qualified woodworker. When you watch the news, which often features lists of things or cats stuck up in trees, there is invariably an expert on something. Some expert on the weather or earthquakes or whatever. This person will be some third rate academic from Europe or America. We hate promoting our own. As a nation we can crack the formula for nuclear physics, climb the highest mountain or run the finance department for Microsoft but at home we prefer third rate foreigners in all of our prime positions.
Probably our finest achievement has been inventing the Pavlova, a messy dog’s breakfast of a cake almost immediately stolen by Australians.
Look at architecture in New Zilland. Difficult, as there is not much of it. Most of it fell down in an earthquake. The one we always harp on about though, is the Hundertwasser Toilet in Kawakawa. Hundertwasser was a visionary architect from Austria who came over and found the perfect environment to express himself. The colourful toilet block he built from recycled materials now receives thousands of visitors from all over the world.
So just recapping, the pinnacle of architectural genius in New Zealand is a wee tiled toilet, designed by some foreigner.
Maori of course have culture to burn. This is why we tend to ignore it, strenuously. All over the nation, old white men who can only ever produce atrocious versions of their own language, will sagely advise youngsters not to bother learning Maori.
By the way we Kiwi are debating whether to change our flag. as the Union Jack is now too colonial. Not a thought however, as to the actual name of our country, where it came from or what the Old Zealanders might be thinking about that. No-one even remembers where the old Zeeland was. That might entail reading actual history or geography books.
Well hopefully I have given you some insight into the deep cultural pits that are New Zealand and Australia. We had an author here in New Zealand who recently won the Man Booker Prize for literature. Most countries might be vaguely pleased with that. We barely noticed. She was asked by a journalist to explain the Tall Poppy Syndrome. She did so and mentioned the “Neo-liberal, profit-obsessed, very shallow, very money-hungry politicians who do not care about culture.”
I thought she understated it. Culture represents something bad and left-wing here, to be discouraged at all costs.
Once home she was then hauled away and had her head ripped off for her honesty. For her outstanding achievements, we now treat her slightly worse than a leper, since lepers get sympathy.
Consider how lucky you are writing in the U.K. , Ireland, Canada or the U.S.A. Appreciate it. To those of us Downunder who dare to dabble in the Arts it can be like wandering through immense clouds of desert bulldust in search of the next available mirage.
Or maybe just the next cold beer.