Kiwiana 15 december 2013

The icons on the 2013 New Zealand Weet-Bix tin are a good starting point for testing your knowledge of Kiwi popular culture. How many can you explain? Look for clues in this epistle. (See the end for the answers.)

House-sitting for Rosalie for almost seven weeks in Christchurch has been a good chance for us to extend our knowledge of Aotearoa New Zealand. Being Aussies, we arrived with a touch of arrogance expecting that these islands were largely an extension of Australia and that all would be pretty familiar. We have been surprised by our own ignorance.

First, there is the accent. It is so close to ours that when we hear ‘fush’ for ‘fish’ we do a double-take in a way that we don’t when we hear a broad Scotttish brogue. Chocolate fish are even marketed as ‘chocolate fush’ to make us Aussies laugh. A national crisis threatened when the Marmite factory in Christchurch closed due to earthquake damage. The New Zealand flag is older than the Australian. (So did we pinch their idea?) Kiwi caravans have picture windows much grander than ours, but we are not impressed by New Zealand television as a window onto the world. Make sure we don’t commercialise the ABC!

Then there is the birdlife. So many European birds have made their home here that we don’t see in Oz—Redpolls, Chaffinches, Dunnocks, Yellowhammers, Mute Swans. Yellow splashes of broom and gorse and splotches of lupins pervade the countryside as do sheep and tractors. The bush, when we did get into it in the mountains, was absolutely beautiful and magnificent and has given us the hunger for more.

A Yellowhammer hides behind the seed pod in a patch of tree lupin on our walk through the dunes of Southshore. The tree lupin is an import from America as is the Monarch Butterfly. Australia has contributed the Australian Magpie (mainly white-backed)

When we visited friends (Michael, Julanne, and their children Ewan, Finlay and Theodora) in Dunedin, we benefitted from their knowledge of history, politics, race relations, religion and the environment and indulged in hokey-pokey ice cream. Did you know Dunedin (Celtic for ‘Edinburgh’) was once the largest city in New Zealand until 1900 and the ‘drift north’? And that the University of Otago is the oldest in the country? Dunedin is the furthest south we have ever travelled.

Biculturalism means that the Maori language infuses Sunday liturgies, news broadcasts and other aspects of daily life. There is much we don’t know about Maori history and culture. Hei Matau and Tiki adornments were familiar but we were amazed by the sheer size of the sea-faring canoe we saw in the museum in Dunedin. Kiwi English words jump out at us too: trundles (trolleys), jandals (thongs), heat pumps (reverse cycle air-conditioners), sections (blocks) (of land), dairies (corner shops) and cell phones (mobile phones). Some birds have wonderful Maori names. The Purple Swamphen is the Pukeko here, which just fits the bill. The town name Wingatui commemorates a settler 'winging a Tui' (a bird of the region) if our informant is correct and not pulling our legs.

The weather is unpredictable and very changeable. We've just about given up on taking any notice of forecasts. The local nor'west arch, a dramatic cloud pattern formed by the foehn affect of the alps, has become familiar. It has been warm enough to swim once, so far, so there has been not much need for jandals.

The nor’west arch glows over the earthquake-damaged city centre of Christchurch

There are not many passenger trains still running but quantity is made up for by quality. We took one up the Taieri Gorge and another back from Arthur’s Pass—both spectacular. We are taking the coastal route to Picton this coming week. We are limiting our holiday to the South Island, aka the mainland.

Cars are different here, according to Geoff. (I am no authority.) There are all sorts of Japanese second-hand cars here that we never see in Australia, but Geoff has not kept a count. My count of birds, on the other hand, is meticulously recorded and you will find it on our webite (65 species, 24 new).

Geoff has been very patient with my growing obsession with bird-watching. We have trudged around Lake Ellesmere in gale-force winds (Wrybill), pottered around the Ashley Estuary (Black-fronted Tern), wandered through the silver fern—the same one found on the All Blacks jersey of rugby fame—of the Orokonui ecosanctuary (Kaka), clambered down and across the rocks of Harris Bay (White-flippered Penguin), explored the remnant Riccarton Bush, a stone’s throw from the largest shopping centre here (NZ Fantail), walked the Arthur’s Pass track (Tomtit) and gazed over the cliffs of the Otago Peninsula to see the only mainland colony of the Royal Albatross. Geoff did draw the line at sliding down and clawing back up the dunes of Sandfly Bay (Yellow-Eyed Pengiun). Close to sunset, Michael escorted me there past the NZ Sea Lions as the fog descended and the winds whipped up the sand out to sea. The Kea was easy to find by comparison. It perched on the tables at the café at Arthur’s Pass. We’ll need to resort to a wildlife park to see Kiwi, and the Moa was hunted to extinction by 1400.

Harris Bay—White-flippered Penguin habitat

The local birdwatchers made us welcome to their meeting and to their end-of-year barbecue though no iconic tomato sauce bottle was in evidence. We accompanied one of them, Nick, on his surveys of waders, complete with gum boots. As usual, we have also connected with the local church congregation, this time Rosalie’s Methodist church. We will be celebrating Christmas Day with some of them here in Rosalie’s house. (Traditional Kiwi menu is roast lamb, new potatoes and garden peas. We'll fight about who invented the pavlova, no doubt, and whether passionfruit or kiwi fruit should decorate it.)

Which brings us to our Christmas greetings from the land where NZ Christmas Bush is in flower and the Southern Cross is overhead—the land of the upside-down Christmas, to quote the hymn we sang this morning.

This shot betrays some of the frustration that locals feel with the slowness of recovery as the fourth Christmas since the first major earthquake approaches. But the resilience of the human spirit is symbolised by the Transitional Cardboard Cathedral. This cathedral is Christchurch’s newest icon, one of new birth and new hope. Its congregation is learning afresh what it is to be church as they learn to love their new home and its simplicity of sea containers and cardboard-clad beams.

May beauty, hope, resilience and new birth fill your lives.

For a list of birds we saw see the New Zealand Birds page of our website.

P.S. This is our 2013 in a nutshell:

We travelled to South Australia, to Eden, and now to New Zealand; bonded with our little caravan in the bush for mini-retreats; worked on websites for our churches and clubs; attended too many funerals; enjoyed growing friendships with young families in the neighbourhood; practised our mental arithmetic on the checkout at Tuckerbox (the Holy Cross Foodbank outlet); kept up as best we could with our far-flung and expanding family—new great-nieces and -nephews keep popping up—and with even more far-flung friends. A buzzy-bee is needed to entertain the young ones.

Geoff worked hard on a book for Preman Niles, The Lotus and the Sun; developed a name for helping seniors befriend their iPads and iPhones; chaired the board of the Ainslie Church of Christ; became treasurer of a club; and learned to curb his singing due to the effect of his ‘puffer’ on his vocal chords.

I kept changing hats at St Mark’s National Theological Centre (the newest is that of conference organiser); continued editing; was kept busy as rector’s warden at Holy Cross Anglican Church in its fiftieth year; honed my community gardening and catering-for-groups skills; and enlarged my bird list.

Icons on the Weet-Bix Tin

Front: Jandals (aka flip-flops, thongs ... ), Kiwifruit (a Chinese Gooseberry), Hei Matau, All Blacks Rugby Jersey, Silver Fern, Monarch Butterfly (North America), Weet-Bix (Australia), Fantail, Tractor, Chocolate fish, Hokey Pokey Ice-cream, Rugby ball, Buzzy Bee Toy, Tiki, Marmite (UK), Sheep, Weet-Bix Packet, NZ Christmas Bush, Tui, Map of NZ, Fern Bud, Tomato Sauce Bottle, Southern Cross on NZ Flag, Pukeko, Moa

Rear: Buzzy Bee Toy, Tiki, Sheep, Hokey Pokey Ice-cream, Fantail, Hei Matau, Kiwifruit, Rugby Ball, Jandals, Tiki, Buzzy Bee Toy, All Blacks Rugby Jersey, Marmite, Weet-Bix, Kiwi, Southern Cross on NZ Flag, All Blacks Rugby Jersey, Pavlova (Australia or NZ?), Caravan, Weet-Bix Box, Map of NZ, Tomato Sauce Bottle, Fern Bud, Silver Fern, Marmite, Gum Boots

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