Many years ago, as a tourist and well before I became a New Zealand resident, I chanced upon the depth of Kiwi resentment of Australia, the arrogant big brother. It was in a souvenir shop atop Queenstown, looking down from a great height upon the magnificence of Lake Wakatipu. There were not merely a few books of Australian jokes. There was a whole section of the shop dedicated to reversing the sheep-shagger meme!
Years later, when a resident, I frequently encountered the under-the-radar, casual anti-Aussie racism of the place. Invariably good natured, but with a sharp edge nonetheless, it bespoke a simmering, enduring resentment. It was certainly arresting. And it wasn’t generally what you would call “affectionate”. I used my Australianness as a running gag over the three years of my (admittedly delightful) residency in the country.
There were two sharp reminders of the phenomenon during my time in New Zealand. One was a billboard advertisement for Kiwi-owned hardware chain Mitre Ten which, in anticipation of a Bunnings push into provincial New Zealand, suggested that Bunnings, 100 per cent Australian owned, was “underarm”.
According to the NZ Herald:
Mitre 10 Mega is engaging in some trans-Tasman billboard rivalry with arch-rival and newcomer Bunnings Warehouse, which opened its first large store in the region.
One Mitre 10 billboard has the words “chilly bin” with a tick and “eskie” with a cross. Another has the words “underarm” and “overarm” which is similarly ticked and crossed, alluding to the 1981 cricket test underarm bowling incident.
Mitre 10 Mega Napier and Hastings co-owner Graeme Ricketts said the billboards were a “fun” way to respond to Australia’s largest household hardware chain’s Bunnings Hastings Central at the former premises of The Warehouse on Market St North.
“We knew Bunnings were coming to town so the whole idea was to make people laugh and remind them we are still here and are locally owned and operated,” he said.
Yes, fun. But at the time of the advertising campaign the underarm incident was ancient history, 35 years in the past! This is one thing Kiwis will never, ever forget. In a candid moment a little while back, former Kiwi cricketer and now sports commentator Ian Smith suggested playfully that the underarm incident was the best thing ever to happen to NZ sport – it enabled the Kiwis to hold something over Australia for, well, 35 years and counting. Indeed.
The other example of simmering love/hate across the Ditch was a speech by Sir Richard Hadlee, New Zealand’s greatest cricketer, at a conference I was attending. I had the good fortune to spend about half an hour with the great man at morning tea, just prior to his talk. I then became the running gag for the audience. Richard’s piece de resistance was a story he told of a man who sent him fan letters.
He received a lot of fan mail, of course. This letter was a sad note explaining that, given his current circumstances, he could no longer wander down to the local ground and watch Richard playing. In Sir Richard’s telling, it slowly but clearly emerged that the writer was in fact in jail. It further emerged that he was doing time for burglary. The punchline was – all was forgiven of the criminal since the victim of the burglary was … an Australian! Much laughter ensued. Many heads turned towards me.
The points of debate between these ANZAC cousins are familiar, of course.
We steal their best and brightest, then have the temerity to claim them as our own – Phar Lap, Russell Crowe, Split Enz, Barnaby Joyce. We also inflict on them our own worst – Trevor Chappell (never to be forgiven or forgotten), possums (sixty million and counting), our hideous banks, and most recently and tragically, the Grafton mass murderer Brenton Tarrant.
The sheer joy of the endless pain inflicted on the Australian rugby team by their own sainted All Blacks is a source of ongoing wonder. But it has got to the point that they are now routinely beating us too easily. They want us to be better, to at least give them a run for their money!
And we all recall the famous taunt of former Kiwi prime minister Sir Robert (Piggy) Muldoon, reinforcing the Kiwi view that Australians are stupid (as well as malevolent). Referring to the trend of massive Kiwi emigration to Australia, Piggy opined that this simply meant lifting the IQs of both countries. The stupid ones prefer to live in Australia, and even their dumbest are superior to us.
This bantering might be put down to ‘little brother syndrome’, and it is, to be fair, generally good-natured. We might point out, gently, that we provide homes (sometimes for life), often families, and typically careers, for their best and brightest. The sting in that tail is that we are mean to them in relation to welfare and so on. And we send back their criminals to boot.
But the Kiwis don’t give up easily. They have a secret weapon, and she is called Raelene Castle. New Zealand’s revenge.
Somehow the governing body of rugby in Australia, in its infinite wisdom, has chosen to inflict on the code this exemplar of modern corporate managerialism, spouting well worn platitudes like all good sporting bureaucrats now do.
Just who is Raelene Castle? Well, she is an Officer of the Order of New Zealand Merit. She is of Kiwi parentage, though ironically (given the above) born in Wagga! She is a true blue sports bureaucrat, having run Netball NZ and the Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs. So, plenty of time to learn and practice all those corporatist sports clichés. And she has been in the rugby job only since January.
But what an impact she has had.
New Zealand here has inflicted maximum damage on Australia – and, ironically, it is about rugby! New Zealand’s one national obsession, apart from Australia. In one fell stroke, New Zealand has, following the example of our very own Malchurian Candidate, managed to inflict on our body politic the most decisive and divisive play in modern cultural politics in this country. A Kiwi has divided Australia! And in a World Cup year to boot. Just as Malcolm Turnbull destroyed the Liberal Party, with malicious and deliberate intent, so has Raelene seemingly managed to all-but-destroy Australian rugby.
The Israel Folau saga has become a national issue of huge importance, no less. And it is no small deal.
It has, indeed, almost put the imminent national election in the background. And it has bled into the political campaign, with the suggestion (by Miranda Devine, the Australian Christian Lobby and others) that the ALP will further threaten religious freedom through its rainbow agenda and virtue signalling. More recently, we have witnessed Bill Shorten’s truly bizarre – even by his standards – “demand” that the Prime Minister state his position on whether homosexuals should go to hell. Note the shift. Now it is not even about merely interpreting the Bible – the question of whether homosexuals will go to hell. Our politicians are now asked to weigh in on God’s intentions. Is He being fair about this? (Of course, Scott Morrison might well have returned serve by asking Bill does he believes rapists should go to hell. But that is another matter).
Yes this is a big deal. Driven by the pro-gay “national” airline as rugby sponsor, and egged on by the socially liberal intelligentsia, punditry and woke fellow travellers who abhor offence giving but park questions of truth, civilisation and virtue, the ability to hold and to proclaim religious beliefs in the public square is now under siege in our own back yard. Never mind ISIS, the no-go areas of the Paris banlieu and Sri Lanka’s places of “Easter worship”, Australian Christians cannot now freely go about their business as believers. Because these beliefs might give offence. This outcome is the culmination of the successful merger of three of society’s driving forces of the last half century – secularism, homosexualisation and corporatism.
Professed Christianity is seen as a threat to two things held sacred – sexual self-determination and secularism – and this has implications for what Christians are permitted to do and say. One implication is that homosexuality simply cannot be criticised. Another is that religion must, like good little children of yore, be seen but not heard in a secularist society. Stick to charitable work, go to church on Sundays if you must, and, above all, shut up.
Can anything, really, be more fundamental than this in a liberal democracy?
Hence dear old Raelene has ignited a national storm across the Tasman, and decidedly not a storm in a teacup. She has, along with the upstart, homosexual CEO of a public company and their media based fellow travellers, managed to unite Christians – no mean feat – to give them a cause celebre and a platform, and to provide them with a timely political campaign backdrop against which to further their resistance to the rapidly growing anti-Christian culture enveloping the county.
It is ironic, of course, that in the one thing at which the Kiwis endlessly beat us – the game they play in Taylor Square – Australia will now, following the loss of our one and only star player to Christian career martyrdom, be so pathetic on the paddock that even the Kiwi joy normally engendered by each defeat will be utterly hollow, bordering on empty. And all as the result of the actions of a Kiwi!
Now there’s a thing.