From Godzone to the Land of Oz

CHAPTER 29 – From Godzone to the Land of Oz: Another Kiwi Family to Australia

The possibility of immigrating to Australia had been simmering away for 10 years before my retirement at 65 in 2006. Dominic and Clarissa had settled in Sydney by the new century 2000, and soon Simon made his way there as well. With the mortgage on the house paid and being at the top of my teaching salary we could now afford to regularly visit our growing families in Australia.

My teaching colleagues, Kerry Coker and Warren Clode, and I, would muse about Australia: Brisbane, the climate, the growing flight of “grey geese” there. And Jane and Martin van der Berk would also muse about the advantages of retiring to Australia, the array of benefits given to the aged in comparison to New Zealand. When Jane and Martin took the plunge they kept us updated with life in Australia. Our first adventure to Brisbane made Australia very appealing: Customs at the airport were jokingly friendly to us Kiwis, we met local Kiwis everywhere and all were enthusiastically adamant that Queensland was the place to be.

There were then many pull factors but we needed a big push. It is easy to muse, to entertain possibilities without any real commitment. And the variety of costs of immigrating were hidden. It is one thing to immigrate in one’s youth: another when aged. Warren retired to Napier, and although most of Kerry’s children were in Australia, he and Anne remained in Napier. Even Martin and Jane returned to NZ.

The first big push from NZ came in 2004: our visible and tangible growing alienation from our local parish. Our new local priest was a revolutionary Modernist. Sunday after Sunday the fundamental traditional beliefs of the Catholic Church were questioned, and Mass itself had become a personally-centred exhibition of his own making. I took up the challenge and with Papal documents to hand through the internet, complained to our Bishop, who was, of course, the leader of Modernism in New Zealand. His response was unacceptable so I appealed to the Vatican, and soon enough, our priest was relocated. But this meant that Mike Phillips was a disloyal “whistle-blower” to many of the parishioners. And Masses elsewhere were really no better. We were forced then to rely on attending Sunday Mass with a small group of liturgical exiles at the old Little Sisters of the Poor home, where dear, old Father Cleary humbly celebrated his Masses.

With this push came a huge miraculous pull from Australia. During our Christmas with Clarissa and Grant in Sydney, Rosalind and ourselves decided to attend the traditional Latin Mass at Lewisham. It was absolutely beyond anything we imagined: it was like stepping into heaven. It was what I had dreamed about all those years ago back in the 1960s. This experience remained a growing seed over the next two years. Was it possible for us to live in Sydney?

And then Rosalind decided to live in Sydney as well. A further visit to Dominic in 2005 at Bronte just watered that seed.

But Aubynne, especially, had a clearer grasp of the enormity of such a move: living in an apartment, leaving her beloved garden and house, her roses, her beautiful countryside of New Zealand, the cats… With reluctance, we finally decided to prepare our house for the market over 2005. Clarissa’s news of her pregnancy confirmed and strengthened Aubynne’s resolve. Christmas, 2005, was our first New Zealand without the family: lonely, a sprig of pine for a Christmas tree, and a forlorn goodbye to holidays at Mahia. Over the next few months, we farewelled our friends, colleagues, and relations. I resigned from teaching. The house was sold. I would receive the pension on August 25, 2006, three days after landing in Sydney.

Oh, how different the reality from the dream!

Where are our Big Brothers?

I had thought that Sydney would welcome us as Aussie’s little brothers. I expected a variety of the kind of teasing New Zealanders are used to among Aussies: baaing as sheep, ribbed about being dole-bludgers, “another four years” for the All Blacks to fail at the Rugby World Cup. I expected the ribbing right from the start from officials and businesses when trying to establish residency: Customs, bank account, mobile phone, Centrelink for the Old Age Pension, flat rental agency, buying a car, post office.

Big brothers were all upstairs in the vertical walls of the City. Downstairs was multicultural Sydney. Every person we had to deal with was Australian all right, but a second or third generation immigrant. They had no opinion about Kiwis. No jokes. No banter. We were just another immigrant family like their own families.

At Centrelink, I was asked where New Zealand was!! So much for feeling Australia a second home.

Later, I was to find out even more disturbing news. There is no way a New Zealander could become an Australian citizen or a permanent resident! Well, you can be if you are a young nuclear physicist or a mining engineer. Yes, we are the only people who do not need a visa, so thousands of unsuspecting Kiwis immigrate to Australia, settle down, and after awhile their children will try to gain the usual student support to attend university, or apply for a government job. No such luck. Full fees. No flood or fire insurance cover either. Only non-Kiwis may apply for permanent residency and then citizenship. This “special” privilege of visa-free working in Australia will one day bear bitter fruit.

Pensioner Privileges

As pensioners, the New Zealand government pays 2/3s of our pension, the Australian government makes up the rest to make it the same amount of an Australian pensioner. Secondly, state and local government, and electricity and phone and other suppliers, give substantial reductions for pensioners, unlike New Zealand. The pensioner daily travel pass in Sydney of $2.50 allows one to travel all day on train, ferry or bus around a huge area. Free car registration as well.

Beautiful Sydney

Sydney is indeed a beautiful city. The harbour and beaches are superb. Our favourite beach is Bronte, where we sit in our little sun tent and wander down the truly golden sand to the “bogey hole”, a natural sheltered pool, chest-deep at mid-tide, and wallow. Or, if the “stingers” from the easterly prevent swimming we may use the surf pool. Around us are young mums and kids, tan-browned rich elderly Bronte residents and overseas visitors. We look out over the sea and think of New Zealand and nod to ourselves: “No, here is a little of paradise.” And there is Little Bay, North Maroubra, and even quiet, little Shelley Beach to enjoy. Although the trip to our closest beach takes 40min, it is no longer than the drive from Hastings to our favourite Ocean Beach. One the one hand, one drives in beautiful green countryside, and on the other, along the congested M5. But on arriving at Ocean Beach one lies on fine, but grey sand, among roaring motorbikes, boisterous ball games by shouting, arrogant youth, and dog pooh.

And the trees and parks. Sydney streets are lined with gum trees of every kind: some look like oak and elm. Many gum varieties are very leafy and give a green haze over the whole city. There are parks everywhere. New Zealand local governments make sporadic attempts to plant trees along streets, but there is no continuity over time, it being left to individual property owners to plant trees. The councils here make real efforts to ensure tidiness in parks, grassed areas, and street flower beds. The variety of bird life is amazing, and yet we miss the English twittering larks and blackbirds.

Sydney-siders amuse us with their complaints about the cold winters, yet where are the deep, death-like grip of frosts, of gloves and scarves wrapped around faces, of red noses, and creeping chill-blains. The occasional city fogs are reported as “pea-soupers” yet one can see at least 100m away. There is just so little water retained in the ground here. Water runs off over the one, big rock of Australia.

Multicultural Apartment Life

Apartment life was new to us. There was no way we could afford to buy a house without a mortgage in Sydney anywhere close enough to be worth living in a city. We could afford to buy a two-bedroom flat, 17km out, and only in a multicultural area. Any closer to the city, we would pay $50,000-$75,000 for every 5km closer in, or live in the “white-flight” areas miles away. So, here we settled in Belmore, close to the population centre of Sydney. Soon we found we would have to make a choice of which direction to shop and to orient ourselves: 15min west to the tradesmen Mediterranean and Middle East heart, or 15min north to the rich, middle-class multicultural Burwood.

All the variety of our local contacts: doctors, dentists, specialists, shop attendants, etc., were a subset of the huge, proud, multicultural mix of Sydney West. Greek, Lebanese, Chinese, Korean, Armenian, Indian, Polynesian. Our apartment block residents reflected this mixture well: Korean, Chinese, Greek, Lebanese, Italian, Kiwi, and Australian.

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