As many of you know, I started my retirement in style by spending 15 days in New Zealand and Australia. So “G’day, mate” (pronounced “good eye, mite”), the typical greeting in Australia, and “Kia ora,” which is Maori for “hello.” This post will be a little different from the usual, as I want to share my impressions of these two great countries. But I’ll throw in a few movie references, and even a photo or two. (A big shout out goes to Martie Mumford, my sister-in-law, who acted as our group’s unofficial historian and photographer, and a big thanks to Martie, Tom, Lynda, Mike and my beautiful wife, Janene, for making the trip so enjoyable. We spent every moment of the 15 days together and got along great, despite some intense discussions on lots of serious subjects. The biggest problem we had was trying to decide where to eat.)
Being in the Southern Hemisphere, New Zealand and Australia were in the middle of winter. But even in winter, New Zealand reminded me a lot of Hawaii. Their natural parks system protects one-third of the country’s flora and fauna. Here are a couple of photos to show you what I mean:
Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city and is quite cosmopolitan. Outside Auckland, the country is mostly agricultural. Only five percent of New Zealand’s population is human; the rest are domesticated animals (mostly sheep and cattle). In fact, there are more vending machines in Japan than there are people in New Zealand. As crazy as it sounds, the thing that impressed me the most about New Zealand’s cities were the playgrounds. Take a look at these photos:
Of course, in the “States” (as the U.S. is referred to by those down under), no one would dare install most of the equipment found at a New Zealand playground due to liability concerns. But I understand the New Zealand personal injury system is much different than ours. It is similar to our worker’s compensation, where people who are injured are compensated at a set rate rather than relying on a judge or jury to impose pain and suffering and other damages. If the U.S. adopted such a system, we could do away with a significant portion of the lawyers in this country. (I can say that now that I’m retired!)
New Zealanders (or Kiwis, as they are known) are proud of the fact that there are only four types of poisonous spiders in New Zealand, three came from Australia, along with the black widow from America. And there are no snakes, so Indiana Jones would love New Zealand. When it comes to New Zealand and movies, most people think of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Hobbit movies, the filming of which brought over $200 million into the New Zealand economy – that’s over $40 million per person! But when I think of New Zealand movies, I think of Moana and Whale Rider, which give us a greater understanding of New Zealand’s Maori heritage, and my favorite New Zealand movie, The World’s Fastest Indian,[i] which is the true story of New Zealand native, Burt Munro, and his quest to break the land speed record on a motorcycle. It is a gem that, unfortunately, most people have never seen. Here is one scene from the film which I can relate to, as to reminds us never to underestimate the power of an old coot:
When we landed in Australia, the country felt like home to me. I suppose that was because I had served a two-year church mission there many years ago, and the landscape reminds me a lot of the mountain west of the United States. Like New Zealand, Aussies drive on the wrong side of the road, which is the left side. My brother-in-law, Tom, did almost all of the driving in New Zealand, while I did most of the driving in Australia. It does take some getting used to. The hardest parts were to remember which side of the car the steering wheel is on (I got in the wrong side of the vehicle at least twice) and which side of the steering wheel the blinker is on (I was continually turning on the windshield wipers when I wanted to signal a turn). And after we returned to the States, I continued to confuse the windshield wipers for the blinker. In Australia, you not only drive on the left side of the road, you must walk on the left side of a sidewalk as well. In fact, it is technically illegal to walk on the right side of a footpath there.
One of the things Australia is known for is their animals. The Tasmanian devil looks like a giant rat, and the wombat’s poop is square-shaped (that sounds painful). But of course, most people think of these Australian animals:
Neither the kangaroo nor the emu can walk backward, so Australia put them on its coat of arms to signify that the country is always looking forward. But Aussies are happy to eat their national animal and bird. And we joined right in, enjoying pizzas topped with both kangaroo and emu (as well as crocodile). And you can buy kangaroo and emu at almost any butcher shop.
Similar to New Zealand, Australia has three times more sheep than people, and 25 percent of the population was born in another country. More than 80 percent of the people of Australia live within 70 miles of the coast. And a beautiful coast it is!
If you visited a different beach in Australia once a day, it would take you 27 years to see them all. One of the beaches we visited was beautiful Byron Bay, next to Point Byron, which is the most easterly point of Australia. It has one of the most picturesque lighthouses anywhere:
When I saw this lighthouse, I immediately thought of one of my favorite movies set in Australia, The Light Between Oceans.[ii] It is the story of a lighthouse keeper and his wife who rescue an infant from a boat off the coast of their lighthouse and raise her as their own. The rescuing of the child is especially poignant since they can’t have children of their own:
All is well until they discover the mother of the child is still alive. If they keep the child (and the secret of where she came from), no one would probably ever know the child is not theirs. But will their consciences let them? It is an interesting ethical and moral dilemma that I am glad I will never have to face.
Both Aussies and Kiwis are proud of their heritage and sense of justice, while at the same time acknowledging their indigenous peoples. I found it particularly interesting in Australia where tour guides always take a moment to recognize the heritage of their aboriginal people. Australia declared 1988 as a year of mourning for the Aborigines, and in 2007, Australia’s prime minister issued a national apology to their native people for the way the English and other immigrants treated them. In contrast, here in the States, how often do we respect or even acknowledge the cultural heritage of Native Americans?
New Zealand was the first country to grant the vote to women (1893); Australia was the second (1902). Australia was the first country to put in place an 8-hour work day. Both nations were our allies in World War I and World War II. Many of New Zealand’s and Australia’s troops fought together at the ill-fated battle Gallipoli in World War I. Fifty-eight percent of all New Zealand troops in World War I were casualties. For Australia, World War I was its costliest war in terms of deaths and casualties. From a population of fewer than five million at the time, 416,809 men enlisted, of whom more than 60,000 were killed and 156,000 wounded, gassed, or taken prisoner. The film, Gallipoli,[iii] depicts young Australians joining the war for patriotism and adventure, but realizing all too soon the horror of war, often resulting from the mismanagement of their leaders. Here is the ending scene:
Probably my all-time favorite Australian movie is Breaker Morant.[iv] It is the tragic true story of three Australian lieutenants who are court-martialed for executing prisoners during the Boer War, even though they acted under the orders of their superiors. Using these junior officers as scapegoats, the General Staff of the military were trying to deflect attention from their own war crimes. Here is the ending scene (it is a bit long but powerful):
(The epitaph from Matthew 10:36 in the clip is hard to understand. It reads “A man’s foes shall be of his own household.”)
Of all the things that impressed me about New Zealand and Australia, the most impressive was the friendliness of the people, who were always willing to chat and always willing to help us find our way around. And I loved their laidback attitude of just taking life as it comes. “No worries” is a common expression in both countries, and they take it to heart. If we, Americans, could learn one lesson from our Kiwi and Aussie friends, I hope it would be that.
[i] The World’s Fastest Indian
- Production Companies: OLC/Rights Entertainment, Tanlay, New Zealand Film Production Fund
- Director: Roger Donaldson
- Screenwriter: Roger Donaldson
- Starring: Anthony Hopkins and Diane Ladd
- Release date: March 24, 2006
[ii] The Light Between Oceans
- Production Companies: Heyday Films, LBO Productions (II), and Dreamworks
- Director: Derek Cianfrance
- Screenwriter: Derek Cianfrance (based on the novel by M.L. Stedman)
- Starring: Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, and Rachel Weisz
- Release date: September 2, 2016
- Production Companies: Australian Film Commission and R&R Films
- Director: Peter Weir
- Screenwriter: David Williamson and Peter Weir
- Starring: Mel Gibson and Mark Lee
- Release date: August 28, 1981
[iv] Breaker Morant
- Production Companies: South Australian Film Corporation and The Australian Film Commission
- Director: Bruce Beresford
- Screenwriters: Jonathan Hardy and David Stevens
- Starring: Edward Woodward, Jack Thompson, and John Waters
- Release date: July 3, 1980