Posted by: scribe9 | January 5, 2010

Neither Kansas nor Oz

We’re not in Kansas any more; nor are we in Oz, as Australians call their island continent. New Zealand is proud of its differences and independence from its nearest (only 1250 miles away!) neighbor.

Twelve years ago, shortly after we’d returned from Oz, we bought our first Subaru. The salesman was from New Zealand (which is fitting—there are heaps of Subarus here), and Rick mentioned that every New Zealander he met seemed to think they were better than Australians. The salesman shrugged and grinned. “That’s because we are.”

The feeling runs both ways. A few years later Rick was at a dinner meeting in Portland with some Australians. The waiter was pleased to offer New Zealand lamb; the Aussies instantly chorused, “No way!” (pronounced “Nor wye!”).

 Australia was settled by Europeans earlier. England wanted a new penal colony because the American Revolution closed off access to Georgia, and earlier skirmishes with the Maori convinced the British that they’d rather be in Australia than New Zealand. Even though New Zealand had no penal colonies, a certain number of early settlers were escapees from Australian ones. For its first year under British rule, in 1840, New Zealand was run from Sydney as a dependency of New South Wales, Australia’s first colony.

Early in the twentieth century, when the Australian colonies were federating into states and territories of an independent nation, New Zealand chose to remain a separate colony, not becoming independent until 1949.

 The flags look quite similar: Union Jacks in the upper left corner, with the Southern Cross on a blue field. But the Australian flag has an additional, smaller star; the four main stars of Crux are slightly different in size and layout; and there’s an additional larger star under the Union Jack that doesn’t exist in the sky, with seven rays, one for each of Australia’s six states and one for its territories and dependencies. Also, the stars on the New Zealand flag are red, outlined in white, while those on the Australian flag are all white. The unofficial flags of the countries are quite different; Australia’s has a green kangaroo on a yellow ground, and New Zealand’s has a silver fern on a black ground.

The union jacks are unlikely to disappear until the countries become republics–basically, electing their own heads of state, rather than recognizing England’s monarch as the head of state. The idea gets bandied about from time to time, and Australia voted it down in 1999, although it’s hard to tell how much from loyalty to the Queen and tradition, and how much from fear about the proposed new form of government. New Zealand has traditionally prided itself on being more loyal to the Crown than any other country, and I’m not sure how strong the republican movement is here.

New Zealanders are acknowledged to have done much better with their natives than Australia with the Aborigines. Maoris are a much bigger segment of the population, having rebounded from skirmishes with the settlers and the far more deadly European infectious diseases—although now they suffer disproportionately from diabetes, heart disease, and substance abuse. Maori is an official language in New Zealand, with many official signs in both English and Maori, and a bit of Maori even in English-language services. The Maori television network still has to broadcast some in English, since the Maori language is spoken by only about 20% of Maoris. Want to see what Maori looks like? Google New Zealand is available in Te Reo Maori.



  1. Amy – I really appreciate the insights not only into NZ/AS culture, but the history. Why things turn out the way they do often has long roots into the past. We are having the other extremes of January weather: nothing in bloom except Christmas cacti and poinsettias, loads of snow to shovel, and fresh snow nearly every day.

    • Sheri–
      Glad you like the history–I’ve sometimes worried that I’m writing only to myself on those parts.

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