I recently traveled through two beautiful countries, Australia and New Zealand. And as English speaking countries that share a common geographic location, I expected the two to share more than just a language. I couldn’t be more wrong.
While in Australia, I often felt I was in the U.S., whereas the green and agricultural New Zealand was, at times, reminiscent of rural England.
Juxtaposing the two countries from down-under however brings one striking observation to the fore: The treatment of natives in the two countries is radically different.
Australia, much like the U.S., has had huge difficulties integrating Aboriginal people and culture into their white-dominated society. Aboriginals, much like many American natives, arguably, have problems with alcohol use, jobs and education.
But my impression was that those “problems” emanate from the fact that people of colour aren’t always seen in a very positive and welcoming light.
One flagrant example is the just ended Australian election campaign which reeked with racist overtones against the couple of thousands of illegal immigrants reaching the northern shores on boats each year.
And, I couln’t find one trace of Aboriginal art or culture being put forward in either Sydney or Melbourne. No art center, no museum, no dedicated TV channel.
To see, let alone talk to, an Aborigine is tantamount to undertaking a lengthy expedition to the Northern Territories where one has to comb through to find them.
New Zealand’s Whites, on the other hand, seem to have embraced the Maori culture and even boast this wonderful heritage which links the country so closely to the many southern pacific islands, like Tahiti.
The famous Haka performed by the All Blacks before rugby matches is as a result of this acceptance.
But that’s not all. Maoris have their own national digital TV station on Freeview, and they benefit from affirmative actions that enable them to be represented in universities and government.
Most importantly, over the last fifty years, there have been numerous interracial marriages, creating a colorful and tolerant society. Fidjian, Whites, Asians, Maoris… can be seen in bars, clubs, restaurants, where multi-coloured groups are usually seen cheering together.
Of course, there must be some racist tensions here and there. And some people claim most crimes or thefts are committed by Maori teenagers. But it’s so much harder for these thoughts to appear, especially among politicians, when a large portion of the country has some native blood.
These problems are therefore tackled collectively. It is the county’s problem, and not that of a race.
I really liked the small part of Australia I was lucky to visit, but I have to say that I couldn’t quite satisfy my thirst for culture and history.
The Maori’s culture, heritage and well-kept traditions make a journey to New Zealand a fascinating one. Auckland is a relaxed and tolerant place with beaches quite as beautiful as Sydney’s Bondi or Melbourne’s St Kilda.
Its museum has a large impressive Maori art section that shouldn’t be missed. New Zealand will host the rugby world cup next year… And Kiwiland can’t wait to share its culture with the world.