austral asia

Don't know how many times I've flown across the Tasman Sea ... only that it's either an odd or an even number. I should be able to work out which, since I started in New Zealand way back in 1981 and, inevitably, like now, end up here. Odd how certain things recur. I remember how determined I was, when I left New Zealand the first time, not to come to Australia ... I went the other way, to California, New York, London, Amsterdam; then back the same way some years later to Auckland. From thence to here, because I had to get out and could not then afford the northern hemisphere. There is a certain inevitablility about Australia for New Zealanders and I wasn't expecting much that rainy May day 25 years or so ago ... it was the sheer geniality of the people at the airport that struck me first, so unlike the buttoned down puritanism of New Zealand officialdom. The way they cracked jokes at you, or, if they didn't actually crack them, looked as if they might any moment. That pervasive irony, always squinting into the gap between what's meant to be and what is. New Zealanders have that quality too, in spades, but they don't bring it out for official inspection much. This time was like a strange repeat of that first trip. I was stung at Auckland Airport for an incredible sum of money for excess baggage; first time that's ever happened to me though I don't believe it's the first time I've travelled heavy. I could tell from the check-in clerk that this was new; she was embarrassed and would have liked to have helped but was unable, as they used to be, to wink and let you through. There was a queue at the excess baggage counter, which I haven't seen before either. And this was about 6.30 am. The guy was full of false bonhommie, pretending it wasn't the rort that it was. I paid with as much good grace as I could and continued on. Sydney airport was hellish, queues everywhere but ... different. I was carrying electronic goods, a cd and a dvd player which, while neither new nor expensive, could have attracted interest or even duty. Some Aussie at the security end of things, where your luggage was x-rayed, gave me one of those looks and said "Just walk down there, mate." There was the concourse into the terminal; I was free. Later on, waiting for a taxi, in another queue, the guy behind me, a Slav of some kind probably, and a family man with a wife and a couple of kids, became irate at the senselessness of the procedure, which required us to shuffle slowly along in full view of literally hundreds of empty taxis while we waited our turn, and they waited theirs. My cabbie had been there half an hour, just as I had; you used to be able to walk out and get into the first one in a line at the cerbside. Anyway, this Slav guy started ranting: at the despatcher at the head of the queue, who was a young Polynesian boy of 18 or so in a uniform. The Slav yelled and waved his arms; the Polynesian smiled serenely and took no notice whatsoever; the rest of the people waiting took sides, mostly with the Slav. It was serious but it was also somehow comical; and therefore fun. Everyone felt better, blowing off a bit of steam. And this wouldn't have happened in New Zealand. In New Zealand people would have complained to each other, or sighed, or fumed, or simply suffered in silence; no-one would have dared take the stage, as it were, and say what everyone was feeling. In many ways Australia is harsher, crueller, more disillusioned and disillusioning than New Zealand; but it isn't more repressed. And that's something I can't help but like about it.

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