Sunday, April 23, 2023

Travelling light – a cultural journey through the Shaky Isles

I’ve been to Aotearoa New Zealand only twice before – once on a brief stop in Auckland on the way to Tahiti in 2014 and then on a longer trip around the North Island at the end of 2016. On the first trip my fellow traveller was in New Zealand because she wanted to visit Tahiti, whereas I was in Tahiti because I wanted to visit New Zealand. On the second visit in 2016, we had planned to continue on to the South Island – till it became clear this would be biting off more than we could chew. A driving journey on two islands was one island too many. Then, almost seven years later, including three years of global pandemic, ducking and weaving to avoid the virus, our 2016 trip was finally about to resume. New Zealand is close to Australia but for the last few years it has been far away. At times during our visit I had to stop and remind myself that we were really there.

From my experience as far as Aotearoa New Zealand is concerned, it seems Australians fall into two groups – those who have been there and want to go back and those who would like to go there. I’ve long had a sense of the significance of New Zealand for our region and our own country. New Zealand is much more connected to the Pacific than Australia. The fact the North island has been described as the largest Polynesian island in the Pacific is possibly part of the reason. It’s only an accident of history that the two islands that make up New Zealand are one country – conceivably they could just as easily have been two. How different that could have been.

Art wall in Britomart, the old transformed dockland area of Auckland.

I’ve said before that Australians used to joke that going to New Zealand was like travelling back to the 1950s. That might be true in some respects, but in other ways it’s like travelling to a country Australia might want to become sometime in the future.

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Absent without leave - ocean crossing in an (almost) post-pandemic world

I’ve been a little out of touch with what’s been happening in the world of Australian creativity and culture because for all of February and early March this year I was visiting Aotearoa New Zealand, on a journey that originally started in November 2016 and was then resumed over six years later. While I was away the Labor Government announced its new National Cultural Policy and soon after I arrived back I received bad news of a loss from the tight group of friends and colleagues who had helped form my cultural world-view so many decades earlier – when we spoke the language of community, the language of culture and the language of changing the world for the better.

All at sea in a floating library
I started my trip in a floating library, that is on a Viking cruise from Sydney to Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand. Viking ships are full of quiet corners crammed with books, a welcome way to pass time at sea – when not in a Scandinavian spa and sauna and pool unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. The cruise was originally a river cruise from Amsterdam up the Rhine to Basel in 2020, before the world went to shit. It was meant to follow my first ever cruise – from London to the furthest point North in Norway, way above the Arctic Circle, then down to beautiful Bergen. As the global pandemic rolled on, this follow up voyage was postponed several times and finally converted to a cruise to New Zealand when Viking started to operate in Southern waters. It was certainly a superb way to travel to New Zealand.

From the time when everyone played in a garage band and was famous amongst a few people they knew for all of five minutes. Of course we wrote our own songs. In our day jobs we were even more serious.

In an inspired move on the way to Melbourne I had booked the Alexander McQueen exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria. I walked off the ship and headed into the city to see it. It was popular and packed and I wore my face mask throughout, but it was excellent and not-to-be-missed.