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An Aussie in Otorohanga


Australians cannot say Otorohanga without mangling it. I should know I am one… an Australian that is. It took me about two weeks of practice, to get it right. In fact I got it so right a born and bred “Otorohangan” suggested I tone down the pronunciation as nobody speaks like that. Find the middle ground.

Well apparently I have, found the middle ground. That being somewhere near the middle of the North Island not far from the beach but nearly as far inland as you can get, all this is happening in the one place. What a country! I don`t think we are in Melbourne any more Bozo, err Tonto, um Toto.

Geographically Otorohanga sits on the large Northern Island of New Zealand. A country made up of two or three islands at least, these are sitting at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, containing quirky people who speak very rapidly and occasionally replace words with a quick, almost imperceptible raise of the eyebrows. I have tried this, but end up looking like I have been shot by a taser, afraid that this might be a permanent look I have given up and smile constantly to compensate. Children have recently started avoiding me. Go figure?

I started working at the Otorohanga Kiwi House in June 2009.  Irony somehow decided to come to Otorohanga with me.  Verdant greenery, no article about New Zealand is complete without the word verdant, and lots of water, more rain in one weekend than we had in two years in OZ.

I thought the NZ Customs service might have taken pity on me and decided to irradiate for irony in the arrivals hall.  But no! “Straight through the green zone Sir, ooops don`t forget your dose of irony”. …..Dust storms sweeping across the western plains of Victoria were a departing image for me floating serenely out across the Tasman in a manic drought created westerly. Everything seemed New Zealand bound, for some Aussie farmers I know; there were only two first class passengers; top soil and hope! Never mind?

Before I came to be at the Otorohanga Kiwi House I worked at Melbourne Zoo where I held the stately title of, Curator, Pachyderms, Pinnipeds and Aves.  And no, that is not a collection of exotic rashes, but the high brow (read Latin) name for Elephants; yep the big grey, occasionally grumpy, eating machines and Marine Mammals which I suppose technically could also include humans who are also mammals. But for the purposes of this case includes only Seals.  Australian and New Zealand Fur Seals are different species, you can tell by the way the Kiwi fur seal can raise and lower his eyebrows almost imperceptibly, if you know what I mean.

And Aves of course refers to birds, a lot of the Australian ones stick to type and are loud and demonstrative. I love New Zealand birds they are altogether more reserved, like little secrets flitting about the verdant bush. Hearing one whisper welcome to my house is a very special welcome indeed. Whereas the Australian birds scream at full volume I AM HOT, I AM DUSTY AND THE COUNTRY IS ON FIRE over and over again.

Since I have been in New Zealand I have never slept so well, waking refreshed and peaceful like a tranquillity bath invigorating and gentle. In contrast waking to the Bird sounds of Oz can send you reeling out of bed into the wall and out the front door. Glorious as nature intended, naked as the day you were born to rant at the noisy critters. This is called Australo-insanity and affects many visitors and residents. Yes the nudity bit can be very funny at times but let me tell you the lows far outweigh the highs.  A tranquillity dust bath, nude ranting on a prickly lawn!  Apologies if I sound slightly bitter but you try being woken up every day by screams of I AM HOT, IAM DUSTY AND THE COUNTRY IS ON FIRE! Phewy!

For some blokes I know it is not only the birds that have taken up this mantra!  Australian pillow talk  …, I AM HOT, I AM DUSTY AND THE COUNTRY IS ON FIRE! That’s nice dear?

New Zealand birds are phenomenal. Endemism is a word that scientists use to describe them. Endemism is not a fascination with “endings” as such but more to do with where things end up and stay. The groaning you can hear is a collective sigh expelled from scientific communities all over the world. I know, that is the worst definition of endemism ever but that’s the point. New Zealand’s birds are unique, so then should the definition be. Found nowhere else on the planet. And that is why I am here! Get it… nowhere else on the planet. One small sentence for man one great big plus for Otorohanga and the Kiwi House. Say it again… nowhere else!

The people are also unique.  You are bound to meet a farmer on your travels, when you stop to chat you may initially think that he doesn`t want to talk with you. But you would be very wrong. Normal conversation patterns go to and fro, answer then enquire. The farmer though takes a little while to warm up while he assesses you. Long silences… don`t be put off, he is sending a short brain e-mail back and forwards in his skull. The answer will come very shortly and it will be positive, you can see it in the slight twinkle of his eye and the quirky smile. He is actually quite excited to meet you. Surmises New Zealand for me really, that twinkle in the eye and the quirky smile accompanied by birds lilting welcomes. Otorohanga is a very special unpronounceable place.

So next time someone says to you that the journey is more important than the destination, raise your eyebrows slightly, twinkle your eyes and smile. If you manage to do all that and not look like a demented carnival clown tell them to Otorohanga off;  or be off to Otorohanga  might be better either way it’s the only destination, it is for this Aussie and could be yours too.

BTE, Paul works here.

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