Monday, 28 November 2011

Aotearoa - A love affair

In Small town New Zealand, you probably…
Still have a fireplace to heat your home.  Call into the pub on a Friday arvo for a few pints after a weeks worth of honest hard work.  Know your postie’s name.  Know your neighbours.

In Small Town New Zealand, you’re likely to…
See the truckies and the farmers up at the break of dawn with their stubbie shorts and high-vis vests (even in the dead of winter).  See the stars at night, with no light and sound pollution to tarnish the serenity that comes with the brilliance of the constellations.  Leave your doors unlocked, to your house and your car.

In Small town NZ, you can generally count on…..
A local volunteer chapter of the NZ fire service and St. Johns Ambulance.  A local RSA.  A safe and trusted midwife, plunket and crèche who will be a part of the community that raises your children.  A bowls club, with immaculate greens and elderly folk in their white duds and sunhats.  A fish and chips shop.  A four square.  The bogans cruising the strip on a Friday night in their Holdens.

In Small Town NZ, you will never see…
“Midnight madness” sales at the town shops. A plethora of neon signs and a bombardment of advertising.  A traffic jam at rush hour.. unless a farmer is moving his stock.

Small town NZ may sometimes make your feet itch, but it always calls you back – always feels like home – even if you’re not a kiwi, as I have discovered.  The significance of these findings and observations is that the majority of NZ is made up of these “small towns”.  Just so many down-to-earth, honest, hard working people who generally work to live instead of living to work.  There isn’t a necessity to live excessively, and value is placed in things that money CAN’T buy.  Twizel. Roxburgh. Westport. Alexandra. Te Anau. Foxton. Taihape. The country is riddled with charming little places filled with people who give New Zealand its wonderful reputation.  This is why I keep coming back…. And why I consider it home - it holds a very big place in my heart.

Thank you New Zealand, for making me fall in love with you. There is a certain contentment that resides within me, knowing you are the place we call home and the place my child will be lucky enough to grow up in.  

In a few months we will have my Canadian family here for 3 weeks to attend our wedding and do a bit of touring around the country.  After years of living away, indifference can often be given a chance to flourish.  Common ground runs out, and familiarity can run dry between us and the ones we "once knew".  Leaving home can be hard when you feel like you are leaving people behind, and so a big part of me is thankful for this once-in-a-lifetime "reunion" we will have here in February, as it's going to allow for a sense of understanding as to why it is I keep coming back and want NZ to be my true home.  Its not just the beautiful scenery and picturesque countryside, but also the lifestyle, the lovely people and the not-so-fast-paced society. 

Selfishly, I want to be released of the guilt I carry for being able to find happiness on the opposite side of the world from my loved ones.  There's honesty if you ever did hear it.  So my excitement for my wedding is matched by my excitement for the opportunity for that release, and that it will happen in the name of Jack - his happiness and his future - and all that is promised to him here in this wonderful land of Aotearoa.

Saturday, 12 November 2011


Warning… if creepy crawlies give you the heebie geebies, this blog may not be for you.  But I know it will be tempting to read on – so don’t say I didn’t warn you!

We’ve been in Australia nearly 18 months now, and I must say its been enjoyable.  The best thing about Queensland is probably the climate.  We absolutely love the long warm days with clear blue skies which seem to be the norm for the majority of the year.  Do you know who else likes the climate?  Rodents, amphibians, reptiles and large bugs.  

You know, I don’t mind that we share our property with multiple lizards (one in the front garden, one in the back, and one that lives in a hole under the concrete pad for the clothes line).

A lizard under our picnic table at the Koala Sanctuary.. the ones in our garden are smaller than this..

The dozens of geckos that emerge when darkness falls, sticking to windows and the back porch ceiling, don’t bother me – I learned to adjust to that when I lived in Lao.  They are harmless.  So much so, in fact, that when one or two get in the house I can live harmoniously with them for days on end, and wait for them to find an open door to let themselves out instead of trying to chase them. 
I don’t mind the vivid green tree frogs – they are much more pleasant to come across than the giant, wart-covered, slimy, insanely stupid cane toads. 
Green Tree Frog
I also don’t mind the possum family that skitters across my back fence at night, illuminated by the moon and looking very rat-like with its thick long tail and beefy haunches.  Poor possums…. First time I saw them I swore up and down they were large rats (not my fault – they look very different to the New Zealand possum).  The gardener came around and laid rat poison on the fence for me…. After an informative visit to the Queensland Museum, I learned that there are rat-like possums here, oh and they are a protected species!  Ooops…

Anyway.  These are the critters who share our property all or some of the time, and that’s fine.  I’ll tell you who I DON’T like.  Firstly, the Huntsman spider. (see photo).  What a traumatizing experience it was to come face-to-face with one on the wall in the hallway when Jack was a brand new little bubba.  It was the size of a dinner plate with its leg span, and Nathan had a ten minute battle with it using a can of fly spray under the bed in the spare room.  I was scarred for weeks… everytime I got up in the middle of the night, my heart would stop with every shadow I spotted – or doorknob I sighted – and I would jump – thinking it was another monster spider.  I believe it is the same species Nathan’s cousin spotted on her baby’s face when she went in to check on him in his crib one night.  (she lives in Sydney).  She also had one drop from the visor in her car one day……. This is bound to happen to me sooner or later since we always leave the windows down in the car while its parked in the garage. 

The huntsman on its way to Jacks bedroom

Orb Web spider at our local 7Eleven
Apparently the Huntsman isn’t aggressive, but holy heck it is fast, and a spider that sprints at about 100km/h is going to make you scream just as much as one that lunges for you (like the trapdoor will do, apparently)…  The other very large spider we have seen a lot of is the Orb Web Spider (pictured below).  But they don’t move from their webs much – the biggest risk they pose is giving old people heart attacks when they walk into the web in the dark, and the spider consequently ends up in their hair or something.  I’m not old but I’m pretty sure that would send me into cardiac arrest, as well.
So I’m really not a fan of arachnids of any sort, but funnily enough I can’t bring myself to check my shoes before I slide my feet inside because somehow I feel the shock of sighting it would be worse than the alarm when it bit my toe to make its presence known.  Rediculous, I know…
Nathan has created an invisible barrier around our home with an effective spider spray – I haven’t seen a serious spider around here for months now, and all scars heal with time.  So I’m getting over the Huntsman experience.

I’ll now go on to tell you about the snake encounters we have had.  I haven’t had a literal “run-in” with a snake, however we have crossed paths.  The first one I ever saw was a Brown Snake that had been freshly run over by a car, just alongside the park I always go to with Jack.  The snake was not very big, and had a very small head, so I deduced that it was an insignificant sighting.  When I went home and googled the snake, I discovered it was probably one of the most venomous snakes you could come across here in Aussie.  Wonderful……….  Nathan told me last week that him and Jack had to stop in the park to let a Brown Snake cross… so that’s two in less than a year.  Two too many, thanks. 
The other snake we have sighted was the Carpet Python.  We have seen two of these, both in the same park.  (I’m contemplating changing the name from Minnippi Parklands to Minnippi Snakelands). 
Now a Carpet Python, in my opinion, is a great snake sighting cause it’s your classic, fat, slow-slithering, colourful, long, exotic looking snake.  I just wished I had a camera (however I have added a pic of a Carpet Python that I took at the Perth Zoo).  So these, along with a couple small snakes Nathan has had to pull out of the pool in our living complex, are the sum of our snake encounters.  The snakes don’t particularly scare me, not like spiders… maybe that’s why I leave my doors wide open all day long.  I might as well hang a sign that says “snakes enter here”… that might teach me a lesson and instill a healthy fear back into my bones. 

Carpet Python at Perth Zoo
But why be afraid of a chance of bad luck with a snake when there are far more useful ways to exert that energy?  We’ve been to the beach numerous times – I mean the ocean – where there are things like shark and jellyfish.  Hellloooooooo!   That’s worth worrying about.  Crikey, one time when we were in Mooloolaba for the weekend, we WITNESSED an evacuation due to a shark sighting.  There have been a handful, if not more, of reported shark attacks here in Australia just in the short time we have lived here.  Ocean?  What do I need to go in the ocean for?  I don’t have gills.  I don’t eat algae.  I’m not a crustacean.  The ocean is for LOOKING at, thanks very much.  Goodness me, there’s rip tides to worry about, and currents, and many, many things that bite.  I’m from a landlocked province so anyone should be able to understand my inability to fathom a desire to enter such a treacherous body of water.

So…I don’t like how I have to worry about Jack frolicking in the grass with no shoes on.  And I try not to think about what it would be like to walk into his room to see a giant spider on his wall or – God forbid – in his crib.  I’d be on the next plane out, I can assure you of that.
But, you know, aside from all of these heart-stopping-in-a-terrifyling-sort-of-way encounters, it would be nice if Jack had a memory of petting a kangaroo or holding a koala.  I would like him to be old enough to remember sighting a massive bat in the moonlight, and the famous Aussie crocs (at Steve Irwin Zoo – not in the wild).  I hope I can keep my wits about me once Jack gets a bit older so that I don’t instill a fear in him unnecessarily, yet there’s only a fine line between fear and wisdom when it comes to a child and animals…
Kangaroo outside a hotel we stayed at while driving across Australia

Living in Australia, the wildlife sightings are so different to what I was privileged enough to see growing up as a child in Canada.  I can’t help but wonder if Jack is ever going to get to see a big black bear, or a mighty timber wolf in the Canadian wild.  I can’t help but feel that he would be missing out if he doesn’t .  How awe-inspiring is it to see a moose with her cubs, a herd of deer, or a snowy owl in the great boreal forest.     Oh how I miss the Great White North at times…..

Alas, Jack will probably remember none of what we are experiencing here in Oz, nor is he likely to spend any length of time in North America as a child.  Soon we will be back in NZ, with nothin’ but Kiwiana goodness – sheep, sheep and more sheep.  No snakes, no deadly spiders, no cougars or crocs.  But hey…. At least he won’t have to wear shoes in the grass!!!