Across the Sea: A Brief History of Immigration to New Zealand

POMS AWAY!

When I was eleven, my class studied a topic I’ll never forget. At least I’ll never forget the image of a dead baby being thrown overboard wrapped in a Union Jack. The topic dealt with the history of immigration to New Zealand.

Each member of my class had to write a pretend diary from the perspective of an English immigrant making the long and perilous voyage to New Zealand in the nineteenth century. As I was an English immigrant whose family had moved to New Zealand only a year previously, I found the topic particularly affecting.

Of course, my family had not come to New Zealand by ship, but by plane. And it had taken us twenty-four hours of travelling, not six months. And none of us had died on the way. Still, I understood the heartbreaking enormity of leaving your home for a strange country on the other side…

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How I Caught a Kiwi Accent

The last two weeks have been bad. They found cancer in my mum’s lymph nodes, they sent her for surgery, and we visited her in hospital. That was covered in my previous post. Since then, my body has gone and decided that my mum really shouldn’t get all the attention.

Certain problems that have been developing in the background for some time have suddenly jumped to the fore. On Thursday, I woke up in agony and ended up in hospital myself. That was the day before we were due to travel to New Plymouth.

You see, I was expecting this post to be a happy one: a return to the traditional travel blog format. My partner, Tim, and I had been planning this trip to New Plymouth for a while. It was the weekend of our fifth anniversary.

We were supposed to travel down with our mate, Ems, meet up with Tim’s family, spend a day at WOMAD, (a hippy music festival,) a day at my favourite museum, and then head back to Hamilton. Even with the day in hospital, it still looked like this was going to happen.

I was sent home from hospital loaded up with painkillers. (They can’t do anything until I have an ultrasound; it will be weeks before I get an ultrasound.) Ems joked that it would be okay – we could just share her wheelchair at WOMAD! And it would have been, but… then came the flu.

By the time Ems came to pick us up, I had lost my voice. It was still fine. I realised I must have caught it visiting my mum in hospital, because my mum had it too. (On top of recovering from surgery!) I was just a little frustrated sitting on my own in the back seat, unable to communicate.

The drive down from Hamilton to New Plymouth takes three and a half hours. Once you’re past Te Awamutu, a small town just south of Hamilton, mobile reception becomes practically non-existent, so make sure you have physical maps available.

It was late when we got to where we were staying, and my illness had worsened. My body couldn’t decide whether it was hot or cold. I was barely aware of my surroundings. In the morning, I felt thoroughly beat-up, but it was time to go to WOMAD.

I was drenched with sweat before we’d even entered the park. I volunteered to push Ems’s wheelchair because I needed something to lean on as I walked. We joined the growing line of aging hippies eager to get into the festival.

I’d been to WOMAD before. I knew it wasn’t really my thing. I mean I don’t mind the interesting music from around the world. I don’t mind the exciting variety of food stalls. I don’t mind the market filled with beautiful, hippy clothing. It’s just that being in a crowd makes me uncomfortable.

I get panic attacks. And now I was battling a steadily worsening bout of what I was coming to realise wasn’t just a cold.

It was bearable at first. We got there early, so there weren’t so many people. They were still setting up, much to the confusion of these two geese:

We got breakfast from one of the food stalls, (a gorgeous Polynesian raw fish salad,) and I was able to join in the conversation, albeit in a whisper. At some point, Ems asked me why I was speaking in a Kiwi accent.

I’ve lived in New Zealand since I was a child, but I still have a British accent. I find it difficult even to fake a Kiwi accent; whenever I try I sound Australian. The reason, I think, is this: the Kiwi accent is incredibly lazy.

Seriously. As soon as you put any effort into a Kiwi accent, it becomes Australian, and it’s difficult to fake an accent without putting any effort in. Now, however, here I was, speaking Kiwi. Whispering Kiwi.

I realised that, because it hurt so much to talk, I was putting as little effort as possible into making my vowel sounds.

“You’ve caught a Kiwi accent,” Ems laughed.

Whatever I’d caught, it became harder and harder to endure as the day wore on. The whole thing’s kind of a blur. Here are some photos I got:

That was funny. Can see what the sign below it says? PLEASE DO NOT CLIMB ON HISTORIC CHIMNEY.

And oh yeah, that was where I bumped into someone from the same obscure, little town in England as me, but couldn’t say anything to him, so he wandered off awkwardly.

I’m dying in this photo. Like just take it. Please, just take it. I’m about to collapse. No, please, no more, just let me die.

Pretty trees. Can’t breathe. Can’t go on…

And that’s where the weekend ends, pretty much. We couldn’t go to my favourite museum. I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. Besides, by now Tim was getting sick too. We just had to go home.

The last few days I’ve been drowning in the worst flu of my life. I’ve been coughing up blood and, well, I won’t say what else. Tim’s bad too. What an anniversary weekend! I pictured us lying in bed together, but not like this. Not like this.

Summer’s End

Summer ended abruptly this year. One day it was warm and bright and cicadas were chirping outside; the next it was cold and dark and my mum had cancer. I mean a month’s worth of rain fell in a day and a night.

There’s flooding, of course, and warnings of more severe thunderstorms to come. Rather ironically, Auckland is now facing a water shortage – unsettled silt in the dams due to flooding, apparently. And my mum has cancer.

It’s all I’ve been able to think about for days.

There was a brief respite when, during a shower, I heard a knocking at the door. I hurried to answer it, flustered, dripping, and with a towel held awkwardly around me, only to find that it was a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

They asked me, quite patronisingly, if my husband was at work.

Okay, one, I’m not married; my BOYFRIEND is at work. Two, I’m also at work, actually, as I work from home. Three, THIS IS THE SECOND TIME IN TWO MONTHS THAT YOU’VE GOTTEN ME OUT OF THE SHOWER.

It didn’t even occur to me until after I’d gotten rid of them that some people find solace in religion at times like this. I’m not that kind of person. I’m the kind of person that obsesses over the worst-case scenario of any given situation. And I’ve been in this situation before. Three years ago, my partner’s mother was diagnosed with cancer. Two years ago, she died.

“I know you’re thinking ‘not again’,” my mum told me over the phone.

She knows me so well.

Fortunately, my boyfriend and I already had plans to visit my parents this weekend. We booked the coach a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, my parents live right beneath the big, red, swirling thing on the ‘severe weather warning’ map. The road there is going to be… interesting.

***

I’m on the coach. The clouds are such a deep grey I can barely see to write. (The light above me isn’t working.) The driver says we’re going a different route because of a collapsed bridge. My mum had surgery again yesterday. I rang today, but she felt too sick to talk to me. Dad’s picking us up when we get there. I don’t know why I even tried to write.

***

I’m at home. My parent’s home. It’s still weird calling Hamilton home. According to our flatmate, the pavement in front of our house is knee-deep in water. It’s not actually too bad here. Weather-wise. There’s more of a depression inside my dad than outside the window. That was a bad joke, but ‘storm’ wouldn’t have worked because he’s not angry. I can barely hear him his words are so heavy.

***

I’m at the hospital. Mum’s good. Well, as good as you can be when you’ve had two major surgeries in as many weeks. She’s had chunks out of her legs and lymph nodes out of her groin, but she’s up and laughing and worrying about her hair.

“Don’t worry,” I said, “it’s only gone all flat and greasy.”

She laughed. She tried to show Dad a picture of her stitched up shin, but he couldn’t bear to look.

“Don’t worry,” I said, “it’s only like Nightmare Before Christmas.”

She managed to do a lap of the toilet block with a walker. (When she came round the corner, I held out a coat like a flag.) She’s doing so well it’s hard to believe she’s got cancer at all. Maybe she hasn’t anymore. Maybe they caught it early enough and it’s all been cut out. Maybe she won’t have to have radiation or chemo. Maybe her legs haven’t been screwed up for life. (Because, you know, removing lymph nodes isn’t exactly good for the body.)

Maybe. We’ll see.

It’s the ‘we’ll see’ part that’s driving me crazy.

***

The old woman in the hospital bed next to my mum’s said, “I’m very fastidious when it comes to cleaning. I can’t stand to have anything crooked; I’m always straightening things. I’m a bit AC/DC, you know.”

Mum whispered that to me. She knew I’d want to write it down.

***

I’m back in Hamilton. And guess what. IT’S SUMMER AGAIN. It’s warm and bright and cicadas are chirping outside. Typical bloody New Zealand weather and, I might add, not at all symbolic. Mum’s still in hospital.

Sorry for the patchy blog post this week, but I’m feeling too weird to fix it.

What the Internet’s Like in New Zealand

It’s the year 2000, and you’re trying to connect to the Internet. You grit your teeth through the cacophony of chirps and screeches, like crickets being tortured through a transistor radio.

(Yes, kids, that was the mating call of the dial-up modem.)

You think you’re finally connected when suddenly your mum’s voice starts coming through the computer speakers. She’s on the phone; your very important MSN Messenger session with friends with whom you’ve just been at school will have to wait. Your initial annoyance is replaced with the thought that this would be a great way to spy on people…

Those were the days. The days of asking Jeeves, in grammatically correct sentences, the answers to your homework. Of logging into chat rooms just to see if there were any of those bad people you’d been warned about. Of wondering what on earth a Trojan was and why it had anything to do with horses… For me, those were the days just before my family immigrated to New Zealand.

Back then, I knew very little about New Zealand. I was a nine-year-old living on the other side of the planet. The image I had was of the sort of South Pacific island that cartoon characters tend to get stranded on, populated by primitive tribes. The chances of them having the Internet, I thought, weren’t high.

Obviously, I was wrong.

We moved to New Zealand in 2001. Over the next decade, we progressed from dial-up to wireless broadband, but it was slow, unreliable and expensive. If you ever asked why, you’d receive a vague reply involving New Zealand’s low population density.

Our usage was carefully monitored to make sure we didn’t go over our data limit each month. You know when your dad stalks around the house turning off heaters to save money? Well it was like that, but with YouTube. When I left home for university in 2009, I had decent Internet access for the first time in my life.

I was living at a university hall of residence. I was amazed: YouTube videos played without buffering! Like at all! It wasn’t wireless, but I wouldn’t get Internet access that good again for another few years. In 2012, I lived in a building that charged you $10 for 1GB, and it expired after a week. I used to ration it out so carefully, consuming it slither by slither. I had just enough data per week to do all my uni work and watch ONE episode of Game of Thrones.

Internet access in New Zealand has gotten better over the last few years. Speeds have greatly improved, and fibre is more widely available. Even now, though, you’re looking at $100 a month for unlimited Internet plans.

I will say, if you’re looking to move to New Zealand, don’t be put off by the relative crapness of its Internet access. I mean I work from home; my job depends on the Internet, and I’m fine. I only occasionally experience frustratingly slow speeds and am rarely unable to connect at all. I do, however, live in a city. If you’re planning on running an Internet-reliant business in New Zealand, it would probably be better not to live anywhere rural.

If you’re looking to travel around New Zealand, beware that mobile data coverage is patchy. You can buy mobile data for about $20 a month for 10GB a month. More and more city centres have free WiFi now, and many cafés do. Libraries, information centres and museums have it, but don’t expect much.

For more New Zealand holiday tips, check out my 10 Totally Awesome New Zealand Holiday Tips. (They’re totally awesome.)