Growing up Mozzie by Jo Kamira

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Ahitereria. What a country of contrasts. A place where trees shed their bark and not their leaves. Where swans are black and the animals look like theyre descended from a mad scientists experiment. Where the temperature can go from -10c to 18 c in a day (Yup thats Canberra for you). And where Aussies call their best mate a real bastard but their worst enemy a bit of a bastard.

Welcome to Ahitereria.

Ive been here since I was a kid and I am always asked by our iwi about the animals and insects, dangerous or not. I want to put it out front that I dislike creeply crawlies as much as the next Maori, but seeing Im married to the Koori Steve Irwin (who by the way, was a bit of a bastard for the way he used to annoy animals for entertainment), and I have come to see the world through his eyes when it comes to our fauna and flora. I am yet to come around to consulting with every bloody spider that wanders through our door as to whether it wants to be relocated, but hey, its a small price to pay for a bit of piece and quiet.

So today, I thought Id give anyone who is contemplating the big move across the ditch or has recently arrived, a run down on some of the animals and insects here.

The first time I realised that animals here were differentreally different, was when my Dad came home after driving his truck across the Hay Plains. He thought he saw something our of the corner of his eye but then it would disappear, then come back, then disappear. Being the staunch Maori he washis first thought was kehua, until he slowed down and the kehua stuck his head into the window of his truck. Dad had his first introduction to an emu.

The emu is a relation of the Moa and also the cassowary. At some nature reserves, especially here in Canberra, they are partial to barbeques and will quite boldly walk out of the bush to see what tasty morsels they can scare you in to giving them. I once took some Papua NuiGuinea visitors to Tidbinbilla Nature reserve for a barbeque. Of course, the emus turned up lured by the smell of sausages frying. However in PNG and Far North Queensland, the cassowary is a dangerous bird. So when our visitors saw the emu they took off, with sausages still in their hands.and emu in chase. They finally realised, when we stopped laughing, that we were yelling at them to drop their food.

The Koori SI always wanted to farm emu meat. He reckoned that a Kentucky Fried Emu Drumstick would defeat any of my cuzzies because they are so huge. Emu oil, is also a wonderful, natural Indigenous relief for arthritis.

Canberra is called the Bush Capital. The whole of the Australian Capital Territory is linked by bush corridors. Wildlife is plentiful and none so much as the kangaroo. Driving to work last week, rounding State Circle (thats the road that rings Parliament House) a roo bounded out of the garden and decided to race my car (yes its a major road and the speed is 80km). These cute creatures have IQs that are marginally higher than sheep but Im yet to be convinced, hence the amount of them found dead on the side of the road. Hit one with your car though and youre likely to write your car off or do some substantial damage to your car and you. The rule of thumb is that if you see one on the side of the road, prepare yourself to stop. And if youre driving through an area that is known to have roos, especially at dawn or dusk slow down and be careful. And dont let your kids, yourself or your dog (especially your dog) chase them. A roo will lure a dog to water and drown them. They may be cute and dumb but they can be mean.

Some of you may shudder at the thought of eating roo. But roo is a very ecologically sound meat. It is very high in protein, low in fat and as it is Indigenous to this country, doesnt degregate the ground like beef and sheep. Its a gamey meat.

Wombats! What can I say about wombats. Did you know that pants put over a babies nappy is nicknamed a wombat thats because of the size of their nono. If you can get a hold of Jackie Frenchs kids book diary of a wombat, it will tell you all you need to know about these gorgeous creatures. Apparently, they are notoriously cranky and Fatso the Wombat on the Aussie 80s and 90s show, A Country Practice, had his co-stars petrified of him. They are all muscle, hence not good tucker. They are nocturnal and will dig huge dens to live in. They will often wander along highways at night but have delusions of grandeur – nothing gets between a wombat and where it wants to get to. Not even a Double b semi trailer.

Everyone has yukky spider stories to tell. The rule of thumb with spiders in Oz aretreat them with a healthy respect. What does this mean? If you live in Sydney or along the Eastern Seaboard in a city, you are never more that a few metres from a funnel web or red-back spider. These guys are deadly and not in a good deadly but dead type deadly meaning.

Use common sense. Dont garden without gloves. Dont pick up rocks or bricks without first kicking them over to check theres nothing underneath. And dont put on your shoes without shaking them if they have been outside. The big huntsman spiders that will often climb inside your house are actually looking for a feed of flies and mosquito, not you. They really are docile (yes I know Im talking about a spider) and look worse than they are. But they are a cheaper option and more ecologically sound than fly spray (Im now beginning to sound like the Koori SI). If your washing is out overnight, shake it out when youre folding it in case a spider is developing an intimate relationship with your undies. If youre lifting garden furniture or anything with a rim, dont put your hand under before checking. Its common sense.

But what advice would be less than complete if I didnt tell you about snakesor sn ake as my whanau call them! I hate them. I hate them and did I tell you that I hate them. Australia is home to some of the most poisonous snakes in the world. The most common in the south-east is the King Brown. There are more than enough of them in Canberra and theyre cranky buggers. I hate going to my kids school and seeing signs on the paths to be careful as there are brown snakes about. And its beginning to get warmer so theyre coming out of hibernation and wandering around looking for a feed. A couple of years ago I was going up to the front office when some of the Senior College boys yelled at me to stop. I wasnt going to be told twice and did, just as a King Brown went past my feet. I think the aatua wahine on my Chuck Taylors also tutae-d herself!

So the best way to deal with snakesif youre tramping through long grass, wear long pants and boots. Carry a stick and swish the grass in front of you. Snakes dont have ears but they do feel the vibrations. And they are more scared of you than them. Dont step over logs if youre walking in the bush or a bushy area, check first. If your house backs on to a reserve, dont leave mess around, Thats where they could be hiding (note to self the Koori SI needs to clean up his oh but I might need it one day pile of stuff in the backyard before spring ;). If you are working in an area that has undergrowth or causes you to walk through long grass, get your boss to buy you some gaiters that can be worn over trousers. Never, ever, ever, run over one in your car as it could flick up into the undercarriage and that will really ruin your day. And learn first aid. In the summer the teachers on playground duty at my kids school carry snake bite kits and have to undergo first aid training every year.

It sounds creepy but a bit of common sense will get you a long way. If youre in the city areas it will be unlikely youll come across a snake. But they are common in the bush capital and remote areas.

Once you do get used to the wildlife here theres an added bonus for your kids when you do go homewetas are no longer scary!

Here Aunty Aroha see what Ive got Aunty Aroha: Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrggghhhhh.Young mozzie: Hehehehehe! But look, theyre so cute and they dont bite!

For more information if youre here, or thinking of moving check out these:

www.maori-in-oz.com

Australian Maori on Facebook

Jo Kamira, Te Rarawa, Te Aupouri, Nga Puhi

 

 

 

5 COMMENTS

  1. Hi just wanted to say great stories and you nail the Moari in oz very well. Liking the stories. I found you by googling about moari community. Thats all I wanted to say. Cheers

  2. Kia ora Jo, loved your story about the crawlies of creepies here in OZ, brought back a few memories and confirmation of shaking ones clothes when hung out over night, went to put said softball pants on in the morning and got bitten by a spider, was delirious at the game but played my best, must be some truth in ‘spiderWOman!’ Snake crawled into engine bay, hubby and sons saw it, not me, not seen a snake crawling (alive) in 15yrs, can’t say I am complaining though. Truly enjoyed reading your story. Aroha tino nui Christel & Co, Gold Coast, Qld. xox

  3. Thank you Andrew. Glad you enjoyed it. Wasn’t game to describe the euphemism “two wombats fighting in a sack” but I think the imagery gives a mental picture? Cheers Jo.

  4. That is one of the greatest descriptions of my mother land i have ever read . Thank you for your honesty and myrth . I have full intentions of showing your words to my AUSSIE family .

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