May 10, 2021

Maori News & Indigenous Views

Across the ditch by Derek Fox

3 min read

Im writing this week from across the ditch in Australia and its giving me a chance to see how our whanau are living here.

Of the estimated million kiwis who live overseas, seven hundred thousand are said to be in Australia, including about a hundred and twenty thousand Maori.

My reason for being here isnt a happy one. Im here for the tangi of my youngest mokopuna, a little girl who was born with many difficulties and fought to live for three months before joining our ancestors.

She was much loved and will leave an indelible mark on her extended whanau.

For many Australia is seen as the land of milk and money, the lucky country, not just by Maori but by other Pacific peoples too, and for some that is so, but not for everyone.

The Australian economy – fuelled by enormous mineral wealth and starved of manual and semi-skilled workers to exploit the minerals – has soaked up such workers from Aotearoa and other Pacific nations.

During the tangi Ive been touched by the support the family is getting from friends and whanau some of whove travelled big distances to pay their respects to the little girl lying in her parents home.

I talked to each of them how long had they been here, what do they do, how have they settled, do they go home often or is this country now their home.

Most are young working people and thats why theyre here. But its also warm and you can wear shorts everyday. The kids are in sports teams and achieving well. They arent stigmatised here and to the Australians they are just kiwis who tend to be hard working and getting on with life; home is still home, and visits while infrequent are still made for significant events.

But like I said it isnt all good news. Some Maori families struggle even in Australia. Yes they have jobs and thats a major plus but the streets arent running with gold. They chop and change jobs and the fact they can do that is good too but at the lower end pay rates are still low.

Imagine though if those 120-thousand-plus Maori came home. Successive New Zealand governments have happily exported the unemployed to Australia, and that has a major affect on Maori.

I dont know if my son and his family will ever come home. They say they will and it seems to be a mid term goal; but I dont know. They dont earn particularly well here, but there is work, and while he has been the only breadwinner which makes it tough when the older mokos finish school and enter the workforce things could change.

I dont like them being here, I want to be able to easily visit them, to watch my mokos play sport on Saturday morning and when they excel I want them representing Aotearoa not Australia.

But there certainly isnt a plethora of jobs at home.

The loss of the little girl has made them think of home, but pulling out and heading back hasnt been a real option.

Living in a new land has led to changes in our culture too. Theres no marae so the tangi is at home. But Aussie homes are big with big garages and a backyard where whanau and friends have rallied to cook kai and keep the meals coming to feed everyone. The local church group has a portable hangi machine and a stock of crockery and cutlery and mattresses to lend out for times like this.

What to do with baby June has made another dent in the old ways. Burying her in Brisbane wasnt an option, taking her home to Ruatorea hasnt been possible either not yet anyway. Instead shell be cremated and her ashes held by her family until they go home.

With each year that passes though there are fewer reasons to go home. Much loved grandparents pass away, the kids grow up and settle into the new society, Ruatorea and Mahia become legendary but dimly remembered homelands; so I dont know if they will come back, maybe those in Aotearoa now will opt to cross the ditch too.

So I dont know.

Hei kona.

na Derek Fox

1 thought on “Across the ditch by Derek Fox

  1. sorry to hear of your loss derek,i hope dj and his wife are doing good.I hope that this isn't his baby that has passed away.I too are living in Perth working here in the mines as a Specialized Dozer Operator,as there is no work in NZ for me.

    Kiaora Derek
    old friend Des Harrison

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