Across the Ditch - Part 6

CARN THE BLOODY TIIIIGES!!!

Seriously, how good was it to watch Richmond not only win a final in front of a crowd of 95,000 at the MCG, but also win convincingly against one of the most successful sides in the modern era and march confidently towards their first preliminary final since 2001.

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No-one here knew or cared, of course. We saw it at home on WatchAFL. I was sorely tempted to fly to Melbourne – there’s nothing quite like the atmosphere of Aussie Rules footy in September, especially when the Tigers are up and about, which of course doesn’t happen much (they haven’t won or played in a Grand Final since before I was born). Watching the game at home in Auckland made me reconnect fondly with everything I love and miss about Melbourne, but I realised I didn’t feel homesick, and I was glad to be where I was.

That’s because here feels like home too. It’s now two months since we stepped off the plane and life has changed a lot. There’s more in it, for a start. We have our own home with our own things – the physical and emotional space for family life is larger. 

We have fibre internet too and by gosh it’s good. We’ve been hanging the pictures up, including ones that have been sitting around in cupboards for years. We’ve got some swanky wooden-back office chairs, some nice homewares and Doug found this cool Dyson heater slash air filter thing which I was sceptical of at first but which is cussing brilliant (the building has zero insulation which is not uncommon here for reasons that are still baffling). We’ve become proper NZ folks and bought Blunt umbrellas which don’t collapse at the first gust of wind. The new couch arrives next week and that should cap things off nicely.

My BFF Steve came to visit a couple of weeks ago (I will feel a Trans-Tasman cringe when he reads this, haha). He just got a new job at Amazon and will be moving from Melbourne to Sydney, so he came to say hi for a few days before the onslaught of moving began. Aside from the best ice cream experience I’ve ever had (Giapo), highlights included watching Steve and Doug get their kitty fix at Auckland’s cat cafe – Baristacats – and discovering some of Auckland’s bar and laneway culture. We tried to get into a New Orleans-inspired restaurant for some live jazz but it was full, so we ended up in a cool little basement cocktail bar where there’s no menu but the staff ask you what drinks and flavours you like and shake up something custom for you. It felt very Melbourne, and we weren’t at all surprised to discover it was started by someone from Fitzroy North. Steve was our first overseas visitor and it was great to show him around. Even though it’s another country, I still feel connected to our friends and within reach, and we’re looking forward to a steady stream of guests over the next year or two. Oh and Steve got a Blunt umbrella too.

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We’re doing a lot of walking. Auckland is a pretty place with its parks and gardens and old buildings and most things we need are close. We walk to Newmarket or Beach Rd for shopping, and enjoy the nearby walkways and gardens of the Domain. I walk to and from work most days and I’m out from behind my desk a lot at work so I walk a lot around campus too and sometimes pop over to nearby Albert Park to connect with my thoughts. There are a lot of hills and my legs are starting to find some definition. Aside from the hill we live on (Parnell Rise), there is one in particular that was quite daunting at first (Alten Park) but which feels a little easier each day. I’m feeling fitter and starting to lose some weight too, which is quite encouraging. There’s a long way to go on that road, but it’s nice to be travelling along it in the right direction for a change.

Auckland Domain

Auckland Domain

Doug at the Wintergarden at Auckland Domain

Doug at the Wintergarden at Auckland Domain

Albert Park

Albert Park

We don’t have a car, but I’ve become a member of the car-sharing service here (Cityhop). This worked very well for us in Melbourne and in a way it’s even better here because no-one seems to know about it – the cars are always available and there is a pod right at the end of our street. So a few weeks ago we took our first trip out of the city into the nearby Waitakere Ranges and to Piha and Karekare with their waterfalls and black sand beaches. The landscape is stunning and the dark skies added a dash of drama. I can’t wait to explore the country – my plan is to take some leave at the end of the year and do a little trip around the North Island.

Work is going very well. I’ve just finished week 8 and I already feel very embedded and have hit the ground running. My previous work colleagues will no doubt be amused to know that I’ve already commandeered a space to convert into a project room – it is now plastered in sticky notes and is agile AF. It’s nice to have a role where I have not just responsibility but authority and resources to carry it out, and I feel welcome and well supported. AUT is an interesting place – dysfunctional and slightly mad like any organisation is – but it has genuine character and an image of itself as a place for the public good. I’ll write more about that another time, but suffice to say for now I am in my element and operating at my level, which is a welcome and refreshing challenge.

Speaking of former work colleagues – I’m reading a history of Aotearoa-New Zealand that was gifted to me when I left my last job (thanks folks!) It’s really good and I’m starting to see some glimpses of the unique and plural culture that exists here. More on this another time too – I’m far too ignorant to hope to say anything worthwhile at this point.

I had my formal staff induction this week at long last (I missed the last one by a few days) and that was surprisingly special. It began with a pōwhiri at the AUT marae. For the uninitiated (among which I include myself) this is a Maori welcoming ceremony in which we the visitors are called inside by the hosts, there is speaking and singing (conducted all in te reo Māori) and finally a hongi, in which the visitors press noses with the hosts, which is performatively symbolic of exchanging the breath of life, after which the visitors become whanau or family. We were invited to bring family along for the occasion, so I was very proud to have mine there with me.

The 'memorial' at One Tree Hill

The 'memorial' at One Tree Hill

The whole experience was a little intimidating, but also remarkably tender and playful. I simply cannot imagine anything remotely comparable to this happening in Australia as part of a mainstream organisational induction. At One Tree Hill there is a ‘memorial’ to the Māori, who Europeans considered to be a dying people when the monument was built in 1940. But everywhere at AUT and in this city there are reminders that Māori are a living, breathing culture. It is nice – and humbling – to find oneself in the midst of a cultural sensitivity that is thoughtful, not thrown in. Lived out, not tacked on. Integrated, not isolated. All these things are good for the soul.

The Ngā Wai o Horotiu Marae at AUT

The Ngā Wai o Horotiu Marae at AUT

We went to see a stage production of Nell Gwynn at the Waterfront Theatre, which is a delightful modern theatre in the developing Wynyard Quarter. The play was excellent, well-acted, dynamically staged and very funny. It’s been quite a while since we went to the theatre in our own town and it’s nice to connect with that life again. And of course, we walked.

ASB Waterfront Theatre

ASB Waterfront Theatre

The weather is wild and mercurial and reminds me of Melbourne with its icy winds, sudden showers and insistence on clinging to winter long after it’s polite to do so. A peculiar Auckland fashion staple on 16 degree days: puffy jackets and shorts with jandals. The sun is biting when it appears, and sunscreen will be a must during summer. And everything is green. Very green.

The kiwi accent continues to be a source of joy and amusement. My colleague and I had a baffling and awkward 10 minute conversation about how to reorient the ticks on an Excel chart. I thought he meant the little lines on the graph but in fact he meant the words. I still haven’t found the chicken counter at the airport. And for some reason my colleagues started laughing when they asked how many people were coming to my training workshop and I said that I was hoping we would have six.

Next fortnight I’m travelling to windy Wellington for the Australasian Research Management Society conference. I’ll likely write my next entry after that. It will be my first NZ trip out of the Auckland area, and Doug has an old friend who he is looking forward to visiting. It will be an opportunity to renew some existing connections both professional and personal, and no doubt to make some new ones too. I’ll never have a single home or a single connection that gives me everything – I’m a plural kind of person. The connections I make in life – to people, places and ideas – are my life. That’s why my life is larger now than it has ever been and I’m feeling strong, bold and ready to back myself in and take the game on.

PS - Go Tiges.