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A Man who if you squint looks like he is from Flight of the Conchords catches up with a kangaroo in Tasmania. Photo: Getty
A Man who if you squint looks like he is from Flight of the Conchords catches up with a kangaroo in Tasmania. Photo: Getty

OPINIONSocietyMay 8, 2020

The case for a conscious post-Covid coupling of New Zealand and Tasmania

A Man who if you squint looks like he is from Flight of the Conchords catches up with a kangaroo in Tasmania. Photo: Getty
A Man who if you squint looks like he is from Flight of the Conchords catches up with a kangaroo in Tasmania. Photo: Getty

Let’s get on with it, writes New Zealander turned Tasmanian Ryk Goddard – we’ve got a lot in common, starting with our suspicion of mainland Australia.   

I have a pitch to make. I know the idea of being in a bubble with Aussies raises some serious trust issues for you guys. But I think Tasmania has a way to help through our shared values.

In recent days the Tasmanian state premier, Peter Gutwein, and the New Zealand foreign minister, Winston Peters, have been thinking aloud and enthusiastically about accelerating the bubble extension between the two places. They’re on to something. And it goes deeper than our relative success in stamping out Covid-19.

Tasmania and New Zealand have always been the little cousins that one certain big island is rude about. Let’s call that island Australia. Or the mainland. That’s what we Tasmanians call it.

We have been mocked hard. You as sheep lovers. Us as ex-convict genetically deformed cousin humpers. Australians can’t help it. Their problems are so deep they actually think they’re being funny.

Despite all of that, still a stream of us have continued to head to the mainland, from both New Zealand and Australia, in search of riches.

But we had dreams in common too. That one day our plucky, cool climate, farming, wine and food, unused green bits and quirky culture could be world leading. We dreamed that we could have sports teams no one could beat. And still they laughed.

When I left New Zealand, the tyranny of distance meant the arts only had room for five actors at Circa Theatre. There was Shortland Street. And not a lot else.

The Tasmania I arrived in talked about what they used to have. Like direct flights to New Zealand. Like an AFL team.

(AFL is rugby crossed with ballet and improvised dance. It’s harder than rugby in the sense it’s 360-degree. It’s easier in that it doesn’t have full-on forwards. Tasmania is so desperate we pay other teams money to play AFL games here. It’s not a healthy relationship. But we accept it because we have dreams.)

Tassie was locked in a bitter ecological war between the Greens (which they invented, by the way) and three guys who went to private school together and loved chopping down trees for no profit. We had the worst life expectancy, highest mortality and lowest literacy of the nation. We told kids to get out before the place ruined them.

New Zealand and Tassie were remote islands with small populations and bad weather that subsisted on myths of great things happening. One day. We told ourselves we “punched above our weight” to distract ourselves from the deficiencies of living in a place knowing real life is happening elsewhere.

Well look at us all now.

I went to school in Wellington with guys who are directing movies like freaking Star Wars and The Muppets. Thanks to these same people the New Zealand accent for which I was mercilessly shamed for 15 years is now sexy to anyone under 40. Your prime minister is beloved and your politics so reasonable you actually export them – and your economy is as solid, and certainly more morally defensible, than ours.

Here in Tassie our nerdiest comedians Hannah Gadsby, Luke MacGregor and Justin Hazlewood have international TV and book deals. We are an international destination for our art museum and, well, our art museum.

The Tasmanian economy is one of Australia’s most agile and diverse and until recently was the top of almost every Australian table. Our climate is desperately sought by refugees of fire and drought.

New Zealand has no part of the country you can’t leap from adventurously and Tassie has– OK, well Tassie has a walkway in a forest and a slide into a swamp called Dismal swamp. It went broke actually. That’s what happens when a government funded business tries to do tourism. But we’re working at it.

That aside the incredible successes of New Zealand and Tassie are the stuff of myths. Lord of the Rings meets Flight of the Conchords meets Rosehaven meets Nanette meets The Nightingale. We turned the cringey claim of punching above our weight into artistic, sporting and financial reality. We did it through authenticity, Compassion and being able to handle cold weather. Twins? Or, at least, cousins?

So let’s get something back for all the casual and outright deliberate prejudice heaped on us by mainland Australia for all these years. You can’t trust the Australian government. We know that. We don’t either.

Let us make Tasmania the gateway between two nations. We will detain every Aussie until they pass a test on how to be politically reasonable and not casually racist. In that two weeks to two years they will get over any disease before they hit your shores. While here, we will sell them Tasmanian and New Zealand things duty free. The profits fund our AFL team. You get to pay for your comparatively compassionate social policies.

You guys get to get into Australia with no wait.

Unless you have an apple. Then it’s a million dollar fine. Just as revenge for that time I got done at midnight with two kids on my way to a funeral. That sucked. But we will let you off if you give us some adventure tourism tips.

So how about it New Zealand? Time for the little cousins to flex?

Keep going!