(First published in The Dominion Post, July 10).
I wonder if the time has come to abandon the myth that New Zealanders and Australians are kindred spirits, joined at the hip.The clincher for me was the behaviour of the Australian cricketers during the final match of the Cricket World Cup.
New Zealand was comprehensively outplayed; there’s no getting around that. But the Australians weren’t content with merely winning.They couldn’t resist snarling like rabid Tasmanian devils, goading and taunting the beaten New Zealand batsmen even as they were heading back to the pavilion.
For what purpose? The Australians didn’t have the excuse that they needed to intimidate or unnerve their opponents. They’d already got them out, for heaven’s sake.It was something rarely seen: sledging not as a tactic to win (questionable enough at the best of times, but expected from the Australians), but for the pure pleasure of it.
Brad Haddin was the principal offender. He’s the embodiment of the Ugly Australian – a boorish, braying, gloating, charmless braggart, incapable of even winning graciously.He later tried to explain his actions by saying the Kiwis deserved everything they got. They were just too damned nice. He couldn’t bear it.
This suggests that Haddin suffers from a serious personality disorder, but he can always argue that he was merely taking his cue from his skipper. In 2013, Michael Clarke was heard telling the English batsman Jimmy Anderson: “Get ready for a broken f***ing arm.”Australians invented sledging and have made it an art form. As long ago as the mid-1970s, Rod Marsh and skipper Ian Chappell (brother of Greg, who instigated another noble example of Australian sportsmanship, the infamous underarm bowling incident of 1981) were said to vie with each other in profanity.
Some people – the sort of people who regard winning as everything – admire this untrammelled aggression, but Australia is the only cricketing country that routinely indulges in it. They’re proud of it; it’s their point of difference.Far from feeling contrite about his behaviour in the CWC final, Haddin has promised more of the same during Australia’s current tour of England. The Black Caps may have won universal acclaim in England for the way they played and behaved on their recent tour (“majestic in every way”, Roger Alton wrote in the Spectator), but Haddin advised the English media not to expect the same from Australia. That’s not how they do things.
All of which makes you wonder whether there’s a dark flaw in the Australian character.We joke about Australians being descended from convicts, but perhaps it truly has tainted them. That would help explain not only their uncouth demeanour on the cricket pitch but a few other things besides: their tolerance of corruption, the preponderance of organised crime and their feral politics.
The comforting cliché is that Australians and New Zealanders are blood brothers whose bonds were forged in war, but we spring from different historical roots and have evolved into two quite distinct cultures.I sometimes suspect we don’t really like each other much. We resent their swaggering braggadocio and loud nationalism. They regard us with indifference most of the time, dismissing us as too small and insignificant to amount to anything.
But they hate it when we do things better than they can, they don’t like competing with us on a level playing field (remember how hard they fought to keep our apples out?), and they never hesitate to claim our successes as their own. It came as news to an Australian-based friend of mine, for example, that the singer Keith Urban – routinely promoted in Australia as the boy from Caboolture, Queensland – is a New Zealander.Our prime ministers have often disliked each other – famously in the case of Lange and Hawke – and according to recent reports, the Australians have even tried to erase New Zealand from the Anzac narrative. So much for trans-Tasman mateship.
Yes, we still have more in common with Australia than with any other country, and there are lots of things about Australia that I like.I go there often and enjoy it for its energy, its colour and its larrikin humour. Only an Australian could come up with the expression “as lonely as a bastard on Father’s Day”.
Besides, not all Australians are yobbos. I’m sure many cringed with shame at Haddin’s antics.But dare I say it, I think we have a more civilised society on our side of the ditch, and I think we should at least thank Haddin for demonstrating it.