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Why on earth is Jessie Lewthwaite an Australian living in New Zealand?

I was walking down the stairs to get off the stage, where I had just completed a presentation for an audience at an education conference. I had been talking about Rainbow Awareness and my audience was mostly white, boomer-generation professionals that worked in New Zealand high schools. This is the kind of thing I am very used to doing, and although there were a few curly questions at the end about whether litter boxes were really being allowed because of furries (they aren’t), I thought the talk had gone really well.

As soon as I reached the bottom of the stairs, however, a group of ladies stopped me and asked me a question I wasn’t prepared for. “Is that a bit of an Aussie accent I hear?” one asked very kindly. “Yes, I’m Australian.” I replied, “But I’ve lived in New Zealand for ten years now.”

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“Why?!” she immediately asked, laughing. The ladies with her laughed too. “Aren’t the jobs better, money better and lifestyle better in Aussie? Especially since you’re gay… Why would you come here?!”

It is true that I am, in fact, Australian. Something I don’t like to admit often, as Kiwis tend to react either the way this woman did or immediately make fun of you. But yes, I was born, raised and did all my undergraduate education in Australia. I was a high school English teacher for years, which is remarkable because I actually can’t spell, and it is only thanks to my editor that you all think I can. I traveled from North Queensland, otherwise known as the Alabama of Australia, down the east coast to Melbourne teaching. So having seen a fair bit of Aussie and having tolerated many an Australian, I feel qualified to weigh in on this topic.

With the new rules Aussie has implemented around Kiwis being offered a pathway to citizenship, I’m seeing more people (especially queer people) than ever jetting off for the promised greener pastures of Australia. The story of higher wages, more jobs and lower cost of living is basically NZ folklore at this point. Plus, for us queers, the promise of a whole new dating pool of people that haven’t even met our exes is pretty enticing. But take it from me – in my completely subjective and personal opinion, Aussie ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.

First off, if you are queer, trust me that you will want to live in one of Aussie’s bigger cities because queer life in the outback is less Priscilla and more Wolf Creek! Sydney has the reputation as the cool queer city, but it is more expensive to live in than Auckland. I lived in Melbourne, which is far superior, but also now has over 100 people lining up for flat viewings because of a housing crisis worse than we have here. Not to mention that big city Aussies are still, well, Australian! The vote for First Nations people to have a ‘voice’ in Australia’s parliament didn’t fail just because the outback is racist. 85% of Aussies live within 50 kms of a coastline. That’s a lot of suburbia that voted ‘no’.

Overall, a lot of Kiwis say to me they could never live in Australia because of all the spiders, snakes and sharks, but I’d rather be thrown into a pit of Redback spiders than use the restroom in an Aussie bar dressed how I normally do.

Money, sadly, doesn’t buy happiness or acceptance.

Photo | Destination New South Wales.

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