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1 December, 2017 00:00 00 AM

Exploring European connections of New Zealand and Australia

Ahmad Faruqui

A couple of months ago, I had just emerged from the plane at Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, when I saw a big sign: “Welcome to the Middle of Middle Earth.” Inside there were two giant eagles hanging from the ceiling, and Gandalf was riding on one. Despite Gollum’s absence, I knew I was in the country of the ‘Lord of the Rings.’ I had flown in from Auckland, the largest city, where I had spent a couple of days. Over lunch, I was asked if I had seen the film, ‘The Big Sick’. “It is one of the most popular films here in Auckland. You must have loved it.” I did not want to tell the man that I did not like the way Pakistanis were portrayed in it. I just smiled. The city museum was scenically perched atop a hill, glowing in the sunlight. But this was a business trip and there was no time to check out the collections.

A few years ago, I had toured Auckland with my family on holiday. We had taken a harbor cruise, which provided glorious views of the bridge and the city skyline. We had also taken a boat tour to check out two surrounding islands, Devenford and Waiheke.

Later, we had gone to the top of Mt. Eden, an extinct volcano, and seen the verdant cityscapes that stretched out for miles. The next day we had checked out the collections at a major art museum, set next to Albert Park whose gracious and expansive trees could easily have been seen talking in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

We had also spotted the boat which almost won the America’s Cup the prior year. It was parked in the marina next to the Sofitel hotel where we were staying. It had been in the news, since the British royals had also visited it a day or two prior to our arrival.

Then we had flown to Sydney, Australia. The ferries from the Circular Quay took you just about everywhere and the great views that you got along the way were a bonus. We took one to check out the animals at the Toranga Zoo, which offers a sizeable view of Sydney and up-close views of the Koala bear and the Kangaroo not easily seen in other zoos.

Back in Sydney, we walked in the Royal Botanic Gardens and checked out the art and the foliage. We strolled along the iconic Bondi beach, and had lunch at Icebergs, which is perched on a hill with the giant pool and the Pacific in our sight. We also checked out the scene at Manly beach and ate the best pizza ever at Hugo’s. We also did some window shopping in the local market called “The Rocks,” located at the foot of the Harbour Bridge. Dubbed the “Coat Hanger” by locals, the bridge was visible from everywhere. It looked different at each hour of the day. We walked along the bridge and got some amazing views of the harbour.

At the Opera House, on a prior trip, we had seen Aida, a tear jerker like no other. We had also taken the train to the Blue Mountains, and savoured lunch at a Pakistani restaurant where the owner told us the meat was 200% halal. On this trip, we also spent two days in the areas around Cairns, which is three hours north of Sydney by plane and home to the Great Barrier Reef. In one day we had seen part of the world’s largest corral site in a submersible. The underwater views were phenomenal. Our daughters snorkeled and took in even better views.

The other day we took a scenic railway to a rainforest. The railroad tracks ran along the Barron River. At the top you were rewarded with some fantastic views of the water falls. We then rode back to town in hanging gondolas. Our trip to Cairns was almost cancelled by Cyclone Ita. Thankfully that had petered out when it made landfall two hundred miles north of Cairns.

On Easter Sunday, the four of us lined up next to St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney with a crowd of hundreds to see the British royals. For an hour nothing happened. All there was to see were the heavily-armed security personnel. The guy standing at the main door could have passed for Bruce Willis. The secret service personnel would ride on motorbikes wearing long boots with their trousers tucked in, reminding me of Mussolini’s troopers. Others were wearing bomber jackets under the hot Sydney sun. One seemed to be taking special interest in me. I assumed my backpack had gotten his attention and moved away from him.


No one would tell us when the royals would come out, not even the informational kiosk across from the church. I situated myself next to the media photographers. Their long lenses made my digital SLR with a 300 mm lens look like a baby. Shortly, little kids started appearing from the church holding bouquets, then some very well dressed people, followed by the priest. After that, it was Kate. I could not believe my eyes.

The crowd went wild with the very-English cheers of “Hip, Hip, Hooray.” I found myself joining the crowds in the cheering and began clicking away. Prince William followed Kate and got a few cheers. Within minutes they were gone, whisked away in a white sedan bearing the royal standard. Who said the British Empire had ended?

As the crowd dispersed, another man appeared to a few cheers. He got in his car, which flew the Union Jack, and was driven away. I thought him to be the British High Commissioner but was informed he was Tony Abbott, the Prime minister.

Our 13-day vacation was coming to a close. We were in a cab heading to the Sydney airport for the long flight home. The cab driver, a man from India, had said nothing the entire way. Suddenly he asked me: “How was your holiday?” I said it was great.  Then I asked him: “What do the Australians think of the Brits?” He leaned toward me and said, with a mischievous smile, “They hate them.”

That left me perplexed. The British royals, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince George, had dominated the headlines since we arrived down under. The media was tracking their every move. The crowds could just not get enough of them.

And why should that have surprised anyone? After all, the Union Jack was embedded prominently in the flags of both countries. The bust of the Queen was featured prominently in the coins and the currency notes. Rugby, football and cricket were the major sports. And English, albeit somewhat accented, was the national language. Of course, there had been stories in the media about “Republicans” wanting to change the flag.

So I asked the cab driver: “How does one make any sense of all this?” With a glint in his eyes, he said it was all about politics. This man was simply too smart to be driving a cab. Who did he really work for?



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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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