New Zealand & Australia


Reflections on the 2010 New Zealand/Australian Exchange

Pat Meyer, Exchange Director

“Time for a cuppa!” “I’ve got the kettle on; let’s have a cuppa.” “A cuppa will revive us.” And so, invitations from our hosts to share a cup of tea, a flat white, or a long black (coffee with or without milk) were daily occurrences for each of us during the exchange. During these breaks, with the requisite “slices” of lemon or berry cake, stories began to unravel. Patricia and Andrew told how they met as young teachers in London, but returned to Rotorua to establish a home. Elizabeth enchanted us with her twenty years in India where she and her husband educated and provided health care to the poor. John shared his excitement and frustrations in rebuilding his 50-year-old Willys Jeep while Connie spoke of the years she and their son managed a successful café in Wentworth Falls. We all shared many stories, stories that made us laugh or perhaps cry, stories we carried home and will repeat as we tell our friends and family about our Kiwi and Aussie friends.







Stories were also an integral part of each club’s program. In Rotorua, Aunty Bea, a Maori educator, activist, and entertainer, captivated us as she told or sang the history and accomplishments of her people. With her we not only visited a predominantly Maori school, but also a Marae (tribal community) with a Wharenui (meeting house), an Anglican Church and a cemetery with many burials of veterans from Maori regiments in World Wars I and II.





Our “Tribal Leaders” Pat & George

A light-hearted story emerged as we celebrated the Melbourne Cup at a local civic center in Rotorua. Friendship Force of Northern Illinois was the center of attention as many locals wanted to shake hands with “those folks from the Windy City.” We were required to wear flamboyant hats (provided by Patricia Buffery, Rotorua Exchange Director) to the party. Our own Tom Coyle won a prize for his stylish hat full of American currency! To top off the afternoon, Americain, a US bred horse, finished first in the race.




A highlight of our week with the Thames-Coromandel Club was an afternoon spent with local historian and raconteur, Russell Skeets, who wove together the history of the Maori, the gold miners, the early settlers, and the current residents. To illustrate his story, we literally moved from a Maori pa (hill fort), now a cemetery, to the Thames Museum of Technology, the Bowen Hotel, now a private home, ending at the Thames Treasury. Russell had an uncanny ability to show us that the past is alive in the present. His stories were enhanced by a group of local actors and singers who dramatized or sang of Thames and the Coromandel Peninsula.

Melbourne Cup Revelers

While in New Zealand, our exchange directors arranged for us to visit two predominately Maori schools so that we could present the children gifts of books we brought from the US. At both Glenholme and Kerepehi Schools we were welcomed (in Maori) by the students in formal ceremonies that included the haka, a Maori war dance still used to open matches by the All Blacks, the Kiwi Rugby team. George Nahill acted as our head chief and spoke on our behalf. After the formalities, the students either asked (in English) questions or showed us around the school. All expressed thanks for the books and assured us they love to read. Without a doubt, the youth won our hearts with their warm smiles, thoughtful questions, and eagerness to embrace Americans. However, one six year old stumped all the ambassadors when he asked, “What does salmon taste like?” None of us had a suitable answer, but we think he forgave our ineptness!

Our week opened in the Blue Mountains with a visit to the Bathurst Correctional Centre. At the center we heard the story of the prison’s unique program that teaches Aboriginal inmates traditional painting techniques so they can carry on their ancient art. The intent, of course, is to return prisoners to their communities with skills that will support them in positive ways. The work we saw was outstanding, and many of us purchased items that were for sale. By the way, the prisoners receive 84% of their sales.
We were treated to a tour of the Jenolan Caves, designed especially for us by Allan Cupitt, Blue Mountains co-exchange director and tour guide at the caves. Allan’s love of and knowledge about the caves made our time there especially memorable. He showed us spectacular stalagmites and stalactites in these impressive limestone caves. Mother Nature truly instills us with a sense of wonder and awe far beyond what we humans invent or build.

A special occasion during our week in Australia was a traditional Aussie barbie to celebrate John Exner’s 70th birthday. (Many of you remember John who exquisitely played the role of a sheep in a skit the Blue Mountains’ ambassadors performed for us at the farewell party in 2008.) Seeing John surrounded by his family and FF friends from the Blue Mountains and America, as well as hearing stories about John’s adventures and misadventures, cheered all of us. We especially loved the moment when John had to muster enough wind to blow out the candles on his cake.
Words are inadequate to capture the entirety of an exchange. However, when friends ask me to tell them about our trip, it is the stories that I share. Travel with Friendship Force is different from traditional tours, and it is the personal stories revealing our strengths and frailties that make this difference. An exchange reminds us not only how connected to one another we are but how often we forget this. It’s time for another cuppa!

An Aussie farewell serenade

I would be remiss if I didn’t add a post script to this reflection. Dave and I stayed an additional two weeks in Australia after most of the ambassadors returned to the states. Frank and Irene Bowen, our Mt. Barker hosts during the 2004 FFNI Exchange, hosted us during this time. The Bowens attended the farewell party in the Blue Mountains, and then drove us from Wentworth Falls to their home via a scenic route of over 1,500 miles! We were stunned by the beauty we saw along the Great Ocean Road and the Alpine Highway through the Snowy Mountains. On our way to Mt. Barker, several friends of Frank and Irene’s hosted us, including Bernie and Ken McEachern from the Casterton FF club. Once in Mt. Barker, we renewed friendships with members from their FF club. Their president, David Adams, invited us for a “pit picnic” and the chance to see koalas in the wild on his acreage near Mt. Barker. We were thrilled to see five of the cuddly creatures and to hear their unusual communication. Beware! Koalas are fiercely territorial, and they do growl at one another when their space is invaded. Frank and Irene were extraordinary hosts, showing us the Australia that doesn’t appear in guidebooks. The force of friendship continues.

FFNI Ambassadors in the Hand of Friendship