Thursday, February 3, 2011

Expose: Migrant Saffirs Living in Australia

Barry Greville-Eyres

I’m not quite sure who coined the novel yet politically incorrect term Saffir but it seems oddly appropriate and has a certain resonance about it. I suspect that bitter and twisted migrants, wholly disillusioned with what they have left and now come to, invented this colourful term. It’s definitely a non-racist, non-sexist and non-sense term applied to all South Africans who have migrated to Oz (not to be confused with the Oswald State Penitentiary or any other penal complex, but a ready reference to Australia) in recent times. 

What follows is a tongue-in-cheek expose of how ordinary Saffirs adjust and manage multi-faceted life in an extra-ordinary country. In many respects, it’s a piece on cultural appreciation, nostalgia and fondness of dinge or things, both lost and found. It’s a journey that should be shared and will, hopefully, infuse would-be travellers with humility and encouragement to undertake similar opportunities that may present themselves.   

Lingua franca

Conversational Aussie is best described as “minimalist.” Whereas South Africans would use any number of superlatives to describe something noteworthy or memorable (eeish, befok, pragtig, radical, kiff) Aussies tend to opt for a modest “very good.” If feeling generous and demonstrative, the very best you’ll get is AWESOME!

In keeping with the frenetic pace of Aussie life (I’m too busy mate, can’t talk now), general interactions are curt, often one-way and purely functional. One way to really confuse an Aussie is to actually respond to the perfunctory
“Good day mate, how are you doing?” by throwing in a pleasantry  Fine thank you, and by actual engaging through a “How are you doing?”

There are exceptions, of course, and I’ve had wonderful discussions with cabbies (taxi drivers), workmen and women, the odd professional and elderly people. The youth and young adults appear to be lost in their own world of electronic gadgetry and gizmos (ipods, mp3 players, gameboys, and hi-tech mobiles). A perpetual glazed stare seems to suggest that they do, indeed, derive some form of pleasure and nourishment from the surrogate umbilical cords – headphones that attach them to their “alternative” life force – electronic devices. When required, out of absolute necessity, to engage in verbal intercourse it’s a form of undecipherable code and gibberish that does little to promote healthy respect and understanding between successive generations.


A liberal, affluent Aussie society has spawned, what seems to be, a generation of ill-mannered, over-zealous hedonists. Mind you, this could merely be the Green, bleeding-hearted, silly old-fart in me that is genuinely concerned with global warming, environmental degradation and carbon credits.   Aussies are generally well-heeled, financially, and have huge carbon footprints in this part of the world – not surprising because they do “own” the Australian land mass and surrounding waters. Multiple vehicles (4x4s, AWDs, SUVs, jet-skis, water craft, utes aka bakkies), multiple and a huge array of electrical appliances - televisions, fridges, air conditioners, water coolers, coffee making machines and the list goes on and on…. Pretty much a case of I’m all right mate…. no worries…. we’ll do something about our planet another day. Of course, in an election year everyone hops on the ossewa and suddenly everyone is crowing of the same “green sheet” from our revered leaders and pollies (politicians) to big business.

Another interesting observation is that Aussies are generally well and continuously shod – perhaps a product of being well heeled. Except when on the beaches, they always seem to wear shoes and this has, seemingly, little to do with the abundance of ugly biting or stinging creepy crawlies – especially ants! (quite unlike those found at the bottom of countless swimming pools in SA). One way to pick out a Saffir and his or her offspring, in a public place, is to spot the shoeless wonders or the kaalvoet klontjies – Shame!

Saffir-spotting and “perving” prove to be interesting pastimes being a John-come-lately, fresh meat, or straight of the boat ie new migrant. Talk about flaunting it or letting it all hang out – that’s were the ogling or “perving” comes in… Recollections of my first summer in Oz centre around tits, bums, and tats (tattoos) constantly in your face because, more often than not, the tats always seem to be “strategically” placed in or on the mammary or nether regions.   

Aussie Icons

Qantas Airlines is regarded as one of the “untouchable” Aussie icons. Troubled in recent years with declining maintenance and passenger service standards, Aussies appear to be fiercely loyal and protective towards their own national carrier. No different, perhaps, from SAA which has been propped up by the SA government in recent years. The Asian Tigers are beginning to” muscle in” on international routes in the region and I’ve become an ardent Singapore Airlines supporter, preferring customer service that is understated but highly rated, genuine in warmth and commitment.

Aussie barbecues – barbies and SA braais are up there as national icons and favourite pastimes. Barbies are a phenomenon on there own and I tend to think of them in sexual terms as “quickies.” Little or no lead up, but down to business immediately. Vivid recollections of braais, on the other hand,  (Naasism intended) include a tantalising slow but steady build up. Wood fires fuelled by sweet-scented soetdoring blazing away whilst moderate amounts of alcohol, familiarity and conversation wash over everyone. It’s all about age-old rhythms and timing and just when the desire (for some inyama) reaches fever pitch – the coals are ready. On go the boerie, sosaties, steak, chicken and toebies – toasted cheese, onion and tomato sandwiches.

Most South African males are very good at it – (give credit where credit is due) - braais that is. Smoke hardened eyes and lungs, they stand, calmly, Castle in hand, tongs in the other expertly appraising the offering before them. It’s all in the wrist action, so they say, and within the blink of an eye, the entire contents of the rooster have been turned. The odd splash of beer and errant flames are tamed.

My Aussie mates – boys and their toys – struggle to domesticate their gas-fuelled cookers….. too many knobs and settings, hood up or down, wok on or off…. gas incinerating snags (sausages), kebabs (sosaties) …burnt offerings. What a let-down……one can’t help but salivate at the thought of a damn good braai!

They say that rugby is played by men with odd shaped and sized balls…. never a truer word was spoken and this is certainly the case in Oz. In the spirit of being BIGGER and BETTER, the Aussies have footy! Three distinct codes of rugby where the only similarity is the shape of the balls and experts will argue ……that size does count!

Of the three codes, Australian Football League (AFL) is played with the smallest of the three sized balls and has the greatest following in Oz. True “footy” is played on a huge park – field by high flying and prancing, testosterone-charged (hopefully of the natural form) men. Clad in “second skin” fitting sleeveless tops and “ball-busting” short shorts, it’s little wonder that players prance and float around the park like Duracell-powered bunnies. Not quite my cup of tea.

In my time in Oz, I’ve become a National Rugby League (NRL) convert and follow the opposing National Rugby Union (NRU) code with less fervour. It’s true to say, despite my personal bias, that all codes are played by exceptional athletes displaying true grit – yakka, high levels of fitness and uncanny ball control.

Besides the annual NRL premiership competition and an international Tri-Nations fixture featuring the Aussies, Kiwis and the Brits, the mother-of-all NRL events is the State of Origin. Contested between the states of New South Wales (blues) and Queensland (maroons), the best of three game fixture is the holy grail of NRL. Despite being a national fixture, it has huge international following in all NRL playing countries. Deserving players “originating” by birth, from the respective states qualify to play in the competition and the rivalry verges on all out war.

Conventional, 15-man rugby union completes the trio. This code struggles to compete with the others in terms of popularity, sponsorship and revenue generating capacity and is only played in a few Oz states. Seemingly, forever in the shadow of Kiwis and the Bokke, South Africans would be more familiar with both the on and off field antics of some of its better know personalities including David “Goose Stepping” Campese’s coaching involvement with the Sharks; Georgie “The Lip” Gregan’s refereeing skills; Wendell “White Powder” Sailor’s SA night club dust ups and Clyde “Born in the RSA” Rathebone’s love affair with the SA media.

Spare a thought for some of the former Wallaby “whinging wannabes” who have returned to the game “recycled” as visually and linguistically “challenged” rugby commentators. Their bias and parochial views are worn on their sleeves alongside the branding of the sport’s primary “high-low flying” sponsor.

Friday afternoon drinks and nibblies (snacks) are an institutionalised work place arrangement where drinks and eats are enjoyed within work time and are gratis – nogal! These civilised sessions are fairly sociable and it’s exceptionally rare for them to descend into protracted drunken orgies and or violent dispute resolution exercises – BORING!

What more can one say about Aussies and life in Oz – fok maar voort or carry on regardless….its a strange amalgam of contradictions…..   belonging and alienation; acceptance and intolerance; love and hate; humility and arrogance but that’s LIFE, I guess. What’s really important is to get on with it!!

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