Oamaroovian man anthropological relic

Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty
Oamaru is the last bastion of the old-school New Zealand man, writes Lisa Scott.

Lisa Scott
Lisa Scott

"What do you think of the New Zealand man?'' I asked Chloe the French chef. "They are like bears,'' she said. "Brutal, not very delicate compared to men from other countries, full of testosterone. I have never known a Kiwi man from the intimacy but from the outside they are like 'I'm super tough'. Also, I think they are quite hot; in general they are good-looking guys.'' Thank you, Chloe. Your citizenship is in the mail.

"Table five say they're allergic to cilantro,'' said a waitress. "What the ...'' shouts Chloe - and it's here we'll leave her, knowing that being a chef isn't about making food for people, but distributing punishments to customers, and she's about to come up with a good one.

I am writing this from Oamaru, where men wear flannel and women get pregnant if they so much as look at them sideways. Men here back trailers full of firewood down winding driveways like it was nothing, hit starter motors with a hammer, are Crump-ish when it comes to bush survival and its accoutrements.

"You shouldn't wear flannel unless you can cut a tree down,'' says MMM (Mighty Mongrel Man), who has come up with an alternative set of America's Cup rules involving backing the boats on a trailer, circumnavigating Stewart Island while drinking a crate of big bots, the last leg a swim race to shore (guaranteeing competitors' boats will be predominantly crewed by Heartlanders). Well, why not? Now the Auld Mug has been won by cycle power, I think pedal swans should be allowed. That would rule the Swiss out right there; they'd never set foot in a pedal swan.

Rumours of penguins abound in Oamaru, but I've never seen one. I've never seen Mt Cook either, and I've been there three times. Maybe both are tourist myths. Oamaru has the longest, flattest, slowest, most boring main street in the world, stretching from the industrial north end to the Victorian precinct. On and on it goes, never picking up speed, chuntering with metallic green SS Commodores and matt black Holden Kingswoods. The main street separates the territories of Oamaru's two tribes. Up the north end the people are short, scrappy little terriers with carny hands, often found up to their hips in the guts of cars in various stages of mechanical undress, while in the Victorian precinct tall and willowy humans ride penny-farthings and dress in red velvet dresses and WW1 flying ace helmets with goggles. It's like the Hutus and Tutsis, living at different ends of the same town.

Oamaru is rural, so the local is more important than the global. People say hello as you pass on the footpath, smile at you in shops, chat about your purchases as they scan your groceries: "Arborio rice? What do you do with this then?'' International flavour is provided by an itinerant population of Willing Workers on Organic Farms who actually work everywhere, are mostly French and usually women. On sunny days the Woofers can be seen sitting in threes on the boulders down by the harbour, talking to each other in their own language, like slaves on their day off. They come for a couple of months and invariably end up staying longer, because they fall in love with an Oamaroovian.

Oamaru is the last bastion of the old-school New Zealand man, his masculinity undiminished by feminism, proudly leaning an elbow out the window of his van to yell, "Hey, sexy!'' without fearing a clobbering. Chivalrous and decent, bulging with muscles not made by a gym membership, an Oamaru man will offer jackets in case of chill, open doors, change your flat tyre at midnight in a raging storm, holding the torch in his mouth while you sit in the passenger seat, out of the rain, lest your hair get messed up. Chopping firewood, digging trenches: all the things that men everywhere used to do before women told them to stop because it was sexist, Oamaru men do them.

So, if you don't mind someone going "phwor!'' when you walk past, if you are partial to slow dancing and being shooed out of the kitchen while they make you breakfast, if you like being treated like a princess, come and get one before the French girls take them all.


Oamaru Talk:

Will you look at the butt on that!

'He must work out".

Eden Street boasts the childhood home of Janet Frame. The place of 'To The Is Land'.

What might the Olds have sung?
'We built White City, we built White City
On rocks we rolled'.