Lifeguards, drag queens and Dave Dobbyn all say welcome home

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kei te aroha au ki a koe
e tānoatia nei e tauwhenua
rawa kore mai koe ki konei
ka toro te ringa ki tō kaha
nau mai rā, ki te papa, papa tipu
nau mai rā, te karanga a te ngā kau

Tonight I am feeling for you
Under the state of a strange land
You have sacrificed much to be here
There but for grace as I offer my hand
Welcome home, I bid you welcome, I bid you welcome
Welcome home from the bottom of my heart
– Dave Dobbyn, Nau Mai Rā (Welcome Home)

If any politician needed reminding just how fundamental travel is to the human experience, they should have taken a long look at the joyous scenes that played out across airports in Australia and New Zealand yesterday as the long awaited trans-Tasman air travel bubble was at last activated.

I was delighted to witness such scenes from my hometown gateway of Christchurch International Airport and from numerous other airports in the two nations. The scenes were warm, wonderful and sometimes wacky.

At Sydney Airport, one passenger, Jan Evans was unexpectedly welcomed by a group of drag queens, drawn by her glittery top and a suitably sparkling face mask to match.

“I sat there sewing on sequins the night before,” she told NZ online media Stuff,  in a comment that beautifully underlined the elation of reunion and the exhilaration of travel.

The drag queens served as a unique Sydney welcoming committee in tandem with – you guessed it, right? – a bunch of lifeguards.

There was interpretive dancing at Melbourne Airport and at Auckland Airport a whole lot of Dave Dobbyn, a much-loved Kiwi singer/songwriter, whose dual language tune Nau Mai Rā (Welcome Home) was moving in the way that only the simplicity of song can be.

Air New Zealand served up some 24,000 bottles of bubbly for the celebrations while Wellington Airport did the Kiwi capital proud with giant letters proclaiming Welcome Whānau (Maori for family or in this case extended family) at the end of the runway.

Picture courtesy of Wellington Airport

Of course amid all this trans-Tasman camaraderie, old rivalries couldn’t be completely forgotten. Wellington Airport referred to perhaps the most controversial moment in the countries’ bi-lateral sporting history, when Aussie cricket skipper Greg Chappell instructed his younger sibling Trevor to bowl the final ball of a nail-biting one-day international underarm so that the Kiwi batsman couldn’t hit it for six.

Emotional homecoming: Picture courtesy of Wellington Airport

Brisbane Airport Corporation CEO Gert-Jan de Graaff said: “Brisbane Airport will welcome flights from Christchurch and Wellington for the first time since 28 March 2020, some 387 days, which for us has felt almost as long as the last time the Wallabies won the Bledisloe Cup.”

While that Aussie victory was actually 19 years ago – an All Blacks wining stretch I would normally love to see go on for another 19 – de Graff neatly captured the frustration of this long-running pandemic and the euphoria of at last being able to push back against it. So I would just about concede the Wallabies the Bledisloe Cup if all of us could start to travel freely again and sing our own equivalent of Nau Mai Rā.