An endless rivalry of claims Down Under

An endless rivalry of claims Down Under

For as long as I can remember, in other words for way too long, Australians have tried to lay claim to every successful New Zealander - animal or otherwise - who wasn't or isn't historically and genetically nailed down.

It all began back in the 1930s when a New Zealand-born racehorse called Phar Lap (that's Thai for "Lightning", but most Aussies don't know that) took a ship over to Australia, beat every nag they had and then went on to the

United States and did the same.

Since then, the Aussies have claimed Phar Lap for their own, producing a movie that portrayed the chestnut gelding landing in Sydney from the South Island looking like a survivor from a horse death camp after a stormy crossing of the Tasman Sea.

The film-makers did have the decency to include one tongue-in-cheek scene where a local newspaper had two different headlines waiting for the outcome of a big race in the US - "Australian Horse Wins," "New Zealand Horse Loses".

But that did little to placate New Zealanders.

And now comes what surely must be the last straw.

Adelaide University researchers are claiming that the iconic flightless Kiwi bird may have descended from an ancestor that happened to fly over from Australia 20 million years ago - a decent enough interval that leaves plenty of room for error.

For the longest time, it has been thought the Kiwi was descended from the Moa, a 3.5m-tall, 250kg flightless bird endemic to New Zealand which was hunted to extinction by the newly- arrived Maori settlers six centuries ago.

The awful thing is that this latest outrage has been perpetrated by an ex-patriot - New Zealand paleontologist Trevor Worthy - who says the fossilised ancestor was more closely related to the emu, another giant flightless bird still common to Australia.

"If, as the DNA suggests, the Kiwi is related to the emu, then both shared a common ancestor that could fly," he said.

"It means they were little and volant (able to fly) and that they flew to New Zealand."

Worthy says it is not uncommon for birds to "jump" (some would say, escape) from Australia to New Zealand, citing the Mallard duck, the Little Banded Dotterel and the Cattle Egret as three species which regularly fly back and forth.

Thankfully, the Kiwi research - published by the Society of Avian Paleontology and Evolution - is not conclusive, and palaeontologists still have to find wing bones to put the theory beyond all doubt.

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