It is hard to write about the place where you grew up.What do you say?What do you leave out?How do you explain everything that is so familiar – the landscape, the plants and birds, the smells, even the light seems to reach into the deepest part of you.How do you express that feeling of belonging, the spiritual connection with the land?
As a child, I used to stand on a stony beach on the edge of the Pacific Ocean looking out across the sea, trying to imagine the lands beyond. That was where the action was. New Zealand seemed ordinary.
In the 1980s there was a domestic tourism campaign aimed at New Zealanders.“Don’t leave home till you’ve seen the country” it exhorted us.I was guilty of that then.I still have that wanderlust, and have been fortunate to have travelled a great deal.
But now I never cease to be thrilled to come home, smelling the fresh green scent of New Zealand after too many hours breathing stale air in airports and on flights. The opportunity to travel within New Zealand is always a treat. In the words of Bridgett, I marvel that “I live here!” As Mrs S reminded me recently (and Fred Dagg before him) said, “we don’t know how lucky we are.”
New Zealand is more than the picture postcard photos or Lord of the Rings film locations, of course. It is a modern society, with a penchant for social and economic experimentation, perhaps as a result of our small size and geographic isolation.
We are a diverse society of immigrants. Whilst the indigenous Maori (about 15% of the population) have been here about 1000 years, the rest of us arrived more recently, and they keep coming. Pakeha (New Zealanders of European descent) are the majority, but we also have large Pacific Island communities, a growing Asian population (from India in the west through to Taiwan and the Philippines in the east), and a scattering of people from other countries throughout the world. In Wellington, the Cambodian refugee taxi drivers who arrived in the 1980s have gradually been replaced by the Somalian refugees arriving in more recent years. Listen to Radio New Zealand National on any given day and you will hear accents from the UK, Ireland, India, Singapore, North America and many more, as well as home-grown “New Zild”.
We have a sense of fairplay – “go on, give them a go” – it’s an important part of our culture. Perhaps that is why we were the first country to give women the vote, had the first transsexual MP, and another popular MP was a Rastafarian, proudly wearing his dreadlocks and hemp suit. We have Pakeha, Maori, Pacific Island, and Asian representatives. We don’t care what your religion is. Gay MPs, Cabinet Ministers, or Mayors are now common. Just whoever you are, don’t get above yourself or the Tall Poppy Syndrome will kick in, fairplay taken to an extreme.
Heavily urbanised, our economy is however still reliant on agricultural and horticultural products. New Zealand lamb, apples and dairy produce can be found throughout the world – and for those of you concerned about food miles, our land is so fertile and climate so temperate that our efficient production techniques (our dairy cows eat grass, for example, not grain)mean that this New Zealand produce has a lower carbon footprint than that produced in northern hemisphere farms.
Oh, and it’s gorgeous here.
Not a bad place to live.