Kiwi reflections for a new year

 

In light of New Zealand’s recent scrutiny and pressure under the international spotlight in terms of its milking and mining industries one would think that we would be throwing libations of gratitude to that one bastion of hope: the New Zealand tourism industry. For though one big paddock we may be we do enjoy endowing ourselves with lofty providential overtones. A Garden of Eden which never fell from grace and where if God had a choice the almighty one would without hesitation pick Godzone (God’s Own) to settle and spread his mighty roots.

Yet we sure do have a bewildering way of praising the divine. In spite of our natural splendour we seem conflicted over how we Adam and Eve Kiwis should compose ourselves in this fertile paradise. Yearning, to savour the natural wonder while profiteering from it deceitfully without God or anyone else knowing. A desire to stay if not return to innocence while pilfering our sacred garden for curiosity of globalisation beyond our leafy enclosure. Being taunted by the snake of capitalist lust and the craving to have more while we slowly lose what we already hold proximal to our palpitating heart. Flightless angels for birds being replaced by foreign infestations, all for the sake of fulfilling our trade fix. And yet we dream on as if paradise lost well never was so.

Because, in spite of all our sheep, their fur, timber and recently the great fat “Cash-Cow” New Zealand’s first images may well have been postcards which an eager voyager enjoyed during a Thomas Cook holiday excursion. How else would you dupe some poor Britton to depart from everything they hold near and dear?

Future Martian real estate agents may wish to take a few marketing lessons from the Wakefield and other talented illusionists who lended a rather enthusiastic hand in “inventing” and innovatively dispersing the image of New Zealand as a mysterious utopia without equal. So passionate was the ploy we continue telemarketing and adhering to the faith today.

Smiling with just a hint of smugness when an invitee reassures us of our egotistical views that we live on the greenest place in all of creation. All too often seeking to feel self-assured by that baited question “so what do you think of us?”. Anticipating for the response which we all attentively yearn to hear, offering our arrivees to speak freely but if they thought that they were disembarking onto a democracy then they had better of thought again. While a host of old world crosses brandish our flag along with les couleurs de liberte we can be incredibly cagey when it comes to free thinkers who don’t prescribe with our ideologies pertaining to what we like to conceive about ourselves. Let the wrong words spill from your loose liberal lips and seal your fate, go on I double dare you.

How quickly I’ve been informed to watch out for that brash Yank, whining Pom or opinionated Frenchie all because they dared to compare. Contrasting is something we Kiwis do not do well. Measuring NZ against Europe, the US, Asia, who the hell would even dream up a notion such as this ludicrous one? To debate about the morality of New Zealand’s pristine purity and virgin sainthood is tantamount to the sacrilegious. And we claw back like an enraged Old World inquisition seeking to lynch, sink or purge any doubter who speaks out against the Kiwi faith. Criticising Aotearoa our “Land of the Long White Cloud” akin to an unthinkable felony punishable by a decently appropriate life sentence.

Still, we are well travelled, intelligent and insightful people who persist in thinking like dinosaurs. Adhering to those old gimmicks lured to lull impoverished Brits to lower their guard and take a 6 month boat trip to the greatest thing since sliced bread. Many bit their tongues, others couldn’t have even if they had tried. If you have the stamina and a functioning torch you will find an astounding pile of cob web covered letters barely legible fading after years of neglect of disgruntled immigrants who quite simply wanted their money back and the boat to spin around. Clearly some very unhappy customers.

However, the upbeat saw past the colossal problems of developing a civilised society whilst far from the Mother Land and encircled by less than hospitable natives. In fact these natives became somewhat of a curiosity for the Europeans who arrived here. To this day, it’s rather ironic than when white New Zealanders bestow gifts upon outsiders it is normally reflective of a Maori culture per se, not a Pakeha (New Zealand European one). We may have wanted to supplant the Maori with our own stock but when it came to forming a national identity, the Maori arts and dances came in particularly useful when trying to tell Europeans we were Europeans but from Down here Down Under.

In fact, in a humorous twist, if you can see Imperialism and the eventual subjugation of a first nation’s people as remotely funny the Maori probably regarded us white folk as kinds of tourists where a lot of goodies and wealth could be derived. They were remarkably assiduous at selling la Belle Nouvelle Zelande to us and materially gained greatly. They just didn’t have a contingency plan for us liking the place so much that we chose to stay.

At a period when landscape art was all the rage it’s no wonder why New Zealand became defined by way of the scenery which the brush portrayed. Early artistic encounters of our land were either going to be about Maori or the land. And yet we spiritually infused both subjects with a sense of European romanticism. Gifting New Zealand a golden age association which we were fortunate to bear witness too. Indeed, these images lead to the popularity of the now gone Pink and White Terraces which we Europeans caught sight of barely at a heartbeat.

In a heartfelt moment, it seemed to encapsulate the British remorse of having to be in the painful position of presiding over the transformation of an idealised harmonic idea of New Zealand into an ordered settler society. In a bold fashion to quell the remorse, fictions were penned to uphold the aura of this rapidly fading pre Britannica NZ.

However, as our colonial and later more autonomous Crown officiated governments have fundamentally discovered, the art of balancing Paradiso unblemished NZ with that of Trade NZ has been a hard act to juggle.

With respect to our isolation, this is with some sympathy understandable. Other than the Australian territories we were internationally isolated. In fact, if not for the missionaries and Australia (and its own fears of Austral isolation itself), NZ might interestingly have developed into a rather unique capitalistic rogue state run by highly enterprising Maori tribesmen.

Indeed, many Maori felt that the creation of the United Tribes of NZ in 1835 five years prior to our Treaty was the international acknowledgement of an accord which would allow Maori to do business with the world, including tourism. And as far as the final Treaty was concerned this was less about an assurance of Crown security than about a recognition of the Maori right to benefit from trade and commerce. Defend themselves? The Maori, like the Zulu of Southern Africa, were confident of their own prowess to defend the fort. Indeed, close inspection of history will tell any reader that it took wave loads of British infantrymen to quash the Maori rebellion during the Maori Wars largely fought in our North Island. Defeated they may have eventually been but vanquished they never were as Maoridom continued to be the shaper of a definitive NZ identity and a bond with the land.

Our views towards the land shaped by those of the Maori so much that we take them for granted to this day. When we seek a delicious meal of crayfish, lobster and lemon and mayo it’s no surprise that we dream of perching ourselves on a rockery on the wave lapping coast of Kaikoura (place of food) where we can enjoy our sumptuous seafood with a serving of salty chips with a splash of vinegar and perhaps a fruity flute of Marlborough bubbles or suds.

Yet, in the process of engaging in the fantasia of myth making we are cast at sea drowning in the depths of irrelevantly trivial affairs. If you are a New Zealander you will know what I’m getting at. Those stupid first world fixations that one worries about such as what to do when you’re not in a Wi-Fi zone and you’re dying to hear a cricket update or catch up on some serious Snap Chatting. Recently our media has been strewn with these absurdities.

What should we call the North and South Island? Should we change our anthem? The issue over what new words should enter our New Zealand Vernacular English dictionary (yes, it’s English, but sometimes not as you know it!) and perhaps that biggest headline hogger of all the referendum to change the flag.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for news and sociological and linguistical evolution as we shift as a nation. However, it is when we are forced into them by nationalistically right wing papers, tv and radio I feel that I’m being taken for a social numbskull or dimwit. Yes, Mr Keys our fearless leader the points are there and I have absorbed them. Our flag does resemble Australia’s one, some people take exception to the Union Jack, black is our national colour, our teams wear silver embroided ferns yaddy yaddy yah I get you mate. If this is what our people had wanted I’d be perfectly content like a docile fluffy sheep to follow my shepherd to the pen. Yet, to squander millions on a referendum for a glorified “logo” which the vast majority of us never wanted is stark raving.

If I went to a restaurant and ordered cheesecake and was served profiteroles I would think that the waiter would need to wipe the excess wax from out of his eardrums. So why is it that our politicians ears are so clogged up with nonsensical follies? On boats, English authored movies and now flags that look like ghastly graffiti gone bad. Canadian friends try to temper the fury flaming of my tossing and turning tongue. “Oh I don’t nu (know) Thomas. We changed our flag back in the 60s and we’ve never looked back since”.

Please understand, it’s not that I’m counter nationalistic or anti patriotic. I realise that sometime perhaps in my lifetime this will be a pressing issue of collective sociocultural importance. If it was what the people wanted I’d probably jump on board with the communal convoy riding the buoyant bandwagon to a new New Zealand.

No, what boils me is the pilfering of our taxes on this issue rather than on what has always solidly sold Myth New Zealand to me, my fellow Kiwis and the rest of the world. For beyond the stretched lies there is a strangely relevant truth in the idea of Beautiful New Zealand.

We are genuinely blessed to live in a nation still largely unaffected by some of the ills that plague our more developed and better established neighbours. And yet we choose to blunder money on frivolities such as Rugby and Cricket World Cups. I say leave them to Australia. As my own squash coach once told me “don’t worry about enjoying the Opening Ceremony just think how good you will feel boozed up with a goldie around your neck come the Closing one”. Alfred did love his plonk rather but his statement hides some pearls of wisdom. For the substance should always take precedence over the superficial surface. Not that we’re incapable of hosting and engaging in these pursuits but rather because I believe there is more to NZ than sport and measuring ourselves against a neighbour several times our size in population and landmass.

In a recent educational research report based upon what nouns and adjectives were used when conjuring up images of New Zealand sporting lexicon was surprisingly absent from the list. On the other hand environmental jargon and adjectives reinforcing the former were out in force. The usual suspectable culprits of trees, grass, rivers and the prevalence of natural colours including blue and green. Other nouns were kiwi (including the fruit), sheep (not really from here but oh well!) aaand wait for it Maori.

In fact, in a survey contrasting other indigenous races from settled states, the Maori had a favourable image and a respectable amount was known about them. On one occasion, one Scandinavian friend informed me that they did a sizeable component on the two big fish of Australasia, Australia and New Zealand. She told me that a considerate part focused on the Maori. Probing her mind, I asked what she thought about the Aborigines. She laughed and said “are you kidding? The Australians don’t give a f**k about them”. Perhaps, she was being a tad harsh as Kevin Rudd had extended the olive branch albeit late in ’08 while we were far from being a saintly bunch.

However, the international jury had laid down its verdict. In a nutshell we were a clean, green nation populated with hobbits growing kiwifruit surrounded by flightless birds and even more wingless sheep and a populace whom delighted in chasing an oddly shaped ball from one end of the field to the other. Or as one very funny Equatorial Guinean acquaintance once told me we enjoyed partaking in playing “English” football. Asking why he called it this, he replied “because most normal people played with a round ball”. Clearly rugby was still a game, like cricket, which still firmly held its imperial roots in the Anglophonic Commonwealth of white settler culture though thankfully this is changing swiftly.

If I haven’t by far made my point the overriding view towards New Zealand is more generally towards not merely its Environmental Composition but also towards its socio-political and economic nature. Great capital is needed to enter into a regatta, large nutrition is needed to build a high performance rugby footballer and cricket is a pursuit for the leisured. Believe me, many people cannot afford half a day yet alone 5 days to a game that often doesn’t produce a winner. Indeed, one of the firm feminist critiques of the year is when the dreaded arrival of summertime brings the lifeless agony of seeing stationary men ritualistically stationed around the box as if waiting for an apparition to unfold. The WAGs getting together and telling each other “I sent my husband in to vacuum the lounge. He went in only to come out saying” dear I just can’t. It’s (the games) been washed out”. Or that other partner who said her prince Charming was so keen for the cause he was in the lounge for 5 days.

Clearly, we are an affluent democracy with the solvency, free will and above all else “free time” to exercise our freedoms remarkably liberally. So how come the Chinese don’t play cricket I may ask you? You may look back at me as if I’m some kind of brainless nitwit. Because they just don’t you might frostily hasten, inferring by your cold biting intonation that I’ve just made a first class Muppet of my intellectual credentials.

But, in all honesty this is a serious question with a very relevant answer. From my window of insight I would suggest that many (including the Chinese example) cannot afford to invest any interest in the game even if they genuinely longed to on the basis of their lack of time and capital. We may be slow to concede but we here in New Zealand are fortunate in that we both have the capital and the time to invest however we may please. However this time and even capital is often seriously misdirected.

I call this the Western condition pretty much when you have too much of something but don’t know what to do with it. To give an example I have two neighbours one who could simply not survive without a regular 2 to3 day weekend and regular holidays in between and another one who is a holiday miser who loves working and who is always on his toes. One would think that the leisured individual would generally be not only the happier of the two but you’d be surprised. The neighbour who works more does so because he enjoys doing so. As time free is scarce he enjoys this even more. Gardening, well-wishing his neighbours and enjoying a cracking line up of British comedies. Really, I can hear him whenever my ranch slider is even slightly ajar. While the other bemoans the end of another long weekend tired of over indulging in copious hours of tv, over chomping on calorie killing Cheetohs and feeling that 3 days of liberty really achieved very little.

In many respects we are like that latter lazy lethargic Garfield. Not that the chubby always hungry ginger lacks its charms. So what is my point you may be rushing to ask? I suppose my argument is in a nutshell that “privileged” first worlders, such as us like us laid back lasagnas get so caught up in thinking we have no real problems to really be concerned about that we fail to realise just how incredibly wrong we are.

Like the plump fellow I mentioned (who in spite of his indifference to taking action is really quite a splendid chap) we seem to associate “major problems” with other less privileged neighbours or states. The toppling of the rainforest in Brazil, the intoxicating pollution of smog blanketing industrial Asia, the fracking of America, the migrant tsunami lapping the fringes of Europe, we have nothing to worry about except whether we should see the Big Bang Theory or Two Broke Girls tonight.

However, prescribing to this indifference underlies just how many far more important issues we are overlooking in our very own backyard. While the media focuses on the sex appeal of our long legged short skirted hockey “honies” or the rugby “beefcakes” who serve as appealing eye candy for the female viewer, real investigative journalism continues to fall ever deeper into its ever deepening grave as we insist to know just what those Kardashians are getting up to now. Surely the world has more to tell us than the bad boy good girl gone wild antics that get cooked up in California. Isn’t it about time we got of our Kardashian seized bootys and used that weekend more constructively?

New Zealand, while you are only a heartbeat old, I order to carpe diem and shed yourself free from your outgrown DC, Dickies and other teeny bop attire. Surely our deepening voice is a sign that we really must grow up and act our age. Our environmental state is a minefield of scarcely and seldomly inspected stories which should be making our pop frenzied ‘E’ crazed, ET doped up media blush.

What New Zealanders crave to know is the real news that pertains to our sociocultural and spiritual bond with the land and what makes it distinctively Kiwi in conception. Not to be the initiator of another Aussie vs NZ verbal tirade but their species, however adorable they may appear, have no place here in our ecosystem. And yet we are hardy acknowledging the monumental problem these marsupials with a hankering for the munchies are having on the podocarpus forest of the Northland peninsula region.

Why are we gifting these greedy Australian Gremlins an easy meal? Do we only intend for them to bush wack and bite their way through the last remnants of our native timber forests so that we can then have a clean slate for commercial pinus radiata plantations? Oh don’t blame us, we’d sheepishly shrug our shoulders. “Blame the Aussies”. How come more Austrian, Chilean and Canadian backpackers that I’ve encountered know more about this alarming issue than the average tweedle dum Kiwi? Oh I forgot, we’re asking ourselves why fewer people are eating lamb on Sundays? Maybe it’s because they like chicken instead!

Those tourists whose first vocal decibels towards NZ chimed those two ringing words which make us an identifiable unique entity; trees and those animated soaring masters that reign over their cloud piercing tops the birds. To have one without the other would be like having a banana split sundae without the gelato or heaven forbid the plantain. What fun is the sticky hot fudge sauce without the glace to melt or a piece of tree fruit to caramelise?

And yet the destruction of our forests is a double whammy blow to the devastation of our priceless biodiversity. As we continue to play Mr Inactive and Mr Irresponsibly Indifferent more and more of our precious biota is facing an almost impossibly insurmountable challenge to survive. Worryingly, our Department of Conservation has undertaken the tots and mental with their scientific calculators and the figures are not flattering for the Greenest place on place. Their figures suggest that a staggering 70—90% of all endemic bird, reptile and fish life is at the dangerous brink point regarding its existence.

While we amusingly are wiggling and waggling our jumped up little fingers at Japanese and Korean “scientific” (cough cough) whaling expeditions our efforts in the blue leave little to be desired. In the proximal coastal marine zone some of the finest species once commonly found around New Zealand are now thinning out rapidly. Deep sea trawling has put the Orange Roughies fish numbers in a horrendously low position and the overfishing of marlin/swordfish of the Bay of Islands has considerably thwarted a rapid rebreeding rate in the region.

At the same time, the DOC actually pays personnel to monitor the overzealous who intend to strip rockeries bare of crayfish and lobsters along with those who are brazen to challenge the seasonal “pipi” (shellfish) collection quota. Yet, perhaps is the alarming decimation of our maui dolphin whose numbers have plummeted to below 50.

In spite, of bold activist door to door work, our Hollywood lapping hot gloss media have barely batted an eyelid. Why aren’t we concerned about this? How is it that we’re so willing to go out and buy trinkets and other junk even for people we really can’t stomach and yet we haven’t had a gut full of this injustice to our environment? An environment which brings hordes of internationals to our shores every year many often taking up erudite and activist positions to speak up for the environmental injustices suffered by these magnificent beasts.

Dear me if we call this place God’s Zone or God’s Home God must be the most forgiving landlord in the universe. If I was him and I saw the behaviour being conducted by these inconsiderate tenants I would boot them as far out as my boot would allow. The sight of it all is sickening and yet our first world concern is how can we have a real Kiwi Xmas? Perhaps the real question should be what will be left of this land to make it identifiable to being a distinctively NZ landscape in the long term? What worth will this land have for any of us if it loses what makes it ours? It will just be a fecal filled drophole dominated by sheep, cows and farmers.

This is just wrong on so many ethical and moral levels. Why are we so prepared to have such a costly and time consuming referendum on such an unnecessary issue such as what flag should be flying on our flag when the “Real” emblems that make up my homeland are being extinguished out of being? Why must the kiwi, kakapo parrot and the kea potentially be like the moa or the dodo when I tell my children about them one day? “You know I saw them all once” I’d confess. And then my bright eyed daughter would deliver that un merciful dagger to my soul with that question any clever kid would present “But why didn’t you try to save them, Daddy?”. Crucified by the youth of tomorrow is not a fate I fancy facing.

And that is only the tip of the ice berg of the anthropocentrically derived miseries we will find ourselves in unless you unplug ourselves from the dulling clutches of Reality TV. The real reality lies all around us in the shambles that is our lack of volition to save the genuine assets of our Kiwiana identity markers. Yes, our sports folk are splendid looking beings now drop the charade and for that matter the remote and don’t return until supper time.

The jewels in NZs Crown are undoubtedly its natural enclaves and the flora and fauna hidden within this treasure chest of Paradise. DOC is engaged valiantly in a losing battle to save the pride we wear on our lapel when we say that we are from this place.

All the cows on Earth cannot do justice for what prestige our sacred and special environment has done for us. We want the world to believe it too and our Millennial Film Movement was state endorsed to sell Utopia NZ to the world. In a religiously panoramic plateau it is our environment even before rugby that spiritually binds all NZ.

We all love doing something which re-establishes our emotional nurturing bond with the “Motherland” from which suckled us enabling us to both spiritually and physically flower. From track slashing mountain bikers, to piste carving snow bunnies, to your leisurely day stroller alongside the Avon River bed, nature and its sound state plays an important role in our own therapeutic wellbeing. In my case, it is swimming in the estuary which previously highly inadvisable. It’s great when some rules are able to be broken.

Tourists come here to experience the “natural divine” which we are blessed to experience diurnally. This, the Department of Conservation, and their endeavours to fight tooth and claw for the salvation of the Temple of Nature, is where MY tax dollars should be going, not on a silly emblem. The invention of nations and nationalities is something which never ceases. I can assure you that the multicultural NZ of today is far more intricate and elegant than the clunky stalling monster of the bicultural one of yesteryear. Let’s put our money into investing in the conservation campaign which is critical to not only saving the ecological setting, the tourists sector but above all our prestigious heritage.

Tourists don’t come here to see the possums, wallabies and magpies that have happily taken up permanent residence here. There’s Australia for all that carry on and though we of late have politically played the rub up and chum up to Oz strategical position, we need not environmentally speaking convert ourselves into a miniature Terra Australis. Our dedicated and devoted DOC crew shouldn’t be financially docked for their travails. They need all the help they can get if tourist huts tracks and the landscapes they weave through are to be well maintained safe, healthy, predator free and teeming with a fountain of natural abundance.

Why should we restrict ourselves to creating ornithological museums on small offshore islands while the two main islands that make up our Heaven on Earth TM such wastelands dominated by bovine overlords? The true joy of coming to NZ is the serendipity of the pop up chance encounter with one of our native delights.

And yet what astounds the tourists irritates us. Coastal fishermen fume over the fishing restrictions placed on parameters where seal and yellow eyed penguins laze and roost. There is public outrage over the absence of an adequate state highway linking the impoverished West Coast Community with the Nelson. As far as they are concerned the Nelson National Park is substantial enough to have a road carving and winding its way through it.

But isn’t one small road just another anthropocentric biohazard? Besides bowling over large numbers of native birds each years they also carry two other highly problematic environmental hazards: the feline and the canine. Often dumped without consideration of the perils they present, these cute ex domesticated pets quickly rediscover their predatory roots. And even hunters and exterminators have to tread delicately when dealing with these introduced avian annihilators for fear of being prosecuted by the Royal Society for the Protection against Cruelty to Animals for trying to take the problem into their own ballistic hands. Dog and cat lover’s bites are just as painful as their noisy trumpeting barks.

Do we really need even more roads to encourage even more people to go driving and gas pilfering about? Why are we not enticing more people to hike through traditional Maori and colonial passages? Foreigners are grabbing their compasses and trekking their hearts out. Why aren’t we following their inspired lead?

A permit to push for a road will only foster a greed for more pushing from the avaricious and the unquenchable thirst for further eco plundering. What instantaneously pops into mind like an instant camera snap is the hunger for more mining. And here we are, tisk tisking the world for their dirty carbon burning bad misconduct. Shipping them more coal doing more coastal drilling and pushing for the opening of more natural gas reserves in bio hallowed holy zones. What sacrilege!

And yet our ignorance of our lore or the laws is just ignorance. As I toy linguistically with my fellow Kiwis like an excitable kitten with a stuffed catnip mousy I realise that my expats need to pick up the pace, prick up their ears and smell the coffee. To take note of the dilemma which is global warming and the retreat of our exquisite glaciers, the drying of our rivers the ecological and energy problems we may one day certainly face and the unseasonal weather which every year that passes brings ever more droughts, fires and natural catastrophes to our biostability.

Everyone here may be talking about Australia having to add new colours to their heat wave chart along with their water woes but I’m very afraid that we too are heading devastatingly in this diabolical direction. We just need to look at what has happened in California along with the fires annually in Oz and the pressures they have placed in these communities.

Do we honestly yearn to lose swathes of bush and priceless bird life to uncontrollably frequent infernos? Where a rise in temperature makes it appetisingly appealing for new bugs to team up with the possums in tearing through our forests and mowing down our bird life? The stripping of hills left naked and eroded of their life giving nutrient rich top soil as it is windswept or washed away? The draining and tainting of our aquifers as we deal with a dryer water starved landscape? Or the loss of quirky national oddities but goodies like the increasingly rare large New Zealand land snail.

Now these are topics which we should be deliberating upon at the poll booth. These are the matters which should be striking our heartstrings and our desire to protect what truly is extraordinary about this land. We have already suffered too many casualties to our ecological opulence.

If our clean and green tourist image is to hold will require us to take more interest in the concerns which we need to address and less preoccupation with what All Black rugby player has the greatest Twitter readership. As far as I’m concerned, this is just one more first world problem we really shouldn’t be all too concerned about. Unless, of course, they have something to say about the state of the nation and its nature.

 

 

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