By André López Turner
It has one of the lowest Covid related dead rates in the world, it is also the first country that gave women their right to vote and to this day remains one the most ecologically aware places in the planet with thirty percent of its territory designated as a natural reserve. What is there not to like about Aotearoa?
As a New Zealander who has travelled extensively, and lived overseas for many years, I get similar reactions from people when I tell them where I’m from. “My god, what are you doing here” is a common English retort (after you’ve corrected them you’re not Australian); “oh wow it’s apparently so beautiful we really want to go some day but the long plane flight is a barrier,” often comes from the mouths of Americans who’ve heard of NZ to the “we’ve been there recently, your scenery is incredible.”
My normal response to the above ranges from yes, it’s also interesting and beautiful here (for the English), to yes New Zealand Aotearoa is beautiful, however we have no mortgage on beauty, but isn’t the world beautiful (no guessing that’s for the Americans). In general, I mention the flight and say it isn’t that bad – you can sleep, read, watch movies. I sometime mention the “all long struggles and journeys have great payoffs” line. I end with who knows, you may get there. If you do, you’re always welcome.
If the conversations are fleeting then the above phrases suffice, however when pushed to explain myself and Aotearoa New Zealand further I usually regurgitate the following narrative. I distinguish ourselves from Australia by informing them of our Maori, Pacific Islands, Scottish and English ancestry’s, inform them of the treaty of Waitangi, the Waitangi tribunal settlement for wrongful land sales and appropriations, inform them that the French had a settlement in Akaroa. I find myself boasting about Women getting the vote in 1893 (the first country in the World), the banning of Nuclear warships in our waters, the teaching of Te Reo in schools and how we have restorative justice in our criminal justice system. I find myself being modest and humble about the All Blacks. I now lead a Haka (by popular demand) for our diverse bunch of friends from all parts of the World in London at our annual Robbie Burns (Burns night) celebration, and proudly mention how a statue of him resides in one of my hometowns (Dunedin). After spending time in Nepal and staring up in awe at Mt Everest I now mention Edmund Hilary and Sherpa Tenzin’s first ascent of the iconic mountain. I also mention that whilst our natural landscapes are divine that we, like so much of the World, are polluting our land through badly managed dairy farming in some areas, alongside the use and manufacture of unnecessary plastic etc.
I find myself boasting about Women getting the vote in 1893 (the first country in the World), the banning of Nuclear warships in our waters, the teaching of Te Reo in schools and how we have restorative justice in our criminal justice system.
To the still curious I further explain New Zealanders traditional rite of passage – that of an overseas experience (the largely redundant acronym OE) and how exploring is in our genes, from the Mori Ori to the Maori to the European colonisers (known in NZ as Pakeha) to Edmund Hilary climbing Mt Everest to Fred Hollows teaching African peoples how to perform cataract surgery. This usually evokes responses like, “Christ; we really need to take on that long flight and get over there don’t we dear.” I remind people that “back in the day” settlers sailed for over three months to arrive in Aotearoa New Zealand. The mentioning of Aotearoa (the Maori name for NZ, meaning Land of the long white cloud) provokes further intrigue. The overseas people I meet comment on the “progressive,” “inclusive” and “positive race relations there must be there” when they hear this. I do find myself mentioning the treaty of Waitangi shortly after, specifically the aspiration of being “two and one peoples living together”.
I once found myself with indigenous Quechua and Aymara peoples in Peru and Bolivia and remember being received well not because I speak decent Spanish but because “you come from a place with the best indigenous relations and contracts going compared to everywhere else.” My American friend, despite working for Human Rights watch, didn’t experience the warmth I did. Suffice to say I said we’re still working on it and aim to improve our race relations and humanism on a daily basis. To which more tea and coca leaf (to deal with altitude and appetite control as opposed to the white man’s making of cocaine) came my way.
So yes, there is much to be proud of when you come from New Zealand and there is much the world needs to glean from our history and current day manoeuvrings. The electing of a centre left Government (led by NZ’s third female prime minister), whose gay finance minister implements an economic plan called the health and wellbeing budget then shortly after drafts a law for a zero – carbon economy are notable firsts and feats and needed by a world searching for a green industrial revolution.
As a member of “Generation brain drain” I have always been angry at the Neo-liberal economic agenda started by “Rogernomics” and pursued so aggressively until recently. Thus, I am proud of this visionary labour government in coalition with a green party and a nationalist party (NZ first, hopefully more patriotic than nationalist) led by a Maori Lawyer. That’s what happens when you have the best democratic system we currently know, proportional representation.
So yes, there is much to be proud of when you come from New Zealand and there is much the world needs to glean from our history and current day manoeuvrings.
I’ve always been conflicted by the Kiwi phrases “she’ll be right mate” and “let’s give it a go.” It is an attitude that is double edged, wonderful and open and willing to try new things with a positive attitude yet naive and unquestioning, particularly in the case of selling your profitable state-owned enterprises off and opening your domestic markets to compete without subsidy and protections against countries and corporations with enormous populations and economic advantages that a small country like ours does not have. To question the “she’ll be right mate” and “let’s give it a go” attitudes can sometimes label you with the tag of being a “shit stirrer.” My family knows this insult well. There’s a difference between trouble making, rebellion and the quest for exceptional sporting prowess, environmental protection, better race relations and greater levels of economic equality – once known by that other legendary Kiwi phrase “a fair go.”
Nevertheless, when I regularly find myself smiling at people in different parts ( and sometimes on my own street) of the World to be met with blank faces and grim stares I think to myself what the world needs more of is the Aotearoa New Zealand smile that doesn’t care if she/he knows you or not, followed by a “how’s it going’ or a “sweet as bro, good day for it.”
Andre López Turner is a podcaster, writer, keen open-air swimmer and a mental and physically well being practitioner. He is the author of the book D-Pendency dealing with drugs and alcohol abuse. He is Co-presenter of the podcast The Programme in ZTR Radio. He lives in North London