With the recent rash of G20 leaders dropping by, John Clarke (aka Fred Dagg) helpfully presents a short history lesson. Illustration by Chris Slane.
Like Australia, New Zealand was established as a colonial economy by the British. This meant they bought our wool and our meat, although not for our benefit. It was purchased from the farmers by British companies, shipped on British ships and processed in British factories before being sold in British shops using British currency. The money then went into British banks. I think we can probably all see the problem here. The British made more out of New Zealand than the New Zealanders did.
This changed slightly in the early 1970s when Britain went into the European Common Market. Kids had been doing school projects about this throughout the 1960s but it came as an enormous surprise to the New Zealand Government and it has taken them some time to adjust. The principal business in New Zealand used to be sheep but the country has now moved into milk in a big way and if you’d like to enjoy the beautifully clean, swift-flowing New Zealand river system, you should make every effort to get out there before the dairy industry gets any more successful. New Zealand also produces a large quantity of fruit, wine, fish, coal, wood pulp, flightless birds, cups of tea, middle-distance runners and other people’s film industries.
Before the British, the Maori people arrived from Hawaii in the year 1273, at about quarter past four in the afternoon. There were allegedly people here before that, called the Moriori, and there may even have been people before that. Harry Armitage has been a stock agent up around Raetihi for at least that long and he tells me his father had the pub at Te Karaka.
Like most of the world’s major democracies, New Zealand is run by international capital and a few local big-shots who tickle the till and produce a set of annual accounts in a full range of colours. There is a national Parliament in Wellington, which looks like the hats in the music clip for Devo’s Whip It, although very little of any importance has ever occurred there. The country works a lot better during the weekends than it does during the week, there are no states and the senate voted itself out of existence after World War II. When the Lower House follows its excellent example, constitutional experts agree the next step will be beers all round.
In 1893, women in New Zealand were the first in the world to get the vote and in more recent times women have had a run as Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, Chief Justice and Governor-General. Even the Queen is a woman. The country’s most famous pop singer, best known opera star, most famous short-story writer, greatest novelist and most consistent world champion athlete are all women. They’re not allowed in the All Blacks as yet, but don’t be fooled. It’s just a matter of time. Kiwi women are stroppy, imaginative and a major strength in both the Maori and Pakeha cultures. In some families, women are practically running things.
During the 1970s, New Zealand was confronted by some very serious economic and political crises, although according to police records there’s some suspicion these were both inside jobs. During that period, New Zealand rugby administrators were ex-forwards who looked like spuds in their jackets and when they announced they were sending an All Blacks team on a tour to South Africa, there were suggestions it might be time to go and get some new spuds and maybe some who’d played in the backs. At this stage, Nelson Mandela had served about 10 of his 27 years in prison and the rest of the world took the radical left-wing position that democracy might be worth a try in the region.
New Zealand Prime Minister Norman Kirk went to see the Rugby Union.
“I’m the Prime Minister,” he explained.
“Is that right?” said the spuds. “Take a number.”
“We’d rather you didn’t go to South Africa,” said Norman. ‘It will look like an endorsement of the white supremacist policies of the South African Government, to which we are opposed.”
“So what?” said the spuds. (I’m summarising a bit here, obviously.)
“So it’s not going to happen,” explained Norman.
The spuds were furious. They saw this action by the Government as a direct threat to the way the country was run, and after a smaller Prime Minister had been elected in 1975, the tour went ahead.
As a result of New Zealand’s endorsement of the white supremacist South African regime, the Montreal Olympics in 1976 were boycotted by 26 African nations. “So what?” said the spuds and the smaller Prime Minister. And so it was that the return Springbok tour of New Zealand in 1981 was a famous disaster, for the spuds and the Government did not have the support of the people and the nation was divided and brother spoke not to brother, nor sister to sister, nor yet generation to generation, each of its kind. And there was a gnashing of teeth and the scribes were thrown into a great confusion and there came a heavy sadness upon the people and upon the land and upon the face of the deep.
The economic crisis of the 1970s occurred over the issue of debt. Was the New Zealand economy borrowing too much overseas? While this question was being considered by economists, a debt-for-equity swap was organised by a group called “I Just Drove the Getaway Vehicle”. At the time, Government policy had not yet been outsourced; we still owned the infrastructure, the power, the gas, the water, the phones, the post office and the national airline. The Bank of New Zealand was still a New Zealand bank and one or two of the newspapers were still owned in the country. During the early 1980s, however, the New Zealand economy was put into the hands of finance ministers due to a filing error and authorities are still looking for the black box. A social democracy with only one previous owner was asset-stripped and replaced by a series of franchises. Even rugby sides stopped being called Canterbury, Wellington, Otago and Auckland and were instead given the names of animals, colours and weather conditions. The next thing anyone knew they’d appointed a currency dealer as Prime Minister and the equities market became a place of worship.
New Zealanders don’t have much trouble working out what they think. It’s the next bit that might need some work. In 1969, I was standing in a pub in a country town in Otago. They’d run out of Speights and we were drinking a beverage produced in the north. The man next to me was deeply unimpressed and made a number of uncharitable statements about the quality of what was on offer. “You don’t like it?” I said. “I don’t,” confirmed the man. “It’s bloody terrible,” he said. He then thought for a moment and resolved the matter in his mind. “This is the worst beer I’ve ever tasted,” he said. “I’ll be glad when I’ve had enough.”
This probably wasn’t the answer. Complaining about what’s wrong but not taking action has the same effect as not noticing what’s wrong. Incidentally, New Zealand remains the most beautiful country in the world. There’s no question about this. You can go to any part of it with confidence at any time of the year, with the possible exception of Hawera at Christmas, Otautau in August and Taihape in a stiff westerly.