• The Listener
  • North & South
  • Noted
  • RNZ

2019, the year that was: Egg throwing, unruly tourists & name changes

 “Unruliness” rules for jubilant newsrooms across the land. Illustration/Daron Parton

Another somewhat unreliable review of 2019.

JANUARY

Ah, the first sweet days of the New Year, when someone finally bins those last greenish bits of the Christmas ham, we can stop pretending to all enjoy the same “family” movies, and only the most unpopular flavours are left amid the empty wrappers in the traditional box of Roses chocolates. But, wait! These aren’t the traditionally discarded flavours! “White raspberry”? That’s not even chocolate! It’s a Milky Bar with measles! Turns out the geniuses at Cadbury have given their last-minute-gift staple a makeover, tweaking the flavours and shapes, and even ditching the twirly wrappers for an industrially sealed option. This followed the company’s decision to close its Dunedin plant, shifting production of Roses and other products to Australia. Staunch traditionalists have spent part of their festive season bidding on Trade Me for boxes of the old version – expiry dates be damned – but we’re pretty sure most people will adjust to screwing up their nose at a couple of different flavours, and just be grateful Aunt Mavis showed her true feelings with her choice of gift. Because, let’s face it, nothing says “Who are you again?” like a box of Roses picked up from the dairy five minutes ago.

Jubilation erupts in newsrooms across the land as the long, hot, news-free days of the silly season are interrupted by a tyke in a Bunnings sunhat threatening to knock a woman’s brains out at Takapuna Beach, Auckland. Cue weeks – months, actually – of headlines, as journalists trace the progress through our fair land of the visiting family group who come to be widely known in print as the “unruly tourists”, and elsewhere in terms unfit for publication. That initial report of littering and other, er, unruliness at Takapuna brought forth a stream of allegations about attempts to rip off restaurants and motels. Even mild-mannered Auckland mayor Phil Goff called them “a bunch of arseholes”, and he’s worked in Parliament, so he’d know. Luckily the behaviour of New Zealanders in foreign lands is without exception exemplary, meaning we could dial our indignation all the way up to 11.

Okay, maybe we do have a few bad eggs in this country. But one who would seem to have fitted that bill – if more than 150 convictions for offences including bank robbery, burglary, fraud and drugs count for anything – finally walks free from Waikeria Prison after four decades behind bars and 19 failed parole hearings, vowing to go straight. Arthur Taylor, known as a “jailhouse lawyer” for successful cases against a secret witness and the denial of prisoners’ voting rights, plans to pursue a law degree, and already seems to have developed a certain Rumpolian bearing, though so far without resort to flights of Shakespeare. Fun fact: Taylor’s first conviction, in 1972, was for forging entries in his savings bank deposit book – and didn’t we all used to wonder whether you might get away with that?

For those of us who have enough difficulty just pulling ourselves together, news that an Ikea store is planned for New Zealand just raises the prospect of more self-assembly issues in the years to come. That fiasco with a Warehouse barbecue a few years back taught us all we need to know about the joy of attaching “Part A” to “Part D” with one of the “Screw 2s” while holding the “Large Back Panel” in place against the shorter “Leg Part C” and oh-shit-I’ve-dropped-the-screw, hold-this-for-me, HOLD IT!, have-you-read-the-instructions, of-course-I’ve-read-the-friggin-instructions, etc. Though with Swedish retail phenomenon Ikea, you also get meatballs, apparently.

Americans, eh? Overpaid, oversexed and over here! But where the visiting Yanks of yesteryear wooed our womenfolk with chewing gum and nylons, these days an American dad puts an ad in the paper asking Kiwi women to date his three sons during their New Zealand holiday. And gets 600 responses. Way to injure the self-esteem of local blokes, ladies! Then again, if you really think “Mr Right” might be a 28-to-32-year-old who still goes on holiday with his parents, knock yourself out. We’ll be over here in our Swanndris naming greatest-ever All Blacks teams.

If anyone needs evidence of the endless creativity of the Kiwi male, it’s provided by the two Marlborough men who act out “affectionate acts” on the roof of a house in the background of television racing coverage from Blenheim. You know Ernest Rutherford came from just over the hill from there?

FEBRUARY

Some people think technology has got us in deep doo-doo, but those contrarians at Niwa discover a technological gizmo itself having a Code Brown moment. Within a frozen slab of leopard seal “scat” – a biologist word for “crap” – collected at Ōreti Beach, near Invercargill, they find a USB stick that (presumably after a quick rinse) still works. The stick is found to carry video of sea lions in the south Catlins, prompting far-fetched theories about inter-species data-sharing networks (okay, that might have just been us) before an Invercargill woman recognises the footage. Niwa says the stick was found amidst feathers and small bones and, after being dropped accidentally, might have been picked up by a seabird, which was in turn eaten by a leopard seal. Not sure whether to say “Cool” or “Eww”? Just slap your flippers together and bark.

Who ate all the pies? Nobody, sadly, after a truck carrying hundreds of trays of Big Ben’s finest loses its load rounding a corner in Manukau, Auckland, tipping 4000 pies onto the road. Anyone who thought they might do their bit to speed the clean-up by wrapping their laughing gear around a few of the pastry comestibles was to be disappointed. Stuff reported passersby were turned away, and that the pies were to be thrown away as damaged even though “many looked untouched”. Did we say “sadly”? We’re getting downright hangry just thinking about it.

MARCH

Don’t be fooled by Wellington’s hipster hype! The place has always been a sinkhole of good old provincial boganism. For an outstanding example, look no further than the viral clip of one Hunter MacDonald swinging heroically from a Len Lye artwork until it snaps at the base, cracks him on the head and deposits him in the harbour. In the Wellington District Court, MacDonald is ordered to pay $1000, at $50 a week, towards signage warning against touching the sculpture (which cost $50,000 to fix), and sentenced to 150 hours of community service. Will that deter the next young Welly idiot from a similar stunt? Almost certainly not. We can only hope Wellington Airport has a plan to prevent the unauthorised boarding of that Weta eagle hanging from the terminal ceiling.

Once again, celebrations of International Women’s Day on 8 March fail to include spontaneous rallies and festivals across the land, widespread wearing of celebratory polyester trouser suits and a moving mass rendition of Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman”. Maybe next year. But they do feature the release of a bunch of new Barbie dolls, because, you know, nothing says “emancipation” like Barbie. One of them is modelled on former Black Fern-turned-sports journalist Melodie Robinson, and touted as the first Māori version of the improbably proportioned plastic icon. As if that wasn’t enough of a thrill, Robinson is next day named TVNZ’s new general manager of sport and events. All together, now: “I am strong. I am invincible. I am Bar-bie!”

APRIL

The world’s leading conceptual artists are left speechless in awe, presumably, by Auckland cyclist Carl Wells, who uses his annual birthday ride to create a 28km-long “drawing” on a route-tracking app. That inventiveness alone should land him multiple grants and public commissions, but it is his choice of the “Laser Kiwi” image, as featured on a celebrated entry in the national flag debate a few years back, that really lifts his work into the realms of greatness. All that planning and effort to produce something that looks like it was drawn by a preschooler? The Venice Biennale surely beckons.

Hawke’s Bay’s shining record of sporting achievement (Ranfurly Shield holders, 1966-69) was further burnished when Napier teenager Charlie O’Brien finally dismounted after 33 hours on a swing, having broken the world swinging record. According to one report, he was then photographed with “fans”, proving you don’t have to be Sonny Bill Williams to make a splash in the Bay. It’s unclear whether the rules of international swing riding require the record-seeker to squeal “Whee!” throughout, but we hope so.

Wondering what happened to the last of the Fiordland moose? Or the longed-for remnant moa population? Chances are, they’ve all been eaten by the “South Island black panther”, as spotted on the prowl near Ward by a Picton couple. In the latest of a series of sightings around the South Island since the early 90s, the couple say they saw the beast in full flight, illuminated in their car headlights on SH1. “It was a great big thing with a head that was a cat and then a long body... sleek, black and with a very long black tail,” reported one of the witnesses. “It was a big cat... and it was amazing,” said the other. Amazing or not, the authorities are sceptical. And even if the existence of a panther is confirmed, it’s unclear whether DoC would aim for extermination or settle for just putting a great big collar and bell around its neck.

Hobbits in the headlights: another introduced species – like black panthers, apparently – that thrives in New Zealand conditions. Illustration/Daron Parton

MAY

Living amid the South Island mountains carries a few risks – avalanches, kea attacks and those pesky black panthers spring to mind – but at least being that far from the coast means you don’t have to worry about tsunamis, right? Wrong! Turns out scientists are studying the potential for a tsunami in Lake Wakatipu, should a big quake cause landslides along the lake edge. On the bright side, Queenstown’s claim to be the “thrillseekers’ capital” is stronger than ever.

“Victoria,” as the poet has it, “what do you want from him, want from him?” What Victoria University dearly wants from Education Minister Chris Hipkins is his agreement to their harebrained scheme to change the institution’s name to University of Wellington, but Hipkins isn’t buying it and the university council finally admits defeat. The proposed change would supposedly have avoided confusion with all the other Victoria universities around the world. Now they’ll have to find other ways of distinguishing themselves. How about an honorary poetry fellowship for Professor Jordan Luck, the man who rhymed “soap opera” with “Alvin Toffler”? (Bill Manhire, eat your heart out.)

JUNE

Wake up and smell the consumerism! American bulk discounter Costco reckons it will “transform retail” in New Zealand, with its first store here planned for Auckland’s western fringe. Its arrival is expected to help shoppers acquire enough stuff to fill up all the Ikea shelves they’ll be buying.

Ever find yourself wishing the earth would “swallow you up”? That’s a phrase you’d be wise not to use around a Rotorua woman who has a mud pool erupt in her Whakarewarewa home’s backyard, shooting mud 10m into the air. A garage in danger of slipping into the pool is demolished and the council puts up a safety fence, while a GNS volcanologist brings all his scientific rigour to his verdict, telling the NZ Herald the pool could carry on as it was, it could stop, or it could get worse. That makes everyone feel much better. Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick reckons the pool is a reminder of the “complex, dynamic aspects” of living in the odiferous city. “This is why visitors have been coming to this part of New Zealand for over 170 years.” Who knew a little ray of sunshine could smell so distinctly of sulphur?

Woodville volunteer Milton Wainwright, who cut a phallus from a Māori carving on the Manawatū Gorge Reserve walking track, faces a charge of wilful damage. The devoted Christian, who deemed the penis obscene, first tried to remove it with a hand saw, then returned to finish the job with a chainsaw. He later told police: “I was very careful not to damage the legs as I didn’t want to show any disrespect.” Um… (Bonus detail: Wainwright owns the Woodville Organ Museum.)

Illustration/Daron Parton

JULY

Two Palmerston North university students claim the World Egg Throwing Championships in England and, amid a scramble of other puns, are reported to be “eggstatic” about their victory. In the contest’s final round, Yolk Ferns Ben McColgan and Lachie Davidson completed an amazing 60m throw without cracking their egg. This has to augur well for the year’s more high-profile contests for global supremacy in cricket and rugby, right?

Milton Wainwright: avert your eyes. In Piha, a resident frustrated by the state of the main road, draws “at least 10” penises on the tarmac to draw attention to the problem: Locals dub him “Wanksy”. Competition for that Biennale spot is heating up.

Nobody wants to be typecast, though that seems to be our nation’s fate for another few years at least after it’s confirmed New Zealand will be the primary location for Amazon’s Lord of the Rings TV series. The $1.5 billion dollar production is a boon for our creative industries, of course, so the rest of us will have to just grit our teeth and suck up the hilarious references to rings, Middle-earth, things that “shall not pass”, and our supposedly hairy feet (“Haven’t heard that one before!”).

Back in Rotorua... If you can negotiate a way through its “complex, dynamic aspects”, a rare chance arises to purchase a life-size (1.85m) fibreglass knight in armour. Handed down through multiple generations of the Bay of Plenty landed gentry? No, built for a Black Knight Licorice display in Auckland, apparently. Would go extra well in an Airbnb as a pseudo-medieval antidote to the whole Hobbiton shtick.

New Zealand makes the Cricket World Cup final against England at Lords! After 50 overs each, the scores are tied! After a super over each, the scores are tied! And the match is decided by… can’t be bothered going into it, to be honest. Got some brilliant egg-throwing clips to review. Sky Sport should really have a dedicated channel for it. Something to watch in the wee small hours, when we don’t want to go to sleep, because the nightmares keep coming back of that throw from the outfield hitting the bat and deflecting to the boundary… and, yeah, let’s not go into it.

AUGUST

Dunedin actually has plenty of other attractions. Albatrosses and that. Students on the turps. A castle, even. But judging by all the fuss, having the “World’s Steepest Street” is apparently the Edinburgh of the South’s crowning glory. Never mind whether a steep street is even a good thing (sounds quite inconvenient, really), the southerners seem to genuinely treasure their solitary, curious, accidental case of global ascendancy. Hence Dunedin surveyor Toby Hoff’s response when his city’s Baldwin St is stripped of its “steepest” title in favour of a Ffordd Pen Llech (bless you), in Harlech, Wales. With funds raised by his surveying classmates, Hoff is off to Wales to make the measurements widely expected to expose the Welsh claim as a sham. Considering they haven’t beaten us at rugby since 1953, couldn’t we just let Wales win at something?

Sadly, the New Zealand parrot dubbed Heracles inexpectatus is no more. “Hercules the Unexpected” has ceased to be. He has expired and gone to meet his maker. He is bereft of life, he rests in peace, has kicked the bucket, shuffled off this mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. He is an ex-parrot. But analysis of leg bones discovered near St Bathans, Otago, reveal this giant kākāpō stalked New Zealand 20 million years ago, and stood half the height of a human, although those hadn’t been invented back then. He is believed to represent the biggest parrot species on record. Amid all the scientific conjecture, we can only imagine that when this Polly wanted a cracker, he got a cracker.

Hot on the talons of Hercules the giant parrot comes a new monster penguin species –“Happy Big Feet”? – identified from fossils found in North Canterbury. Evidence of the bird, which was about 1.6m tall and weighed up to 80kg, was discovered in Waipara by an amateur palaeontologist. Giant bird discoveries are a bit like buses, it seems: you wait ages for one, then two turn up at once.

Bad news, Nelson: the new Centre of New Zealand is in Wales. Kidding! But it is in the Tararua Ranges near Greytown, according to calculations based on a United Nations decree that New Zealand is part of a large, undersea continent. Nelson’s Botanical Hill landmark merely marks the centre of the 4% of New Zealand above water. Perhaps disappointed Nelsonians should think vertically: if they were “inclined” to put a street up their hill, they might find another “angle” to exploit, right? Knowing how touchy those Dunedinites can get, the idea didn’t come from us.

SEPTEMBER

History, someone pointed out, is just one damn thing after another. And like nostalgia, it isn’t what it used to be. Back in 1969, hearty official celebrations marked the bicentenary of James Cook’s first landfall in New Zealand. This year, for the 250th anniversary, it all seems a lot more complicated. Helpfully, the government decided that New Zealand history is to be compulsory in schools by 2022, meaning future debates might be based on a little more understanding of the historical ins and outs. The move also kind of raises the question of what the hell has been squeezing it out of the syllabus before now. “Enterprise”, sports science and interpretive dance, probably. It seems that some of our shared past might have previously been just a little too hot to handle. And now someone has to write a curriculum everyone’s happy with? O-kay. Just start with Kupe and take it from there, right? Kia kaha, everyone.

Losing a job is usually no laughing matter, but let’s hear it for the Auckland ad man who takes a clown along as his support person at a redundancy meeting. The pro-forma recitation of artless HR bromides are surely only improved by the squeaky accompaniment of balloon animals being wrestled into shape. We also like the detail about the clown miming crying when the redundancy paperwork is handed over. It’s believed he then climbed back into his collapsing car and returned to his usual job writing tournament rules for international cricket.

 

“Flush the dunny” is a memorable Steve Hansen concept we all have to embrace after his All Blacks produce a stinker in their World Cup semi-final against Eddie Jones’ England.

OCTOBER

For a homesick Kiwi, just joining the queue for Air New Zealand at Heathrow has been a little like getting home 30 hours before you arrive. Surrounded by the accents of Ashburton and patois of Palmerston North, the stresses of the London grind or jaunting around the continent just fall away. Then, the chatty cabin crew, laidback announcements and a sauvignon blanc that properly clears the sinuses all add up to a kind of sensurround version of Dave Dobbyn singing “Welcome Home”. Sure, after an hour or two of Murray in 48B detailing the antics of his grandkids at the Mount last year, and Nicole on the other side explaining how she built up her property portfolio through “hard work” and inheriting a dairy farm, we’d sometimes prefer to be hitting home soil a few hours earlier. But we’re still surprised to learn the national airline will be scrapping its London service in favour of New York. The timing is odd. Doesn’t Brexit mean we’re about to be invited back into the British Empire?

Our relationship with “Mother England” has always been a little complicated, starting with Cook turning up and dishing out names left, right and centre for places that already had them. But on the rugby field, it’s always been quite simple: we’ve taken special pleasure in trying to give the Old Country a hiding. Any bit of Britain will do, but the white shirts of England have always brought out a particular competitiveness. Having chips on both shoulders just proves we’re well balanced! And what better platform for the latest exhibition of All Blacks superiority than a semi-final of the Rugby World Cup in Japan? Uh-oh. Turns out that this particular bunch of pasty-faced pomgolian punching bags are actually finely tuned athletes brought to a peak of organisation and conditioning by dastardly Australian-Japanese Bond villain Eddie Jones. The All Blacks are out-muscled, out-thought, out-played and out-coached. But what about those Yolk Ferns, eh?

NOVEMBER

“History never repeats,” as another poet tells himself, before he goes to sleep. Yet some people think that by parachuting in another successful business figure – à la John Key – the National Party could again enjoy the tight grip on power Teflon John gave them for the best part of three terms. Come on down, Christopher – sorry, “Chris” – Luxon! The former Air New Zealand chief duly snaffles the party nomination in true-blue Botany. So, all cleared for political take-off? Not so fast. Unlike the liberally inclined Key, Luxon is an evangelical Christian with socially conservative views, which might just limit his appeal with the wider electorate. And, in case you hadn’t noticed, National’s already got a leader, with one or two ambitious types lined up in readiness behind Simon Bridges should he be deemed unsatisfactory. Will Luxon’s future caucus-mates be happy to stand back and wave him through to the front of the plane? Probably not, but if he’s a good boy they might let him hand out the lollies.

That’s enough about potential future prime ministers – we’ve got the most important job in the country to fill! Outgoing All Blacks coach Steve “Shag” Hansen has headed home to “probably get drunk”, leaving New Zealand Rugby with the job of replacing him. They invite expressions of interest from 26 possible contenders, though the actual field is quickly reduced to three by know-it-alls at pub leaners across the land: will it be Ian “Fozzie” Foster, Scott “Razor” Robertson or Jamie “Jamie” Joseph? Do we want lugubrious continuity, breakdancing after Bledisloe Cup wins, or – gulp! – a coach with no nickname?

DECEMBER

We’ve never really bought into that line about modern-day prison being like a “like a holiday camp”, but a news item from Christchurch Men’s Prison – where a group of five violent inmates has been caught lounging around the pool and sipping cocktails – does kind of support that narrative. Yes, the “pool” was actually a water-filled rubbish skip in the prison’s engineering workshop. And the cocktails were thought to be a potent prison brew made of fermented fruit, sugar, bread and water. But still. They were doing “bombs” and everything. Seems they didn’t want their party to end: when prison officers attempted to bring matters under control, one of the men allegedly attacked a guard with a screwdriver. So fun, booze and a frisson of violence? Pretty much exactly like New Year’s at some of our most popular holiday spots.

Earth to Ōtorohanga. Over. Come in, Ōtorohanga. Breaker breaker, big buddy. Over… Nothing. Which is understandable considering the report from Fire and Emergency that a ham radio tower has collapsed in the north King Country town, apparently trapping a person beneath the wreckage. St John treats one patient with moderate injuries. Our relief that nobody is seriously injured is mixed with astonishment that something called “ham radio” still exists, though mention of ham is at least seasonally appropriate.

Unlike talk of rugby, which barges its way back into the summer news columns via the big reveal of Super Rugby uniforms, a reminder that games of our traditional winter code are due to start at the end of January, almost before the Christmas decorations come down. With the smartest minds of New Zealand Rugby still mulling over that All Blacks coaching appointment as this magazine went to press, it seems the jersey project has been left in the hands of an over-imaginative Adidas marketing intern: the Chiefs jersey “seeks to remind all its players that with the right attitude and spirit they will succeed as Tūmatauenga the Māori god of war did in the battle for Pōhutukawa”; while the Hurricanes shirt represents “the actual Wellington wind readings from the 2016 calendar year” (when the capital side won its solitary Super Rugby title). Golly. It’s not another Venice Biennale pitch, is it? No, probably just an over-egged effort to cash in on the hard-to-buy-for rugby-head market ahead of Christmas. For $150, you too can have a shirt with “actual” 2016 wind readings… is this one of the few cases where you’d actually prefer Roses chocolates?

This article was first published in the January 2020 issue of North & South. Follow North & South on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and sign up to the fortnightly email for more great stories.