A SMALL TOWN IN NEW ZEALAND or THE KIWI WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD
By guest blogger Yossarian
The streets are wide here – wide and deserted. Nowadays you very rarely see children playing in the backyards or kicking balls in the driveways. Unlike Europe – we are ‘graced with space’ here – many of the sections (lots) in this town are half-an-acre.
I remember when the sewerage system was put in here and I also remember the new water scheme. Prior to then we had existed on septic tanks and rain water (in the 1960s). The dairy factory (now years defunct – and part of the ‘other’ dairying epoch in our history) provided water for fire fighting and extra water for domestic use. There were no automatic telephones here then – you still had to go through an operator. People had ‘wash houses’ and ‘privies’ in their backyards. Even ‘in town’ people usually ran a few sheep for their own meat (‘killers’) which they grazed on vacant sections or on ‘the long acre’ – that vast expanse of no man’s land (quite common throughout New Zealand) which runs between the highway and private property.
People also kept chickens, pigs, and had fruit trees and vegetable gardens. Housewives made jam and preserves to see their families through the winter. Monday was washing day and you always had shepherd’s pie for tea that night – made from the left over Sunday roast. It was a frugal, no-nonsense, hard-working, plain, and happy existence – even though it was very bland – but as a child you don’t really know about things like that. During those years we practically knew everyone in town and there were regular community get togethers – spring shows, sports and pet days, and amateur drama productions. Also families were functional units.
There were a few Maori families here (who had all come from up North), a few Poms, and a few Dutch (‘tulip munchers’). Despite the blissfulness of it all there was however always that underlying feeling that I was a little different because my parents were immigrants (they had very much assimilated but nevertheless still did a few things a little differently). Plus (twice) I got time off school to go overseas with them. Something which no one had ever done before! Looking back I guess it was therefore not surprising that several children of European immigrants ended up marrying into the Maori families. Perhaps this was due to the fact we were all still ‘outsiders’ in some strange sort of a way?
Today the town is a shithole. While this description smacks of negativity and ‘doom-and-gloom’ – it is however a reality. The demise of this – and so many other New Zealand small towns came about as a result of the neo-liberal policies of the fourth Labour Government (in the 1980s) and what was essentially ‘a changing world’. Major events which affected the town were the demise of the New Zealand Forest Service in 1986, the consolidation and downsizing of meat-processing, the removal of agricultural subsidies, the restructuring of railways and local government, and the closing of small town post offices and banks. I still remember the owner of the last car yard here saying to me “Life is what you make it!” Too true! Too true! Not surprising then that I bought a one-way ticket to London and never returned for over a decade…
During my absence the disaffected and dispossessed began arriving here. With time they have populated a substantial part of the town. No jobs, no hope, and no future! Drugs are a problem here – as is alcohol abuse, depression, truancy, family violence, petty thievery, noise, unsociable behaviour. There are children here who can barely string two words together to have a conversation. ‘The next generation’ – borne of a group of people that economic reform, technology, and globalism simply left behind…
There are however still people (mostly typical bourgeois-types) who live on the periphery of town (urban sprawl being such a constant feature of the New Zealand landscape) who claim they are ‘happy here’ and that the place is a paradise. This is maybe because they can bury themselves in all their Chinese-made possessions, escape to Queenstown regularly, and/or tune into the Rugby Channel on their massive plasma screen tvs – I don’t know… They who speak in grandiose tones about ‘Clean Green’ New Zealand and how hard they work… What a load of shit!
Attitudes and behaviours exist right across New Zealand which you would not expect to find in a so-called ‘developed’ nation in the 21st century. Many bourgeois New Zealanders (who have usually never been anywhere outside of these remote islands – barring a drunken rugby trip to Australia) will dismissively say crime, violence, poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, racism, low social standards and behaviour, exploitation in the workplace, and bullying – are not ‘real’ problems here – “Look at America!” “Look at Britain!”…
From my own experience however – one of the fundamental differences between New Zealand and other western countries is that in the larger nations these are localised problems – whereas in New Zealand they are pretty much systemic. Those of us who live ‘in’ small town New Zealand encounter these problems practically every day of our lives. The crux of the matter being that the kiwi establishment (and their bourgeoisie supporters) DENY they exist on such a ‘scale’…
And blind acceptance is a sign
Of stupid fools who stand in line…
From the song EMI by Glen Matlock, Paul Cook, Steve Jones, & John Lydon
Despite some of the worst poverty and homelessness – and the highest rate of family violence in the OECD – in the eyes of many kiwis New Zealand remains a land of unquestionable greatness (‘unquestionable’ being the key word here). All you need do is watch a news bulletin on one of the local television networks. The mighty All Blacks, kiwi this kiwi that… We thrashed the Poms! How many years, months, day, hours, and minutes is it since the Australians last won the Bledisloe Cup? The Yanks don’t know what they are doing in the Middle East! It’ll be great weather for a barbecue this weekend! Blahdy, blah, blah, blah… ‘Illusions of grandeur’ which you might have perhaps expected to find in Imperial Britain or the Confederate States of America. Under banners of ‘God’s Own Country’, the colour black, and the silver fern we march forward…
‘The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly – it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over ‘.
Dr Josef Goebbels, German Propaganda Minister
A nation needs hallmarks, events, milestones to perpetuate a myth. In the greater scheme of things – New Zealand had no Valley Forge, no storming of the Bastille, no guerrilla army of freedom fighters who freed the people from a Somoza or a Batista. A myth therefore had to be created by other means…
In the early 1930s a New Zealand academic made some rather bizarre comments in a treatise he wrote on immigration (and the country as a whole). He started out by saying that due to New Zealand’s isolation its ‘peopling’ would be a slow process. This isolation would however help to exclude those who were un-enterprising and incompetent from its shores… Only those who were coastal people and unafraid of the sea would have the ability to make the journey: ‘Teutonic and Scandinavian peoples’… The distance of New Zealand from the old civilisations would therefore pretty much make it impossible for the country to be flooded with immigrants from ‘the centre and back-blocks of Europe’… ‘Those’ who have rapidly filled and ultimately embarrassed the United States. The long sea voyage would also reduce the entry of Orientals to a thin trickle – even without the Government having to legislate for this… The Dominion was therefore likely to remain ‘more British than Britain’… (Which came to mean ‘Better than the British’).
He then went on to say how the New Zealand climate encourages open air life and open air exercise ALL year round… And New Zealand has the great advantage of lying across the latitudes – with a great variety of climatic zones – that type of climatic variation which tends to produce ‘a variety of human types for natural selection’… Producing muscular vitality in the people and low infant and general mortality rates… Supremely pastoral, a land of luxuriant pasturage and lofty mountains…
When I first read this it made me think maybe New Zealand was once part of some weird and sinister Darwinian breeding programme! This treatise was after all written in the 1930s – a time when the science of eugenics was in vogue right across the western world (not only in Germany).
Needless to say (in 2016) we do have our muscular heroes (the All Blacks – although a significant proportion of them are definitely not Teutonic!) and the ‘open air life’ has simply been rebranded as the ‘kiwi outdoor lifestyle’…
From the perspective of where I live on the South Island – the ‘Kiwi Outdoor Lifestyle’ (which is constantly raved about in the media) is a total myth. Quite simply the changeable weather does not permit the spending of copious hours of leisure time out of doors along the lines of California, South Africa, and Australia.
The weather is not an issue for me personally. Rain, wind, sleet and snow – I grew up with them all – and I’ve spent many a tramping trip soaked to the arse. I wear gumboots a lot and I encounter ‘mud’ on a daily basis throughout the winter months. As a recreational fisherman I always carry wet weather gear and woollies in the boot of my car. I also carry snow chains – which I have had occasion to use as late as October (here on the South Island). Unfortunately I don’t get the opportunity to prance up and down the beach all day in a thong! And barbecuing can be a ‘dine and dash’ experience! But then again I am not an immigrant who has been enticed here with the promise of a great outdoor lifestyle in a South Pacific sub-tropical paradise…
Wind is pretty much a permanent feature of the climate throughout New Zealand – as is rain and ‘dampness’ (humidity is also common in the north). When the sun does come out it burns you very fast (a matter of minutes). Some kiwis get very defensive about ‘their’ weather and usually tell you how much better it is here than in the UK (even if they have never been there). This seems to be part of the ‘Better than Britain’ mentality. New Zealand is indeed more about ‘image’ than it is about ‘reality’.
If the illusion is real
Let them give you a ride
If they got thunder appeal
Let them be on your side…
From the song ‘Let The Good Times Roll’ By Ric Ocasek
When it does rain or get cold in God’s Own Country you don’t however moan (‘whinge’) about it – you simply ‘harden up’!
A couple of summers ago I committed the cardinal sin of going to a barbecue in the middle of summer wearing a jacket (when the wind chill factor made it feel like it was zero degrees C). When I arrived I didn’t know everyone there so I made my way across the backyard –aiming to speak to a couple of familiar faces.
As I was doing this I suddenly heard a voice: “Yuh cold?” “Yuh a soft cock or somethin’?”
I subsequently looked round and there was this slovenly creature who resembled a complete Neanderthal – dressed in a pair of rugby shorts and jandals – standing in the very typical kiwi way of arms half-folded – holding a stubbie in one hand – sticking his guts out… I mean I didn’t even know the man… Ask yourself: Would any normal person say this to a complete stranger at a social gathering?
To conclude: If you are a person who doesn’t mind living frugally and you don’t mind things second-hand then living in New Zealand won’t really be an issue for you. Also if you enjoy your own company, have the ability to tolerate rugby, don’t seek an Ibiza-style night life, and don’t mind cutting lots of firewood – then it will be even better…
But if you are upwardly mobile – want to get on in business and/or a career – love partying, enlightened conversation, and social contact – enjoy things of a cultural nature (in the European and North American context) – and seek a reasonably priced well-insulated heated home – well, it may not be the place for you…
28 thoughts on “A Small Town in New Zealand or The Kiwi who Came in From the Cold”
My bet is this is all circular. In that peoples are becoming more plant based in their diet’s, diary is getting a name as cruel and environmentally unsound, meat pastures contribute to poor waterway quality as well, and jobs in cities are being replaced by robots.
I’d guess that in time, many people will re-inhabit these small towns and live simple self sufficient lives once again.
NZ is so fertile with lots of rain, it could possibly support hundreds of millions of [vegan] people, with less environmental harm than currently make by 4 million peeps plus export markets.
Thanks for the info. Cypress were also used as shelter belts here in Australia, I’m not sure if they are the same species. My wife and I owned a ‘hobby farm’ in SE Australia, we were encouraged to plant native species as shelter belts.
‘..more as a result of good luck than good management’ -much the same could be said about Australia.
I worked for a dairy co-op 30 years ago, the problem was highly protected foreign markets and it still is today. NZ’s dairy revolution will probably end in tears.
I agree in most, however must take exception to the “neoliberal’ politics of the 4th Labour govt.
That was not in anyway shape or form a liberal political agenda. It was straight out of the tory light national party playbook. Douglas was a closet tory and hijacked the labour govt when Lange lost interest in the whole business so he could cosy up with his mistress.
Neo-lib gets bandied around a lot by people when they struggle to give name to a set of political actions they don’t fully understand. What Rodger Douglas did was far and away removed from anything even remotely Liberal in any political sense.
Rest assured I fully understand the ramifications of Roger Douglas’ economic policies. I was part of a town (and community) which withered and died before my very eyes as a result of them. Whatever label/s you apply to those policies and to the people who implemented them – the results remain the same.
Today when I drive out of town and see all the family farms gone, the trees (shelter belts) gone, the ‘no trespassing’ signs, the waterways all murky, the dairy cows up to their knees in mud, and the farm workers who struggle to look you in the eye (let alone wave) I actually think more of George Orwell than I do of Roger Douglas.
This part of New Zealand I would refer to as “Britain’s Broken-down Farming Annexe” – a strange hybrid of Animal Farm and 1984.
My formal education is in business, economics and economic history, so I have an ‘academic’ interest in NZ and its steady decline. How much that decline is due to the ‘reforms’ of the past and loss of the U.K. market is, of course, open to debate. NZ prospered when it was indeed ‘Britain’s farming annex’ however despite all the Brexit fantasies, that time has gone for ever.
It’s surprising that NZ hasn’t taken more advantage of the CER with Australia.
Btw, I’d categorise the ideology behind ‘Rogernomics’ as ‘neoliberal’ and I’d bet that those policies precipitated NZ’s relative decline since they undermined the country’s egalitarian social structure.
I’m amazed at the destruction of the shelter belts, I assumed that NZ farmers would be more progessive. Presumably it’s a result of the introduction of large scale corporate farming. It’s been a long slow grind to convince farmers here in Australia of the value of shelter belts.
Value your comments Russell.
I have a limited knowledge of economics (my background being in animal health and environmental science) but I think it is pretty safe to say post-WW2 New Zealand prospered more as a result of good luck than good management (due to a post-WW2 Britain which was hungry for protein and a ‘wool boom’ which came about as a result of the Korean War).
I can remember people of my parents’ generation reminiscing about this and can remember hearing tales of how the town’s children used to go out and pick the wool off farmer’s road fences and pluck the wool off dead sheep – simply because it was worth so much.
Who really knows what would have happened if Britain had not joined the European Common Market (as it was called then) back in 1973? It is very easy to speculate.
In the mid-1980s (more my era) I can remember there was some speculation about how the Lange Government’s anti-nuclear stance would affect trade with the US.
In regards to shelter belts – there removal is one of the first things which takes place on a farm set for ‘dairy conversion’ – they and all the original fences on the property are ripped out. The new fencing is set out for ease of ‘stock flow’ – all exit points leading to the new stock lane – which in turn leads to the milking shed.
Many of the original shelter belts here in southern New Zealand were Macrocarpa (Monterey Cypress) – and if the foliage of these trees is ingested it may cause abortion in cows (late in pregnancy).
I have to admit a few farming enterprises have begun to plant more user-friendly shelter belt species such as Lombardy Poplar. Clearly this is however not a priority!
Well I can tell you few my own experiences over the years in going to small town.
Why did I go to a small town: I was offered a job that I could not find in Auckland.
I went to New Plymouth in 2002 for my first Graphic Design job. Could only tolerate 1 year..Was paid minimum wage and every 3 months I was told I was not good enough.
Than there is the people. they are extremely xenophobic..I had numerous incidents were I came face to face with people wanting to cause a fight or looking for a fight when I was simply in a mall having coffee. They stare and give you a glare..I am not large, I am just a slim guy…
Than driving, they see you and try to cut you off and try to cause road rage on purpose.
I ran away from New Plymouth and tried Whangarei in 2006..Similar thing..even more worse..it is a drug town and they are out there and if you are a non-white migrant it is even worse, I will not recommend anyone to go these towns!
They really are a revolting breed of low life pieces of shit, looking for anyone to take out their inadequacy on. The funny thing is, is that they are gutless cowards deep down. It’s a fake tough guy act they put out, due to their pathetic 24/7 inferiority complex, but I have called their bluff many times and they have never wanted to go through with it, (a fight, one on one). So I asked them why the fuck they gave it the ‘big i am’ as we say in UK, and you’d be hard pressed to make any sense what so ever out of their primal, mentally ill minds. They are backward as they come and most people inexperienced with Kiwis will mostly likely be totally baffled with their psychotic tendencies.
This is Kiwis in general. I have met some nice freindly kiwis, some who actually had a brain, so i wont say all kiwis are like that, but 95% are. So that literally means good luck finding a decent Kiwi out of the shit pile.
Apparently, kiwis don’t mind “soft cocks” when it’s about taxing them to fund the scumbags & criminals living off benefits. I used to cringe every time I drove down in South or West Auckland, literally seeing the islanders misbehaving with their own kids & women and any one that crossed their way.
Yes ,they even lie about the weather
Very interesting article Yossarian. Your description reminds me of Australian country towns 50 years ago before mass immigration from Europe and Asia. NZ had an international reputation as one of the world’s model nations during the second half of the 20th century, perhaps that was all due to clever propaganda even that far back in time.
RussellW: Yes, going on the raft of socially ‘progressive’ legislation which the New Zealand government put on the statute books throughout the 20th century (social security, women’s rights, creation of the ACC, Waitangi Tribunal, Bill of Rights, gay rights, anti-nuclear legislation, environmental protection in the form of the RMA, etc.) you would think we were the archetypal people’s democracy – the ‘shining light of liberalism and environmentalism in the South Pacific’! Somehow or other though – some bugger forgot to actually tell the vast majority of the people…
“Yuh a soft cock or somethin’?” That made me laugh out loud, thanks for that. I know that type, The complete stranger who will throw an offensive remark at you. “Yuh must be a f**cking dorklander” because you turn up somewhere wearing shoes.
Thanks for all the positive feedback. SafeFromNewZealand: I think my tale could probably apply to a dozen or more South Island towns. I have lived in several across the Otago-Southland region over the years. All are very much carbon copies of one another (virtually the same history of ‘rise’ and then ‘fall’). When I first reviewed what I had written of small town life I realised it could really apply to them all – hence why I omitted to include the name of a specific town.
Thanks for sharing this. Do you mind sharing which small town served as the inspiration for your tale?
This piece resonates with me. I live in NZ nearly 2 decades but I am not settled. After all this time I should have felt at home, but I don’t. It is hard to describe this emotional state. You feel that you do not belong and never will.
The biggest problem for me is the lack of culture. My soul is starved for real art and quality musical and theatrical shows. There is no beauty, no magic in living here. No matter where I go and how much I have paid, I never receive professional service. One example – years ago, a friend of mine and I decided to share a nice lunch in a classy restaurant for Christmas. We did research and found a place called Hotel Du Vin. It looked promising and we were assured that they treat their customers with high professionalism and utmost respect. So we booked in advance and waited in anticipation. The day came, we dressed up in nice outfits and drove to that Mecca. It was nicely appointed establishment and the main room was beautifully decorated with huge Christmas tree…We thought, yes, this is going to be very special.
It wasn’t. The maître d’hôtel told us that we cannot be seated in the main restaurant because the staff of some big company had their Christmas do there! So, he seated us in the summer garden where there was no trace of any festivity and the furniture was cane tables and chairs! The people lunching there were wearing shorts and T-shirts. They were hotel guests. The food wasn’t spectacular, although quite expensive. Our Christmas lunch was ruined. They apologised after I protested, but our Christmas lunch was ruined. Needless to say, that establishment doesn’t exists anymore. But it is a cold comfort because most are like that.
Of course, nobody ever died because they didn’t have a nice lunch or diner in a classy restaurant and I am no exception. But it makes it for a basic existence if you cannot satisfy your hunger for art and for some special experiences. Going to barbecues and to the beach doesn’t do it for me.
Regarding the “open air life’ – oh, I do have that! My house was built in the 60’s and the walls are not insulated. There is nothing between the brick and the interior walls, so the wind comes in all the time. It is real open air life, 24/7, all year round, but I guess that is a better option than the modern leaky homes.
I too feel the cold and keep my jacket on during windy, summer days. And I too get comments such as: “You should toughen up”.
I am fluent in EN, but speak with an accent. That is big issue for the locals who genuinely believe that Kiwi English is the only English and everybody should speak it.
NZ is a young and remote country. For years I used this as an excuse for its faults and for justifying my devotion to it. But it doesn’t evolve, it is going backwards and becoming very cold and hostile place that rejects its vulnerable people. A state with poorly defined legislation, that allows to be interpreted according the occasion – one way for the wealthy and another way for the rest. Such country has no future.
No soul ,no grace ,no sophistication,no desire to obtain an enlightened state of being,just overpriced gumboots and mud and it really is a very cold country ,the houses are poorly built so if it’s cold outside its cold inside electricity for heating is incredibly expensive.
I Agree about the Weather, definately Overated !!!
Alot of this, today, i think can be attributed to the Key govts Tourism ”Propaganda” machine , especially in respect to “‘disceiving” prospective Tourists from Europe about the ”Marvelous Kiwi Climate & Weather”‘.I remember when i lived in Europe passing a Travel agents shop & in the window was a glossy Travel Mag advertising ”The South Pacific Islands”, specifically Fiji, but also on the Cover under Fiji ”New Zealand”.So here we had on the cover of this mag a Photo from Fiji – a beautiful ”Tropical” white sand beach lined with coconut palms.Everyones idea of a Paradise, & then also the word ”New Zealand”.I recall thinking to myself -”Talk about false advertising”, basically at that time alot of Europeans when they heard the words New Zealand would have been conjuring up this image of Paradise in their heads.But as we know the reality is a little different.Instead of Coconut palms your more likely to see penguins and maybe seals in NZ waters (even in Summer) & Ive sat many times in January on a Coromandel beach wondering when an iceberg is going to appear around the point because the Ocean is that bloody cold no-one is actually swimming.Another time we were coming in for landing at Auckland & i was reading the NZ Tourisms ”Propaganda” Mag.The article was on NZs burgeoning Wine industry and the author went on to inform visitors to NZ that our Wine industry was great ”Because NZ enjoys a Mediterranean Climate”,which is so great for good grape production.I have been to the Med and i can assure readers that a Mediterranean climate is NOTHING like the cold , wet , windy and basically miserable climate we have here , even in Auckland.
TAZ – By “Weather”, I see the pattern of ONE News reporting – they usually talk about floods, hurricanes, tornadoes in other parts of the world before their glossy report (advertising campaign) about ‘NZ weather’
Yes.Ive talked to so many visitors, many from Europe, who, once here realised that The weather/climate they had been lead to believe was the norm in N.Z was in fact an illusion.
Obviously , now with the internet people can check the ”reality” out for themselves before heading down here & being ”disappointed”.
Plenty of travellers from Europe ive met, shortened their trips here, leaving early to go to more ”exotic Climes” or back home after they had spent a few weeks soaked & cold under canvas, having thought they were coming to a warm Tropical or Med climate, only to be faced with possible hypothermia.
And that’s not even mentioning the number ive met who came here and got robbed, cheated by dodgy kiwi car ”salesmen”, verbally abused, ignored when they went to the authorities to make complaints etc etc.
Might be a little chilly today so ,”rug up ” how cute ,sure as hell don’t turn the heater on or you’ll be up for a thousand dollar a month heating bill,that’s the truth.
I was very sceptical when I read about NZ’s ‘sub-tropical’ climate. A quick reference to a climate map confirmed that only the extreme north of the North Island could be described as ‘sub-tropical’ and that would be pushing it. Either Kiwis really believe that or they’re trying to con tourists and potential immigrants. So many New Zealanders visit Australia that they should realise what real sub/tropical and Mediterannean climates are really like. Of course there are areas in Australia that are wet, cold and miserable in the winter and definitely not subtropical.
Yeah i reckon its probably more a collusion between govt & say ”Tourism NZ for example , but as I say with the internet now they cant really get away with it like they could in the past.Like I said I lived in Europe for a couple of years & it was really interesting at times to hear what people knew about N.Z.I had a friend (not thick) a law student, she kept saying to me ”Man how can you live in such a cold place”? It turned out she thought N.Z was somewhere near Greenland.Others thought you drive across the Sydney Harbour bridge and your in N.Z.One Woman told me she knew a Doctor who had ”Worked in the Jungle with the natives in N.Z” .Basically every one knows where France or Germany is or Britain, but a lot didn’t know where N.Z even was !!! , ”oh yeah its close to New Guinea” is the sort of answers youd come across.The reason for this is , they weren’t ”Thick” or ignorant, its just that N.Z being a couple of isolated ,basically uninhabited Islands at the bottom of the world didn’t get a lot of ”airtime” in these Countries, I mean what are they going to cover? Sheep ?.So I learned pretty quick that ”N.Z wasn’t a Super power & ”the hub of the Universe” as a lot of puffed up kiwis like to think it is.Actually a recent survey in California showed that the majority of Yanks still don’t know where N.Z is.
Amen 🙂 If I only knew this before I left the uk to live nz …I had to got back to Europe due to lack of basics things in NZ plus this rugby obsession – no way you can assimilate if you are from Europe. I am sorry for those who has been so misled and had to suffer as I did. NZ is a shithole lack of basics in medicine, hygiene, culture, homes quality, products, weather, healthy sun. All I saw was drugs, violence, sport, alcohol, cold and dump houses, zero intellect, poor immigrants….
I was just in the process of making my escape, the the 23rd June happened and I realised that NZ if just Britain light in most regards on racism and intolerance. And now that escape back to Europe is on hold until the madness sorts its shit out.
Great read Yossarian, thanks for posting.
What a great read. Excellent article, very well written and very true. In your description on 1960s New Zealand I instantly recognise my in-laws who still live like that today. Frugal, bland, boring, ‘proud Kiwi’s living in their own little Godzone’…
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