I grew up in the grasslands of the Waikato under the shadow of Mt Te Aroha. My mum was a war bride from Hataitai, Wellington and my dad, a US Marine turned dairy farmer. We were a bit different but not too different, and somehow we managed to slip almost unnoticed into small town New Zealand. We weren’t quite the norm, my dad made chilli con carne and my mother wasn’t keen on the royals like the rest of the WI but we camouflaged ourselves amid the hay bales and the plates of pikelets, and hoped for the best.
It was that ‘safe’ time in New Zealand. There wasn’t a lock on the back door. We kept the car keys in the ignition and burglaries were unheard of. Some parents though,spoke in hushed tones of death and murder as Arthur Allan Thomas was convicted, and later acquitted of the Crewe murders, but generally we all felt pretty darn safe, really.
Allan Duff hadn’t yet written the Once We Were Warriors book, and Graham Brazier wasn’t singing about his blue lady. We were a slightly smug little country involved in sheep sharing, milking cows, wearing long socks with shorts, getting our school cert and going about our own business. Rob Muldoon had beguiled the older national voters with his dimple, while David Langey was emerging as an orator to reckon with. That was a long time ago though, before we grew up and began to acknowledge we just might have a few problems of our own (just like all those other countries except maybe Denmark or Sweden). Poverty, crime, gangs, caveman type drinking fests, domestic violence, kids having kids and low expectations among many young people, not to mention the logistics nightmare of being a small country a heck of a way from the rest of the world. And then there was that boring Colby cheese and the fairly unpleasant Cold Duck and cherry brandy. Oh, and those pubs that resembled drinking pits where things got a bit aggro at closing time….. There was Cobb & Co in Hamilton and chicken in a basket in Rotorua, and blokes were blokes… well, you get the picture.
We tried to respond to a few of our problems with some positive stuff and began to learn something of our indigenous culture and even the Maori language, amid mutterings of “what use will it be anyway?” But we began to be rather proud of it, though, that bi-culturism thing.Then we moved on to multiculturism welcoming the odd foreigner telling ourselves we were a friendly bunch, and it wouldn’t hurt to take in a few more Poms, and maybe some others. Sometimes we were friendly, sometimes not.
Some of us travelled abroad to do our OE and learned how to make some seriously good wine, and cheese. Risotto, homemade pasta and French bread appeared on our menus and we tried really hard to be counted amongst the best sports people in the world. We also realized that we had a fairly attractive country, and could still fish for a nice bit of snapper for our tea and pluck a crayfish or two from our rocky shores. We still grew our own veggies too.Then, some bright spark of a marketing person dreamed up the 100% pure NZ logo, which we thought was top notch although we knew we really weren’t quite as pure as all that but because we had such a small amount of people we thought we could probably get away with it. And also because mostly our septic tanks still worked OK, except down at Oneroa beach on a busy Sunday.
I was one of the 80’s travellers falling in love with Thailand, India and washing up in London town where we worked hard and played harder, spending our quids on travel and fun. I met a man at the laundramat and we ended up in The Lowlands for the next couple of decades. We liked the challenge of biking down cobbled lanes with no helmets with wobbly kids on tiny two-wheelers who could barely walk, and we watched our city try war criminals and develop it’s own sense of place on the stage of international law and peace. We floundered around using a new language (not at all well) experienced all the highs and lows of being immigrants until we became the slightly globalized family we are today. And now, yes now, as we reach our mid 50s with kids at senior school we are keen to head back to the shores of the South Pacific. We are not completely sure why, but suspect we better do it now before we need zimmer frames to crawl up Queen Street.
Is it because we may only have 20 more summers, is it because we want our kids to feel they are partly Kiwi at least? Is it because we feel we may have something to share from what we have learned along the migrants way, with the country that one of us holds to be home, and that the other partner would like to experience? Is it because I wish to finish my life where I began it? I am really not sure, but maybe it is simply the adventure of trying something new in our 50s, having a go. That’s a really NZ thing, isn’t it, having a go!
I am both terrified and elated at the possibility of returning home with my half British family, my 2 third culture kids for I know my country’s dark and lighter side.
I have few illusions about my crooked little country that I hope they will come to like as well as I, or at least understand it. They will hear the lonely sound of the morepork or ruru under the bejewelled starry sky, a sound that holds joy and longing for me but can also be heard by those who are broken or unhappy under the same night sky. I have seen the kids who sit, hungry in cars waiting outside the pub, the hopelessness of small town unemployment and boarded up shops. I am also aware we don’t do well on stats of domestic violence but I know too, that there is guileless friendship, goodwill and love there too. I know how beautiful its sparkling seas are, its unfurled fern leaves, its tall trees, that particular smell of the bush, the dark red heat of the pohutakawa flowers on the Onetangi beach, the thrill of climbing high above Waihi Beach looking down to the swirling waters below. Beauty indeed.
So, my question is, am I ready to take on the risk of dark and light, and invest in my country again.