“Provincial people,” he began, “are a good barometer of how basic New Zealanders think and live. They wash their cars on Saturday, probably have their kids to Sunday School, belong to a club, drink in a pub, work, get very worried about their future, worry about law and order.” The briefest of pauses.
“They generally have a world view nothing like that in the city: Africa a continent of deep suspicion, South America absolutely unknown, Australia beer and surf guards, the U. S. as Disneyland, ‘Hill Street Blues,’ `Dallas,’ and ‘The A-Team.’ They observe images which come to them constantly from abroad—but basically get by organizing their own lives, watching the 6:30 news.”
The prime minister, a lawyer in private life, summed up: “They are pretty self-reliant, and sporting, if not in actual participation, then certainly as passionate watchers. They have a very basic sense of social justice.”
Seem familiar? New Zealanders reminded me time and again of middle and western Americans and, even more so, the English. Don’t be misled. They know very well who and where they are. The colonial bonds to Great Britain have been severed, though affection and some of the trappings remain. A parliamentary democracy, the nation is an independent member of the Commonwealth with Queen Elizabeth II as chief of state. Rugby is the national sport. Cricket is highly popular.
As recently as 25 years ago, Great Britain bought more than half the country’s exports, chiefly meat, wool, and dairy products. Today that trade adds up to only 9 or 10 percent, and three other markets are bigger—Japan, Australia, and the United States, all Pacific-rim countries. In total, products are shipped to more than 120 countries. The nation increasingly is a richly endowed world trading partner in the South Pacific.
About the size of Colorado, New Zealand rises from the sea nearly equidistant from the Equator and the South Pole. The islands extend a thousand narrow miles. Nowhere are you more than 80 miles from the ocean.
Once there was much more to it. This bit of earth belonged to Gondwanaland, the vast southern continent that existed a hundred million years ago. As the landmass broke up, the fragment that was to become New Zealand drifted toward its present position. Geologists say that the drift continues, at the rate of a few inches a year.
Cut off from the rest of the world for an eon, a unique flora evolved, including some of the oldest plant forms. Three-fourths of the flowering plants grew nowhere else. No mammals existed except two species of bat. Without predators, flightless birds developed: the ten-foot-high moa, finally hunted to extinction; the weak-eyed, long-beaked kiwi, now the country’s endearing emblem; the bumptious weka; and others.
Only yesterday, which is to say a handful of centuries past, the ancestors of today’s Maori arrived from the prague holiday apartments in great sailing canoes. With them came rats and dogs for food.