Matariki an ideal replacement for Queens Birthday

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced that if re-elected, Labour will introduce a Matariki holiday to celebrate the Maori New Year.

National and A.C.T. – unsurprisingly – are against it. A.C.T. says the Prime Minister is unfit to govern if she believes this is a good idea. National’s Paul Goldsmith said it would need to be replacing another holiday. New Zealand First also opposed it on the grounds of “New Zealand needing more hard work”.

I completely – and vehemently – disagree. I know New Zealanders across the political spectrum who believe that we should introduce Matariki as a holiday. Aside from holding significant importance to Maori, there are as I will describe shortly, significant reasons for for non-Maori New Zealanders to get behind it. Before that, though, I want to acknowledge the work of Laura O’Connell Rapira of Action Station, and Lewis Holden who is former Chair of the New Zealand Republican Movement. Both had a significant role in making this possible.

Thank you.

When I was a kid, my parents used to take my brother and I to Hagley Park to watch the 21 gun salute. It would happen on the first Monday of June and be at midday, which everyone knows to be Queens Birthday, the official day of celebration of the reigning Monarch’s birthday (the actual day of her birth is in April). I think it was more for the novelty of four 105mm guns letting off blanks than for any real respect for Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II that we were taken along.

But as I grew older, I began to question the relevance of the Monarchy in New Zealand. I think this nation has grown up enough that we can reasonably have a conversation about whether or not the Monarchy is still relevant to New Zealand. Over the years since World War 2, if we look at how many other nations have gained their full political independence from Britain, and then look at at the diminishing number that are still to become a Republic (I am guessing that this will be more formally discussed when the reigning Monarch deceases), it is probably an inevitability.

On one hand there are thousands of New Zealanders who seemed genuinely excited to see Prince Harry on his recent trip, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in 2014. Their down to earth nature contrasts with the at times aloof nature of other senior Royals. I can appreciate the older generation which suffered so much from World Wars 1 and 2, will have a particular affinity with the Royal Family and in particular Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II. When Camilla Parker-Bowles and Prince Charles visited in 2019, I think there were probably just as many people more interested in meeting the Prime Minister who was showing them around Christchurch Cathedral.

Then there are those who wish for the three day break to remain simply because it means a long weekend. All that is well and dandy but there are New Zealand events such as Matariki, the Maori New Year, which we could celebrate instead. Matariki refers to the star cluster called the Pleiades, whose appearance between late May and mid-June signals the start of the New Year. Matariki began on 2 July 2020 this year. Next year it will start on 13 July.

I also think that this could be made to tie in with school holidays in late June-early July.

But what about those of us, who whilst respecting the Monarchy, have no links whatsoever to British and identify as outright New Zealanders when we fill the census form in every five years? I am one. As far as I know all of my family as far back as the late 1800’s were born and raised in New Zealand. I am a New Zealander and this is the only country I have known. The same can be said for many other New Zealanders too.

And if we could move our annual fireworks addiction to Matariki, the Fire Service would probably welcome the reduced risk of fires for good reason.

N.Z. in lock down: DAY 15

Yesterday was DAY 15 of New Zealand in lock down as we try to fight the COVID19 pandemic.

At the time of writing this, it was 2130 hours N.Z.T. on 09 April 2020 and I expect that the streets of Christchurch, like the streets of every other town and city in the country will be effectively deserted. As today is Good Friday, effectively only the service stations around the country will be open. Most dairies have shut because the absence of foot traffic does not justify them staying open. No doubt for a few in the lowest socio-economic groups, it could be a quite grim weekend.

There is no doubt that this Easter is going to be a very sedate, rather boring affair for New Zealand. Instead of Wanaka rocking to its bi-annual airshow, the streets will be empty. Instead of thousands of New Zealanders pouring onto the roads to reach their holiday homes, the Police have been turning the few silly enough to try, back at check points. Instead of people like myself going to the pub and staying there until being told to leave because the staff have to have locked up and left the building themselves by midnight, everyone is at home.

But – and I cannot emphasize this enough…

Yesterday I saw – or maybe I imagined it but still want to think its true – that just maybe the darkness in the COVID19 tunnel has just started to get either so slightly lighter. For a few days now, the rate of cases has been slowing. It will probably take another few days to taper right off, but instead of an exponential growth in case numbers and a matching explosion in hospital cases, the numbers have been quite linear in their growth. The one death recorded over a week ago was an elderly lady with pre-existing medical issues, and there has not been any since.

For staying the course and going in hard and early, New Zealand now has a realistic chance of becoming the first western nation to not so much beat COVID19 as completely eradicate it. This would be a major feat.

However, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the countries that New Zealand has drawn inspiration from in terms of making sure it was ready for a pandemic. Particular acknowledgement has to go to Singapore. Following the outbreak of SARS, Singapore realized that it was very vulnerable if it did not reinforce its medical system, have a plan for rapidly ramping testing up and a way to get the population on board.

It is also important to note work that was done in New Zealand preparing the country financially for a rainy day situation – natural disaster, pandemic, stock market crash, and so forth – that both National-led and Labour-led Governments contributed to. The last two Governments both set aside money for emergencies, but also they tried to keep the debt owed by New Zealand to relatively low levels compared with other countries. Without this, New Zealand probably would not have been able to so rapidly open to the extent it has the Government cheque book.

When I look at other countries and how they are handling the pandemic, I sometimes have trouble believing how lucky we have been here:

  • In the United States, 50 different states have 50 different ideas about what should be happening whilst the President is constantly undercutting those with medical knowledge, and more worryingly, trying to promote hydroxychloroquine as an effective vaccine.
  • In Britain, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson is in the Intensive Care Unit, and whose government initially wanted to try “herd immunity” – a rather dystopian and quite backward theory – that would have let hundreds of thousands get sick, the National Health System is critically short on protective gear.
  • In India, as far as I can tell India has no plan for how it will address the pandemic – its vastly underfunded health system is in no way ready for the millions of tests that will need to be conducted, and the nation wide lock down for 21 days will only be effective if the borders were closed.
  • In Spain a worsening situation has seen nearly 10,000 people die with over 100,000 cases. The country is in full lock down, but there is evidence that the curve in the new cases figure is starting to flatten, with hospital admissions slowing down.
  • In Italy, one of the first countries to feel the lash of COVID19 and one of the worst affected around the world, 17,700 have died from the pandemic. However like Spain, the hospitals are reporting a decrease in new patients coming in and a full lock down has been extended.

As the late New Zealand comedian Fred Dagg said in a moment of vivid wisdom that seems to getting brighter by the day here, of living in Aotearoa:

We don’t know how lucky we are

Supporting the tourism during the COVID19 outbreak

There is no kind or gentle way to describe the impact that COVID19 is going to have on the New Zealand economy. The recession that is going come from events of all sorts being stopped – sporting fixtures, cultural festivals, technological shows (airshows and such), concerts and gigs, among so many others – is going hit very soon. It will be hard, deep and prolonged.

  • HARD: Many jobs are going to disappear in the very near future as the effect of events being cancelled, a downturn in demand and people shying away from going out, sinks in.
  • DEEP: Every community from the far north to Half Moon Bay, from the Chatham Islands to Greymouth is going to feel the pinch. The socio-economic stresses that will accompany this are not yet known but it would a bald faced lie to say they will not hurt.
  • PROLONGED: No cruise ships until the end of June. As bad as this seems now, the barometer is going to fall, both here and abroad for sometime yet as the full impact of COVID19 makes itself known.

So rather than write a wholly negative post about how bad things are going to be and thinking the end is coming – though in Ireland, one might be forgiven with the effective cancellation of St. Paddy’s Day that it has – I instead endeavour to talk about how we might help the tourism industry.

Now is a great time to – instead of travelling overseas to places that have effectively shut down and will probably not welcome you very warmly – have a look around one of the greatest island nations in the world. New Zealand has a ton of things to see and do and some absolute off-the-beaten-trail gems if you know where to look. In the North Island, Orakei Korako geothermal reserve near the Ohakuri power station is one such place. Not well known and called the “Hidden Valley”, it is possible to spend a good couple hours there easily. In the South Island, Okains Bay on Banks Peninsula is a delightful little bay with a museum, nice sandy beach and a walk around the shoreline on an old route going past an old wharf. If Okains Bay is not for you, then the lovely little French-themed town of Akaroa is just over the hill.

Here is where New Zealand tourist operators need to get realistic, and which I hope is assisted by the Government’s package – the details of which are being worked out at the moment – and accept that many attractions are currently beyond the affordability of many New Zealand budgets. This would be an ideal chance to address this with what are known over overseas as “local rates” where people of that country get maybe a 25% discount.

But this should not only apply to tourist activity operators. Rental car firms, the Inter Island ferry and the motel industry would do well to look at such ideas as well. The money would be clawed back by the increased number of New Zealanders hopefully moving to fill some of the void left behind by the absence of overseas tourists.



Halloween: The non New Zealand celebration

Yesterday was Halloween. I heard that it is to do with the harvest ending in October in the U.S.

In New Zealand Halloween is an imported occasion, not an indigenous one. In New Zealand that is April.

However, Rhonwyn Newson in 2017 suggested Halloween is here to stay and that we should embrace it. I disagree. Completely.

Coming just a few days after A.N.Z.A.C. Day and just as 2nd term begins, this is not so feasible for New Zealanders. We shall not blame Samuel Duncan Parnell and the 40 hour working week he sought for clashing with the wanton desires of others to get dressed as witches, grim reapers, axe wielding baddies and so forth. And even if New Zealanders were silly enough to, whether we are willing to acknowledge fringe activity or not, furthering what Mr Parnell was seeking to do, will have its benefits.

But I have to be honest. It has little to do with New Zealand culture. My family never grew up placing any importance on it. A few days after spending a long Labour Weekend whitebaiting, playing pool and playing Billionaire at an old homestead in Okains Bay, an expensive costume themed dress up that neither I or my brother to the best of my knowledge cared about, was the least of our interests.

And even though said pursuits have not happened at Okains Bay since 2007, they have gone some distance towards helping to determine my empathy (or complete lack thereof) with Halloween.

If we should put importance on anything it is developing New Zealand themed days. But if we do that, let us build on existing holidays and events. Matariki, which is the Maori New Year is the most relevant.

Let us make Matariki something big, worthy of fireworks and paegentry. Let us use it to acknowledge Maori/Maoridom and Maori issues outside the ones you see on the media.

he Maori New Year for example

Lest we forget: A.N.Z.A.C. Day 2019

New Zealand graves at Polygon Wood, Belgium. R. GLENNIE

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Laurence Binyon

My visit to Belgium last year had three aims. See some of its rich history, test drive some of their superb craft beer and chocolate and visit some of the more notable war graves and memorials to the madness that was World War 1.

Polygon Wood war cemetery was basking in sunshine when I visited it in September 2018. A beautiful clear autumn day in a peaceful wooded setting with nicely maintained grounds, a far sight from the horribly mangled place that it would have been at the end of 1918 with nary a tree in sight, shell holes half full of ground water with rotting human bodies, bits of uniform, guns, unexploded ordnance and other detritus. So toxic I imagine, that it would not have been fit for even the hardiest biological organism.

When I remember those famous words from Binyon this year and in years coming, I will also remember them for the German soldiers who were just following orders just like ours. I will remember them because those Germans probably no more wanted to be in the war than I suspect any of the others – looking for ways to legitimately “catch a blighty” (be wounded enough to be sent home)was common. With little or no understanding of the horrendous mental toll that living in trenches with inches deep mud, being shelled incessant whilst dreading the whistle that would send everyone over the top in far too many cases for the final time, those who had gone mad were dispatched by a gun shot.

I remember them because as Paul Ham, in his book Passchendaele: A requiem for a doomed youth makes clear, the disgruntlement with a stupid war where no progress seemed to be getting made, by the end of 1917, both the German and British civil populations loathed the war. A war where the youngest British soldier was just 13 and the oldest was 68; where the first British soldier to die, died just 200 metres from where the last British soldier died. The French had nearly mutinied after the blood bath at Verdun the previous year, causing their commanders to effectively withdraw the French military from the war for a year.

What is not so well known is what caused the Germans to suddenly surrender. It was rumoured that after more than a year effectively in dock, the German high seas fleet was finally ready to put to sea again. Except that there was a problem. When the fatal Battle of Jutland occurred in 1916, the German navy had not seen much action and there was some excitement about the prospect of finally fighting. Fast forward two very bloody years on the Western Front, a civil population sick of the huge losses, the nearly universal shortages of just about everything and no end in sight, the German navy had lost the will to fight. Mutiny set in at the naval bases and spread like wildfire. On 8 November 1918, the Kaiser abdicated. Three days later in a train carriage at Compiegne an Armistice was signed.

Nearly 100 years later I visited a museum at Zonnebeke where we could see a collection of defused shells and it was explained to us what their individual purpose was – each colour marking meant a different use. Some were gas shells that would explode and release poison gas. Some were made for piercing the concrete of bunkers and still more were made as incendiary or high explosive shells. The range of uses that were found was impressively depressing. German, British and French shells were all well represented among them.

As I wandered among the many graves – New Zealand, Canadian, Australian, French, German, British, Belgian, South African, Indian and those of others – I thought about where the consequences of World War 1 have taken us in the 100 years since. I thought about the social cost, the several quantum leaps our ability to kill each other has taken, and about how much (or how little) our politicians seem to have learnt from it. When they advocate for war, I think of the millions of young men sent to their deaths all for a war that history is by no means certain about the purpose of.

Those young men never had a voice, but my generation and future generations hopefully do. Binyon’s words are for them too. As a reminder.