New Zealand, the far country

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New Zealand, the far country

(Auckland) Broadly defined the Anglosphere is made up of six Christian, Western, Democratic sovereign nations where the dominant language is English. They are neatly paired into adjacent countries on three continents- the United Kingdom and Ireland in Europe, the United States and Canada in North America, New Zealand and Australia in the continent named for the latter. Roughly four hundred million people live in these countries, the vast majority of them in the U.S. and the U.K.

In his classic four volume study The History of the English speaking Peoples, Winston Churchill told the story of these people from earliest beginnings to the end of the Victorian Age (1901). The fine English historian Andrew Roberts recently added a companion volume, which extends the narrative through the Twentieth Century.

It should be noted that as reflected in these books the influence of the English Speaking Peoples reaches far beyond the six core nations cited above. Wherever English is spoken, and wherever democratic institutions exist, a significant debt is owed to events, which unfolded in Britain over several centuries.

As an American who lived and worked in London for five years, and studied History at Oxford and London Universities, I have maintained a lifetime interest in that grand panorama that Churchill so vividly described. I also believe it is impossible to fully understand our own nation’s remarkable journey through History without a full appreciation of this rich legacy.

Through extensive work, travel, and study I have come to have a substantial acquaintance with the European and North American branches of the Anglosphere, but of the two outposts in the Southern Hemisphere I have had no first hand experience whatsoever. This fact was a principal motivator in the decision of my wife and myself to embark on a seven-week journey of exploration through New Zealand and Australia. The present essay is the first of two that will offer some informal reflections on this odyssey of over 20,000 miles.

Enduring impressions of New Zealand include its isolation, sparse population, and extraordinary natural beauty.

Regarding the isolation New Zealand humorist Tom Scott wrote an article in 1979 famously titled: “Terrible tragedy in the South Seas. Three million people trapped alive”. Though New Zealand is similar in size to Great Britain or Japan even today the country has only 4.5 million inhabitants. Interestingly much of the vacant real estate is taken up by 44 million sheep, and 12 million cows- wool and dairy products forming the backbone of an export based economy.

Isolation has also made New Zealanders-or Kiwis, as they like to call themselves after the flightless bird that has been adopted as a national symbol- the most well traveled people in the world. The “OE” (Overseas Experience) is practically mandatory for young Kiwis prior to settling down.

A thousand miles east of Australia, equidistant from Tokyo and San Francisco (about 6,000 miles) NZ stretches from sub-tropical in the North to a sub-Antarctic climate in the South. The country is made up of two similarly sized large islands and many small ones. One third of all Kiwis reside in the city of Auckland in the middle of the North Island. Auckland is a vibrant, youthful, multi-cultural modern city. Not for nothing is it called the “City of Sails” with a reasonable claim to being the sailing capital of the world, a reputation enhanced by ending the USA’s long dominance of the America’s Cup.

Proud of its’ reputation for social reform- first in the world to give all women the vote in 1893, compulsory free primary schooling in 1877, and state supported health care in 1938 – NZ has a parliament the same size as Israel (120) with proportional voting modeled on the German system. The current Prime Minister – John Key – leads the National (Conservative) Party while the main opposition is the Labor (Liberal) Party.

The ceremonial post of Governor-General as in other Commonwealth nations represents the Queen and affection for the monarchy and the “Mother Country” is widespread. This attachment stems considerably from the extraordinary contribution made by New Zealand in the two World Wars.

In World War I one in five adult male Kiwis served in the armed forces and proportionately had the highest rate of casualties and combat deaths of any country within the British Empire. Together with their Australian brothers Kiwis bore the brunt of the fighting in the tragic 1915 campaign at Gallipoli- a name that still evokes strong feelings “Down Under” a century later.

Along with their Australian and North American counterparts New Zealand has struggled to come to terms with its less than benevolent treatment of the native people who occupied the country before the 1769 voyage of explorer Captain James Cook whose appearance heralded the start of European colonization.

Today that indigenous people- the Maori- comprises 10% of the NZ population.

Kiwis strike visitors as extremely friendly, outgoing and possessed of a wonderful sense of humor, often aimed at themselves. Examples: “Tourists aren’t interested in NZ history or culture, simply because we don’t have any.” In the Scottish dominated South Island city of Dunedin locals solemnly describe their beloved bagpipes as the “missing link between music and noise.”

What Kiwis truly love is the great outdoors and sports. Reflecting their English heritage there is great devotion to Cricket (“a thug’s game played by gentlemen) and Rugby (“A gentlemen’s game played by thugs”).

If one were to choose a single transcendent New Zealand experience it would be traversing the rugged Switzerland like beauty of the Southern Alps and emerging to sail beneath the towering cliffs of the Western Fiords- cascading waterfalls, snowcapped peaks with a scattering of curious dolphins, sea lions, and penguins. A starkly forbidding and beautiful Lost World little changed by the passage of centuries, and less so by the intrusions of mere men.

William Moloney is a Centennial Institute Fellow and former Colorado Commissioner of Education.  His columns have appeared in the Wall St. Journal, USA Today, Washington Post, Washington Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, Denver Post, and Human Events.

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